Kitsch stitch
June 25, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Urban knitting, guerilla knitting, textile street art, yarn bombing. Whatever you choose to call it, this artform takes everyday objects of the city — such as trees, lampposts, street signs, bike racks — and wraps them up in colorful knit cozies. You'll find these wonderful oddities all over the world, from Manhattan to Sydney to Edinburgh to Philadelphia to Oakland to Chicago to Bisbane and back to Manhattan again. People have written books about it. It has inspired an Irish cellphone commercial. Metafilter's own ErikaB made a tree sweater that was featured on Metafilter and on the front cover of Seattle's The Stranger. Magda Sayeg's blog Knitta Please is a showcase for some of her delightful projects, including a Smart car, coffee shop sign, and crutches. (Also, previously.)

Thank you to all the contributors in my AskMe thread on this fascinating subject.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (37 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
"Oakland" above doesn't have a link, so I thought I'd correct that.
posted by doteatop at 10:08 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does anyone have any idea how the yarn bike came to be? I don't know much about knitting, but I assume it had to be done in one fell swoop. It always delights and confounds me on the way to/back from the bars.
posted by griphus at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2010

...yarn bike...
posted by griphus at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2010

Kinda messed up that they are covering the street signs. Aren't street signs retro-reflective so that they can be seen more easily in the dark? Is yarn retro-reflective?
posted by hellphish at 10:11 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for getting this post up! (Good one!)
posted by bearwife at 10:11 AM on June 25, 2010

Paging orange swan, orange swan to the blue courtesy phone please.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2010

Those poor trees!
posted by Joe Chip at 10:23 AM on June 25, 2010

When I was a kid I did a sowing class at school where I had to make a cushion with a decorative motif on it, something I was not too happy about because I considered sewing and cushions stupid and would have sooner spent the time doing something cool, like playing with computers. So anyway, I cut pieces of felt out and sewed them to this cushion in the design of my choice: A computer. because computers are cool.

Anyway, that ugly dorky computer cushion has been lost over time, but I wish I had it now, because it would be worth it's weight in hipster gold.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on June 25, 2010

I've seen some of these around. I didn't know it was a thing, I just thought we had an awesome/crazy local person.
posted by lover at 10:35 AM on June 25, 2010

Does anyone have any idea how the yarn bike came to be?

It's crocheted. Some of it might've been done on site, but I suspect the wheel covers were done as separate round pieces elsewhere and then seamed together around the wheel.

Somebody's done up a few crocheted bike rack covers in my town. Best use for cheap, weatherproof acrylic yarn ever. And much simpler and faster to do with crochet than knit!
posted by asperity at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2010

Ahhh.... I get it now. I like this now that I understand it.
posted by Hicksu at 10:42 AM on June 25, 2010

Although I always thought knitting was a slow process...
posted by Hicksu at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2010

NPR on the Charm City (that's Baltimore) Craft Mafia.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:46 AM on June 25, 2010

and to think, here I am in Iceland wondering if I should buy one of these babies.

also, officially in the one place on earth where having bright orange hair makes you look average
posted by The Whelk at 10:48 AM on June 25, 2010

Like so many similar ideas, this was cute the first few times people did it, but I think it's in danger of becoming obnoxious as the me-toos make it commonplace.

Painted graffiti is fun, too, when it's well designed, well executed, well maintained, and not on every wall.

Putting this stuff on things isn't risk free or damage free. Although I admit it's not horribly and intrinsically damaging, the yarn will hold moisture against trees, wood, and metal, and promote fungus and rust. And there'll inevitably be people who don't take responsibility for taking the stuff down before it gets really disgusting, although I have to admit that those people would probably find something else to mess up anyway.

I predict that you'll be able to buy ready made "cozies" soon, if you can't already. They won't be as pretty, they won't be as well made, they won't fit as well, and the people who put them up will pay less attention. Less talented or lazier "craft taggers" will start leaving cheesy work all over the place. There'll be huge trees wrapped in filthy, sodden, disintegrating fabric. Meanwhile, one-uppers will keep one-upping until they've made it really ridiculous and disruptive.

Then, as a result of people overdoing it, we'll have yet another series of bans on doing anything fun.

Particularly on my lawn.
posted by Hizonner at 11:07 AM on June 25, 2010

There was a knit/crochet art piece across a few trees on the lawn of Agnes Scott (in Decatur, GA) a few months ago. Ah, and this motivated me to research it. It was a Mandy Greer crochet art project/installation.

Also: didn't know it was a thing.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 11:07 AM on June 25, 2010

I wish I could adequately express how much these bits of art have improved the little corners of Philadelphia where they have cropped up.

I have so much love for this.
posted by 256 at 11:07 AM on June 25, 2010

I've got to admit that this is one yarnie thing that I really just don't understand. And honestly, I understand and love most yarnie things. It just seems kind of pointless to me, and it also seems a little bit like litter. Do they come and clean up the yarn graffiti when it's dirty and yucky and not pretty anymore, or do they figure that someone else will do that?
posted by craichead at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about the opposite--using natural elements in crocheted pieces. You know, like a rock blanket, or a framed mat with tiny pinecones? (disclaimer: the latter object was given to me for officiating the artist's wedding)
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:19 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't call it "yarn bombing" unless shit blows up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:29 AM on June 25, 2010

Worth mentioning that "Knitta, Please" came under fire last year for the name: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
posted by bettafish at 11:36 AM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Someone turned this "art" in Austin into something a bit more, er, art.
posted by sanko at 12:06 PM on June 25, 2010

hey sanko, i was going to talk about that. there is actually a video that was on the statesman's sight of the city blocking off traffic so the lady could put those up. They have already been down. Apparently those signs are an installation also, but no one gets it.
posted by djduckie at 12:29 PM on June 25, 2010

Also this most excellent knitting ad for natural gas.
posted by sadtomato at 12:36 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Brisbane yarn bombing is actually part of an textile arts festival. Last one's a self link, but hey, it means I own the copyright on the shots.

I really really wish I had a piccy of the hand. An eight foot bronze hand statue, lovingly knitted into a glove.
posted by Jilder at 12:46 PM on June 25, 2010

Thanks for this. I read your question in AskMe and it was the first time I learned something like this even existed. I've never seen anything like it here in Tokyo, but I look forward to someone knitting a nice sweater for the Hachiko statue in Shibuya or something.
posted by misozaki at 3:44 PM on June 25, 2010

Jilder, I was just about to mention that I work at Stones Corner and I've been seeing all the knitting and crocheting around the place. It's starting to get a bit ragged now, but it was wonderful when they first started appearing, just heading off to pick up some lunch and seeing new things everywhere.
posted by h00py at 4:00 PM on June 25, 2010

Wow. Hipster taggers. Color me ... meh.
posted by gjc at 4:56 PM on June 25, 2010

Oh, hallo!

Personally, I go back and remove stuff after a few years, because it does start to get mangy. I'd like to think most other knitters would do the same, but you never know.

Once a bit of public knitting starts visibly showing its age and looking sad, I think taking it down is the civic-minded thing to do, even if you're not the original knitter. Please feel free to remove over-the-hill knit graffiti with my blessing!
posted by ErikaB at 5:03 PM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've recently moved to a new city and have a little trouble navigating- all the streets and corners look a little same-y and don't quite meet up how you think they should, plus Canberra is a weird limbo of roundabouts- but there's this one telegraph pole (in the middle of one of the aforesaid ubiquitous roundabouts) with a nice woolly crochet vest that always lets me know I'm nearly home.
posted by Philby at 8:21 PM on June 25, 2010

I just that bike last week and was quite amused. Thanks for tying up loose ends.
posted by swift at 11:19 PM on June 25, 2010

If it's knit with natural fibers (i.e. wool or cotton), isn't it biodegradable? I mean, that doesn't necessarily mean it's attractive, but birds can feather their nests with it, right?
They have very little time to rest, you know.
posted by smartyboots at 12:02 AM on June 26, 2010

The people complaining about the "Knitta Please" name all sound like mean spirited parodies of every overly-PC hippie women's studies freshman ever.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:37 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, god forbid anyone be a bit perturbed by middle-class white people parodying the slang of working-class black people.
posted by bettafish at 2:56 PM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good job all outstanding world problems have been solved so we have time to focus on stuff like this.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2010

Its just knit picking, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:02 PM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, god forbid anyone be a bit perturbed by middle-class white people parodying the slang of working-class black people.

Well, that does get into what constitutes "white," I will grant you that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:37 PM on June 26, 2010

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