What Is Yarn Bombing?
I was first introduced to yarn bombing when I was a senior in college. I was taking an art class that focused on Punk Art and the DIY Movement. We had Inga a.k.a. Rockpool Candy and Andy from MyTarPit come and talk to us a bit about their art and in particular, art bombing, as we were planning to do our own guerrilla art movement on campus.
Before I met Inga, I knew some crocheting basics but I had never thought of using it for anything more than hats and scarves--which I wasn't entirely interested in making. So, at that point, crocheting was a pointless skill for me to have. Then I saw her beautiful artwork and learned of how crocheted and knit things could be made into so much more than just hats, scarves, and sweaters, and I was hooked (literally haha). Inga is the one who taught me how to crochet in the round and soon after I discovered amigurumi and there has been no turning back for me since then.
Anyway, for out on campus art bombing we planned to create mini canvases to hide around campus for other students to find--like Andy's and several other students worked with Inga to yarn bomb trees on campus. It looked amazing and it was a lot of fun to participate in. After Inga & Andy left, we completed another guerrilla art bombing in our library with sewn objects. Love it or hate it, the whole school buzzed about it. And isn't that just awesome? What is the purpose of art after all if it doesn't spark something?
After I graduated Inga and Andy returned for "ELEMENTALS Birds," so bummed I missed that one!
Int'l Yarn Bombing Day
History of Yarn Bombing
Yarn bombing goes by many names; yarnstorming, guerrilla knitting/crocheting, urban knitting/crocheting, and graffiti knitting/crocheting--to name a few. I prefer yarn bombing or yarnbombing though because it can be knit or crocheted works and...that's the name I was taught so it kind of just stuck. :)
Yarn bombing is a type of street art or graffiti. Like graffiti that comes from a spray can it can vary greatly in style, aesthetics, and meaning. The big difference between yarn bombing and graffiti however is the purpose behind it. While spray painting or tagging is typically meant to claim a place or vandalize (as well as display art and beautify), yarn bombings main motivation is to bring life, warmth, and a feeling of belonging and community.
Yarn bombing is a fairly new phenomenon in the street art world, with the earliest examples of it dating back to as early as 2002, though the term didn't really start to catch on until around 2005. It started out as cozies over objects or sewn together knitted/crocheted materials. Gradually, over time, artists have developed custom designs and created amigurumi like creatures and incorporated characters into their work. There is a wide range of technique and styles now that make up yarn bombing.
Thanks to the internet the movement has been able to spread rapidly worldwide as groups have come together to yarnbomb their cities and share their work over the web. Some artists of note are Lauren O'Farrell (a.k.a. Deadly Knitshade) from the UK and her collective, Knit the City, the Twilight Taggers from Australia, and Joann Matvichuk from Alberta, who founded International Yarnbombing Day which was first observed June 11, 2011.
Beautifying Urban Environments
While yarn bombing can be used to make deep meaningful statements about the world around us, in most cases the purpose is simple--to create something fun and beautiful just because it might make someone else's day.
While fibre artists will often yarn bomb trees and other natural objects, the yarn bombing pieces that appeal to me the most are ones found in urban settings. This is not just because they are so unexpected, but because of the unlikely pairing of the organic craft world with the inorganic urban world.
Alone, urban environments tend to feel cold, unfriendly, hard, nonchalant, and extremely robotic. There is no life or colour. On the other side, the very nature of knit objects is to create warmth, love, and comfort. When these two worlds are combined, something magical happens. Our mundane, every day, routine is suddenly transformed into something more. The average passer-by's goal stops being simply to get from point A to point B, like some sort of machine and they feel--at least for a moment--like a human being again. Whether that is to admire the work or criticize it is actually irrelevant. The important thing is that for a moment, however short it may be, the passer-by is thinking of something other than what's next on their busy schedule. They have taken a breath second just to simply be alive.
Yarn bombing and other creative street art used to bring people together and allow us a moment to live is not, in my opinion, something that should be odd or uncommon. I believe that, especially in this time where everyone in "plugged in" it has become necessary for us to be reminded that we are not machines, but living, breathing creatures capable of emotion and critical thinking.
Growing up in New York City, I know how depressing a place it can be. When I think of the city the first thing that comes to my mind is the colour gray, followed by dust, dirt, car pollution, and monochromatic buildings. Stumbling upon yarn bombing in such a place like this is like finding buried treasure by accident.
Making a Statement
While it isn't necessary for yarn bombs to have a specific purpose or thing to stay, it is still street art and graffiti has been used in many ways throughout its history to make political comments and force people to re-evaluate their ways of thinking and living. Don't let yarn bombing's cuddly exterior fool you, it could also be just as powerful a tool for getting the word out.
Ask yourself what is important to you? What needs to change in your community? How can you use yarn bombing to get the message across?
When it comes to making statements with yarn bombing it is best to go big or don't even bother!
Drawing Attention to the Unseen
Yarn bombing is a great way to draw attention to something that otherwise goes unnoticed, like a tree, or a statue, or some random street post. Drawing attention to these things can make a statement, tell a story, tell a joke, show the beauty in something not considered attractive, or--could even be used as a business strategy to draw in curious customers. Again, the purpose here is to stop passers-by in their tracks and get them to break their routine for a moment to think about something unexpected.
If you're thinking about yarn bombing ask yourself what story would you like to tell? What neglected, ignored, place could you create something incredible and beautiful?
Turning Something Old into Something New
Like drawing attention to something unseen, yarn bombing can bring new life to something old and unwanted. I have seen whole dining sets transforming through yarn bombing. Couches, bikes, beds, cars, pianos, you name it and I bet someone has yarn bombed it. It's amazing and a really unique way to add flavor to your home without having to replace all your furniture.
This is actually what sparked my recent interest in yarn bombing once again. I have these old wooden chairs that were given to my husband and I when I first moved in with him. They aren't really my taste but they are not damaged or junky, so it felt a shame to just toss them. Then I started thinking about yarn bombing and got the idea to give these old chairs new life by yarn bombing them. With us moving, taking care of my son during the day, and preparing for yet another baby--I haven't exactly had much time to yarn bomb a doorknob let alone four dining chairs--so the project is currently on hold. When it gets done I'll be sure to add pictures here!
Useful Yarn Bombs
Utilitarian types may not be so found of yarn bombing. After all, what's the point of it anyway? Ugh! If you can't use it for something it must not have any really purpose.
Setting aside my ideals that anything that can make you smile and feel happy serves a well enough purpose, I'd like to point out that there are ways to create useful yarn bombing installations. I have seen yarn bomb planters for flowers, yarn bombed patches for holes in fences and cracks in pavement, yarn bombed book covers. Even cozies for electronics and devices could be considered a kind of yarn bombing...in a way.
The point is, yarn bombs can be useful--if you are a creative enough to think of ways to make them useful!
Stop-Motion Yarn Bombing of Tot Car
What would YOU like to Yarn Bomb?
How to Yarn Bomb
If you can knit, crochet, or even just sew, you can yarn bomb. I hope what I've already talked about has given you some ideas on how you might be able to go about doing it, but here's some tips on the actual process.
Methods of Yarn Bombing
Decide the look you're going for. In my experience there are really three types of yarn bombing; freestyle, semi-freestyle, and planned out.
With freestyle you could literally just grab a bunch of random pieces of knitted or crocheted material, piece them together over something like puzzle pieces, and stitch it all together. This way of yarnbombing would work best if you have a collection of swatches sitting in a box, a bunch of knitted sweaters you don't know what to do with, or if you only know how to sew because you can just sew found materials together. In this scenario you have no idea what you'll end up with.
With a semi-freestyle you might have a little idea or plan for what you'd like to do. Maybe you know what colours you'd like to incorporate or have an idea of how the end result is going to look. You still wing most of the project, but there is at least a little planning. People who only know how to sew may benefit from this method as well.
Planned yarn bombs start with sketches and measurements and drafts. You know exactly what you want the piece to look like when its done. For amigurumi artists and knitters/crocheters that are very interested in certain aesthetics this method works best.
Permanent or Not?
Public yarn bombs are really not meant to be permanent pieces. Eventually they will get disgusting and filthy and need to be removed. Think about this as you plan your yarn bombing. How long will you keep it up? How will you take it down? What materials can you use to help the piece last longer?
Incredible as it is, yarn bombing public places is still considered graffiti and you can get charged for vandalizing if caught. It is best to do it in places where you've gotten permission, this is also a good way to set up a set timeframe for the installation of your piece. Of course, the risk is all yours and depending on where you live the punishment may not be so harsh--so try it if you dare.
Paper Wall Sculpture
Mosaic Wall Mural
Other Forms of Art Bombing
Yarn bombing isn't the only way to bring art, life, and community into an environment. You can use just about any art medium to achieve the same results.
Spray Paint - the more "traditional" form of graffiti, and the most heavily prosecuted so watch out. You could also use art deco pens and stencils.
Paint - Murals are a go-to way of beautifying a community. You could paint other things as well to make a statement. For example, a high school friend of mine was motivated to paint trash cans in the community to encourage people to keep the streets clean.
Wheat Pasting - wheat pasting is made up of drawings or designs of some sort that are put up the same way you would put up wallpaper or billboard posters.
Moss Graffiti - This organic graffiti will living and grow after you have applied it to a wall or wherever you put it. It's a perfect medium if you are trying to make a statement about nature.
Sculpture - Altering existing forms or creating sculpture from reclaimed materials are great ways to art bomb.
Sewing - You can achieve a very similar feel to yarn bombing from sewing, especially if you use knitted fabrics.
Paper - Origami and other paper sculptures can be used to decorate or art bomb your home or a venue.
Recycled Materials - One great way to really get people to take notice is to use recycled materials in your art piece. I, for one, am always amazed when I see artwork that turns trash into treasure.
Mosaics - I have seen several lamp posts around NYC decorated in mosaic tiles as well as some beautiful murals on walls.
These are just a few ideas of other materials you can use to art bomb. If you have any other suggestions feel free to recommend them in the comments!