“I’m inspired by what’s ugly,” explains Magda Sayeg, on the telephone from her house in Austin, Texas, “I’m inspired by things that are unpleasant to look at or which we ignore. I kind of feel like I do what I do with the mindset that I’m regenerating respect for something.”
Several years ago, Sayeg had the idea of wrapping dilapidated buildings and nondescript street-signs in vibrantly colourful wreaths of knitted wool. She was part of a movement that has come to be known as ‘yarn-bombing.’ Best described as ‘knitted graffiti,’ the phenomenon has since been well documented in the press, and the days of a trend which operated under a shadow of secretive quirkiness are now over. Fellow leading yarn-bombers, Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain released an instructive guide to yarn-bombing earlier in the autumn and Sayeg tells me that she’s working on her own book on the subject, due to land on bookshop shelves in October 2010.
“The fact that the movement has become so recognised that there’s an audience demanding a book and that publishing companies are asking me for proposals blows my mind,” comments Sayeg, “that this whole thing is making a connection with other people all over the world is incredible.”
Sayeg’s vivacious personality and energetic enthusiasm for yarn bombing are immediately palpable. She speaks quickly, positively and when she talks about her personal contributions to the movement, it’s with as much fervour as when she gives her opinion on anyone else’s efforts. Her book, she explains, is intended to be a visual induction into the world of yarn-bombing as well as a collection of some of the best knitted ‘tags’ that Sayeg has come across. “It’s not really a DIY book,” she reasons, “I’m taking more of a curatorial approach by showing my own work and exploring how this style of graffiti has become something that other people do and are just as passionate about in other parts of the world. There’ll be lots and lots of pictures.”
“knitting has become more extravagant and political”
About six months ago, Sayeg took a decision – which she describes as “a little scary” – to make yarn-bombing her full-time occupation. Since then she’s travelled the world with her ever-busy knitting needles and has frequently been asked to create installations at landmarks or yarn-bomb the venues of special events. In July she was part of a special exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra, Australia, where Sayeg and local volunteers draped the formal columns at the front of the gallery in lengths of coloured wool – and then there was the Fashion Week show at The Standard Hotel in New York where sleekly-designed aluminium bollards outside the building were adorned with sock-like yarn-bombs. “In such a highly-designed part of the city, it provided really great contrast,” Sayeg comments.
But the movement’s roots are anything but purely mischievous. As well as being something done “to beautify your own world” (Sayeg), yarn bombing can act as a political statement and Sayeg adds that encouraging people to make of yarn bombing what they will has resulted in those kind of statements coming out. “I think that the knitting has become more extravagant and more political. People have put their own twists on it. Graffiti and knitting are kind of opposites – you don’t think of knitting in hate or to make a point about something, but having that as your context can let you put your own flavour on it.”
Sayeg’s limitless energy is apparent from her bulging diary of upcoming appearances and events. “There’s talk of me doing some stuff at Art Basel, but that’s next week so I’m not sure if I can make it. I’ve been thinking about doing something at the Tate Modern in Britain before the end of the year but even if that doesn’t happen, next year I want to do something at SXSW (the South By Southwest conference) and I’ll definitely be doing a downtown show at the Austin SouthFirst Arts Festival. For that I’ll basically be covering some extremely large things in yarn.”
For now though, her book is a priority. She explains that she’s still collecting submissions from fellow yarn bombers around the world. If any of our readers want to contribute by sending nice hi-res photographs of their woolly creations to Sayeg by the 31st December, all they need to do is click on this link to find out how.
“From the photos I receive I really want to get a sense of the identity of where the people are from or what they’re trying to do with yarn-bombing that’s special,” she says, “I really want this to be a pretty picture book.”