LSD Magazine interviews Knit the City

ORIGINALLY FEATURED LSD MAGAZINE
Issue Two – Booting off the Doors – 2009

knitcityphone

Please introduce yourselves and say how you met… Where did the idea come from?

Knit the City was hatched like a yarn-covered Godzilla in February 2009 on the chilly banks of the River Thames. Six lone woolly warriors joined forces with travelling graffiti knitting legend PolyCotN of Knitta Please to yarnstorm/guerrilla knit the South Bank. Some of us had dabbled before, some hadn’t. By the end of that day the Knit the City Yarn Corps was formed. London’s first guerrilla knitting collective, and we’ve been yarnstorming our fair city ever since. The idea came from all over the place, like manky one-legged pigeons when you throw crumbs down in Trafalgar Square. We all wanted to yarnstorm for different reasons, but one thing was clear – we weren’t content putting our knitting on small children and ungrateful relatives. There was a whole city out there getting chilly.

How many guerrilla-knitters in the group?

There are six of us. Deadly Knitshade, The Purple Purler, The Bluestocking Stitcher, Knitting Ninja, Lady Loop and Shorn-a the Dead.

What’s the average age of group members?

Mid 20s to mid 30s. Yarnstorming gives our cheeks that youthful glow. That and the blood of our victims.

Are you veteran knitters or did you learn for this particular purpose?

We all knit or crocheted before Knit the City. Knit the City just gave our stitching a more dastardly purpose. Which was nice.

What’s the biggest street job you’ve done and how long did it take?

Depends what you mean by big. For our Phonebox Cosy we covered an entire London phonebox in knitting. It took a couple of weeks of planning and about six days of flat-out knitting. We had templates, schematics, tantrums, several cases of RSI, mild panic attacks, cake to fortify the nerves, and a hairy incident with the police right in the middle of the yarnstorm. Those of us it didn’t kill are now far more seasoned.

In terms of poke-your-eye-out intricate and all kinds of arty there was our Web of Woe. One 13 by 4 foot spider web, 5 hooks no-nailed to the target area 48 hours before, 44 horrified and entrapped individually designed and handknitted/crocheted creatures, one giant spider to snack on them all. A veritable feast of insect tragedy in the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. It lasted all of 24 hours before someone nicked the whole thing.

Graff / Street artist carry particular kit when on the road, run us through your guerrilla kit-bag?

Yarn – can be as eye-gougingly hideous as you like. We do use pretty stuff too but you won’t catch us covering a car aerial in cashmere or anything. Unless, of course, someone fancies give us some woolly donations. Our last donation came from the son of a lady who had recently ‘passed on’. He told us had she been alive she’d have joined us. We think the yarn is possessed with a bit of cheeky old dear spirit.

Knitting needles and crochet hook – from scarily tiny (think surgical needle) to you-could-kill-someone-with-that huge Pre-knitted yarnstorms – for those moments when you see something and you feel an overwhelming need to yarnstorm it Cable ties – in various colours. A yarnstormers best friend. Quick, zippy, and less fiddly than sewing if you’re trying to make a quick getaway. Also a bastard to remove. Bring scissors. Scissors – sharp ones. Or even better a swiss army knife. Just because they worry people slightly more when you fiddle about with them for the scissors and accidentally pull out the wood saw.Tapestry needle – a big needle for fast sewing. For the more thorough yarnstormer.Labels – luggage tags, dymo-tape slogans, purple flowers, woolly ladybirds. We all have our mark. A ruler/tape measure – sometimes we like to be thorough and make stuff fit nice and snug. Although, that said, sometimes we don’t.

How does the public and officials respond to your work?

We’ve seen people hug a phonebox in Parliament Square. We’ve watched puzzled but pleased smiles from grumpy commuters. We had a ‘Stop and Search’ warning from the Westminster police (after which one of them took a photo of the phonebox on his phone for his wife). We haven’t had a single negative reaction yet. People tend to go ‘awwwwwwww’ and tell us stories about their grannies. With the Web of Woe we had slightly more disturbed reactions: “Is that butterfly swearing?” or “Is that a dead mouse and a dismembered frog?” People also find it hugely amusing and appreciate the seeming anarchy and ridiculousness of it. The act of yarnstorming and the reactions as you go are all part of the fun. They often ask ‘Why are you doing this?’, but in London at least, they don’t seem to expect any kind of meaningful answer. It’s the deeply ingrained English love of all things eccentric, we think. People just seem to understand that if we need to do it then they should let us get on with it.

Since discovering Knit the City, we’ve found guerrilla knitters in the states and other countries, where would you say a bulk of them are based?

The states and Canada are home to a few of the big yarnbombers (as they call them): they were there before us and we love them for it. Knitta Please are probably best known in the US. There’s the Yarnbombing.com chicks too in Canada. They wrote the book on it. Literally. But further under the radar there are groups all over the world in Holland, Germany, New Zealand, Australia. New groups are springing up all the time too. It’s like some kind of yarnstorming pandemic. London didn’t have a dedicated Yarn Corps until we threw our needles in the mix. There were solo elements, and still are.

Do you execute campaigns during the evenings or daytime?

Oddly it doesn’t matter. The minute we start covering something in knit people tend to get a blind spot right where we are. Covent Garden was a prime example. Very few people stopped to ask what was taking place. London embraces the eccentric like it was always there. It’s a fine city to be a graffiti knitter in. That said, there is something exciting about some sneaky night tagging, especially when people pass you in the street and are clearly thinking: “Why is that lady hugging that telephone pole?”. We imagine wandering past a yarnstorm on your way to work, which clearly wasn’t there the evening before, must be quite a nice way to start your humdrum day. We love the smell of yarnstorming in the morning.

How do you choose locations?

If it screams London then it’s a likely location. We’re lucky because so many bits of London do just that. If you can point your camera at it and get a bit of knitting in the same frame with something that makes you think of roast beef, the Queen or black taxis then we’re likely to find something to yarnstorm in the area. Which makes us all the more likely to get caught too. Apparently there are a few CCTV cameras in Parliament Square. Who knew?

You’ll also find we might get a bit historical. Watch and learn.

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We’re going to split up for these questions, as you’re getting personal.

What’s your motivation?

Deadly Knitshade: There’s sort of an strangely addictive rush to cable-tying/sewing something you’ve spent hours handcrafting to something unexpected and then running away. It takes a bit of bravery to be openly a bit odd in public.

Shorn-a The Dead: It’s just really fun. We all love knitting and crochet anyway, so just making stuff is part of the motivation, but for me at least the actual yarnstorming act has quite a performative element.

Deadly Knitshade: There really is. People have said “I can’t believe you just stopped in the middle of Covent Garden and did that!” as if you’d killed someone or run around in the nip.

Purple Purler: Making other people smile! 🙂

Lady Loop: It’s bloody good fun. And as I can’t draw or paint, working with knitting is the closest I’m ever going to get to being an artist.

Knitting Ninja: Being able to spread some woolly love to Londoners.

If you could place your work anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Lady Loop: You know when you look up and you see a piece of graffiti and think: “How the deuce did they get up there?” That’s the place for me.

Deadly Knitshade: Somewhere that makes people’s eyebrows raise in a “How the bleedin’ heck did you get away with that?” manner. I have been eyeing the Downing Street door knocker.

Are you knitters turned artists or artists turned knitters?

Purple Purler: We’re artists?!?!

Lady Loop: Artists, donchaknow.

Deadly Knitshade: We’ve been called ‘artfag’ before. By some slightly angry graffiti artists who considered we were stepping on their toes with our yarnstorming. We’re considering getting that word tattooed about our persons. We have adopted it. We are sooooo utterly artfag. We can hardly bear it.

What’s the topic of conversation at your knit groups?

Bluestocking Stitcher: What we’re making at the moment. What we want from the bar. Shag, marry, cliff?

Purple Purler: Where can we get decent cake/pear cider/sailor jerry rum? Hot vampires.

Deadly Knitshade: We plan evil. We plan good. Think along the lines of Wonderwoman, Catwoman, Batgirl, Poison Ivy etc sitting about in a pub knitting graffiti. Not babies. Not shopping. Not shoes. Not Big Brother evictions.

Did you ever dream you’d be taking direct action in this format?

Bluestocking Stitcher: I’m not really sure that we are taking direct action. That sounds rather serious. This is fun. Can’t we all just get along?

Lady Loop: Of course. One was always thinking about how to jolly up the comrades.
Knitting Ninja: If you’d told me I’d be doing this two years ago, I would never have believed you.

Deadly Knitshade: Direct action? I put knitting on stuff! Take that, corrupt government!

Have any of you done street art in the past?

Purple Purler: We suspect that the Bluestocking Stitcher has a long history of interpretive street dance. She may deny it.

Bluestocking Stitcher: I deny a long history of interpretive street dance.

Lady Loop: I once sang B*Witches accapella in the street. Does that count?

Deadly Knitshade: I wrote the name of my favourite film on a fence in Dublin in permanent marker when I was 14. I have lived with the guilt ever since. It was The Goonies.

Do you start all jobs from scratch or do you prepare panels before arriving at given location?

Bluestocking Stitcher: The size and intricacy of projects like the Phonebox Cosy and the Web of Woe mean we have to make things in advance and assemble on site.

Lady Loop: For team projects, it’s all about the planning. But solo yarnstorming are usually pretty spontaneous.

Knitting Ninja: The key is in the preparation.

Deadly Knitshade: As everyone’s said it’s all in the prep. If you look carefully in the weeks before a yarnstorm you’ll may find us laying out templates on the floors of certain useful empty London venues. We all look harried and have that sweatshop shine about our faces.

Who is the fastest knitter on the firm and how many stitches per hour?

Purple Purler: I’d say Bluestocking Stitcher.
Lady Loop: I concur.
Shorn-a the Dead: Motion carried.

Shall we call Guinness or will you continue at your own pace?

Deadly Knitshade: How do you know we haven’t already called them ourselves? Unless you’re offering to buy us Guinness. In which case we’ll have six pints and a packet of peanuts, please.

Do you know anyone that’s been arrested while placing knit-art?

Purple Purler: It’s been a close call a few times, but we’re masters of our art and stealth.

Deadly Knitshade: Who said that?

Lady Loop: There’s no box to tick on the back of a Stop and Search ticket for a yarnstorm. We should know. Mwahaha, we’ve beaten the system!

INTERVIEW TAKEN FROM
LSD MAGAZINE ISSUE TWO – BOOTING OFF THE DOORS