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yarn bombing also yarnstorming

noun [uncountable/countable]

the activity of putting knitted coverings on statues, posts, seats and other public objects, especially secretly and without official permission

yarn-bomb also yarn-storm

verb [intransitive/transitive]

yarn bomber also yarnstormer

noun [countable]

yarn bomb also yarnstorm

noun [countable]

'Known as yarn bombing, knitters decorate lamp posts, benches or other spots where a bit of color and whimsy might be needed.'

Mlive.com 7th October 2010

'They began wrapping everything from utility poles to statues with what they called street art, and now copycats have yarn-bombed all over the world …'

WA Today 19th October 2010

'This might explain the increasing desire of councils and art institutions to commission yarn bombers to create official works of art. In August, Belfast was comprehensively yarn bombed at the instigation of Craft Northern Ireland, a government-backed organisation supporting the craft industry.'

The Guardian 10th October 2010

'Yarn bombs are friendly attacks on lampposts, stop signs and other urban signage.'

The Link 5th October 2010

The sight of neatly wrapped balls of wool and the phrase knit one, pearl one conventionally conjures up images of little old ladies lovingly creating cardigans and bootees, but the newly coined concept of yarn bombing could change all that …

there's a new craze sweeping cities all over the world, in which knitters have had the inspiration to knit for things rather than people

Conventionally at least, knitting is associated with creating things that will keep people warm – scarves, gloves, bobble hats and good old woolly jumpers. But it seems that there's a new craze sweeping cities all over the world, in which knitters have had the inspiration to knit for things rather than people. Imagine a lamp post with a scarf wrapped around it, or a UK telephone box with its own 'cosy' cover? From Perth and Michigan to London and Belfast, it's been possible in recent times to see splashes of artistic creativity such as these, whose wooliness and sudden, unsolicited appearance has inspired the term yarn bombing. If you're finding it difficult to imagine what they look like, then check out this link which has some great examples – my own personal favourite is the tree!

Much as guerrilla gardeners have tried to surreptitiously enhance neglected public spaces with plants and greenery, yarn bombers (also sometimes referred to as guerrilla knitters) have attempted to spread a bit of colourful cheer across the urban landscape, targeting buildings and structures which are particularly grey and faceless. Although, just like other forms of graffiti, the unsolicited nature of yarn bombing puts it on the boundaries of legality, the nostalgic appeal and cosy image of knitting has largely made it possible for yarn bombers to avoid being prosecuted. Unlike other forms of graffiti, yarn bombing is also much easier to remove.

Background – yarn bombing and yarnstorming

The practice of yarn bombing originated in the US with Texas woman Magda Sayeg. When managing a clothes shop in 2005, Sayeg was struck by her ugly concrete and steel surroundings, and so tried to cheer things up by knitting a door handle for the shop and a cover for the pole of a nearby road sign. Spurred on by the positive reactions of passers-by, she began splattering her creations in different locations across the world, and yarn bombing was born.

In the expression, yarn is the commonly used American word for 'thick fibre or thread'. Though this would be described as wool in British English, yarn bombing is still the term used in the UK, though aficionados in Britain have also coined the lexical variant yarnstorming because of the negative associations of the word bombing. Other lexical variants are guerrilla knitting and graffiti knitting. Various derivatives also exist. Yarn bombing is used both to refer to the activity and as a countable noun to describe an instance of it, so you can talk about seeing a yarn bombing. The countable noun yarn bomb (also yarnstorm) is used to describe the knitted 'installations' themselves. Yarn-bomb and yarn-storm can also be used as both transitive and intransitive verbs. Those who wield the knitting needles are called yarn bombers or yarnstormers.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. The Anthropocene.

This article was first published on 22nd November 2010.

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