It’s a feminist form of graffiti, beautiful yet unsanctioned, made of yards and yards of colorful wool that’s been knit, purled and stitched onto parking meter poles and street signs.
Yes, it appears yarn is the new spray paint. Graffiti is being replaced by the more peaceful and nondestructive art known as "yarnbombing."
Palo Alto's most recent victim of a "yarnbombing" was Stanford's
The culprit? The world may never know her name—she goes only by the pseudonym "Streetcolor." Her escapades are immortalized through her blog.
“It’s the perfect form of street art, because it doesn’t damage anything,” said Streetcolor, who lives in the Berkeley area and claims responsibility for most of the guerrilla knitting in her fair city.
The stealth installation of knit pieces in outdoor public spaces is an expanding worldwide movement, one that Streetcolor first read about in the book, Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti, which inspired her to try it on the sidewalks of Berkeley and San Francisco.
Streetcolor said she has 10 years of experience as a professional knitter and has been a practicing artist her whole life, but she wants to re-define both professions through her current work.
“Knitters will say it’s a waste of time, because it’s not functional,” she said, pointing out that knitting continues to be a necessary skill in many parts of the world. “Any culture closer to ‘Are you gonna survive or not’ is gonna have to keep people warm without stores.”
But as she attached a length of knit wool onto a bike rack in front of the on a recent May morning, Streetcolor was not concerned about keeping the rack warm. “I absolutely consider this art,” she said. “To take something and put it out at a really big scale that’s intended to be looked at, thought about and change the environment, that’s the criteria for it to be art.”
Although she says the work did not begin as a political statement, she has come to see her work in an increasingly feminist context.
“Graffiti and street art has been a guy thing and has had guy values—big, brash, nonremovable,” she said. Yarnbombing, she explained, brings a different set of values with it. “It looks very different in the environment than spray paint. It’s removable, but it’s graffiti.”
Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said the police department has not received any complaints about knitting on public property. "Since the work is not considered to be permanent damage, it does not constitute a crime," the public information officer said in an email.
Streetcolor blogged about her recent yarnbomb attack of Stanford's Cantor Arts Center.
"We wandered deliciously through the museum and then waited around until it closed. There was an excellent stop sign pole across the street from the entrance," she said, describing how she plotted out the perfect location for her yarn bomb.
Streetcolor said she sat nearby sewing and preparing her long tubes of knitted wool to fit around the pole. Suddenly, she saw campus security guards doing their rounds, and she sped up to finish her "knitted art installation" before the guards figured out what she was doing.
"I sewed, I labeled, I photographed, very fast. It was pretty dark," she said. "I was just stuffing everything back in my pack [by the time they reached me]. They looked thoughtfully at me for some time, then drove slowly away. I walked nervously back to my getaway car and said, 'Let’s go right now!’ My partner threw down his ukelele, and we sped off, our hearts pounding."
Streetcolor has created yarn bombs in downtown and in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley, and has worked in San Francisco near the Ferry Building, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum. Often, she’s surprised that the installations last for several months before they wear out, are torn down or fade.
For her most recent piece in front of the Berkeley Library's main entrance on Kittredge Street, Streetcolor said she spent one month knitting “all day, every day” to prepare the 80 feet of knitting used to decorate the entire length of the bike rack.
Once the knitting was ready, she and a small group of friends gathered to attach the pieces as quickly as they could. Anna Wong, a friend and fellow expert knitter, spent several hours working side by side with Streetcolor.
“I think what I enjoy the most is the camaraderie to be in this community of artists,” said Wong, a kindergarten teacher at in Berkeley and also a practicing artist.
As they worked, Annie Alcott, a Berkeley resident and second-grade teacher at Cornell Elementary in Albany, stopped by. “I am so happy to see you guys out here!” she said, adding that she had been hoping to spot a new yarn bomb. “I just love it; it’s the coolest thing.”
Wong did not object to having her name and identity revealed for this article, while Streetcolor requested that her face be obscured in photos. Streetcolor said she has never been arrested while yarnbombing but has been asked to remove her work.
But most of the people who ventured past seemed grateful for the color being added to the streets. “Thank you!” yelled a man as he sped past on a bicycle.
International Yarnbombing Day is June 11.