Story: Gabrielle LePore
Multimedia: Ashley Gerke
The parking meters outside of Lovelyarns new location on Falls Road in Hampden are not only cozy reminders of the diverse art culture in Baltimore, but colorful trademarks for passersby. Sue Caldwell, the owner of the yarn shop, participates in yarn bombing, a form of graffiti that involves knitting yarn around public objects.
“People love it,” she said. “They come in here and thank us for making Hampden more beautiful.”
Neighboring businesses agree. Cara Schrock is the owner of Urban Baby next to Lovelyarns. She said she appreciates the color the knit graffiti brings to the block.
Upon moving from W 36th St., Caldwell left behind the “Sweater Tree” that was a known landmark for Lovelyarns.
“I did it as a PR thing,” she said. “People would stop, see the ‘Sweater Tree’ and go into the store.”
After one winter, Caldwell gave the tree a breather and clothed it in something more appropriate: a knit bikini.
“Come springtime, we took the sweater off and I made a tree-kini,” Caldwell said. “That was my favorite by far.”
Other projects included the yarn bombing of the portapotties at Artscape in Baltimore in July. It took about three months to pull the pieces together for the portapotties, Caldwell said.
Although its origin is unclear, Magda Sayeg, also known as Knitta Please, is often considered to be the mother of yarn bombing, Caldwell said.
According to Sayeg’s WordPress blog, her first project was a cozy for the door handle to her boutique in Houston, Texas in 2005. From there, she founded the knit graffiti group Knitta, and yarn bombing became an international movement.
Caldwell said some people think yarn bombing is wasteful, and the yarn could be put to better use. However, her shop also contributes to the community through charity programs, she said.
For instance, the Mother Bear Project is an ongoing effort to send bears to children in South Africa. She also started the 500 Hats Project, a campaign that provided knitted and crocheted hats for every child at Arlington Elementary School in Baltimore in 2009.
Aliza Sess, an urban gardener at the Boone Street Community Garden downtown, did some yarn bombing a few years ago before switching to urban farming.
“I liked the way it looked as street art,” Sess said. “It’s bright and tangible.”
Sess submitted a project idea to the Arsenal Pulp Press that published the book “Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti” in 2009.
“It was for a cozy you would do on a light post that people could tag on buttons or other knitted objects to the fabric so it would become more of a sensory experience,” Sess said.
She stopped yarn bombing about three years ago because the pieces would fade over time and attract other unwanted graffiti. Since then she moved on to urban gardening because it’s less “niche” and more community-oriented.
“There just wasn’t a lot of impact,” Sess said. “For me gardening became so much more inclusive. It deals with soil quality and air and water and community and the kids come, and you can see the sense of community.”
Even though she doesn’t participate in yarn bombing anymore, she is not against it as a form of art.
“I think it can be done effectively,” she said. “It’s an interesting new take in the crafting community, and I definitely support it, but it’s just not something I choose to spend my time doing.”
For Caldwell, knit graffiti provides a different perspective on the craft.
“I think that knitting was getting a bad reputation because people thought that only grannies did it and made these terrible Afghans that everybody has – those nasty, crunchy things,” Caldwell said. “This is just showing people that you can create art as well as make garments and practical things.”
Caldwell said she will be doing more yarn bombing. She submitted a proposal to knit sweaters, mittens and snowflakes on the trees outside of one of the shops at Harbor East.