So You Want A Revolution

An international guerilla movement of street artists is hitting the streets.

But instead of defacing public property with spray paint, this creative bunch is armed with knitting needles, crotchet hooks and tags anything from street signs to busses with their bold woolly graffiti. It's yarnarchy!

Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crotchet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prian is considered the "definitive guidebook to covert textile street art." The book features twenty patterns that range from hanging orange, pink and white high-top sneakers to knitted flora and fauna. The authors provide tips to become stealth bombers, and include numerous interviews with international textile artists and yarn bombers.

HAND/EYE interviewed Mandy Moore to learn more about the yarn bombing revolution.

H/E: Let's start with the basics. When did you learn to knit and do you knit for a living?

MM: My grandmother taught me to knit when I was a child, but it didn't stick at all. In 2000, at age 25, I decided I wanted to learn to knit so that I could make sweaters to go with the clothes I was sewing for myself. I taught myself from a book, and fell madly in love with it - so much so that I stopped sewing for several years! I started working at a yarn shop the following year. Now I work in the knitting/crochet industry as a teacher, as senior technical editor for the popular online magazine Knitty.com, and as a designer. My sweater and accessory designs have appeared in several books and magazines, and a selection are available at www.etsy.com/shop/yarnageddon.

H/E: What is yarn bombing and how did you get involved?

MM: Yarn bombing is the act of making and installing knitted or crocheted graffiti objects. Many are simple rectangular pieces that are fastened around telephone poles or signposts, though some artists make more elaborate, shaped pieces to fit things like statues and street furniture.

Leanne and I both heard of yarn graffiti when we read about the Texas- based group Knitta Please (www.magdasayeg.com/) who started tagging in 2005. We were each delighted by the idea, though I don't think either of us started actually making yarn graffiti until we started working on the book together!

H/E: What's the motivation behind yarn bombing?

MM: Although some yarn bombers have well-articulated political ideas behind their graffiti practices, many bombers just enjoy making things and sharing them with others. I think the really compelling thing about yarn graffiti is the juxtaposition of gentle, soft, handmade objects placed in surroundings where most things are hard, dirty and impersonal. There's also something potent about the fact that yarn graffiti objects are time-consuming to make; when a person encounters a knitted tag on a park bench, they know that someone has used time and skill to produce it, and has then abandoned it to an unknown fate. It may be removed almost immediately, or it may hang around for months.

There are some people, crafters and non-crafters alike, who feel that yarn graffiti is an almost offensive waste of time. It's true that many people who knit and crochet—myself included—like to spend much of their crafting time making things that are considered more conventionally useful, like garments. However, I don't know why the scope of these wonderful crafts should be limited to traditional forms; each person's crafting time is their own, to do with as they please. If it feeds your soul to make sweaters for those you love, or hats for charities, please do so. But if you are tickled by the idea of making surprises for strangers to enjoy, go for it!

When I knit or crochet graffiti tags, I love how freeing it is to just play with yarn and hook or needles; to make decisions based on whims, rather than on the types of problem-solving involved in garment-making. It's wonderful to experiment, to use yarn I might not use for something that needs to wear well, to use colors that might not be flattering, to combine elements in absurd ways!

H/E: Are yarn bombers considered a public nuisance and what's the overall reaction?

MM: There seem to be two schools of thought on yarn bombing. Some people that encounter it find it as witty and delightful as yarn bombers do. Others find it stupid, wasteful, and obnoxious. I suppose this is inevitable; you can't please everyone, especially not if you're doing something weird or unusual!

HE: Do bombers work in teams?

MM: Many of them do! Some groups like to knit or crochet together and then tag individually, others like to get their tag production done on their own time, then get together for bombing expeditions. Some collectives do both of these activities together, and still others have members who work as individuals, then contribute their photos to a group blog.

H/E: What's the most outrageous yarn bombing incident either one of you was involved?

MM: One of us was stopped while attempting to place a piece in front of the FBI building in Washington DC. We can say no more.

H/E: Does yarn bombing take any planning? In other words, do you stake out a statue and take its measurements?

MM: We have not personally done yarn bombing of this type, though many groups do. The Swedish group Masquerade (www.maskerade.blogsome.com/) is one that has done some really wonderful site-specific pieces on statues. However, the flexible and stretchy nature of the medium allows a bomber to be pretty effective with no planning. One member of the Dutch group Knitted Landscape (www.knittedlandscape.com/) keeps rectangular pieces of knitting with him when he travels, and finds rocks to wrap them around. They look almost as if they were tailor-made for the rocks they cover.

H/E: What's the message behind yarn bombing?

MM: This varies from artist to artist. I really think that most of us are just delighted by the idea, and want to join in on the fun.

H/E: What words of wisdom and advice do you have for future yarn bombers?

MM: Remember, there are no rules! Part of the fun of yarn bombing is that it's a fairly new form of expression, and its cultural place is not yet fixed. Don't be afraid to take it in your own unique direction.

Visit www.yarnbombing.com to learn more about international knit and crotchet graffiti groups and their "yarnarchy." To receive a copy of Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet Knit Graffiti (with a free yarn bombing button) order direct from the Yarn Bombing page on the Arsenal Pulp Press website (www.arsenalpulp.com) or on Amazon.

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