Introductory notesPublic art can take many forms. Most people think of public art as a bronze sculpture in a park, but public art can actually take the form of murals, street art, temporary sculptures, and performances. Yarn bombing is a form of public art in which the fiber arts - knitting, crochet, applique, and more - are used to cover environmental elements such as bike racks and benches to make a colorful statement. Yarn bombing is often done guerilla style without the permission of city officials, placing it in the family of street art and graffiti. However, unlike graffiti and tagging, yarn bombing generally carries an innocuous message and is easy to clean up - all it takes is a pair of scissors to remove the piece of art.
Why make public art at all? This is one of the questions that we will be exploring through our workshops by engaging in different types of public yarn bombing. Public art brings out and tells stories about communities and places through a visual process. By thinking about how a place visually looks, students will also engage in thinking about the social and historical meaning of place. Guerilla public art such as yarn bombing allows for anyone to artistically express themselves in public.
This workshop is written by Carol Zou, “head poncho” of Yarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA). YBLA is a fiber arts community that collaborates with city governments, museums, alternative art spaces, and public spaces to create thought-provoking, community-generated public art installations. YBLA's work blends and reinterprets different artistic genres of street art, public art, fiber art, social practice, craft, and high art. YBLA's mission is to create a form of community-generated, site-specific public art that is tactile and accessible, while at the same time initiating dialogue about cross-generation connections and craft history.
About Yarnbombing:Yarn bombing is a relatively recent form of street art that employs colorful displays of knits or crochet and other fiber material instead of paint in public space.
Some engage in yarn bombing as a fun and creative way to use up left over yarn, others consider it an urban intervention to personalize otherwise cold and impersonal spaces or to make socio- political statements. Humor is often a major component of yarn bombing, which by its nature embodies contradictory idiosyncrasies within itself.
In its seemingly odd juxtaposition of knitting and graffiti, often associated with opposing concepts such as female, granny, indoors, domestic, wholesome and soft vs. male, enfant terrible, outdoors, public, underground and edgy, the practice of yarn bombing redefines both genres. Yarn bombing transforms knitting from a domestic endeavor to public art, recontextualizing both knitting and graffiti, both of which are marginalized creative endeavors that fall outside “high art.”
Like all public art, be it sanctioned commissions or self-initiated, unauthorized formats, yarn bombing imposes a particular aesthetic onto an environment that may be appreciated by some, but may not appeal to everyone. Yet, yarn bombing is necessarily ephemeral due to its use of materials and perhaps the most environmentally friendly graffiti because it can easily be removed with a pair of scissors and no damage left behind.
You can download a PDF version of the workshop description here.
Material needsThis workshop requires an instructor who is comfortable with the basic mechanics of hand sewing.
All of the projects in these workshops will not be knit or crocheted by hand. Rather, they will involve cutting out shapes from repurposed sweaters and sewing them together with yarn and tapestry needles. Sweaters can be sourced from thrift stores such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. For maximum visual impact, we suggest brightly colored sweaters in a solid color or a simple pattern such as stripes. The larger the sweater, the more surface area there is for cutting material.
Sourcing sweaters for yarn bombing
To make it easier to cut out shapes from sweaters, you can take apart the sweaters by cutting them at the seams so that you have pieces that will lie flat. This is especially helpful for sleeves, which are narrow and oddly shaped.
- Students will need to learn how to thread a needle and tie a square knot to begin and end their stitches.
- All yarn bombing pieces can be sewn together with the use of the whip stitch (overhand stitch). Whip stitch reference: http://www.holiday-crafts-and-creations.com/whip-stitch.html
- Additional stitches that might be helpful would be the running stitch (used to sew pieces together) and the blanket stitch (used to create a nice ‘edge’ along pieces of applique). Running stitch reference: http://www.holiday-crafts-and-creations.com/running-stitch.html Blanket stich reference: http://www.holiday-crafts-and-creations.com/how-to-do-blanket-stitch.html
“Whose Public? Spatializing Politics Through Street Art”
One day workshop (2 hours)
- Recycled Sweaters
- Tapestry needles
- Fabric paint
Icebreaker: 25 minutes:The purpose of the icebreaker is to get students to start thinking about their own relationship to public art and street art, especially if they do not live in a very urban location. Students will begin to dissect visual and social components of space, which will then assist them in the yarn bombing exercise.
Students break out into paired groups and discuss one of the following topics for 10 minutes. The group then spends 15 minutes presenting the results of their installation.
- What type of street art do they see in their neighborhood?
- What kind of people make street art? What kind of people enjoy street art?
- What messages do street art send? What is the effect of street art on neighborhoods?
- Is street art vandalism? Is graffiti street art? What is the reaction of authorities to graffiti?
Students will travel to nearby location to be yarnbombed. They will take measurements of pieces that they want to yarnbomb. Students will measure at least three different pieces and make a sketch of the pieces so that they have options. Students should aim for a yarnbomb that is no larger than 2 ft x 2 ft. Students can team up to cover larger pieces such as a bench, etc.
Location scouting: 20 minutes
Location debrief: 15 minutes
- What has the student selected to yarnbomb?
- How does the object the student has selected currently function in the space?
- How will yarnbombing the object change the space?
Yarn bomb making: 40 minutes
- Using recycled sweaters, student will cut out and piece together a yarnbomb according to the measurements that they have taken. They also have the option to decorate their yarnbomb using fabric paint markers, felt, buttons, and beads.
Yarn bomb installation: 10 minutes
- -Students will sew their pieces onto the object that they have selected.
- -Other students will assist in documenting the workshop through their smartphones or cameras. Photos from the yarnbombing can be uploaded to a digital album or shared online through a hashtag. We recommend a hashtag with the structure #yarnbomb[location] i.e. #yarnbombpacoima or #yarnbombLAHS
Reflection: 10 minutes
Students will come back together to reflect on their yarn bombing. Some potential conversation starters would be:
- How did yarn bombing transform the selected site?
- How did the students feel while yarn bombing?
- What did the students learn about public art?
- How has the students’ perspectives on public art and
About Yarnnbombing LA and Carol ZouYarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA) is a group of guerrilla knitters who have been collaborating since 2010. YBLA stages public installations and performances to help expand the definition of public art to embrace street art, including self-initiated, ephemeral urban interventions utilizing fiber material. Collaborative art making, community building, public outreach, blurring boundaries between contemporary art practices, graffiti and craft are integral components to YBLA's practice.
The group organically grew out of a participatory yarn bombing event organized by the Arroyo Arts Collective in Los Angeles and became an entity of its own during the six month process of putting together Yarn Bombing 18th Street, an interlacement of site specific installations featuring 65 local and international knit graffiti artists. YBLA projects range from the day long urban intervention outside MOCA's seminal Art in the Streets show to conducting knit graffiti workshops for LAUSD teachers, students and their parents.
Carol Zou is a current MFA Public Practice candidate at Otis College of Art and Design who is investigating ways in which individuals/collectives can repurpose public space to create shared spaces for creative action. She loves public transportation, Bikini Kill, and organizing large groups of people to do amazing things.