Interview: “Knit your average street art”

Originally posted here for The University of Sheffield (ForgePress) on 23/05/2013

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You may have noticed the pom-pom tree outside Western Bank this week, and at Lifestyle we couldn’t help but wonder what this meant. It turns out there is an underground group of guerrilla knitters who have taken on Sheffield in an illegal activity called yarnstorming. It is street art with knitted objects, making it less permanent than your average spray-paint drawing and somewhat friendlier than other forms of graffiti.

The trend has been around since 2004 but received a lot of attention in 2009 when “Knit the City” was established; a small group of knitters who undertake big projects in storming the city of London, producing things such as a giant squid and a whole knitted cover for a telephone box. It seems we now have a similar group forming in Sheffield, causing many questions to come to mind- why this particular type of graffiti and who is responsible?

Luckily, I had the opportunity to catch up with the chief knitting rebel to get some answers to these questions. The art of knit-storming is actually illegal, so we can’t use our informant’s real name. For their own safety and to preserve their all important anonymity we will have to refer to her as ‘A. Knitter’. What we can mention however is that the goings-on were in fact down to Sheffield’s own knitting society, the Sheffield Stitchers.

The Sheffield Stitchers are a relatively new group who stand to “change misconceptions about knitting and demonstrate that it is so much more than ugly knitted jumpers at Christmas”. According to A. Knitter it seems that the most effective way of doing this is through guerrilla knitting, and I can’t say I disagree. It has definitely got people talking and here it is receiving attention in the form of an article.

The whole thing took 62 pom-poms, three weeks and 15 people. With most street art there is an underlying message, and I wondered if there was one with this specific knit bombing other than changing the knitting community’s image. A. Knitter agrees with the notion of art for art’s sake, but also thinks it is an example of small things making a big difference. Students all want to change the world but feel they can’t do much yet because they are still just students. The guerrilla knitting serves as a reminder that we all have unlocked potential and is in itself an example of what people are capable of.

I also found out that the group are considering making a barrage of pink pom-poms that people pay a pound to purchase in order to increase awareness and raise money for breast cancer. If you are interested the group can be found on Facebook under the aforementioned “Sheffield Stitchers”.

A. Knitter has been pleased to hear positive reactions, but I ask what her reaction would be to someone who argues that because it is not permanent or can be stolen, what is the point in choosing this medium of street art? She says that the fleetingness adds to the excitement, nothing good lasts forever anyway and that they will always have the photographs A. Knitter also adds that knitting is “a way of life”, something that is incredibly important to her lifestyle and she is glad she can involve it in her university life. “It is important that we don’t just view knitting as something that grannies do, as a lot of the clothes we wear are knitted.”

I take my hat off to the knitting community and think that the colourful pom-poms are a welcome and charming addition to the dreary grey landscape of our University buildings. As for the future of guerrilla knitting here at the University of Sheffield, I’m told that the world is their oyster and students should keep a close eye on the I.C.

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