Discover the feminist roots of this unique street art using yarn and wool
Whatever city you live in, you may have come across a tree decorated with wool or a lamp post covered in crocheted flowers. This practice is known as yarn bombing, and it’s everywhere.
Yarn bombing is the decoration of public features with handmade fabrics. These colorful creations convey messages about care, respect, and the appreciation of public space. This street artform’s origins date back to the mid-19th century, the industrial revolution, and feminist resistance.
Want to know more about knitted urban creations? Discover the roots of yarn bombing below!
Why is yarn bombing considered feminist?
In the 19th century, as textile manufacturing became more and more industrialized, handicrafts like sewing, knitting, embroidery, and quilting, lost value. Society began to see them as old fashioned, associate them with domesticity and view them as trivial activities that women did at home to kill time. The world lost its regard for hand-made things.
With the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, a group of activists, embroidered, and knitters began insisting that these practices be recognized as techniques that, like other art forms, require discipline, talent, and creativity.
Did they achieve their goal?
It took a while, but yes. In 1979, artist Judy Chicago presented one of the first acclaimed artworks featuring embroidery and fabric: Dinner Party. Her installation depicted an elaborate dinner party, complete with vagina plates and decorations hand-made by women. Currently on show at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, this work summarizes the symbolic history of women in Western civilization.
The installation opened an important door and inspired other artists. Anni Albers, Olga de Amaral, and Faith Ringgold are just some of those who saw Dinner Party and subsequently began to use wool, thread, and fabric to make their social and conceptual implications more visible.
When did the yarn bombing movement officially begin?
The practice is believed to have originated in the United States when knitting groups in Texas began using leftover materials to create friendly graffiti, using wool and needles instead of spray paint. However, American artist Magda Sayeg is seen as having unconsciously brought about the resurgence of today’s movement.
Magda decided to cover her Houston store doorknob in yarn. Following positive reactions from her customers, she decided to start covering public objects, such as signs and fire hydrants, on the streets of her city. She soon formed a team of yarn bombers, known as Knitta Please, who carried out much larger projects, like covering an entire bus in knitting!
What’s the message behind yarn bombing?
Sayeg never intended to politicize her knitting. In fact, she claims she didn’t know anything about its feminist roots. Instead, she admits to having felt a desire to “humanize” cities: to give the cold, industrial landscapes she walked through daily a warm and friendly touch.
As yarn bombing began to spread around the world, many textile artists decided to go back to its roots and recover its subversion of the normal uses and consumption of this art form in and defend female creativity.
On feminist marches today, you will often see activists sitting down to knit. They believe their work can attract and generate conversation and that it’s a way to intervene in public spaces.
How long does it take to organize a yarn bomb?
Quite a bit. Large-scale projects require the kind of collective effort that needs planning in advance, so that each participant knows exactly how and where their fabric will be applied. Artists generally take measurements beforehand and prepare everything at home or in a studio. On-site adjustments don’t take long.
Which yarn bombers can I follow?
Polish artist Agata Olek is an outstanding exponent of this technique. Her work has been showcased in prestigious cultural circles and has received numerous awards, including the 2004 Ruth Mellon Award for Sculpture, the 2011 In Situ Artaq Award (France), and a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) fellowship for her public performances. She has even yarn bombed national monuments including El Cid in Seville, Spain.
Yarn bomber Alicia Recio Rodríguez (@alimaravillas) is one of Domestika’s expert crochet teachers. You can check out her yarn bombs on her blog.
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