Yarnstorming in the city limits

Or should I say, “knitty limits.” Yarnstorming, or yarn bombing, is a relatively new subgenre of street art, characterized by installations of knitted or crocheted pieces in public places. Although yarn bombs are intended to be non-permanent, and can be removed easily, they may be seen by some people as acts of vandalism, akin to the graffiti tags left by gang members to mark territory. Admittedly, there is a fine line that can be crossed when decorating or modifying any structures and features of city streets, and when leaving objects and installations in public spaces. It should become increasingly clear, if it isn’t already, on which side of the street art debate I reside.


Knitta, Please: DiverseWorks! Gallery, Houston, TX – photo by hometownzero, under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The original knitted graffiti artists’ group, Knitta Please, started in Houston, TX, and founder Magda Sayeg continues to travel and install knitted graffiti. According to Sayeg, yarnbombing was “the collective’s response to the mass-produced”, and a method of “adding warmth to our urban fixtures.” Now based in Austin, TX, Knitta Please continues to work “to redefine a craft that has been relegated to the stuffy attic of people’s brains”, and to realign our relationships with the components of the urban environment and concrete-and-steel city landscapes (parking meters, statues, lamp posts, exposed plumbing, etc.).


Knitta Please, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra – photo by Buttontree Lane, under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The phenomenon of yarnbombing has exploded (softly, of course) after the initial installments by Knitta Please in 2005. Vancouver, BC was the site of several whimsical knitted and crocheted installations in the months prior to and during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Street art encountered fine art at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco in November 2010, with a yarn bomb on a utility pole. The Yarn Bombing blog reports on knitted and crocheted graffiti sightings and events worldwide, and even includes patterns for components of specialized yarnbombing installations, such as fiber cherry blossoms.


Knitta graffiti outside Western Bridge Art Space, Seattle, WA – photo by Joe Mabel, under GNU Free Documentation License

The guerilla nature of knitted graffiti means that it will often run afoul of local authorities, and while arrests for vandalism are rare or nonexistent, there have been several instances in which yarnbombers were threatened with legal action or forced to remove their installations. For example, city officials in the Bay Area demanded removal of a “T-cozy” installed on a public art piece in Oakland, CA. Your humble blog author will therefore keep her needles and hooks close to her chest, on the topic of participation in guerilla knitting, but would definitely appreciate photos of yarn bombs and other street art installations in your fair cities.


A speed limit signpost warmer about which I may, or may not, know something.

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10 Responses to Yarnstorming in the city limits

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I love it! But what a shame that the authorities don’t. Seriously, what harm is it doing?!

    As I was reading the first part of this post, I was actually thinking “didn’t I see something like this during the Olympics?” So thanks especially for that link, which proves I wasn’t imagining it (It was a crazy few weeks full of adrenaline, patriotism, dancing, yelling, street performances, alcohol, hugging random strangers in the street, and very little sleep, so some memories are ever so slightly hazy!)

  2. KristiV says:

    @ Cath: I was going to ask whether you’d seen any of the Vancouver yarn bombs – they looked awesome in the photos! I think the Oakland “T-cozy” incident begs the questions of “What is the purpose of public art works?” and “To (collective) whom does a public art piece belong?” To me, the purpose of such pieces is to improve the quality of life of the public in a city, whether residents or visitors, and if “quality of life” includes the fun and creativity of modifying and embellishing such works in a non-permanent, non-destructive manner, so be it. But city officials in communities like Oakland, and in my city for that matter, are probably sensitized by the permanent spray paint variety of tags and graffiti, on public and private property. And they might be considering city workers who typically have to remove such things.

  3. rpg says:

    Hey, you promised me this wasn’t going to be YAFKB! 😉

  4. Stephen says:

    Weird but fun!

  5. KristiV says:

    @rpg: Oops – heh! But unlike a true FKB, I neglected to include information about the yarn(s), needle sizes, gauge, etc., for the installations about which I may, or may not, know something. 😉

    @Stephen: Who you callin’ weird? 🙂

  6. cromercrox says:

    Hadn’t heard of yarnbombing at all. What fun! Come to Cromer again and decorate a few beach huts…

  7. KristiV says:

    @ cromercrox: That would be fun! For now, I’m hoping to be able to participate in a few events with the Austin group, which is associated (or at least friendly) with various art galleries. Lessens the chances of installations being removed or ticketed.

  8. ricardipus says:

    As long as only biodegradable wool yarn is used, so that it will rot in due course. None of this synthetic acrylic stuff, please.

  9. KristiV says:

    @ ricardipus: Acrylic yarn is notorious (on Ravelry) for its squeakiness and baby-melting properties, but it does have its uses. Perfect for crocheted marine invertebrates, for example, and for people who are allergic to animal fibers.

    All kinds of yarn will be biodegradable for “bombs”, though: wool, alpaca, mohair, cotton, bamboo, linen. I’ve got scraps of all of those, as most of my stash consists of natural fibers.

    No, I don’t have a yarn problem; I have a not enough time to knit problem. 😉

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