The Wild and Woolly World of Yarn Bombing, Street Art's Soft Sensation

Finding yourself without plans for the weekend, in possession of excess yarn, and feeling a penchant for danger? Well lucky for you this Saturday is the first ever International Yarn Bombing Day.

Unless you have read the recent and exhaustive Times article on the topic, you are probably wondering to yourself: what the heck is yarn bombing? Well, it's an art craze cooked up by a bunch of ladies 'round the world who like to wrap things in yarn. More than that, they fancy themselves to be the softer side of street art — instead of spray paint and wheat paste, they cover things in cozy, custom-made sweaters. Yarn bombers have covered water towers, the "Rocky" statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a bus in Mexico City, among other things.

The start of the movement has been attributed to Magda Sayeg, 37, from Houston, who says she first got the idea in 2005 when she covered the door handle of her boutique with a custom made cozy. That first cozy led to the formation of a knit graffiti group called, wait for it, Knitta Please. Since then, so called "Guerrilla Knitting" has spread faster than those needles can churn out a beanie, and inspired yarn lovers around the globe to install their own acts of knit defiance everywhere from Iran to Denver to Australia. A thriving, supportive, and often hilarious online community where bombers upload pictures and give pointers is no doubt largely responsible for the popularity and far reach of the movement. In fact, International Yarn Bombing Day was declared via Facebook by Canadian yarn bomber Joann Matvichuk.

But not all artist knitters are so eager to adopt the name of yarn bombing. Take the case 33-year-old Artist Agata Oleksiak, known as Olek, who recently had a show called "Knitting is for Pussies" at Christopher Henry Gallery in Nolita where she crocheted every surface and object in a 15-by-14-foot studio, is staunchly anti-yarn bombing and said to the Times, "I don't yarn bomb, I make art." Olek's tendency to fancy herself a bit more hardcore is not completely unfounded, though admittedly hard to take seriously from a woman wearing knitted rainbow legwarmers. Nevertheless, Olek's work deals much more obviously with issues of gender in knitting and is more confrontational than many yarn bomb works. Last December, she completely crocheted the "Charging Bull" near Wall Street in pink and purple yarn under the cover of nightfall, and she will be part of the Smithsonian's "40 Under 40" exhibition in 2012.

While it seems that the difference is slight between Olek's work and casual yarn bombers in suburban Canada, she may have a point. On International Yarn Bombing Day's Facebook page, Yarnbomber Betty declares, "Yarnbombing is the most fun I have had knitting in a long time. I like to think of my works as yart — yarn art." Knitting a signpost may be indeed be yart, but it also might be thought of as a bit gimmicky. And why do these ladies do what they do anyway? On the International Yarn Bombing Day blog, knitting group Purl Gurls claim, "if one act of yarnbombing makes someone smile or brightens someone's day when they look at it then what WE as a community have done on ONE DAY in a year would make this event a success."

Even though yarn bombing seems to be about sisterhood, smiles, and world peace, corporate enterprises wanting to soften their image have begun to take notice and capitalize on the chuckle-inducing nature of the craft, provoking concerns that yarn bombing has sold out. Sayeg has knit car sweaters at the request of Prius, Smartcar, and Mini Cooper; she sells knit iPhone covers online for $34.95; and recently she covered the heating ducts at the offices of Etsy.com in Brooklyn.

 

For yarn bombing's big day, craft superstore Michael's has hopped on the holiday bandwagon and is celebrating the occasion with "in-store yarn bomb installations and knit-a-thons at five locations." But, the hub of the action for International Yarn Bombing Day is a Flickr account where yarn bombers are encouraged to "please take time to upload photos or videos of your projects and discuss your passion for the craft." It also has a geolocation tool to track yarn bombings across the globe, so that doubters can see for themselves the international might of "yart." 

For images of some of Yarn Bombing's greatest hits, click on the slide show at the left. To see Olek knit a sweater for Wall Street's Charging Bull, click on the video below:

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