Sisters Jill and Lorna Watt have made a habit of yarn bombing the city of San Francisco. The duo struck again recently, turning trees in the courtyard of the San Francisco City Hall into long-necked giraffes made of multicolored thread.
Fans of the stitching sisters chose the design via an online poll, and the project is the latest in a career spent weaving magic throughout around the Bay area. The crafty comrades yarn bombed trees near Fisherman’s Wharf, park benches in Ferry Building Plaza and a 1950’s Chevy Truck inside Old Navy’s flagship store.
The siblings aren’t the creators of the yarn bomb movement, but they’ve made a name for themselves in the stitching community. The origins of the movement date back to 2005 and gave birth to “graffiti knitting” groups, each with a particular agenda and projects.
Here’s a brief history of yarn bombing and the progression of the art and artists over the past decade.
What Is Yarn Bombing?
Yarn bombing (aka, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, “kniffiti” and urban knitting) is a street art employing colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn.
The movements origins are up for debate. Bill Davenport gets early credit for yarn bombing’s beginnings. The Houston-based artist began creating and exhibiting crochet-covered objects around his home city back in the 1990s.
Magda Sayeg, also from Houston, is widely considered the innovator of the modern day yarn bomb movement. Sayeg first got the idea in 2005 after covering the door handles of her shop with custom-made knitted cozies. Fans of her work copied the idea since the projects were a creative way to use leftover knitting.
Unlike other forms of graffiti, yarn bombs are easily removable. The practice is technically illegal in most places, though cases of yarn bombers prosecuted for their projects are rare.
What’s The Reasoning Behind Yarn Bombing?
While most forms of graffiti are meant to mark territories, make political statements or just act as signs of pure vandalism, the yarn bomb movement is almost exclusively about personalizing sterile or boring public places.
In the late 2000s, the movement evolved from simple cozies into “stitched stories” thanks to Lauren O’Farrell, a UK-based street artist who works under the name Deadly Knitshade. Stitched stories use handmade amigurumi creatures to tell a narrative or show a distinctive theme. O’Farrell founded London’s first graffiti knitting collective, Knit the City. Knit the City is credited with being the first to adopt O’Farrell’s term “yarn storming” to describe their work.
Although yarn bombs are typically created in urban areas, Stephen Duneier (who goes by the street name Yarnbomber) first introduced projects within the woods of the Los Padres National Forest in Goleta, California.
The Most Impressive Yarn Bombs Ever
While each project is spectacular and inspiring, only one yarn bomb holds a recognized world record. The Craft Club became Guinness World Record holders for the largest display of crochet sculptures after yarn bombing a children’s hospice with 13,388 crocheted items. The group set the record in Thundersley, Essex, United Kingdom back in 2014.
Though not recognized as world record worthy, the most impressive yarn bomb in the U.S. involved over 600 colorful blankets covering the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
If you’re interested in starting your own yarn bombing faction, or maybe just getting together people who enjoy crocheting, check out this helpful guide to starting a knitting group. To find out more about the history of yarn bombing, consult photo books like Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti and Craft Activism: People, Ideas, and Projects from the New Community of Handmade and How You Can Join In.