Thinking about Yarnachy – yarnbombing as play & placemaking by Stephanie Symns
Yarnarchy is a yarn bombing festival that will run from 10-24 June as part of our Urban Play Programme. Yarnarchy plays with the infrastructure of the city – statues, seats and streets, fostering another way of looking at the city and investigating opportunities to play with what we have in our urban environment. We want to have fun with the city, shape our environment and invite others to do the same.
What is yarn bombing?
Widely credited as the mother of yarn bombing, Magda Sayeg (right) and her friend sewed a brightly coloured strip of knitting to the door handle of her boutique in Houston, Texas in 2005. Buoyed by her customers’ positive reactions to this small intervention, she tagged a stop-sign down the street and was hooked.
Soon after she took on the graffiti name PolyCotN and with her friend AKrylik they became Knitta, the first yarn graffiti crew. Coinciding with the return to cool of knitting and crochet through Stitch ‘n Bitch groups in the early 2000s, yarn bombing has gone on to become a global social phenomenon.
Why yarn bomb?
Deliberated extensively in popular media, academic journals and blogs alike, yarn bombing is entwined with ideas about aesthetic production, community building, politics (‘craftivism’), sustainability, play, gender and more, and consequently takes a wildly diverse range of forms.
From the smallest of flowers on an urban fence to clawed monster feet humorously attached to a post box to the incredible spectacle of 300,000 poppies on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, yarn bombing runs from the sweetly simple to deeply complex in both execution and concept.
Individual motivations for getting involved in yarn bombing vary widely, from artistic expression to connection through community, responding to the local environment, protest or activism, wellbeing… and of course, fun!
Debbie Stoller published Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook in 2004, and I remember it clearly as a call to action for me and my friends who quickly took to knitting up all manner of crazy skull purses, clothes and random accessories. It was fun, a bit edgy and a way of expressing ourselves.
I come by my crafty skills the old-fashioned way – passed down from my nana, though I also spent time formally studying textiles. Nana was of the self-sufficient, frugal post-war generation and a prodigious knitter. From her I learned the value and pleasure of making things, and later came to appreciate how rare this is becoming in our increasingly digital age and throwaway culture.
I admit it took a while for the appeal of yarn bombing to sink in – especially given the amount of time and labour required to make items by hand. The potentially ephemeral nature of items made for public spaces was initially difficult to get behind; so much time invested in something that might just disappear.
In fact, I had that experience last year when I yarn bombed one of the corgi statues on High Street by the tram stop. I think it lasted one evening! That said, it gave me such pleasure to make and install it – so many people stopped to appreciate it while I was sewing it on and have a chat. It made me really happy to create something fun for other people in my work neighbourhood to get a kick out of – a small way of shaping my environment and connecting with people locally.
In Writings on Cities Henri Lefebvre characterises the right to the city as a collective prerogative to change the city and shape the process of urbanisation. Thinking about the urban environment as a play space, yarn bombing offers a way of altering the places where we live in ways both big and small that are meaningful to us and the people around us. It’s a soft way, both literally and figuratively, of inserting ourselves into our public environment in ways that can feel transgressive, humorous and empowering. We may have limited ability to affect the design of our cities at the institutional level, but yarn bombing offers a low barrier to playful individual expression and commentary from irreverent to political. Yarn bombing confronts thinking that the city is fixed, finished, done.
Since returning to Ōtautahi after more than 20 years away, I’ve come to love this vibrant city that’s so different from the one I grew up in. I’ve always been an advocate for the power of making things. Working with Gap Filler has underscored that an age-old textiles practice of coming together in social connection to make something alongside the desire to shape our local environment is, at its core, placemaking.
So come June keep an eye on those corgis. I’ve roped my mum into my yarnarchy so now it’s a family endeavour!
Keep an eye on Gap FIller’s Yarnachy exploits via our social media channels and also here on our website.