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Yarn Bombing Has Its Purls of Wisdom

by Janine Boylan on August 19, 2013

Yarn bombing turns the Andy Warhol Bridge, Pittsburg, into creative public art. Image © Knit the Bridge

The Andy Warhol Bridge
© Knit the Bridge

Street Knitting As Public Art

The Andy Warhol/7th Street Bridge in Pittsburgh has been bombed!

So has the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.

And so have numerous trees, statues, railings, phone booths, bicycle racks, and lampposts.

Yarn bombing, or yarn graffiti, is often the work of stealth knitters who wish to beautify a public place with their artistic expression. This soft form of graffiti has become more mainstream in the last few years, though, and more communities are embracing it as public art.

Meet three creative yarn bombers.

Jessie Hemmons, The Street Bomber

Ishknits, or Jessie Hemmons, is a self-described yarn bomber who started her work in Pennsylvania and has recently brought it with her in her move to northern California.

Jessie Hemmons shows a unique artistic expression---yarn bombing to create public art. Image ©  Dustin Campbell

Jessie Hemmons, installing her work
Image © Dustin Campbell

Hemmons learned to crochet as a teen. A rough childhood led her to a juvenile detention facility where she had difficulty fitting in.

Eventually, she found crochet hooks and, through some relentless begging, got other girls to teach her the craft.

She explains how this experience became an Oh, I see moment for her, learning that “knitting and crocheting can be used as a language; a way to connect with people when other methods aren’t as effective.”

What motivates her? Hemmons shares more insights:

  • I have always loved graffiti and street art. I love the concept and the rebelliousness of it.
  • Street art resonates with me the most because I have always had this angst and a need to assert my belief that art should be accessible.
  • I have always struggled with accepting my place in society as a female. . . . I want to use a mockingly feminine craft to assert myself as a female figure in the world of street art.

This video shows Hemmons making and installing a piece in Pittsburgh.

If the video does not display, watch it here.

Yarn bombing of a Mayor Rizzo statue creates unusual public art. Image © Conrad Benner/Streetsdept

Mayor Rizzo, bombed
Image © Conrad Benner/Streetsdept

Knit the Bridge, Community Artists in Pennsylvania

Knitting can be a bridge to communication between people. Or knitting can just cover a bridge.

The Knit the Bridge group depended entirely on local communities’ support to accomplish their knitting project: a huge display and glorification of yarn work wrapping the Andy Warhol/7th Street Bridge, pictured at the top of the post.

Unlike traditional yarn bombers, the group sought permission to do their display. And they have a set time on September 6, 2013, when they will remove it. Oh, I (wish I could) see it!

Knit panels for yarn bombing the Andy Warhol bridge in a Pittsburg public art project. Image © Jay Ressler

Panels ready for hanging on the bridge
Image © Jay Ressler

Some number facts:

  • 14 months was spent planning, fundraising, knitting, and crocheting
  • 1,847 participants signed up to help
  • 580 hand-knit 3″ x 6″ panels line the walkway of the bridge
  • 3,000 linear feet of knitting covers the bridge towers
  • 337 volunteers installed the panels on the bridge in two 15-hour days

After the exhibit, the group will be cleaning and donating the one-of-a-kind blanket-sized panels to those in need.

Installing knit panels as part of a yarn bombing public art project on Pittsburg's Andy Warhol Bridge. Image © Knit the Bridge

Workers install panels at the top of the bridge.
© Knit the Bridge

YBLA—Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

This group had done a number of displays throughout the City of Angels, but they had a new, ambitious idea: cover the Craft and Folk Art Museum with crocheted squares, donated by volunteers. It sounded rather straightforward at first.

Artistic expression of yarn bombing at LA's Craft and Folk Art Museum in a creative public art project. Image © Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

Craft and Folk Art Museum, Granny-Squared
© Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

And then the squares started coming in. Over 500 people from 25 countries donated squares—15,000 hand-crafted squares in all!

The stories behind the squares are heart-tugging.

  • A neurologist in Turkey encouraged her patients to make squares as part of their treatment. It offered them a familiar, but creative outlet. And they relished being part of a public art project!
  • 13 squares arrived from Iran, but not by mail, since it is not possible to exchange mail between Iran and the U.S. Instead, the squares were transferred from traveler to traveler to reach L.A.
  • Instructors at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles held the hands of their visually-impaired students as they crafted their first-ever crochet squares for the project.
Incoming mail, containing knitted squares for a yarn bombing public art project at LA's Craft and Folk Art Museum. Image © Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

Incoming mail brings knitted squares from around the world
© Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

After fundraising, hiring engineers, processing city permits, and even fire-proofing the yarn squares, YBLA stitched their museum cozy together and unveiled their work. It will remain up until September 14, 2013.

But they won’t stop there. The group will sew the extra donated squares into blankets for people who need them on Skid Row. YBLA also plans to work with the Skid Row residents to create products for their store.

The Knits and Purls of It

Yarn bombing is a colorful, non-damaging form of artistic expression. It adds to a community’s public art. But the real purl of wisdom is how well this hand-crafted art pulls people, a community, and even the world, together.

Front Street in Pittsburg where a yarn bomber' Jessie Hemmon's showing artistic expression becomes public art. Image © Damon Landry/damonabnormal

Front Street, Pittsburgh, by Jessie Hemmons
Image © Damon Landry/damonabnormal

To watch a longer video about Jessie Hemmon’s work, click here.

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