Street art: Who-dun-knit?

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright finds breaking the law has never been more cheerful, as she goes in search of the fluffy face of graffiti.

Dan Carter's piece complete with All Blacks underwear, a smouldering look on his face, and a sculpted chest. Photo / Supplied
Dan Carter's piece complete with All Blacks underwear, a smouldering look on his face, and a sculpted chest. Photo / Supplied

Craft is coming out of the domestic scene with a form of graffiti that involves knitting a piece of art and leaving it in a public place to 'beautify the neighbourhood' and generally make people smile.

It began in the US, with knitters wanting to find a way to use up wool leftover from knitting projects. It's seen as a way to reclaim sterile or cold public places and brighten the world up a little.

It's known, in contrast to its seemingly sweet nature, as yarn bombing, guerrilla knitting, or even covert textile street art. One Auckland exponent prefers the term "woolly tagging" and says if she had to wait for permission it would kill the creativity.

Knitty Graffity, Knitty to her friends, has been making pieces for two years after her sister in Sweden told her about the craze, so popular in Europe and America that advertising campaigns have been built around planned yarn bombs and there's now an international yarn bombing day.

Knitty is not your usual graffiti artist. By day, she's a mother, a wife, a respectable member of her community with a full-time job in a good profession and a sideline craft business.

By night, she heads out with her trusted "torch bearer" and puts up pieces to delight and provoke thought. Though she is careful to make the pieces non-damaging and never places them on private property.

"I want to brighten up people's lives," says Knitty. "When I put woolly tags up on the Devonport wharf, I want to give all the commuters something new and for them to open up their eyes - look there's something new, colourful."

Shortly after the earthquake in Christchurch, Knitty and her family and friends packed all the red and black yarn they could find and went to the roundabout at the beginning of Lake Rd in Devonport and "hearted" a fence to show support. The 25 hearts they created that day are still there.

Her most recent project has been organising an audacious woolly tag, her biggest project to date, along the handrails of Devonport Wharf. Known as The Woolly Walk Along, it's a global art initiative on a large, or long, scale - in collaboration with more than 90 people in nine countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, England, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, USA and Canada.

"I had the idea a year ago," says Knitty, who found her woolly taggers through social media. "I thought there would be a lot of people in Auckland for the Rugby World Cup and I wanted to give them, and all Aucklanders, a free, colourful public art installation to enjoy."

The pieces are extraordinary: there's a full rugby team of kiwis, a 45cm squid with long tentacles, Maria from The Sound of Music (sent from Austria) and Elmo, with extra long arms for cuddles. There's also an abundance of flowers, stripes and even some cornish pasties from England's "Graffiti Grannies", not to mention a reclining Dan Carter in his All Blacks underwear, complete with a smouldering look on his face, and a sculpted chest. The choice of placement was, of course, a serious topic of discussion.

"He couldn't go next to Maria from The Sound of Music in case she got too enthusiastic, and no way next to the cornish pasties - we didn't want to fatten him up!" laughs Knitty, who opted for a piece simply with the word "wisdom" as his neighbour.

Knitty Graffity is not alone, there are groups and individuals, including men, around the country giving up their spare time to knit colourful artwork to decorate their community. Alison Milne of Knitted Graffiti, a yarn-bombing group based at the Corban Estate Arts Centre, liked the idea of "using craft techniques people are used to wearing, not looking at, and taking them into the art scene".

Knitted Graffiti projects include a huge knitted spider web covering the front of the arts centre, knitted cozies on tree branches, a few extra flowers of the knitted variety appearing in the garden, beanies on the fence posts, a snake up a tree and blinds on the outside of the windows.

The group is working on a major project, but they can't tell us about it. If you have watched Banksy's Exit through the Gift Shop, you'll know the level of secrecy surrounding graffiti artists, even the knitted variety.

Although it's a somewhat quiet revolution - the knitting is usually done at home with pieces being put up in silence in the middle of the night - it has a loud voice in the social media world. The affection the yarn bombers have for one another is touching and The Woolly Walk Along is testament to the sense of fun and generosity of spirit they possess.

I'm not a knitter, but I'm willing to guess these are all very clever, and difficult, pieces to make. It seems a leap of faith to put it in a public place without permission and hope no one pinches it, or worse, the council takes it down right away. Knitty talks with so much fondness about each of her pieces. She tells me about one for Amnesty International as part of a freedom of speech campaign with the words: "It's her song, please let her sing it." With all the risks involved in knitted graffiti and the huge effort involved, I can't help but hope the words are changed a bit to fit her situation: "It's her woolly tagging, please let her knit it".

Knit wit

* If you go down to the wharf today, you're in for a big surprise ... the Woolly Walk Along is due for its public unveiling today along the Devonport Wharf. Pieces will be auctioned on Trade Me at a later date and money donated to Christchurch, so Knitty Graffity is asking that people don't remove them. You can become involved in future projects through her blog.

* Milne's Knitted Graffiti meets fortnightly at Corban Estate Arts Centre and welcomes new members, of any age and skill level. Contact the arts centre directly for details. Next meeting is Sept 16, 9.30am-12.30pm.

* Read All About It: For inspiration, flick through the pages of Yarn Bombing, The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain.

- NZ Herald

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