— It all started with a door handle. Magda Sayeg was tired of the standard brass handle in the entrance of her Houston boutique. So she knitted it a sweater. The knit handle made her smile, but she didn’t expect so many people to pop in her shop and ask about it. “It was this selfish urge to add warmth to my surroundings,” says Sayeg, 37. “People were so excited.”
It inspired her to knit a cover around a stop sign pole near her shop. Then a knit cover for a fire hydrant, and another for a mailbox. She’s since woven a career around knitting “suits” for unusual things, like a car, motorcycle, even a city bus in Mexico City . Her dream project: To cover a plane in a knit sweater. “There’s something nostalgic about knit and crochet,” she says. “There are the notions of childhood, it makes you feel carefree and happy.”
Sayeg, a mother of three in Austin, Texas, is credited with inspiring a knitting revolution. It’s called "yarn bombing.” Think of it as graffiti in chunky knits. Renegade crafters around the world “storm” a public space with colorful displays of knit and crochet. Many take photos of everything from bridges to streetlights covered in knit and send them to Sayeg; she’s received emails from Hong Kong, Estonia, Capetown. “If I can encourage a grandma to go out and do something like tag a friend’s mailbox, that fills me with joy,” says Sayeg. (She’s gotten emails from a few such longtime knitters.)
According to Leanne Prain, the author of Yarn Bombing: The Art of Knit Graffiti , Sayeg has inspired crafters accustomed to sewing functional items like potholders and baby blankets to use knit as art. Why would anyone want to knit a car or, say, a stop sign rather than a sweater? “It’s fun to express yourself without rules,” says Prain. “When you put something knit up, people want to touch it and feel it. It’s taking back knitting as a form of self expression.”
One Paris artist knitted colorful pothole covers and installed them on city streets to call attention to the Paris’s deteriorating roads. In the Alps of Italy, a 200-foot-long knitted pink rabbit is on display until 2025 ; it’s so big that you can see it from Google Earth, and yes, it’s rotting.
On Valentine’s Day, some knitters have crocheted hearts and left them around their hometowns, says Prain. During the World Cup, she says, fans will knit small flags and hand them out. On Easter, a statue in Boston was yarn bombed with a pair of bunny ears . Two artists in Washington state, who call themselves "2fibrefriends," knitted Dr. Seuss-like trunk covers for trees in their town. "We started small but one thing led to another … and before we knew it, we were covering 20 foot stumps in our fair city with 68,000 yards of yarn or 38.6 miles," one recently told Prain during an interview for her site, http://www.yarnbombing.com/.
Agata Oleksiak , a 33-year-old artist known as "Olek," covered her Brooklyn apartment — from the walls to her TV to her furniture — in knit. The knitted room is now an installation at the Christopher Henry Gallery in Manhattan, and her works will be on exhibition at the Smithsonian next year.
Dr. Karen Norberg, an epidemiologist and child psychiatrist at the University of Washington, knitted a human brain and posted it online . Other crafters have knitted condoms or weird science projects, like a frog mid-dissection with his internal organs exposed.
Artist Ed Bing Lee uses macramé (a process using knotting rather than knitting) to create food items, like cheeseburgers and tubs of popcorn. Each object takes about 3 to 6 weeks to complete and is made up of 200 to 300 knots per square inch; they cost between $2,000 and $12,000. Lee doesn’t think that working with fiber is trendy. He’s never heard of yarn bombing. “I’ve been knotting for well over 30 years,” he says. “I like to believe that I have moved beyond the trendy stage.”
Born out of the growing interest in DIY and crafting projects, the knitting revolution seems to tap into the desire to live a more authentic life in a technological age. Knitters around the globe are so inspired that one woman in Canada declared International Yarn Bombing day — on June 11, crafters around the world will take part in renegade knitting. So if you see a stop sign in your neighborhood covered in rainbow crochet, don't be surprised.
Says Sayeg: “We live in fast-paced times. Maybe we’re ready to see something with a more human element.”