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Fibre optics

Knit graffiti tags public space with whole new look

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THEY’VE stitched ’n’ bitched in obscurity long enough.

Now the hipster knitters who reclaimed an age-old hobby are taking it to the streets in a granny-friendly form of graffiti intended to make the world a more warm and fuzzy place -- and in some cases, to make a bold social or political statement.

 

These "craftivists," operating mostly under cover of darkness and with code names like Micro-Fiber Militia and Incogknito, have already left their mark on the Great Wall of China, France's Notre Dame Cathedral and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. In Mexico City, they covered an entire bus with a mammoth tea cosy.

Power poles, signposts, bike racks, benches, mailboxes, monuments, even trees and flower beds -- no public space is safe in cities targeted by these knit-and-run renegades.

Hope you like pom-poms, people. We're about to be yarn bombed.

Today from noon to 4 p.m., members of a stitch 'n' bitch group started by Mentoring Artists for Women's Art (MAWA) will join the global guerilla-knitting movement by "donating" the arsenal of colourful swatches they've been amassing since last September to Winnipeg's urban landscape.

Anyone -- female, male, nimble-fingered or not -- with a yen for yarn and/or a knotty streak is welcome to join the gang on its inaugural tagging blitz, which will start in front of the women's collective at 611 Main St.

"North Main is one of the areas under renewal right now, so we felt it was really important to stay close to home," says Tracy Marshall, MAWA's program coordinator.

As subversive acts go, it's hard to cast crafters who wrap their woolly creations around public property in the same light as the artful dodgers who deface it with spray paint.

"Knitting seems a friendlier way to have a dialogue about art in public places. It doesn't do any harm or destroy property and it can be cut off if someone's offended by it," says Marshall, who adds that she's read postings on knitting blogs from folks who object to yarn bombers, calling their woolly handiwork graffiti.

Many who have taken up needles for the cause -- the craftivists' manifesto, according to the Vancouver authors of an upcoming tell-all book, is "world yarn domination" -- view it as more than a means for adding some fibrous foliage to the urban jungle. Besides building community and opening up a new avenue for creative expression, Marshall says knit graffiti can make a feminist statement, because it rejects the notion of knitting or crocheting for altruistic, or even practical, purposes.

"Women have traditionally done this type of work, but in this case, it's not a blanket for a baby or a sweater for someone; it's just something that's out there," she says.

Leanne Prain, a Vancouver graphic artist and co-author of Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti, concurs.

"Graffiti is something that has had masculine overtones, and this is sort of empowering that art form and showing that (needlework) isn't something you have to do at home and hide. Now that knitting has been reclaimed, people are proud of it," Prain, 32, says during a phone interview.

But the stealth knitting movement isn't just attracting women, or people in the age range you'd normally associate with graffiti, for that matter. A group of men in the Netherlands who call themselves Knitted Landscape are famous for planting textile tulips in city parks. And Prain says a workshop she and her co-author Mandy Moore, editor of a knitting e-zine, recently held in Abbotsford drew would-be yarn bombers in their late 40s and mid-50s.

Their book, due for release in September by Arsenal Pulp Press, documents the work of seasoned "bombers" from around the world and includes patterns for street art projects (there's even one for knitted shoes that can be hung from telephone wires) and workwear such as the pink balaclava worn by diehards and sweaters with changeable collars and removable sleeves.

"There's an entire chapter on how to be sneaky," says Prain, who blogs about the global craze at www.yarnbombing.com.

By the way, you don't have to join a group to get involved.

"I've been doing it on my own over the last few months, mostly in Osborne Village," says Winnipeg weaver Tara Davis (a.k.a. DreamWeaver), who sells her high-end scarves and wall hangings at city galleries and boutiques. "I call it 'fibre bombing' because I don't knit."

She has, however, recruited some unlikely collaborators -- namely her mother and a tagger of the aerosol kind.

"He used to write on buildings, now he's made some nice little pieces," she says of her reformée.

 

For more information about MAWA's Stitch 'n' Bitch group, which meets the first Saturday of every month (you can just come for the bitching), call 949-9490 or go to www.mawa.ca.

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2009 C1

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