Our yarn bomb at the corner of University and Westmount >> photo by Jeremy Enns

Yarn bombing 101

Our yarn bomb at the corner of University and Westmount >> photo by Jeremy Enns
Our yarn bomb at the corner of University and Westmount >> photo by Jeremy Enns

HG Watson

Picture it: you’re walking down the street, off to work on a dreary January day.

Out of the greys and whites that make up the environment at this time of year, a burst of colour catches your eye. You turn and look at an old tree. One of its limbs has been covered, completely, in yarn; a tree cozy made up of a multitude of looping colours and stitches.

It’s a yarn bomb, a spontaneous act of public art in which knitters make sure a tree, a pole, or whatever else suits their imagination is covered in knitted or crocheted wool. Don’t you think that would be nice?

So did I. But reality, that frustrating crusher of dreams, taught me that public art needs a lot more planning and time to execute properly.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at yarn bombing. I love knitting and I love public art so it seemed an easy match given that I’m hardly likely to be tagging a wall anytime soon.

The idea to cover random public objects with yards of yarn originated with Magda Sayeg, a Texan woman who decided to knit cozies for her doorknobs. Soon enough, the idea took off globally. Some yarn bombers do huge installations, covering statues, tanks and entire trees with large knitting projects.

That’s the image I had in my head when I proposed this idea. In doing interviews and researching this project, yarn bombing had come up again and again as a creative way to inject art into public spaces. Plus I wanted to show that creating public art in Waterloo wasn’t hard at all; all you need is a pair of knitting needles and some gumption.

But with gumption, you also need a little planning to undertake a large-scale project. I had originally envisioned wrapping the trunk of a tree. I knew this would take a lot of yarn (which, thanks to Waterloo store Shall We Knit I was able to obtain). What I didn’t budget for was time. As a knitter, I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to speed. A 7×7 inch square takes me about an hour or so; this seems to be about average for most knitters.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of time but when you multiply it by the amount of squares you actually need to wrap around the trunk of a tree the time adds up. In the end we knitted seven squares – that’s about seven hours of work. Even with the help of a few brave assistants, it wasn’t close to what I would need to do a larger scale installation.

In the end, I decided to darn the pieces we’d created together like a long, patchwork scarf. It looked cool, but this would also turn out to be a mistake when we actually got to the tree we had chosen to yarn bomb. If I had kept the patches separated, I could have wrapped them one by one, creating a larger project. As it was, I had to settle for twisting our yarn bomb/scarf around the trunk a few times.

The next day, I went back to visit the yarn bomb with Cord videographer Jeremy Enns in tow. We chatted with a few people about our little project. One man had indeed noticed the yarn bomb on the way to work – but he thought it was a scarf someone had left behind. Other folks hadn’t noticed it, but were curious and interested when we explained what it was.

I don’t think our yarn bomb – or any for that manner – can truly be called a failure. Some are very small, and some are impressive in their scope. The point is simply to get people to see their public space in a different way, and bring a little more colour into the world.