Saturday, August 13, 2011

Graffiti in Knit

Posted by Chandra Ward, FREEDOM PARK, ATLANTA, GA -- There is an underground movement taking place in cities across the globe by the most unlikely urban insurgents: guerrilla knitters.  You may stumble upon this artwork, also known as knit graffiti, on trees and benches in a city park, or other inanimate objects inhabiting public spaces. Here in Atlanta, knit graffiti has peacefully encroached upon the landscape, draping itself around manmade and natural artifacts, much like kudzu, only friendlier. This movement, with its origins claimed by two middle class white women in Houston, goes by Knitta Please. While this phrase is problematic in its own right, and has sparked a fair amount controversy, in the end Knitta is about domestic subversion of the public sphere. 

Knitting has traditionally been a gender-segregated activity primarily confined to the private, domestic domain. In recent decades, however, knitters have begun to integrate their craft into more public parts of their lives -- like during meetings or other activities where they are sitting still for a period of time.  You'll find them listening while knitting away, or even carrying on a conversation while their hands do all the work.  However, knit graffiti has taken knitting to a whole other realm: inanimate objects in public urban spaces.  Graffiti itself has also traditionally been a gendered activity, whereby urban male youth of color express themselves in a public arena that does not otherwise offer a venue for them.  Knit graffiti, brings another group traditionally without public venue into the public sphere: women.

Knittas, also known as Yarn Bombers, have created an art form where two, seemingly opposing worlds collide.  They take inspiration from graffiti and marry it with their June Cleaver-esque craft, “tagging” the likes of park benches, door handles, bicycles, and even cars “clothed” in beautiful strands of brilliantly pieced together yarns.  Yet, the one thing I wonder about is how knit graffiti holds up to the weather. Unlike spray paint yarn can shrink when it gets wet, and perhaps begin to unravel.  There’s also the potential mildew issue. Still, while the official word from law enforcement is that graffiti is vandalism, knitted or not, according to a recent New York Times article, yarn bombers indicate that they seldom have run-ins with the law. To be sure, while many cities have graffiti removal taskforces, I’m not aware of any focusing on the knitted version. 

Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Assistant Editor, and a Team Leader on the GSU Urban Health Initiative, a project examining the impact of public housing demolition and relocation in Atlanta. You can contact her at

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