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Featured Artist: Streetcolor Art

by The SpinArtiste on June 9, 2011

Publisher’s Notes: Tonight I start with a confession. Yes, I dye fibers. Yes, I spin. Yes, I knit a lot and even felt a little. But, I’m coming out to the world that I also yarn bomb. The reason why I kept my yarn bombing activity quiet in the fiber community is because of my dirty secret: I yarn bomb with pieces made from acrylic yarns. There, I said it. To make it worse, in the interest of time, I actually have stashed big bags of crocheted and knitted pieces gleaned from yard sales to recycle as yarn bombs. I’ve justified my behavior by telling myself that I’m giving new life to these “creations” and by using acrylic yarns, I’m hedging against what the weather can do to natural fibers. Since Spin Artiste focuses on handcrafted fibers and yarns, I kept my yarn bomb passion secret, but continued to wish for a way to bring my two loves together.
Then, into my world, came Streetcolor Art,a prolithic yarn bomber who hand spins all the yarns for her pieces. So, you can imagine my delight when Streetcolor Art agreed to do a feature piece for Spin Artiste in time for International Yarn bomb Day on June 11, 2011. As you will read, Streetcolor Art is an artist who is deeply passionate about her work. Enjoy!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Hi Street!  So glad that you are able to join us right before International Yarn bomb Day…Let’s start with an overview of what you do and why you do it.

Streetcolor Art (SCA):  I am an excessively productive yarn bomber who uses all handspun yarn. Yarn bombing , as you know, is the term for putting knitting and crocheting outside on everything you can think of:   poles, bike racks, park benches, trees, telephone booths, statues, fountains, buses, houses.  In June 2010, I was lolling around the Mendocino Book Store, looking out at the ocean and reading fiber books and I found “ Yarn bombing “ by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prianne and saw knitting set up outdoors for the first time.

Yarn bombing is beautiful. And unnecessary, which makes it even better."

Man, that made me stand straight up!  I zoomed home to Berkeley and started knitting a little 12 inch strip out of sock yarn and sewed it to a pole across the street. It looked fabulous and I was pleasantly anxious and excited as I sewed it up.  I wanted more and bigger, and to cover my neighborhood with knitting.

I had thought at first, “Oh, finally I can use up some of this old yarn I have around!” That lasted for one piece and I started to want to use my handspun. I needed way more colors and so I started dyeing fiber with my acid dyes and spinning it on my drop spindle. This was slow but so much more fun.

"People think knitting is a trifling art form -- it's actually tremendously evocative."

I began knitting for yarn bombing all day. I acquired an assistant I named “The Russian” and taught her to spin and knit and sew. We would pick out a neighborhood we liked, or a garden, a bakery, university, or a town and go there and blitz it. We would install during the day so we could talk to people and take pictures, blogged and got interviewed in the local papers.

SA: I’m so envious that you are right out there doing this during the day…we always wait for nightfall. Which leads me to wanting to know about the artistic and logistical process involved in planning a piece?

SCA: When I started, I would pick out a place I wanted to yarn bomb and visit it, look at the poles and think about colors. Then I would go home, spin the yarn (about 4 to 5 ounces at light worsted wight) and then knit the piece. They were 6 to 7 feet long. The spinning would take 6 hours depending on it I used my wheel or my hand spindle. The knitting would take about 12 hours. The Russian would be knitting too.

"Yarn bombing makes an impersonal unchanging environment that we feel we have no control over into something personal and interactive. We are not powerless."

I should tell you that I worked as a production spinner for about 4 years and that is how I made my living so I can spin very, very fast. And, I knit very fast, too. Before I was a production spinner, I was a production potter for 15 years so I have it deep in me to work fast and voluminously.
When I started yarn bombing, I was not experienced in putting knitting up on poles and I did not grasp an important point: you have to sew those strips up TIGHT! We put up lots of stuff before we noticed that the pieces were sagging down the pole’s ankles. Very embarrassing. Now, we stretch them really firmly at the very top of the pole and they stay up properly.

SA: And, how did you first learn to spin?

SCA: I learned when I was a teenager from a friend and got myself a wheel when I moved out to California to go to CCAC. I spun for comfort, mostly. Then, in my 30’s my mom died and I thought, “What do you really want to do in life?” And, I realized that I wanted to weave tapestries, so I got out my wheel and started spinning run yarn. When I got interested in knitting, I went off to study spinning at John C. Campbell and got interested in mastering it. Those were fun years. I have spun on my spindle for so many years now, that it is really like breathing. I would be a good medieval lady or peasant; walking around, spinning on my spindle all day.

SA: Ahh… I’m so envious of your ease with the drop spindle! Tell us more about the technical parts — which brand of equipment, fibers, dyes, etc.

SCA: I spin on a Schacht wheel and on Schacht high whorl spindles. I use 60’s merino and a little Blue Faced Leiscester. At first, I was dyeing most of my colors, but yarn bombing is an unusual test of colorfastness. It shows you what happens to a color when you leave it out in the rain and sun for six months. I have switched to spinning Ashland Bay commercially dyed merino which they have very kindly dyed in about 70 colors. That’s about enough. I always 2 ply a very straight vanilla yarn so that it will last as well as possible.

I have a fiber business in my other straight life so I wholesale all my fiber, Thank goodness for that because I have done over 150 yarn bombs and it would beggar me if I was buying all that yarn.

SA: How would you describe your signature style?

SCA: I have wanted my work to look recognizably mine. My pieces use a lot of different colors, often 60 or so. They used to always have ruffles or loops on them. They have that great look of hand spun yarn. They are big: 7 to 80 feet. I think they are distinctive, but people are always thanking me for other people’s work so they are not so distinctive to everyone.

It's such a strong form of self expression and so complete in the range of experience. It includes the private, calming knitting, the design art aspect, the excitement of installation and the direct interaction with the public."

Lately, I’ve wanted to work a lot bigger and have started doing those long waving bike racks. You can see the mix of patterns better on the loopy shape. I pick and artist like Picasso or Hockney and match all the colors and patterns from one of their paintings into a piece.

SA: Now, I have to go back and look at your pictures all over again and look for those inspiratiosn. Your work crosses over into so many creative directions. Which group do you most strongly self-identify with: grafitti artists, spinners, knitters?

SCA: I am an artist who yarn bombs. And, I am a knitter and a spinner. I hadn’t paid much attention to street art before I started yarn bombing and I have found that I prefer to make street art over making gallery art. I have shown and sold a lot in galleries and I had gotten exasperated with being a commodity and had stopped showing and selling. I also disliked the glorification of fine artists as big important celebrities annointed by wealthy collectors as good financial investments. It was so elitist and ego-fueled.

"All yarn bombing is not the same. A pink acrylic sock is not the same as a big, complex, emotional installation."

Street art has this humble, free element that felt right to me. I like that yarn bombing is a gift — that it’s in a surprising, mundate environment and that it asks people to look at knitting as an art form.

SA: How long are your pieces staying in place?
SCA: My pieces are staying up forever, apparently. I was so worried at first that police or concerned citizens would take them down immediately, but instead 9 months later, they are almost all still up. The rain didn’t hurt them at all. It is the fading from the sun that has changed them. I need to take a bunch down and sew them into a blanket.

Having said that, some cities do not allow yarn bombing at all. I put up 3 really nice little bike racks in Charlotte, NC one night and the city had them down 8 hours later. So, send out a little test balloon before you put up your masterpiece.

SA: What is your big, audacious yarn bombing dream?

"I want the yarn bombing to wake people up to the aliveness -- beauty, freshness, and power of our physical world."

SCA: I would like to yarn bomb a cable car. Also, a park bench. Or a row of park benches. I would like to somehow turn a whole outdoor space into an interior room. Hmmm.

SA: From reading your blog, I see that you did some yarn bombing in Paris. Where else would you like to go?

SCA: Paris, again. LA, New York, Venice, Petaluma.

SA: Tell us more about what inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

SCA: I’m inspired by great colorists: David Hockney, Richard Marquis, Lino Tagliepeitro (glass guys), glass beads, found art, Squeak Carnwath, Paris, Kaffe Fasset, African Textiles, Yoruba beadwork. I want to say more about Paris. That city is all about beauty and pleasure and relaxation. Art in America is often all about shock and pain and disturbance. Making knitted art which is feminine, domestic, reassuring and pretty is my rebellion against that. People say, “It’s a man’s world” — Yarn bombing comments that it is a woman’s world, too.

SA: What is your motto?

"Some days I think yarn bombing is the best thing I've ever done -- because it's limitless. Some days I think I am wasting my time making art for free. But I have to do it."

SCA: I have lots of motos. I love mottos!
Today, it would be, “Find what you love and do it all the time.”

SA: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Streetcolor Art. Your thoughtful, insightful words have made me think about yarn bombing in a different way and I’m sure others reading this will feel the same. I know I am going to raise my own bar!Dear Readers, International Yarn Bomb Day is almost here! Let’s all get out there and show our pride as fiber artists!! Here’s a little collection of great posts from Streetcolor Art’s blog to help you on your way:

"I would like knitters and artists to take yarn bombing further and see what we can say -- so much more than just 'Cute!'"

“How to Have Fun as a Yarn bomber”, January 21, 2011
“How I Make a Yarn Bomb”, January 11, 2011
“Tips for Aspiring Yarn Bombers”, March 8, 2011

And, don’t forget, there’s still plenty of time to get in on the fun of the Great Fiber Indie eXperience Co-op Giveaway! The winner will be selected this Sunday night. Click here for details.

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