Yarn bombs away

DALLAS — Stealthy knitters are taking their craft from the couch to the streets. Whether you call it yarn bombing, guerrilla knitting or knit graffiti, most just call it fun.

Yarn bombers cover outdoor items with bands of knitting or crochet. Some bombers are hobbyists looking for a new challenge, while others are making a warm and fuzzy statement with their touchable street art.

One knitter in east Dallas has begun wrapping light poles, trees, yield signs, fire hydrants and other bland public spaces with her colorful yarn creations, all in the name of making people smile.

The culprit, who goes by the name K Witta and wishes to remain anonymous, has been yarn bombing for a few weeks now. Witta, a longtime knitter, has followed the movement since it began in Houston and Austin several years ago.

She recently found out about a yarn bombing event in Salt Lake City.

"I said, 'Austin can be cooler than Dallas, sure, but not Salt Lake City. Something has to be done.' "

Witta was inspired by Austin-based textile artist Magda Sayeg, who started the group Knitta, Please in 2005. Sayeg, a former Houston fashion boutique owner, is widely known as the founder of knit bombing. She began by knitting the door handle of her store, and it exploded from there.

"There is something that catches people's attention when placing knitting in an urban environment," she says by phone. "It's like the perfect counterpoint to what exists already. As we increasingly become more industrial, we lack that human quality. It makes people kind of think for a moment. It's like stopping and smelling the flowers."

"It's interesting to me how strong the reaction is," Witta says. "I've only been doing it two weeks. Even the first yield sign I did, it was gone within the hour. I said 'Whoa, I'm getting a reaction.' "

Sayeg also began with small items such as stop signs and fire hydrants, but now creates larger installations around the world. Be it a bus in Mexico City or statues in Bali, Sayeg tries to learn about the location itself and take cues from the culture, music or food. She says the bus was a turning point for her in how she saw things.

"It really broadened the exposure to yarn bombing and opened my eyes to the many possibilities that were out there. It made things seem limitless to me," Sayeg says.

"It also makes people ask questions. Is this political? Is this a message? That is part of what we call art. It's supposed to raise questions and make us question our own sensibilities."

Witta, a member of the Knit Wits knitting group at the Lakewood Branch Library, has a message of her own. She wanted to focus on sites that she thought needed a pick-me-up.

"I really wanted to reach out to the teachers at DISD, so I put one in front of the administration building on Ross Avenue," she says. "And I really wanted to reach out to the library. Both of those places are about to be hit really hard. I wanted to give them a little bit of a hug since they'll be going through a tough time."

In the library parking lot, you'll find light poles wrapped in perky yellow, pink, blue and green yarn, topped with pom-poms. A nearby yield sign is wrapped with red and white bell-like skirts, and Witta is hoping to add some black hearts, creating a queen of hearts theme.

Sayeg says yarn bombing doesn't always have to send a message. "It just inspires the household knitter to do something different, not so traditional," she says. "To see grandmas do it is so cool and renegade. For most it has nothing to do with their opinions on anything political. It just brings back nostalgic memories in this nontraditional way."

Knitters also love that yarn bombing is giving the craft some exposure. "I think it shows the craft in Dallas is gaining momentum," says Ceylan Gul, a local knitter who hand-dyes yarn with friend Maria Renna under the name Two if by Hand. "It brings awareness to the craft and kind of takes it out of the grandma knitting box, modernizes it a little bit and makes it fun for young people."

Witta knits or crochets her pieces at home; each piece usually takes a few nights. Then she covertly takes it to the location and finishes it off, binding it onto the structure.

For a fire hydrant in Lakewood Village Shopping Center, Witta measured the hydrant and made a pattern.

"I had to make sure the firemen had access to it," she says. "But those pop on and off easily."

Picking the colors and styles is the fun part, Witta says. She uses a lot of leftover yarn from her stash. "My criteria is to use what you've got, try not to buy anything," she says. "I also try to keep the colors very whimsical and light."

Sayeg uses a mix of acrylic and vintage yarns. "There's no need for the precious, beautiful yarns," she says. "I might use that for a scarf around my neck but not for this. It needs to be kind of strong. And with acrylics, the colors stay longer and they're kind of brighter."

Many yarn bombers bomb in secrecy, which Witta says just makes it more fun. "I guess I don't mind anybody knowing among my friends," she says, "but I don't want it to be about me. I want it to be about people smiling and enjoying it." She leaves a calling card with her pieces — "A Random Act of Art by K Witta."

Sayeg says yarn bombing started in secrecy for her out of caution. "The only reason we did it that way was because we weren't graffiti artists," she says. "We had no desire to be arrested. We were too skittish to believe that everyone liked what we did. Doing it at my shop was one thing. But going outside of that, unsanctioned, well that's another realm. I'm not so bold that I would want to be yelled at."

While in some cities yarn bombing could be considered vandalism or littering, in Dallas only painted graffiti is a punishable offense.

James Childers, assistant director of the Community Code and Multi-Occupant Structure Team for the city of Dallas, says they are classifying yarn bombing as litter. "Our staff is going to remove any of this knitting found on public property, poles, signs, etc.," he says via email. "This is the same process we use when we find any paper flyers, posters, etc., attached to utility poles and signs."

After a while Sayeg and her team just embraced being incognito and even took on code names. "We were taking knitting to the streets, gangsta style," she says. "It gives knitting this edge by doing it this way."

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