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Rasa Fournier

Yarn Masters

Knitters are taking it to the streets – and lots of other places – in a phenomenon known as ‘yarnstorming’

Maybe it’s a bike rack … or a tree branch, table, parking meter, water faucet, statue or utility pole. One day it’s a common object that wouldn’t make you look twice, and the next it’s suddenly prettified. Rainbow-colored sleeves on trees or monster faces in knitted and crocheted patterns on spigots and other pedestrian items invite you to look, touch, take a photo. The beautification culprits are a group called TheFUZZ, and their stealthy or blatant installment of street art that yields yarn surprises both small and quite substantial are referred to by various terms including yarnstorming, yarn-bombing, knitted graffiti, guerilla knitting and other trendy euphemisms.

They employ creative monikers like traditional graffiti artists, often involving wordplay related to their craft: archiPURLago (“purl” is a knitting stitch), Up2Knit Good, NaPurleonComplex.

“I don’t want to use too many puns, but TheFUZZ is a ‘loosely knit’ collective,” says archiPURLago, one of the group’s founding members. “The membership depends on the project we’re working on.”

TheFUZZ launched in 2012, when members of the Aloha Knitters club were working on a now-famed installation of a 55-foot “tree sweater” at Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House. Plenty of hands responded to the demand for knitted and crocheted pieces that were then sewn around tree branches at the museum, garnering the group significant attention.

MidWeek catches up recently with three members of TheFUZZ, while they attack a smaller project at Ward Centre, giving a desk in a display window a softer, attractive touch.

“I love everything about (yarnstorming)” says Nalani Holliday, owner of Red Pineapple, where archiPURLago and her crew are busily sewing knitted pieces onto the desktop, legs and drawer – an hours-long project. “It’s an art form and it’s something so unexpected. I love that they’re making something hard and ordinary soft and beautiful.

“Also, who sees anybody knitting? You think of a knitting person as a grandmother in her La-Z-Boy, and here we have young women doing something super fun and cool, and that makes it hip. When you see their work in random places, you can’t help but appreciate it.”

Yarnstorming has made its appearance in energetic cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and now it has arrived on our island streets. The local group is comprised of mostly young women who have a background in the arts and started experimenting with knitting needles and crochet hooks as adults. Though much of their knitting is done in a traditional setting with the Aloha Knitters, lately they’ve been using their talents in more surprising ways about town, including an eclectic cameo during a theatrical performance at ARTS at Marks Garage that featured ladies clad in wedding dresses and knitting. They also have made appearances at the annual Pow Wow graffiti festival in Kakaako.

“We’ve taken a traditional art form and given it a twist,” says archiPURLago. “To take it outside into an urban environment and use it in a way that’s more typical of the male-dominated graffiti art form is so much fun, and we’ve had a really good response so far within the community.”

TheFUZZ is environmentally conscious and careful to use only natural fibers. They’ve researched the local statutes on artistic expressions in public places. Because yarn can be removed easily and is therefore not permanently defacing any surfaces, it hasn’t garnered the bad rap that uninvited painted graffiti tends to evoke.

For most of the group’s members, yarnstorming is a side hobby. They belong to knitting clubs including Aloha Knitters (alohaknitters.wordpress.com), which meets a few times a week and welcomes the public to drop in. At the meetings, they practice their skill, share tips and discuss technical considerations of any upcoming projects. In fact, it’s through such gatherings that they all met and got to know each other.

Nevermind that with all of the social topics that arise, they’ve been known to refer to their meetings as “stitch and bitch” sessions. What the members learn in the group regarding fiber work, they’re able to apply to their knitted graffiti and vice versa. Much of what translates to the outdoor arena has been carefully planned and constructed indoors. Its public manifestation is only a minute part of an involved process.

Creating curious patterns for yarnstorming projects helps imbue extra creativity to members’ more-functional projects like sweaters, hats or socks. It also focuses their attention on environmental shapes that might beckon to their knitting creativity.

“I can think of a few surfaces that are really drawing my interest,” says archiPURLago slyly, “but I won’t disclose those because that will give away the surprise!”

Environmental stewardism has inspired some FUZZ members to get active crocheting aquatic creatures native to the Hawaiian archipelago out of fiber and other material, like plastic bags, to bring awareness to the marine ecosystem. The completed “Hook the Reef” project will be on view Aug. 23 at the Waikiki Aquarium’s Family Night. (For more information, email thefuzzhawaii@gmail.com.)

“It’s been interesting for us as artists to find ourselves doing this type of art form that years ago we never would have imagined would be one of our mediums,” says archiPURLago. “The group draws from a lot of different disciplines. Each of us brings a unique perspective to a project, and the opinions come together in a really constructive way. Stories about us tend to (address) making something pretty to cover a surface in an unusual way. Those are things we think about, but we also like taking this otherwise feminine art form, this female-dominated craft, out of the domestic sphere and putting it into the urban setting in a place where you otherwise wouldn’t expect to see it.”

See pictures of their public art and check out where TheFUZZ next will set off a yarn storm at thefuzzhawaii.blogspot.com.

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