What the Heck is Yarn Bombing?

Brooklyn-based artist London Kaye explains.

It’s not quite sweater weather yet, but when the office AC is blasting, it’s hard not to dream of being wrapped in cashmere or your grandmother’s crochet blanket. The latter knit is making a bit of a comeback thanks to designers like Jeremy Scott and Adam Selman, who showed retro pieces at their 2017 Resort and Spring shows, respectively. Crochet’s return can also be linked to yarn bombers, a new breed of graffiti artists using knitting needles to create consciousness-raising art. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s humorous—but it’s almost always meant to warm public space and make people smile.

One of the best known yarn bombers is London Kaye. The Brooklyn, New York-based artist’s guerrilla-style installations have appeared everywhere from subway poles to Times Square billboards, garnering attention from fashion brands like Gap and Valentino (the luxury label recently tapped her to design window displays, and collaborate on a capsule collection) and accolades from the media (“In her hands, crochet is both an outlet of creative feminist expression and a lucrative career,” wrote the New York Times.) Side note: she was also a contestant on the most recent season of The Amazing Race—she crocheted in her audition vid of course. Kaye’s work is currently on display in Toronto as part of the Baycrest Foundation’s The Telus Health Brain Project, a public art initiative that raises awareness about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, by featuring 100 brain sculptures designed by notable artists and celebrities from across North America. Here, we catch up with the artist who is helping to make crochet cool again.

Photography courtesy of The Telus Health Brain Project 2017

When did you start crocheting?

“A friend’s mom taught me to crochet on a whim one day when I was in middle school, and for some reason it just stuck with me. I danced growing up and could never sit still. But with a crochet hook in hand it was the one thing that could kind of keep me content and in one place. Then, when I was in the ninth grade I injured my back and had to stop dancing for a year—crocheting just became everything.”

And then four years ago, you met the well-known fibre artist Olek

“I was working at an Apple Genius Bar and when I saw her come in with [a bag she had crocheted] I was like ‘oh my gosh, I can make more than just scarves and hats out of yarn. Like, I could do something that could bring joy to people’s day, I could leave things outside and ask nothing in return just to bring a smile to people’s faces.’”

How did the Valentino collaboration come about?

“They found me through a YouTube video of me covering the L train subway in crochet on Valentine’s Day. They emailed me through my website and the signature at the bottom of the email was from the house of Valentino and I thought it was a prank.”

When you were on The Amazing Race, did you yarn bomb anything?

“I had thought about it beforehand, but the show was so intense and difficult and it’s a race… so I don’t think my partner would have been too pleased if we took a twenty minute hiatus for me to hang up some crochet in a park in Vietnam.”

Are you often stopped by the police while yarn bombing?

“The first time I was stopped I was hanging something up outside of a New York subway station. I had scissors with me, so when they came by and said that I had to stop, I said ‘oh yes I’ll cut it down. I have scissors,’ and they walked away. That’s what I love about the yarn: it’s not defacing property, it’s not hurting the environment. If someone doesn’t like it, [they can] cut it down; I try to tell myself whoever takes it loves it so much they can’t live without it.”

Do you think of your work as a political statement?

“No matter who you are, I want my work to bring you happiness. So I really try to stay focused on that trueness. I mean I have my own political beliefs—I made a Nasty Woman flower shawl that I wore to the Women’s March—but overall I like the rainbows and mermaids and whales, and I keep it light. My true message is to make people happy.”

Tell us about the piece you created for the The Telus Health Brain Project?

“It’s called Meeting of the Minds; I’ve always been fascinated with the right brain being so creative and the left brain being so mathematical and organized, and you get this magic in the middle and when the two sides can come together. So right down the middle of the brain I used this pretty sparkly gold yarn and I wrote out the words magic up and down the sides of it. My grandfather had a form of dementia so [this cause] has a special place in my heart.”

 

The The Telus Health Brain Project sculptures will be on display until Aug. 31 throughout downtown Toronto, including Nathan Phillips Square, the Distillery District and Union Station. For more information, visit brainproject.ca