Graffiti goes soft

Holly Christiansen is an affable woman who lives simply, bikes instead of drives, and makes a living caring for plants. In her spare time, she quietly plots ways to make public spaces more warm and fuzzy.

Without fanfare or reward, she wraps sign poles, bike racks and benches with yarn that she has crafted to evoke a smile.

It's called crochet or knit graffiti — or "yarn bombing" to those who are more guerrilla about it — and it's popping up around Ashland thanks to Christiansen and others.

Granted, the subtle art form can be hard to spot.

Drive too quickly past the intersection of Avery and Lee streets and you'll miss the fact that a rusty street sign pole is covered with a charcoal-colored netting from which springs dozens of inch-wide crocheted blue morning glory flowers.

Move in closer and you'll see that interspersed among the projecting petals are flat vine leaves dangling from a lime-green strand.

"For those who do notice, I hope it brings a shock of surprise and delight to them," says Christiansen, 42, as she stands up to her calves in ivy and adjusts some of the strands on the project that took her six hours to make and install.

Tagging public fixtures with yarn, it's believed, began in Houston by a crew named Knitta Please in 2005.

Since then, the Wall Street bull has been yarn bombed. Another group knitted a yellow line hundreds of feet long and only a few inches wide that was laid on top of a yellow line that ran down the middle of a street. There is even a book documenting the art form.

When Christiansen was browsing Bloomsbury Books a few years ago, she picked up a softbound book titled "Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti," by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain. On the cover was a pair of knitted-bagged sneakers over aerial telephone cables.

"What is this?" she recalls saying to herself.

After reading a few pages, she remembers concluding, "This will change my life." Since then, she has completed four projects in Ashland. The latest, which she installed earlier this month, is the floral sheath for the street sign near her home in honor of her favorite restaurant, Morning Glory.

Two years ago, she installed something that looked like a fuzzy pink sleeve with buttons on the metal arm of a park bench in Lithia Park and on that Fourth of July, she coiled a downtown public telephone cord with yellow and pink yarn.

Last October, she installed a black cozy with orange, pink and red flames to a bike rack outside of Standing Stone Brewing Co. to mimic the restaurant's grill. Nearby, some other stealth knitter created a cozy with sport stripes and bobbles. But Christiansen doesn't know who did it.

"It's kind of lonely to just tag things myself," she says before joking about joining a group and tackling bigger projects, like covering the proposed cement walls in the downtown Plaza redesign to look like couches.

She would also like to create arm cozies with Shakespearean designs for the benches near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters. She says she is only limited by time and imagination since she has plenty of yarn.

Although she appreciates traditional graffiti, especially the work of British street artist Banksy, she recognizes that not everyone is a fan of spray painting public property.

"It's hard to take paint off," she says. "Yarn bombing is more benign and used more by women who want to harmonize with society."

She touches the yarn on the street pole and makes the point that it doesn't interfere with the pole's function and if someone from the city wanted it gone, it could be snipped off. But she says she hopes it stays. It adds color and more.

Just as people knit sweaters for statues and sculptures, adding yarn to inanimate, utilitarian objects evokes emotions.

"It infers you're wrapping it up in some warm, caring layer," says Christiansen, making a hugging gesture and tilting her pink-haired head to one side. "It is soft and adds texture to something that is boring and cold."

She likes humorous yarn art, such as when a cozy covers the gun of a statue of a military man. Or when street signs are duplicated in yarn and cover up the metal ones. She has a mohawk-like cap for a figure on the fountain in the park and is waiting for the right moment to debut it.

Anything that makes a joke or changes something ordinary into the extraordinary is attractive to her.

"There is definitely not a lot of thanks and attention I get from this work, and that's OK," says Christiansen, who has lived in Ashland for 12 years. "I hope people see these as beautiful and not that someone has tied something tacky to a pole."

On Thursday, four women with leftover boxes in their hands were walking to their cars after eating at Morning Glory. One of them, Trina Brumble of Medford, noticed the yarn art and stopped to admire it.

"It's a thoughtful and crafty tribute to my favorite restaurant," says Brumble, touching a soft vine and smiling. "Now I want to yarn bomb something. I have lots of yarn at home."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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