I went to In The Loop 3 in Winchester last…
Graffiti tag knitting, gritting (graffiti knitting) or knagging (knit tagging) … whatever you want to call it, it’s big news at the moment. Actually I made that last one up, but you get the drift.
Never one to miss the chance to point out the blatantly obvious, so … the ethos behind graffiti knitting is similar to that of conventional graffiti art – find an otherwise ordinary urban environment, attach a handmade knitted item to a blank object or space et voila, your own personal bit of subversive, urban-art-made-statement (you can see some fine examples at the Yarn Bombing Flickr Group).
The start of graffiti knitting is largely credited to Houston-based group Knitta who started out in 2005 “with a mix of clandestine moves and gangsta rap”. They are now a global phenomenon. Their public self-outing encouraged many other unconventional knitters out of the closet, irritated by the conventional view of knitters, full of pent-up creativity, passionate about their craft and determined to bring it to light. Well, that and the fact there is huge potential for fun and humour in collaborative, public outbursts and inventing tag names – wouldn’t you get a kick out of calling yourself PolyCotN or The Notorious N.I.T.?
Since then we’ve seen an explosion of new-wave knitters, expressing themselves in public with acts of knitted granarchy and recording it through their blogs. Some get political, many do it for the sheer joy of seeing members of the public doing a double-take and grinning as they pass. ‘Grrl + Dog’ in Sydney recently decorated a 100-year-old public toilet in her ‘Knitted Convenience’ project in July. Here in blighty the ‘Knit The City’ collective strung a delicate web trapping tragic and lovelorn creatures (and the odd sweary butterfly) on London’s South Bank, then swiftly followed it up with beautifully crafted episodes from the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges & Lemons’ in the City of London.
Like any revolutionary movement, this one has its detractors, each with their own anti-knitting-graffiti manifesto. One blogger derides the media coverage the movement is getting and comments ‘Non-knitters already think knitting is a waste of time. Spending hours making squares that get wrapped around trees and light poles will only reinforce this belief’. Another fears that knitted graffitti is a ‘way to devalue our craft’. The debate rages on; it was ever thus … the shock of the new and all that. The negative position doesn’t seem terribly well-thought through … I think one of the benefits of the knitting revolution is that knitters no longer care what non-knitters think, and knitting graffiti ensures that the craft is exposed to people who wouldn’t normally have given it a minute’s thought.
The standard anti-graffiti litany (all graffiti is bad, costs money to remove, defaces structures etc) misses the point that knitting doesn’t damage the structures the items are attached to and is easily removable (Knitta even sew on buttons and velcro to avoid any unnecessary inconvenience!)
Where’s the offence? As the great William Morris uttered: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” – what’s wrong with applying that to a lamp-post?
Knitters are no longer satisfied (were we ever?) with the images the word ‘knitting’ has conjured up in the last 100 years or so:
- version 1 … little woman sitting at home knitting to keep herself occupied while hubby works, vs. …
- version 2 … frail old woman, bun pinned firmly to head, smelling strongly of cat wee.
Similarly Liza Minnelli gloriously urging me to ‘put down the knitting, the book and the broom’ has always shamed me into feeling like I should be out doing something else when I’m knitting, reading or … er … sweeping. Times are changing … in an age of mass-production saturation, hand crafts are being re-evaluated, and guess what? Knitters can hold their heads high again, so much so that we’re feeling the need to make it public.
They’re getting organised and darned if they don’t see it as a sort of social revolution … if you read some of the blogs out there you’ll gather that there are no more plain old knitting groups – now there are knitting forces, battalions, corps, armies. They don’t sit in their front rooms or bedrooms, they work out of HQs, dugouts and bunkers. They’re not just knitters, they’re woolly warriors, ravelling revolutionaries or garter guerillas. Their yarn stash has become their arsenal and they commit acts of yarn bombing, yarn storming and knitted terrorism.
Loathe as I am to exclude the less fairer sex, this seems to be a predominantly female exercise (with a few exceptions). History tells us knitting was originally a male pursuit (although that was probably written by a man) and although we’re happily seeing the chaps return to the needles, the male/female knitting ratio remains relatively unchallenged. I don’t think this is the only reason these knitting activists are mainly women … it’s a fantastically feminine way of asserting ourselves – confident, humorous, a good old bit of non-violent, gently coercive anarchy, taking an activity which in the past has been generally reserved for testosterone-charged hooded teenage boys and hip-hop devotees (give or take the odd anonymous East End art star) and making it our own. I’m generalising of course but you see my point.
Counter-culture knitter Lisa Anne Auerbach knits her opinions into her projects and sums it nicely up on her website StealThisSweater.com: “Get all cozy and radical. Stop making scarves. Start making trouble.”
Viva la revolucion!