Monday, October 18, 2010

Bring On the Bombs

In today's edition:

I generally try to keep on top of cultural trends even if I don’t adopt them, but there is a growing movement that I have only just discovered. Not long ago, I was walking along in Berkeley, California while visiting my daughter, and I saw a signpost that had been covered with yarn, like someone had sewn a knitted scarf to it. It was colorful and randomly striped, and I pointed it out as if it were the most unusual thing in the world. That’s when my daughter explained the nature of what is known as yarn bombing.

It’s when knitters attach something they’ve created to a public object, most often doing their deed stealthily and anonymously. They leave a “bomb,” so to speak, for no other purpose than to brighten up the place and to bring a little cheer to those passing by. Their work has been equated with graffiti, except that the woven yarn is not permanently installed and does no damage to the object it covers. And instead of signifying the territory of a street gang, it simply marks a spot with a bit of unexpected color and texture.

Yarn bombers leave knitting on all sorts of things—lampposts, parking meters and handrails, rusty gates and blocks of cement. They put clothes on statues, wrap swatches around tree trunks and cover the pipes of sinks in public restrooms. One group of Texan knitters, Magda Sayeg and her covert crew known as Knitta Please, has even covered an entire bus in Mexico City and has left their mark on public places all the way from China to Australia.

You might think this is all a great waste of time, what with poor people needing blankets and hats ahead of a cold winter. All of these crafters cluttering up the landscape could put their talents to work by creating objects people could actually use, stuff that serves a purpose. I suspect the people who have been bombing the world with yarn believe their work is useful and does serve a purpose. They create beauty where there otherwise would be little of it.

That’s at the root of it all, isn’t it? We are driven by a need to create beauty in an ugly environment and to express our humanness in a world that can seem downright barren. It’s that drive that causes us to paint and sculpt, to make music, to bring design to everyday objects and even to plant flowers in our front yards. Yarn bombing is nothing more than another form of art, a way for people to be generous with their talents and to be expressive in positive ways.

Up until now, I’ve only knitted wearable things, starting with scarves as do most beginners. I graduated to ill-fitting sweaters and then began knitting baby hats for charities. I have shipped more hats than I can count to hospitals and to a group providing care packages for mothers who live in poverty. I gave hats to an orphanage in Romania this past summer and even had the honor of personally placing one of my handmade hats on a baby there. Of course, the little boy wasn’t impressed, but his weary, homeless father seemed pleased at the thoughtfulness of a stranger.

The objects I have knitted, except for those odd sweaters, have been very useful, and I have been delighted to hand them out. I see the gifts yarn bombers leave behind on random objects in their communities as equally valuable. When people encounter stripes on a street lamp or granny squares on a park bench, they usually react with pleasure and with gratitude for the thoughtfulness of strangers who ask for nothing in return.

They say trends start on the coasts and work their way toward the center of the States, so maybe that’s why I haven’t seen yarn bombs in East Central Ohio, at least not yet. I propose it’s time we catch up to the rest of the world and bring on the yarn bombing, and I propose all those potential guerrilla knitters out there put their skills to use and do some sprucing up. We could use a little beauty and a few whimsical surprises. What do you say?


dive said...

I say 'yay,' Robyn!
Guerrilla beautification is a wonderful thing, whether it be planting trees along barren verges or knitting a bus-cosy. I must confess to laughing for sheer joy when I saw the photo of that bus in the paper.
In days like these we need all the beauty we can get.

Madame DeFarge said...

What a curious and interesting idea. Reminds me of guerrilla gardening which I've heard about over here too.