I get teased a lot at my day job for being a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to “yarn bombing”. If you aren’t familiar, yarn bombing is the art of wrapping, covering, or decorating a public space with knit/crocheted “graffiti”. There is a book written about it (probably more than one): Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti. I interviewed the authors of this book once and they are delightful. There’s an interesting article about yarn bombers here and a very different take on it here (which I find myself nodding at alot as I read).
Yarn bombing can be cool and whimsical and fun. Just check out a few photos I found online:
I have very mixed feelings about the “art” of yarn bombing. Yes, it’s fun. I get that. I have promised to work with a group of kids yarn bombing some things this summer as part of a community art project. And I am sure they will have fun.
From the article I mentioned above, there is a quote that stood out for me. I am not sure I agree with the “beautiful decay” remark, but:
“Yarn bombing exemplifies the ‘do it for the photo’ method of street art. There’s a disingenuousness. … It’s bright and colorful for a day, then it looks gross and someone else has to clean it up.” And it’s no beautiful decay, like the withering of wheatpastes or chipping paint. Personally, I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the awareness that someone put in a disproportionate amount of hours to make such a short-lived mess.
And that is the part that makes the knitter in me just cringe. Let me explain.
This is a baby sweater that I knit for a friend. It’s little and is about the simplest baby sweater pattern out there. I know you non-knitters will scoff, but trust me that this has nothing complicated about it, just swapping colors every couple of rows and 3 different stitches. It’s worsted weight yarn (which is the standard kind of medium weight yarn) so in sweater terms it knits up very fast. This sweater took about 15 hours to knit and is about $25 in materials. I wasn’t working to break any speed records and I was probably reading a book as I knit, so it wasn’t my fastest project.
But let’s put that in the perspective of yarnbombing a telephone pole. This little sweater would pretty much fit right around a telephone pole and cover about 12 inches of it. So let’s do the math. If I want to cover a section of the telephone pole as tall as I am (which is a respectable amount of yarn bombing), that’s 75 hours. Forget the sleeves and the button bands and maybe we’re down to 10 hours for this little bit of sweater knitting. That’s still 50 hours to cover that telephone pole and $125 worth of yarn. Even using inexpensive acrylic yarn (which is more typical I think for yarn bombing) and we have the cost down to $25 in materials, but the knitting experience has gotten a whole lot less fun. Acrylic has it’s uses, but it isn’t nearly as fun to knit with as far as I am concerned.
I can tell you that as a knitter, I have a heck of a lot more things I would like to spend 50 or 100 hours working on. Now I notice in looking at those yarn bomb photos I posted above, most of those are crocheted. Crochet (by all accounts) goes faster row for row than knitting. I am not a fantastic crocheter, so I can’t really compare apples to apples. I read recently that crochet takes 3 times more yarn. Even if we assume that you can go twice as fast, that’s still 25 hours to make that yarn bombed telephone pole and 3 times the materials.
And that quote that I mentioned above - she’s not wrong. It’s going to get wet and dirty and stretched out and faded and not so whimsical in not too much time.
So here’s my question to you. Would you put in the time? If you had 50 hours that you could dedicate to a project, what would YOU choose? Is it the process? Or the product, no matter how ephemeral?