May 29, 2013
Graffiti knitters, or ‘yarn bombers’, are now practising their nanna-like craft in Perth.
Yarn bomber Lex Randolph defines the craft as “covering a piece of public property in yarn to bring a bit of fun to the streets”.
Randolph says yarn bombing has inspired a new generation of knitters.
“Knitting has taken a radical turn and has been pushed to an almost underground level, with people wanting to bring a little colour to the streets, while getting a thrill by doing it anonymously in the middle of the night,” Randolph says.
“The resurgence of do-it-yourself craft and the rise of street art means the younger generation is keen to learn the skill passed down by their grandmothers.”
Local councils have started running yarn bombing projects to get communities involved. Randolph has been engaged in various government projects, and also holds yarn bombing classes for people wanting to learn how to knit.
Owner of Wild Poppy Cafe, Robyn Shapiro, has covered a tree outside her cafe, on Fremantle’s chic Wray Avenue, with colourful wool.
Ms Shapiro says that her yarn bomb has drawn no objection from Fremantle City Council.
She says tourists, passers-by and her customers love the ‘renovated’ tree.
“The tree gets a huge amount of hugs all the time and my customers and people walking by always stop for a moment in wonder,” Ms Shapiro says.
Yarn bombing began in 2005 when a Texan group, known as Knitta, started wrapping lampposts and street signs in crocheted material.
It’s now a worldwide phenomenon, with objects as big as buses getting a warm and fuzzy makeover.
Randolph says that, like graffiti artists, some yarn bombers practise the craft as a catalyst for social change.
“I’ve done a few yarn bombs that have had political messages behind them,” Randolph says.
“One I did about ANZAC soldiers even made it into a newspaper.
“So it’s nice to know my message got across.”
However, comparing yarn bombing with graffiti has unsettled some graffiti artists who do not consider yarn bombing a legitimate movement in street art.
Perth graffiti artist Thomas Mills is one of them.
“The aspects of yarn bombing and graffiti are very different,” Mills says.
“They use completely different skills and [require different] levels of dedication.
“Yarn bombers would not be seen jumping rivers, climbing fences and even having to run for their life to get months of knitting work on display.”
Randolph empathises with Mills’ concerns.
“I have heard some local graffiti artists saying some pretty negative things, and I get where they are coming from because they are artists in their own right,” Randolph says.
“I guess it’s because their art is more permanent and yarn bombing is relatively low-risk.
“But there is still skill involved in the technique of creating something that’s knitted just as much as there is skill in using spray cans to send a message and create a piece of artwork.”
In Western Australia, graffiti can be punishable by imprisonment, whereas yarn bombers only face a possible littering fine.
“I think yarn bombers would definitely put down their knitting needles if they copped the same punishment as graffiti artists,” Mills says.
Randolph has never been given a fine, although his yarn bombs are frequently removed by police.
WA Police Graffiti Taskforce spokeswoman Lorraine Jarrett says yarn bombing does not cause police nearly as much trouble as graffiti.
“Yarn bombing isn’t considered an issue for WA police and hasn’t yet proved to cause any harm to the community,” Ms Jarrett says.
“The cost of removing the yarn – cutting it with scissors – appears to be insignificant in comparison to the removal of graffiti, and tends not to cause permanent damage to property.”
Whether yarn bombing is considered a real art or not, Randolph says its is very satisfying.
“My very first yarn bomb which I did in a little country town called Greenbushes [in Southwest Western Australia] is still my favourite,” Randolph says.
Photos: Laura Incognito
You can also check out Laura’s work in the Western Independent newspaper, available from today at news stands around Curtin University.