Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wool Bikinis & Yarn Bomb Experiments

A series of reflections from Angela and Kate

Knitting as a social experiment is intriguing.  

Can something as innocuous as knitting be capable of building awareness and community?  

In a previous post, we mentioned our interest in yarn bombing, a fiber art practice through which artists cover objects with knitted or crocheted pieces.

Over the past months, we have been feeding our curiosity of art-based activism and material feminisms. In particular, we chose to zoom in on yarnbombing as a social practice through experiential experiments on campus. These experiments allow us to construct well informed plans for future, more involved yarn bomb installations.

Hats For Hats

After literature searches and interviews with experienced yarnbombers well known taggers, we decided that our first “bomb” was to knit hats for the three sculptures of men on campus: Ernie Pyle, Herman B. Wells and Hoagy Carmichael.  

We met with the owner of the local yarn store to discuss suitable yarn, how to “tag” and gain advice as she is also part of a large group of women who yarn bomb to bring awareness to a local women’s shelter. We chose acrylic yarn for maximum durability and defense in the potentially-rainy situations. With supplies and basic knowledge, we collaboratively crafted the knitted pieces. Knitting for placement on a sculpture brought to light several difficulties. (Keep in mind that yarn bombs are usually installed at night, when public spaces are more likely to be empty. The process needs to be quick and efficient, before any authority figure forces the knitter to tink her stitches!) 

Before installation, we had to think over the process of making and securing: How were we going to secure the hats?  How to take measurements for an item that really isn’t “wearable”?  The mathematics of the installation we not completely here, but we were aware of the use of spatial rotation to imagine the form of the nets on the sculptures.


The Provost's Office featured Ernie Pyle in his wooly hat. 

In the case of one statue, we were faced with a particularly tricky three-dimensional challenge. The sculpture of Herman B. Wells was created with the hat resting on a bench with a hand placed on top of the hat. What would be the best or most clever way to knit and secure that?  

As one knits something other than a flat garment, there is always the concern of fit. We ask ourselves a series of internal design questions: Did I measure the heel turn to fit properly? Will the arms I’m inserting in a sweater fit correctly on the shoulder? Will the sweater fit around the torso, etc.? How might the shaping - increases or decreases - need to change with the form of the sculpture?

In these yarnbomb projects, spacial relationships are under constant review - especially if one knits three-dimensionally in the round. The creation of knits for the hat tag was especially tricky, as we couldn’t lift the hand off the hat nor the hat off the bench. How would we knit something in the round that was interrupted by a piece of bronze?

Upon completing our hats, we met on a dark and rainy night to install the yarnbomb. For the most part, the process of installing was straight forward - the attachment of the wool pieces to the forms was not too complicated.  Our conceptual ideas and strategic planning paid off.  There were two interesting results with this first experiment.  After a day of student movement and observation on campus, only one hat remained - the most prominent and easiest to remove (which remained intact for several weeks).  Though we were unsure how the yarnbomb would be received, it was important to note the ways in which students interacted with the pieces. We were also very excited to also see that Provost Robell’s instagram account featured Ernie Pyle wearing his hat.  


Wool Bikinis

After the successful installation of the first yarn bomb, we schemed another plan to yarnbomb on campus again, this time with a more-prioritized goal to generate attention from the student body. In a woodsy area on campus, there are two statues - one of a naked man and one of a naked woman - which are thought to be Adam and Eve. Our idea for this next yarn bomb was to knit swim suits for Adam and Eve (just in time for Spring!).  

The process of making for the swim suits involved careful measurement and examination of the statues. We tried to make these observations at a time when campus would be empty and no one would become suspicious. We knitted the wool bikinis and planned the installation carefully.

The creation of bikinis themselves incorporated geometrical thought (i.e. the triangular shape of Eve's bikini top). We also had to visualize what the knitted pieces would look like once complete, keeping in mind that wool stretches, especially if it gets wet, so all sizing needed to be slightly less than our measurements reflected.

This installation was more difficult than the first, for the design involved statue bodies instead of hats and the location was more exposed. It took us longer than intended to secure the swim trunks to Adam, for we had to figure out how to cinch the top of the shorts in order to ensure they would stay on, but when complete, we were happy and amused with how clever the results were! Ultimately, we thought this would be a fun way to celebrate spring and the return of students to campus after the break.  

We installed the yarnbomb at night, as quickly as possible. 

We were curious about the responses students would have to the installation. Our first yarnbomb did not last long, but was clearly noticed by the student body and IU administration. In this installation, we had covered artwork depicting naked statues with knits that could be interpreted as 'clothing'. We wondered whether people would take that commentary to extremes.  Again, our yarn bombing was featured on IU’s social media account the next day.  

We were shocked at the number of likes - over 3,600 and almost 90 comments - some of them questioning the motive and others from knitters questioning securing the tag. We loved that people noticed, for the generation of student awareness helps to motivate our work.  Not only did people comment on social media, but interactively as well. Over the course of the few days that the suits were up, I noticed that someone had pulled Adam’s trunks and Eve’s bottoms down, and then someone pulled them back up - all in good fun. Does these actions reflect some kind of protection of the installation from students on campus? What is the potential for interactive yarnbombing?



Adam and Eve, spotted from afar with their knitted attire less-intact than expected.


With these two small experiments under our belt, we are zooming out to examine the process and yarnbombing ad we discuss our goals and plan our next projects. During this time, we are taking a close look at the inherent mathematical structure of yarnbombs and exploring the mathematical requirements in the creation of knitted nets.

Through recents discussions, we have come to realize that our mathematical awareness of the mathematics in yarn bombs is retrospective - we see it after we've created the pieces. This is to say that we do not approach a design or creation with questions such as: "How do we use math here?". Instead, we find that the math becomes obvious after we've engaged with the materials themselves.

Further, we are interested in the contrast between process and practice in yarnbombing. We have been exploring the role of skilled processes, while remaining aware of the function of practice. To craft a more creative or clever tag, do we need to change our practice, such as the order of operations in our process of making? It seems likely that more practice will allow us to complete installations more swiftly and effectively, but how much practice do we need? We conceptualize these two experiments as the pilot experiments that will catalyze a series of yarn bombs both on campus and the community.


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