Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

The Art of Knit Graffiti

Yarn bombing, or knitted and crocheted graffiti, is a relatively new phenomenon, but in the last couple of years it has cropped up in most major Canadian cities. Taking the form of tree sweaters, parking meter cozies, and even knit shoes tossed over power lines, these acts of rebellion inspire both delight and a surprising level of vitriol in the communities where they appear.

I've noticed that yarn graffiti tends to attract a different sort of criticism than the spray-paint variety. Rarely does anyone complain that it's an eyesore, but many are quick to proclaim the uselessness of knitting a cozy for a parking meter when one could be knitting a hat for the homeless instead. It's funny, though, because I've never heard anyone suggest that an artist painting a public mural should be sprucing up houses for Habitat for Humanity instead. Perhaps the criticism of yarn graffiti stems from knitting being seen strictly as a craft -- meant to create functional, useful objects -- rather than a means of creating art.
Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti is a new book by Mandy Moore (no, not that Mandy Moore) and Leanne Prain.  It calls itself "the definitive guidebook to covert textile street art" and the description is apt, and not just because it is the only guidebook on the topic. Moore and Prain trace the concept back to a group of Houston-area knitters collectively known as Knitta, who in 2005 started tagging local door handles and car antennae with knitted cozies. Since then, yarn bombing has shown up all over the world, with examples beautifully photographed and documented for the book.

Yarn Bombing is not just a history of the movement, but a how-to guide for aspiring yarn bombers themselves, with sections on everything from how to correctly size your knitted tags for the best fit on a specific target, to meeting other people with the same interest in yarn graffiti. The section on choosing your own yarn bombing moniker may seem a little silly to some, but the guidelines on what to do if you get caught tagging are a nice touch. The authors go beyond yarn bombing in the final chapter, showcasing art installations in the same spirit. Some of these impressive works include a full-size tank completely covered by a crocheted cozy, and a giant knitted hare sprawled in the Italian countryside as if dropped there from a plane.

Knitters tend to be a demanding audience. As fascinating as a book on the history of knitting, or knitting as art, may be, knitters are unlikely to give it more than a passing glance if it doesn't contain at least a few patterns.  This fact wasn't lost on Moore (an editor of the successful online knitting magazine and pattern source and Prain. Interspersed among the interviews with noteworthy yarn bombers and tips for successful tagging are over a dozen knitting and a few crochet patterns. Most of the patterns are directly related to the topic of the book, such as tree sweaters and yarn mushrooms for "planting." There are, however, a few garments and accessories as well, including a very simple but well-designed sweater by Moore.

Most knitters who pick up the book won't be disappointed, even if they don't intend to wage a full-scale yarn bombing campaign in their own neighbourhood. Yarn Bombing is a good reminder that craft, yarn-based or otherwise, is as legitimate a form of expression as any other medium.

(Visit Leslie Ordal's blog. Follow her on Twitter.)