ARTICLE

Yarn bombers make art, not war

A combination of graffiti and needlework is hitting the streets of Eastern Iowa

The Iowa City Downtown Association is promoting with a new Tree Huggers project that will see 100+ trees wrapped in homemade yarn huggers. Volunteer knitters are creating the handmade tree huggers, which will be installed on November 4th.  (Justin Torner/Freelance)
The Iowa City Downtown Association is promoting with a new Tree Huggers project that will see 100+ trees wrapped in homemade yarn huggers. Volunteer knitters are creating the handmade tree huggers, which will be installed on November 4th.  (Justin Torner/Freelance)
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A speck of colorful yarn graces a parking meter, bike rack or fence.

This little piece of unexpected art, known in the fabric world as yard bombing, is a combination of installation art, graffiti and needlework.

“It’s so whimsical,” says Ann Rushton, social marketing coordinator for Crazy Girl Yarn Shop in Coralville and Cedar Falls. “I remember seeing a wrapped lamppost here in town and it just thrilled me.”

Yarn bombing can be as simple as attaching a crochet square to a metal fence pole or wrapping a street sign pole. Or it can be as involved as covering an entire park bench with a knitted cozy.

In Iowa City, it means wrapping trees with knitted sweaters.

Through its Tree Huggers Project the Iowa City Downtown District is calling for local knitters to make sweaters for trees in Downtown Iowa City and the Northside Marketplace.

The response has been so great that the project was expanded from more than 90 trees to nearly 150.

“I didn’t even realize there were that many trees downtown,” says Alisa Weinstein, co-owner of Home Ec. Workshop in Iowa City.

The Iowa City Downtown District has identified, mapped and measured the 100-plus trees that will receive the sweaters. They also selected the colors volunteers can use. The design and pattern is up to the knitter.

“Everyone is going to have a lot more color to their winter,” Weinstein says.

Iowa City’s yarn bomb project couldn’t be more public.

In Cedar Rapids, though, a group of three women between the ages of 35 and 50 have been secretly tagging areas of the city with knitted and crochet art for more than two years.

“You can only make so many hats and sweaters before you need to find something else,” says one of the women.

She goes by a code name of sorts, The Foundrix. She and her cohorts — Kay Shenanigan and Cloak & Tagger — all blog about their yarn bombing escapades at yarntagrz.blogspot.com.

“We’re kind of in to being anonymous,” The Foundrix says.

Despite their desire for anonymity, the women don’t always tag under the cover of darkness.

Earlier this month the trio spent an afternoon hanging crocheted vegetables from the lamp posts on Third Street SE, using a hook and fishing line. No one stopped the trio to ask what they were doing.

“It’s amazing what people don’t notice,” The Foundrix says.

They do, however, notice the art that’s left behind. Several of the vegetables have since disappeared, a common fate for this ephemeral art.

“If you want to do art that’s going to be there forever, tagging probably isn’t for you,” The Foundrix says.

Indeed, yarn bombing isn’t forever. Nature and sticky fingers take their toll.

For some knitters, yarn bombing is a chance to share their creativity with the world or bring beauty to otherwise plain objects. Others view yarn bombing as a public statement.

“It definitely has grown in its own way” Rushton says. “It means different things to different people.”

Most agree, though, that the more yarn bombing the public is exposed to, the more they are likely to understand the appeal of fabric art and perhaps be inclined to learn how to knit or crochet themselves.“Hopefully it will make people realize that knitting and crocheting is more than afghans and hats,” The Foundrix says. “It’s about expressing yourself.”  

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