For five days last week, Wright Square was the seat of a benevolent revolution. Literally.
A mysterious someone — or someones — had covered two public benches in cozy, colorful cloaks, right down to the armrests. Tourists milled about, tentatively sitting down. Girls Scouts squealed. Locals posed for photos with their dogs. As the weather turned chilly, it was at once a showstopping public art installation and a perfectly–timed tush warmer.
The practice of “yarnbombing”—blanketing trees, buildings, sculptures or any ol’ object with handmade crafts — has reached tipping point proportions all over the world. It’s usually performed by women but not exclusively: A computer programmer named “Bryan” made news this spring for sprucing up San Diego’s stop signs with giant crocheted green leaves.
If “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” as art activist Banksy reminds us, then yarnbombing wins. It’s what happens when street art gets snuggly. It’s positive rebellion that doesn’t leave a stain.
People can storm all the embassies they like; as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more radical than a bench wearing a sweater. Spinning yarns may be my calling, but I’ve got nothing on actual yarn.
With all the fibers students wandering around this city, it makes sense that Savannah would have its yarnbombers. I’ve seen bike racks in SOFO (South of Forsyth; cute, no?) and random tree branches knitted up like Pippi Longstocking over the years, but never anything of the scale in Wright Square.
I set out to find who was responsible for this random act of awesome.
I had come upon the colorful crocheted settees Monday evening after attending a Savannah Theatre performance of Raleigh–based dance troupe The Sassy Classics. In town kicking up their high heels as part of a physical education convention, this vivacious group of ladies aged 65–85 includes my husband’s lovely aunt, Carol Guld, a consummate Southern gentlewoman in her 70s who always outdances me at bar mitzvahs.
I admit I leapt to conclusions. What more obvious suspects for a massive knitting explosion than a bunch of senior citizens? But Aunt Carol and the rest of the Sassies had an alibi: They rehearse three days a week and shimmy all over the Southeast in their sparkly costumes; they don’t have time to do old lady things like sit around and purl.
I put out a blind call out on Facebook and Twitter. The Creative Coast’s Jake Hodesh provided me with a cryptic clue: An Instagram account. I left a message on a photo of a desk chair encased in red, yellow and blue twine. I had a yarnbomber hooked for sure, but I needed confirmation.
So I returned to the scene of the crime to pay a visit to nearby fiber shop The Frayed Knot (so good with the puns, those knitters!) where owner Jennifer Harvey shared the information that the Wright Square yarnbombers were SCAD students and had likely gone home for the holidays. Entangling me further, Harvey directed me to Jami Stone, who runs the Perlina Bead Shop tucked in the corner among the rainbows of skeins.
As Jami offered up photos of the bombing in progress, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a girl wearing red Converse sneakers and a fabulous cross–stitched teal scarf. Every time the word “yarnbomb” came up, her ears twitched.
“You!” I pointed. “You! You know something!”
She flushed red as a Christmas cardigan and confessed.
“I am a yarnbomber…” she started.
“Ah–ha!” I thumped my fist into a pile of wool balls, which doesn’t actually make a sound.
“…but I’m not THAT yarnbomber,” she finished. “Sorry.”
Turns out this stitch witch was a 15 year–old Effingham County homeschooler who goes by the moniker “Yarn Ninja.” She’s tagged parking meters, rest stops and trees from here to Jacksonville and doesn’t plan to ever stop.
I was more mystified than ever. What kind of insane world is this when old ladies are out shaking their moneymakers and teenage girls stay home and knit?
Yarn Ninja considers herself a secret agent of color and happiness. But like any guerrilla art form, she knows yarnbombs can be considered illegal graffiti.
“Not everyone appreciates it,” she shrugged. “But as long as you don’t get caught you can’t get in trouble.”
Jami said she’d seen city workers contemplating the fabric kaleidoscope earlier in the day — not a good sign. I rushed back out to the square to find the benches naked, returned to their utilitarian ordinariness. I sat down on the frigid metal, despairing that the cold hand of bureaucracy had snuffed public art’s bright flame once again.
Still, I had to unravel the mystery. Tie up the loose ends, so to speak.
On cue, an email popped up announcing the Wright Square art attack as the work of Chainmail, the demiurgic duo also behind the Foxy Loxy bike rack koozie and the festooned section of fence on SCAD’s Arnold Hall. They were indeed fiber students on their way out of town but agreed to meet on the condition their identities remain secret.
Young and lovely and adorned in a bevy of exquisite knitted accessories, Miss Knit T. Gritty and The Needle Goddess are the new faces of social radicalism. These twine warriors became partners in craft crime after being paired for a school project and discovered a mutual predilection for crochet and episodes of Gilmore Girls. Together they spent over 35 hours on their piÈce de resistance, surreptitiously assembling it during finals.
“We just wanted to make people smile,” said Miss Gritty, shaking off the installation’s abrupt removal by the city as just part of the impermanence of the process. “At first it was hard, but after seeing the reaction to it, it was worth it.”
We chatted about the irony of reclaiming our grandmothers’ hobbies as a vehicle for peaceful change and how the act of making is a revolutionary way to open minds and build community.
Concluded Needle Goddess: “When I see street art, it reminds me to dream big.”
Chainmail plans to strike again once next semester begins and are brainstorming a possible legal, large–scale collaboration with other knitwits to submit under the city’s public art policy.
I will be waiting like a good soldier, needles at the ready.
See more yarnbombs at jmchainmail.wordpress.com.