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  • The illegal, interstitial art of yarnbombing
    by mallen | March 23rd, 2011 |

    (Eds. note: Interstitial March continues as IAF member Emily Wagner, profiled in our previous entry, writes about her experiences creating and deploying yarn graffiti. All photos courtesy of Emily except where otherwise noted.)

    Pam Evans (left), Stacey Lee, and Emily Wagner belong to the South End Knitters.  Photo by Yoon S. Byun / Boston Globe Staff.

    The South End Knitters’ weekly meetings at a Washington Street café seem innocuous, but don’t be fooled. Over knitting needles and yarn at the long table they’ve commandeered, they are contemplating something far more mischievous than a sweater. They’re graffiti knitters, and they’re plotting their next target.

    The South End is their hood. They have wrapped colorful rectangles of knitting around lampposts, hung mittens from trees, snaked a knit flower vine around a bike rack, tagged a dog park fence with knitted bugs, and knit cozies for metal posts in a stretch of the Southwest Corridor Park. They do it for sheer whimsy of it.

    Boston Globe, “Watch your streets —
    knitters are on the loose,” Feb. 23, 2011

    Today I could have been arrested. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but technically, the art I did today was illegal. Don’t scoff when I tell you it was knitting, though. What I did today is known as yarnbombing, knit graffiti, yarnstorming, and maybe a few other names I don’t know about. It’s street art, where we take fiber arts out of the familiar context of home and hearth and leave it out in public for people to see. My knitting group has been doing this for a while, and there was even an article about us in The Boston Globe recently (front page, no less! Slow news day I suppose), explaining what we were doing in the South End and why, although that’s a really hard question to answer. We’ve knitted flowers to wrap around bike racks, animals for a light post in front of the Animal Rescue League, Christmas ornaments to hang from trees in the park, insects to put on a fence at a dog park, and more. Today we were covering cement rings with brightly colored bits of knitting that we had loosely based around a “Spring” theme. Mine looks like a little bee, and I sewed it around a ring while people from the community watched and took pictures.

    So what are we doing, and why are we doing this? The short answer is “sharing our art” and “because it’s fun.” There’s a longer answer about the importance of art being shared in a community, about art being public, about making a statement that people can add to or change as they see fit, but really, it’s fun. People in the South End of Boston, where we focus our efforts, love what we do. It’s a way to brighten up a public spot, and the people passing by today were really excited to see that we were doing something new. A little girl stopped with her family, and ended up helping some of my co-conspirators with the installation. How often does a kid get to say that while they were out walking in the park, they got to help with a public art installation? It’s a fascinating thing to me, that something like this can almost turn into performance art. People chat with us, they share stories about our other installations that touched them, they take pictures, it’s like an impromptu festival.

    In my Welcome interview, I talked about how the yarn I made was finished but not, since someone will eventually knit it into another form. Yarnbombing is sort of similar, in that now that I’ve put my piece up, I can’t control what happens next. Sometimes the things we make get stolen, although that doesn’t happen often. There seems to be an understanding in the South End that this is art and it should be left up for people to enjoy, but it does happen. People can add to what we’ve done, they can change things, and it’s very different from the way most people are used to interacting with art. Art in a museum is usually going to be static and unchanging, and is very much a hands-off affair for the viewers. Yarn graffiti is unexpected, popping up in a park where yesterday, there was just a bike rack. It’s soft, and invites you to touch it and squeeze it and test the reality of finding a stuffed gargoyle on top of a sign.

    Can I tell you the best thing I’ve ever seen, related to this? The best thing I’ve ever seen was right after one of the members of my group decorated a tree with little stuffed, knitted heart ornaments for Valentine’s Day last year. I took a walk through the park to check them out, and as I was coming up to the tree, I saw a family on bikes headed toward me in the opposite direction. The boy, maybe 10-ish? Came to a screeching halt on his bike when he got to the tree, and yelled, “MOM! Mom, the knitters were here! Look!” and they all got off their bikes to look at the hearts and enjoy my friend’s work.

    The comments on the article in the Globe were kind of hilarious to me, partly because it reminded me that people still see knitting and most fiber arts as this harmless thing that women do, so the idea that we were doing something like this just seemed to flummox a lot of people. The idea that knitting can be edgy or dangerous is something I would have laughed at a few years ago too, but there are some amazing fiber artists doing things like covering tanks with pink crochet, and using this craft that is considered a feminine thing to make bold statements. All of this together is why I think yarnbombing can be interstitial. Street art is already a somewhat contentious field of art, and I like that we’re using an unexpected medium with yarn and fiber crafts to do this. I think what we do surprises people when they see it. I guess if we do this long enough it will eventually stop being interstitial and just be a normal, expected thing to see on a trip through the park, and we’ll have to come up with something new to get people’s attention.

    Now, the disclaimer. Like I said above, what we’re doing is technically illegal. I say technically because the police in the South End have definitely seen what we’re doing, but they don’t seem to really care. It could be considered vandalism, but the impermanent nature of it all helps. If it’s ever really in the way or needs to be gone, a pair of scissors will take care of it pretty quickly. We’re careful never to cover anything that absolutely shouldn’t be covered, or do anything that would cause problems. If you’re interested in doing it in your community, just think about the ways that people might react, and be considerate about what you’re doing. For more examples and ways to get started, there’s an excellent book on the subject called Yarnbombing: the art of crochet and knit graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain.

    finish line

    9 Responses to “The illegal, interstitial art of yarnbombing”

    1. C.S.E. Cooney Says:

      Yarnbombing! Pink yarn swathing tanks? Community artwork? I love this century! I love what you’re doing? Is it widespread? Is everywhere?

      “The knitters were here!”

      I LOVE it!

    2. Emily Says:

      Aww, thanks Claire! It kind of is everywhere, yeah! If you do a Google image search for yarnbombing you’ll find stuff from all over the world.

    3. Wendy Ellertson Says:

      Love the idea of knitters taking to the streets….might even inspire me to learn!

    4. Gail Ellertson Klemm Says:

      Cheers for the knitters! This is great – and thanks, Wendy, for posting the link. I have already shared it with two of my knitting friends who will love the concept of knitting graffiti! Onward!

    5. Ashly Says:

      I LOVE the concept of yarnbombing as both an artist and an on-again-off-again knitter. I love seeing the sort of stuff that groups like yours and the yarnbombers in Japan are doing! It really is awesome to see what people are doing with an artform generally considered “matronly.” But then again, people who look that way only see the oyster and never look for the…wait for it…purl.


    6. Yarn in the streets | Jackie Brewer Says:

      [...] as public art seems to be everywhere these days.  I came across two articles just today on yarn bombing in Boston and on thread tagging as a form of graffiti. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the [...]

    7. Kelsey Says:

      Are you guys planning anything big for summer? I’m a photographer/blogger and I’d love to take photos!

    8. Ellen Kushner Says:

      Some recent amazing international yarnbombing photos:

    9. jafabrit Says:

      It looks like this site has greatly changed when I used to be a member here a long long time ago. I left because I didn’t see how I fit in, but I do now ;)

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