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Yarn bombing – not your grandmother's crochet pattern

February 01, 2013

What if you could make a political statement or let your voice be heard with just the stitching of yarn? Artists around the world are doing just that thanks to a growing trend called “yarn bombing,” which Maureen Goggin, English department chair in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, has spent her time examining.

By definition, yarn bombing is a type of non-permanent street art that employs displays of knitted or crocheted yarn in a public space. Examples were first recorded in the Netherlands in 2004. A year later it spread to the United Stated when a woman named Magda Sayeg decided to make door cozies to brighten up her town in Texas.

But before we can understand modern day “guerilla knitting,” Goggin says that we must first look at the history of needlework.

In the 18th century, both young girls and boys would create samplers as a school exercise to learn the alphabet or numbers. A sampler is a piece of embroidery that demonstrates various patterns and color threads. Young working women would even use these samplers as a portfolio for odd jobs tailoring and monogramming clothing or personal belongings.

Goggin says that soon needlework took on a female gender specific role because it taught women the skills they were “supposed” to have, such as to be obedient, chaste and domestic.

Today, many women continue to knit and crochet as a form of enjoyment. Sayeg is one of them and without knowing it, sparked modern day yarn bombing.

Via her research, Goggin has found that just like graffiti, yarn bombing is done out of protest, art and commodification. Both are also illegal and done in public spaces, where they cover cars, bicycles, public art and buildings.

“These artists want to have a say in public spaces that they don’t have in any other way. They know it’s temporary and that they may get caught, but that creates a sense of excitement,” she said.

Goggin also notes that the focus of this guerilla knitting isn’t just on the installation of the product. She says that yarn bombing itself is also about the time it takes to knit the piece, the reaction and the sense of community it creates.

For example, a woman in Copenhagen staged a protest against the Iraq war by having women from across the world send her samplers that would eventually cover a World War II tank. In March 2012, women from across the United States sent government leaders pink crocheted uteruses as a reaction to the debate surrounding women’s rights.

“Invention happens throughout the construction on any project. It’s not just the end product. The same is true with crafts. You are constantly inventing, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out and there is enjoyment in the process of creation,” she said.

Goggin says yarn bombing is even becoming widely accepted. Last year a church in England used the technique to raise much-needed funds. In June 2011 the trend reached new heights when a Canadian woman named Joann Matvichuk decided to start an official yarn-bombing day to unite crocheters, knitters and everyday people with a passion for art. International Yarn Bombing Day has gone off without a hitch since then with events planned for 2013.

For Goggin, engaging in this research fulfills her passion for women’s rights and crafts. For her, it is movements like this one that showcase the power of women in art.