Words – Kate Forsyth

Photos – J Forsyth

Knitta please – a Yarnbombing expose no inner city street sign or bike rack can afford to miss

A friend once smugly repeated a quote at me: ‘Those who cannot do art, do craft.’ To that, I threw at him all the things within reach; a laptop, dinner plate, TV remote, my fists.

I mean, how rude. Craft is great and thus, my friend should shut up. And with craft being the new black (I saw that on a homemade badge), I will take this moment to gloat at that friend who as a far as I know, could do neither art nor craft.
Right now, we’re smack bang in the midst of Craft Cubed 2012 – which is Craft Victoria’s festival of experimental, skilled and ideas-based craft and design – so not only is craft fun, but totally legit because it has its own annual festival, that goes for a WHOLE MONTH. Take that, craft haters.

So what’s the latest in the craft world? Some would say yarnbombing and this is what this story expose is all about – the act of attaching knitting and crocheting to public spaces, such as bike racks, street signs, bollards, trees, parking meters and statues. Also known as guerilla knitting, yarn storming and graffiti knitting, there’s a variety of reasons touted to explain its purpose, including nods to politics and social change, making the world a cosier place, and to bring a bit of warm and fuzzy to cold, unfriendly public structures.

Yes, I agree that things like craft are gaining political meaning to some, as a way to fight consumerism and materialism, but I hardly reckon the American senior citizens and scouts I read about who collaborated to transform their local hospital’s pedestrian bridge with woven designs were sticking it to the man, or vandalising anything. But instead, coming together to complete a community project, complete with beautifying properties, some would say.

But not all. Since researching this hard-hitting expose (Tracy Grimshaw is my mentor), I’ve asked friends what they think of yarnbombing. One friend, who loves art and once described herself as an aesthete (which I had to look up) plainly declared it ridiculous, and curtly suggested I ‘crunch the numbers’ on this. No, this friend is not an accountant, economist or tight ass, but this was her take.

So wool and yarn costs money, right? Thus covering your local bike rack in wool means you’ll have to make a monetary outlay, unless you’re willing to do a break and enter at your local haberdashery. But does not all art, craft and design cost money to produce? Yes, it does. So, clearly this must be a conspiracy by the wool manufacturers to get people buying their wares.
Multi-national wool conglomerate Cleckheaton refused to comment when I chased them down the street shouting my allegations at them. Debriefing with Tracy Grimshaw post-chase interview, she agreed there is only one conclusion; that Cleckheaton are no better than shonky washing machine repairman, dognappers, politicians with their ‘snouts in the trough’ or dole bludgers; unaustralian and GUILTY.

Ah ha! I sniff the Wool Mafia all over this and in response, I have contacted both Victoria Police’s Purana Taskforce to break apart this racket, and Channel Nine so that they can pen the next series of Underbelly , working title ‘Yarn troopers’. Actually, I had Tracy Grimshaw make those calls because of what a hard hitting a journalist she is. Ah, the things I’ve learned from you Tracy; how to blow my way to the top, how to get botox and how to expose the shit out of something.

Before this turns into a love letter to Tracy, let me get back to it.

Once upon a time, graffiti was evidence of a neighbourhood’s decline. Nowadays in Melbourne at least, it indicates you’ve arrived at the hippest place in town. Street artists and graffiti artists and stencil artists have done the hard yards to make it not only acceptable but sought after and the shiz.

Having done those hard yards though, it appears these artists take it a bit seriously. Secret artists, graffiti names and tags. Clandestine operations, and outrage when city councils paint over a Banksy, when really, isn’t graffiti meant to be a non-permanent, ever changing, non-permitted form of art?

Yarn bombers, on the other hand, seem to have taken a far lighter approach to their activities. While yarnstormers are hardly being chased down by the fuzz, many go by street names only, such as Akrylic, PolyCotn, Knotorious N.I.T., SonOfaStitch, P-Knitty and Deadly Knitshade. And as long as they’re not damaging underlying structures, police and local councils are giving them free reign. Which makes their midnight operations sounds more like hilarious fun than anarchic adventures.

But what of those underlying structures? Has anyone asked the bike racks and street signs about their colour or style preferences?
An East Brunswick bike rack weighed in on the debate recently, ‘I used to be so hard. So cold and shiny. I was respected and I was cool. But now, since these people came along and put this pink stripey jumper on me, all I get are woman stopping to tell me how cute I am, tourists taking my photo and hipsters choosing me to park their fixies against, because the nice soft wool will protect their precious bike’s paint job. My rep is ruined, man.’

More alarmingly, what on earth is going to happen to all those yarn stormed trees that are currently wearing the latest trend in tree jumpers, sweaters and guerneys?
HAS ANYONE ASKED THE TREE SURGEONS WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THESE TREES? Taking a look in my crystal ball, I can see the future, and there’s heaps of wool addicted trees robbing old ladies of their Spotlight purchases, and those old ladies faces are entirely hideously fucked up because of all the botox they pumped into themselves all those years ago. A ghastly vicious cycle!

A tree surgeon, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being found out by his friends after all these years of calling himself a ‘surgeon’ but leaving off the ‘tree’ part said: ‘Trees don’t need jumpers. Blind Freddy can see that. Neither do small dogs for that matter, but South Yarra yuppies have been yarn bombing those poor buggers since the early nineties.’
Good point surgeon of trees; trees don’t need jumpers, terriers don’t need jumpers, bike racks don’t need jumpers. It’s really only people who need woollen overgarments to keep their persons warm.

So where did this craze come from then? Well other than the wool mafia and nineties yuppies, it is believed to have originated in 2005 in Texas by a group of guerrilla knitters calling themselves Knitta Please, as a way to deal with the frustration of unfinished knitting projects. Founder, Magda Sayeg’s first ‘knit graffiti’ was a cosy for the doorhandle of her boutique in Houston, which became a hit with passersby, and the group grew from there.

There’s groups all round the world now, and Magda is still at it, recently completing a massive project to cover a bus in yarn. In fact, Yarnbombing is now so official that every June 11 (since last year) it’s International Day of Yarnbombing. ‘Keep calm and carry yarn’, says the yarnbombing movement and the day celebrates design, craftsmanship, originality and transformation of urban landscapes.

Craft has come a long way baby. Not so long ago, I recall doing craftanoons in secret for fear of recrimination and apathy towards explanation. A while before that, I recall my nanna doing her ‘craft’, which involved plastic baskets filled with soaps and fake flowers and other tacky crap. As a nine year old, with some pretty dodgy tastes (a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet for one and a penchant for novelty pencil cases), I distinctly remember thinking, WTF Nanna?

Perhaps the change came when the cumbersome term ‘Haberdashery’ was shed in favour of the one syllable ‘Craft’. But more likely, it was the rise of all things vintage and retro, real or fashioned, that birthed this enthusiasm for craft.
Either way, there are a bunch of people out there, perhaps right now, donating their craft to the world as part of a covert plan for world yarn domination.