This article was originally published on Youth Central.
It was two in the afternoon as ‘Bali’ tagged the thick grey pole on Melville Street in West Brunswick.
She looked around furtively. “I usually put them up late at night or early in the morning,” she said. “I don’t like people watching.”
In a café behind her, staff and patrons watched with mild curiosity. Bali finished attaching her tag with a knot, cut her needle off, and attached a note to lead curious passers-by to her blog, Twilight Taggers.
Unlike the ugly scrawled tags on trains and brick walls, Bali’s graffiti is a length of knitted black wool stretched around the pole and adorned with colourful crochet flowers.
‘Yarn bombing’, or ‘guerilla knitting’ uses the homely act of knitting and crochet to create colourful, cozy graffiti.
After tagging alone around work hours, Bali created the group Yarn Corner to get like-minded people together to create bigger installations. The Facebook group has grown to 390 members since, and they have recently been commissioned by the City of Melbourne to cover all of the trees in City Square from January 27.
Whether yarn bombing is illegal or not differs from council to council, and very few seem to be able to make up their mind as to whether it is classified as graffiti.
A Melbourne City spokesperson has said that yarn bombing is not included in the council’s graffiti management policies.
“We do not necessarily consider yarn bombing to be graffiti,” he said.
“We will generally remove yarn from objects once it has been in place long enough for its condition to deteriorate. We will also remove yarn if it causes an obstruction or if it threatens to damage property or trees.”
However yarn bombers should check with their local council to make sure they are operating legally before putting anything up.
Bali has found that there’s mostly a good feeling about yarn bombing, especially around Brunswick.
“I don’t know anyone who has been charged. I was putting one up and a security guard came out and told me to take it down or he’d call the police,” she said. “The worst that will happen is someone will laugh at you!”
Helene Dehmer tags in New Zealand under the name Knitty Graffity and sells hand-dyed wool products through her online store, Happy-Go-Knitty.
“I was told off by the guard at Auckland Art Gallery when I put up a piece outside,” Ms Dehmer says. “They removed the tag the day after.”
This didn’t deter Ms Dehmer from a large-scale project called The Woolly Walk Along that she organized to coincide with the 2012 Rugby World Cup.
“The Woolly Walk Along ended up being an 80-metre long installation… over 90 people from all over the world contributed,” she said. “They were everything from beginners to hardcore yarn bombers. Their creativity was awesome!”
A common influence on these yarn bombers is the book Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain. Giving practical advice on starting your tags, assembling your crew and ‘taking it to the streets’, Moore and Prain helped turn this once obscure practice into a worldwide phenomenon.
However one major influence on the movement, artist Agata Oleksiak, gets upset when her huge scale crochet installations are labelled as yarn bombing. I met her on a chilly street in London where she was crocheting the cover for an iconic black cab.
“My work is not graffiti, it’s art,” she had said when I asked her how she felt about the yarn bombing movement.
Her view is that the streets are like a gallery; there should be a high standard, and not everyone should be allowed to exhibit.
Bali finds this laughable. “It’s about fun, it’s about getting people together,” she says. “It’s not meant to be a massively serious thing.”
Another of the administrators, ‘Jaguar’, considers Yarn Corner her full-time job along with being a stay at home mum.
“You never know what kind of reaction or response you’ll receive from the general public,” she said. “It’s about expression, and putting a tiny piece of yourself out there into the world for all to see”.
For Ms Dehmer, it’s all about making people smile.
“There is so much doom and gloom in the world, I think people need something unexpected,” said Ms Dehmer. “A colourful message that will brighten up their day.”
For those who want to get involved, crafting groups are springing up all over Melbourne.
Yarn Corner meets every second Sunday to crochet their individual or group projects together, but crochet and knitting classes for beginners are run at places such as Thread Den in Fitzroy and North Melbourne, and Crafternoon Café in Carlton.
The Brown Owls are another social crafting initiative with groups all around Melbourne. The groups meet fortnightly or monthly to work on individual projects while having a drink and a chat with like-minded people.
Stacy Foster, the organizer of the Brunswick Brown Owls, says people come for the social aspect in an otherwise solitary pursuit.
“They really enjoy doing whatever their craft is and chatting. It’s a nice community to come to,” she said. “It’s that feeling you get from aunties and nieces.”