Last summer, bucolic Ojai Valley became a canvas for a new form of artistic expression: yarn bombing. Also called yarnstorming, urban knitting and guerrilla knitting, colorful knitted and crocheted installations — tree cozies, pole warmers, pom-poms and other yarn decorations — have popped up in a wide variety of places, from the Ojai Valley Museum to Libbey Park to stretches of Meiners Oaks. These homespun delights are the handiwork of local fiber enthusiasts known as Yarn Bomb Ojai.
“They’ve spruced up the valley,” says Jenny Newell, owner of Bonnie Lu’s Country Cafe in downtown Ojai. “But instead of graffiti, they crochet.”
In fact, yarn bombing is considered a new strand of street art. Knit graffiti has been around since the early 2000s and appears worldwide. Renowned guerrilla knitters include the Ohio-based JafaGirls, Yarn Bombing Los Angeles founder Arzu Arda Kosar, Houston’s Magda Sayeg (considered the “mother of yarn bombing”) and London’s Deadly Knitshade.
Yarn Bomb Ojai’s founder, who goes by the pseudonym Threep Parlour, became intrigued by urban knitting after seeing bombed poles in Berkeley. When members of her old knitting circle decided to “get the gang back together,” she realized a yarn bomb was the ideal project around which they could reunite. Their first installation, “Shock and Awe Night,” was an ambitious project that took place in the wee hours of July 25, 2012. “We bombed all of Ojai Avenue,” Parlour recalls.
Since then, numerous locations and businesses have found themselves yarn bombed, and artsy Ojai has warmly welcomed the phenomenon.
“It’s enhanced my business,” says Bookends co-owner Marcia Doty. Last December, on the day before the Meiners Oaks bookstore’s grand opening, the artists put up dozens of granny squares and large block letters spelling out “Curiosity,” “Look” and “Expand.” “It was my first signage,” Doty muses.
Often, the objective of a yarn bomb is to make “urban ugly” locations friendlier, more colorful, less industrial. These traditional crafts are generally associated with domesticity and the feminine sphere. When guerrilla knitters bring their art out into the wider world, it’s both a playful juxtaposition of interior/exterior and masculine/feminine, and a zealous (if warm and fuzzy) reclaiming of public spaces by and for women.
“Yarn bombing is a form of female street art,” explains Parlour. “It’s a fresh voice. When we plan our hits, we try to go to the more derelict areas. It just makes the area a little prettier.”
Another bomber, speaking anonymously, finds that men in particular are “enthralled” by the art form: “For most women, it’s not a huge leap to imagine themselves creating or doing something like this. For many men it’s just plain mind boggling.”
There’s an ecological element woven in as well: Yarn Bomb Ojai employs mostly used materials — sweaters, afghans, unfinished projects, remnants — in its installations. (Bookends accepts contributions, and Bonnie Lu’s has a donation box in the back.) Yarn fibers don’t damage underlying objects and are easily removed with scissors.
Removal, though, is not a priority here. Local law enforcement has had a laissez faire approach to yarn bombs unless they pose a safety hazard (obscuring a sign, for example), and is content to allow the works to remain. Parlour admits that Yarn Bomb Ojai has a few “moles” keeping lines of communication open between the artists, police and city officials. Bombs that are cause for concern are taken down or modified.
Ojai bombardiers “share a mischievous side,” says Threep, and working anonymously has been part of the fun. Installations go up at night, project locations are kept hush-hush, and artists wear all black or disguises to hide their identities. In this small, tight-knit community, certainly some (like Newell and Doty) are in the know. But local lips are sealed. “We think of it as an anonymous kiss — for everybody,” says Parlour.
Bookends maintains a mailing list of local female artists who hope to connect with Yarn Bomb Ojai to learn knitting, crocheting and the fine art of yarn bombing. Will a veteran guerrilla knitter be willing to play mentor?
“Perhaps,” says Parlour. “But what I’d really love to see is a rival group. Bring it on!”