Contrary to what it sounds like, yarn bombing is not a bunch of people throwing yarn at you. Instead, knitters and crocheters create blankets, cozies, and design work that they stick on statues, telephone poles, benches, bike racks, and any other object that's just crying out for a warm, snuggly covering. Yarn bombers in Copenhagen knitted the equivalent of a huge tea cozy for a military tank, for example, complete with a yarn ball hanging off the tank's gun. A seat on a Philadelphia subway train got a colorful knitted seat cover. Most impressively, an entire Mexico City bus was covered in different, knitted patterns by an artist named Magda Sayeg.
Charleston's gotten in on the phenomenon, too. On the first day of last year's Spoleto Festival, if you were on the Battery in the early morning, you may have seen two cannons completely covered in pink-and-blue knitted, blanket-type coverings. It was the handiwork of the Holy City Ravel Rousers, a group of yarn bombers organized by Allison Merrick, who owns SpaceCraft Studios, a craft store and workshop in Avondale. Merrick began the group after seeing yarn installations in cities in other parts of the world and thought it would be a nice way to bring together local knitters. "We don't have as many opportunities to wear scarves and hats as other people around the country, so this gives fiber artists an outlet," she says. Plus, she adds, the simple act of yarn bombing is fun and clearly benign. "It's a little rebellious in a non-harming, temporary way. The pieces take far more thought and work to put together than traditional street art with spray paint that permanently mars surfaces."
The Ravel Rousers blanketed the cannons under cover of darkness the night before Spoleto began; unfortunately, the installation was taken down by 10 a.m. the next morning. But it had already done its job. The Holy City had been yarn bombed, and public space would never be the same.
OK, maybe we're making it sound more epic than it is. But there's no denying that yarn bombing is a cool subset of street art. Not only is it strange to see knitted coverings for things like clocks and benches as you walk down the street, but the pieces also take an incredible amount of forethought and time to create.
And while you may not see too many major installations around town these days, as the Ravel Rousers haven't been quite as busy since the cannon episode, you do have a chance of seeing some smaller yarn bombs courtesy of Rebecca Hyatt, a Ravel Rouser and crocheter who's given her yarn bombing efforts the name Skein Dreamz.
A relative newcomer to the city, Hyatt moved to Charleston a year-and-a-half ago after spending a couple of years in South Korea teaching English. "When I moved back I was thinking about how I wanted to get back into crocheting, and what I could do that would be different from making hats and things," Hyatt says. "There's only so many purses and scarves and blankets you can make."
Another factor spurring her decision to start yarn bombing was her desire to make her mark on the pristine city. With all those tourism dollars riding on the city's look, it's fair to say that image is managed within an inch of its life. "It's a beautiful city on its own — it doesn't necessarily need graffiti or art on the street," Hyatt says. "But it feels like, on first impression, it's kind of lacking in that area a bit."
She had done some small bombs before joining the Ravel Rousers, mainly putting things like crocheted hearts and flowers on bikes downtown. "You have to be OK with someone taking it down, because you're putting it on something that doesn't belong to you," Hyatt says. "You have to not expect that everyone's going to appreciate it, but you hope they would."
Hyatt was part of the cannon installation, and afterward she continued doing smaller projects on her own. She created a piece that's on the fence at Xchange Factor in North Charleston — it's a huge eyeball with a yin-yang for a pupil and long, black eyelashes. A bench in Marion Square got the yarn bombing treatment with a crocheted skull. The Exchange Factor installation is still intact, as is — at least, as of this writing — the yarn bomb she put on the bike rack outside Urban Outfitters. That one is a rainbow wrap that covers the rack's metal post; it follows one she did earlier at the same site, which was a series of bright, pillowy donuts stacked on top of each other. And those are just a few of the installations Hyatt's put up. She recently crocheted an entire dinner party scene, complete with cutlery and food, for Enough Pie's art show Fieldwork.
In true street art style, Hyatt usually tries to install her pieces when there aren't too many people around. It can be a nerve-racking process, she says, not because anything truly bad could happen, but because there's always a chance someone won't like what you're doing or will tell you to take it down. And when that happens, it just plain sucks. "In the beginning I would go downtown at night any time I got a chance, or any time there weren't too many people around. I was kind of testing out the waters — I was unsure what people would do when they saw me. There have been times when people pass by and say, 'What are you doing?' and I usually ignore them," Hyatt says. "But usually it's like a 'cool,' or thumbs up."
Skein Dreamz has become a practice in stretching boundaries, too. "I've always considered myself to be one to be more in the background, not so up front. In a strange way, yarn bombing for me is a quiet attempt at being bold. Because it is guerrilla-style, and you just kind of go with whatever works," she says. "You have to be spontaneous with it."
And so, in the name of spontaneity, we can't tell you where Hyatt's next yarn bomb will be. But then, we probably wouldn't even if we knew. That would just ruin the pleasure of coming across a soft crocheted thingamajig where you would least expect it — like on a grocery cart, say, or tucked in a book at the library. We just hope we see it, whatever it is, before someone takes it down.