By Kay Niedermeyer
Yarn bombing, or “knit graffiti” is a thing I’ve always appreciated but never created or participated in myself until very recently. My inexperience with yarn bombing would probably surprise people who know me both as a rabble-raiser, and also a gal whose hands have been pretty much constantly knitting (in the metro, in class, walking down the street, and so on) for over fifteen years.
I always appreciated a splash of hand-stitched colour around an otherwise drab city street, and perhaps as a knitter, in solidarity I understood the intentionality that went into each piece. It takes time, attention, and thoughtfulness to create fabric bands stitch by stitch.
And so, while it might be a bit of my own bias shinning through, I came to the understanding that as stencils and other forms of street arts are absolutely ways to carve up and reclaim public spaces as our own, knitted graffiti as street art necessitates an even deeper commitment in preparation and meditation and brings a special kind of warmth and tenderness to our concrete jungles.
The thing is, knitting has become a pillar in my livelihood. I have spent years learning traditional stitches, a knit language that has been passed down through feminine lines for generations, traditions and skills that have almost become forgotten. I’ve learned to read the flow of stitches, so that I don’t need a pattern, the stitches tell me what will come next as the lacework grows. With this skill, I create beautiful things. Beautiful things that I wanted to be cherished and worn and passed down to the next generations, not left out on the street to become weathered and worn…
But knitting has never, will never, be just about an individual process. In the same way, knitted cloths were never meant to last forever, any knitted piece that is well cherished and loved will inevitably become weathered and worn.
After all, what is just one stitch all on its own? For generations, womyn knitted together, they knitted for themselves and for their communities. To keep them warm, to keep them stylish. Growing up, my Oma was constantly knitting toques, mittens, and scarves for homeless shelters or her church’s annual snowflake bazaar fundraiser. In this way, knitting, as a tradition, is essentially community oriented.
It’s also about growth and learning, and not only in that knitters often become teachers to others who wish to learn to the skill. Anyone who has picked up a pair of needles, even for a short time would, I’m sure, admit to learning something in realizing either that knitting is harder than it looks, or that they had to learn to think or move their hands in a totally unknown way in order to actually create anything by knitting.
We never stop learning from our knitting. I find I am constantly learning new stitches, new flows, but also I am learning more from my community through knitting.
This past year, I’ve had the joy of leading a knitting circle at a community art cooperative, and boy, have I ever learned a lot. I’ve learned that knitters are cut from all sorts of cloth. I’ve learned to knit in French and in Spanish – and how differently these languages shape the way we talk and think about knitting! I’ve learned some interesting Chilean knit, crochet, woven traditions. And I’ve been inspired by the beauty that is collectively constructing knit graffiti and installing it, together, in the rain.
I’ve also learned the unexpected heartache of finding wounded, shredded pieces of our knitting lying in a pile on the doorstep. How could municipal workers find our knitted cozies so problematic that they would take the time to tear them from their perch? But the heartache never lasts long – we patched our pieces and had them back up on their posts within a couple of hours.
I’ve come to love how yarn bombing is a way to breathe new life into an old tradition, to make it both accessible and engaging to a new generation. But I’ve also come to love it as an inherently feminist act of defiance.
Our urban landscapes, so defined by our violent, patriarchal history, could use a little knitted rebelliousness. Yarn bombing makes our communities a little brighter and cozier, but it also, as a movement, is challenging how we definite what is “feminine” as framed by tradition, daintiness, obedience, perhaps. I would venture to say that yarn bombers – female and male – are redefining a feminine tradition as something that is resistant, disobedient, and that can crack through our patriarchal city planning, like a dandelion breaks through the pavement.
Words and photos by Kay Niedermeyer
Visit “kay made w/care” to see more of her beautiful creations.