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Guest Blogger: Deb Burger-Yarn Bombing Realized

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Deb Burger lives in a whimsical world with her artist husband, Don, and blogs about many artistic media. She is cerdeb on Ravelry where she has catalogued 452 projects! Deb and I are cyber-friends; we have never met. I am privileged to meet special people from time to time in my cyber communities and sometimes I "click" with a person who shares common passions. Such is the case with Deb and I. She is the author of Crochet 101 and her latest book is Crochet Appliques  which I will be reviewing next week. Stay tuned and for now, enjoy Deb’s essay about her unique yarn- bombing experience. 

Yarn-Bombing Realized
By Deb Burger 

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” That quote is often used, as Shakespeare intended, to signify the difference between what we call something and what it really is.  Yarn-bombing is the common term attached to the practice of decorating public or private property, usually outdoors, with crocheted and knitted patchworks.  Needless to say, the practice has not been without controversy! It is either viewed as artistic expression that should remain unfettered and appreciated by those who see it; or its a public nuisance, like other forms of graffiti, that signify disregard for private and public property.

Recently, my textile friends and I had the opportunity to circumvent the controversy, and decorate several areas in our town, Jonesborough, Tennessee, with the work of our hands.  We gained permission, and the enthusiastic support, of the “powers that be,” by making intentional use of semantics.  When I first proposed the idea to my knitter friend who directs the towns Historic Preservation non-profit, I purposely didn’t use the term, “yarn-bombing” but rather, pitched the idea of creating a “temporary installation artwork, which would showcase traditional fiber arts in a collaborative way.”  Intrigued at first, she got really excited after I educated her a bit by showing her websites that featured museums and art galleries that have previously featured yarn-bombing as public art. Hooking my way up the chain of command, our artistic effort was deemed ideal for the Visitors’ Center.  A lovely park with trees, swings and footbridges that lend themselves to decoration, it is the first place many tourists see.

Our idea blossomed and we were asked to decorate on a regular basis by changing, adding and removing motifs periodically! Even though it was more than my group had bargained for, one of my basic rules is “never turn down permission.” Final approval came from the collaboration of a powerful coalition that suggested we “think bigger.” “Why not also decorate Main Street,” they said.  I would have been overwhelmed at this point if it had not been for the soon-to-be regional gathering of fiber enthusiasts that was coming to town.

We had time to send out the word to all registered participants in the Knotty Ladies Fiber Getaway Weekend. It would give them the opportunity to participate and experiment with free-form crochet or knitting while at the same time leaving a “gift” to the host community. 

Jonesborough, Tennessee
Responses ranged from cautious to wildly enthusiastic. Final preparation included letting the local newspaper know what was about to happen.  In this town, if the official newspaper photographer is taking pictures of an event, everyone understands immediately that it’s a “cool thing” and not a crime! The publisher was committed to covering our event and even asked me to write an article to accompany the photos.

At  the gathering, I set up a table with a wide selection of yarn, prepared to play the Freeform Game—a way for people to experiment and learn a freeform approach to their crochet or knitting.  A huge bin of yarns was donated by a Yarntiques, a local yarn shop.

The Free-Form Game
Supplies: two dice cups each with a pair of dice, pencils, tape, blank paper
Rules of the game: 
  • Make a list of 6 stitch or as complex as they can enjoy, and number them from 1 to 6.
  • Choose 6 yarns from your stash, or from the donated yarns, and cut a snippet of each to attach to their paper and number the yarns from 1-6
  • Sit down in a small group.  Each player in turn rolls 1 diethe number that comes up directs all the players as to which of their chosen yarns they will use for this turn.  Everyone chains or casts on a reasonable number (10-25) of stitches. The player then rolls 1 die again: this time the number relates to the stitch pattern that each player will use.  Finally, both dice are rolled together, the numbers added, and the total directs the number of rows or repeats each player will crochet or knit.
  • When everyone accomplishes this task, the dice cup is passed to the next player. 
  • Another variation of the game has not only the dice, but the works in progress, passed among the participants.

Throughout the weekend, small groups and individuals played the Freeform Game, and dropped their completed motifs pieces into the donation basket.  Others had brought squares from afghans they knew they’d never complete, swatches from past projects, and other “bits and pieces” to contribute.  By Sunday afternoon, we were ready to head downtown to install the collaborative fiber art. 

We decorated two benches and a public trash receptacle in front of the Courthouse in the center of Main Street. 

Many people stopped to ask what we were doing, to watch us work.  The comments were overwhelmingly positive, due to, I believe, the combination of the photographer busy taking pictures and the positive and friendly responses of the installing artists. To the FAQ, “What in the world are you doing?” we always answered that we were installing a temporary display of fiber art as a seasonal decoration.  Smiles broke out, and all but one of the viewers walked away saying positive things.
Hard at work

Stunning results!

A few days later, we completed the installation by decorating one of the swings in the Visitors’ Center park.

The newspaper carried color photographs and my article explaining the artwork in context of the 55 tourists we had brought to town for the weekend—all of whom had eaten in the local restaurants and shopped in the independent businesses on Main St.  In a town that lives on tourism, that dynamic almost ensures that whatever odd thing we were doing gained approval from the public!

We left the Courthouse decorations in place for two weeks, and quietly took them down as soon as rain and wind had begun to make them sag a little. 

Sadly, removing our work
The swing- cozy in the park stayed up for 10 days, but lost a portion on the first cold night.  Apparently someone had been spending the night in the park, and was cold.  He or she cut the “afghan” from the back of the swing seat, wrapped up in it for the night, and carefully folded it back on the swing seat in the morning.  We decided we could not begrudge that, since the art piece had been titled “Invitation to Sit A-Spell.”  Preparations are currently underway to decorate the town again for the winter holidays, and then to periodically continue our “gift of whimsy, color, and beauty” in the downtown area.

Diplomacy, gaining a coalition of support, commitment to group process and collaboration, and the fact that “yarn-bombing” called “installation fiber art” feels just as fun, opened the door for us to showcase our crochet and knitting in the center of the life of our community. 

Deb and one of her Knotty Ladies


doraoh said…
What a great civic project! Deb and her friends made art and helped their town all at once - love it! Brava to all!! Dora aka crochet insider
'Zann said…
Wonderful and inspiring!
'Zann said…
Wonderful and inspiring!
Kathleen Holmes said…
What wonderful fiber fun - brava to all the participants!!!!
Tanya McGuire said…
Fabulous post love the pictures and the project.

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