The New York Times just ran a fresh article about yarnbombing that I found really interesting. We’ll get to just why it grabbed my attention so much in a minute …

First, I want to talk for a moment about why yarnbombing is so controversial. People seem to have a really “love it or hate it” attitude towards yarnbombing. Those who love it think it’s a beautiful way to take needlearts to the street in an activist statement about this traditionally feminine art form. Those who hate it think that it’s a waste of yarn that defaces public property with pieces that may or may not be pretty.

So, the topic is controversial and that’s okay. In fact, I think it’s great. Good art usually is. I’d recommend again that those people who don’t like yarn bombing at least take a chance on reading the Yarn Bombing book (which can be found in libraries) to get a better idea of why people are doing it. But clearly I’m biased in favor of being someone who likes this art form (although I’ve never done it myself.)

So, I have come to realize that yarnbombing is controversial. What I didn’t realize was that it is controversial not only with people who love/hate it as viewers on the street but also with artists who have been accused of yarnbombing and don’t want their artwork to be called that at all. That’s why the NY Times article interested me so much. It quoted crochet artist Olek as being vehemently against having her work called yarn bombing.

Olek (who you can learn more about here) is well known for a few major pieces of work. One is her entire room of crochet in which she has created pieces from movies she’s watched, text messages she’s received, STD status reports and other areas of life. (This installation is about to travel on exhibit but it’s actually available for sale for $90,000.) Another is the brightly colored cozy she made for the Wall Street Bull, which was taken down shortly after she put it up.

The first piece of work can’t be called yarnbombing. It is an artist installation put into a privately-owned space with permission. However the second piece of work would theoretically fit into the yarnbombing category – hitting the streets with guerilla crochet and placing crochet pieces illegally in a public space. That’s the basic definition of what yarn bombing is. And yet Olek DOES NOT want to be called someone who yarn bombs. And I hesitate to say here that it’s potentially a form of yarnbombing because the NY Times article says that this really upsets Olek.

The article continues:

Olek, whose work has been shown in museums and galleries worldwide, considers yarn bombing to be the trite work of amateurs and exhibitionists. “Lots of people have aunts or grandmas who paint,” she said. “Do you want to see that work in the galleries? No. The street is an extension of the gallery. Not everyone’s work deserves to be in public.”

I think this is a fascinating argument. And one that in itself is hugely controversial. Should you have to get approval from the public via a gallery show before doing graffiti work on the street? Who has the right to determine which art is worthy of public viewing and which isn’t? On the other hand, there does seem to be an intrinsic difference between Olek’s crocheted bull cozy (with it’s intricate detail and undeniable technical skill) and some of the random yarnbombs that are placed here and there.

Personally I think that art has room for a lot of different voices. I think that there are people who crochet in the privacy of their own homes and never public display their work but whose creativity is undeniably an art form. I think that there are crochet artists who get permission to do public art pieces (such as Carol Hummel’s current tree cozy exhibition) and this sometimes gets lumped in with yarnbombing when it’s something different entirely because the work has been created for a specific purpose that has been approved and has a deadline for removal. I think that yes, there are people who create really ugly small pieces of crochet or knitwork and they stick it out there in the world and that’s more an act of activism than a celebration of crochet art. But I think that all of this crochet / art is valid for what it is.

And while I don’t necessarily agree with Olek’s point of view about who should and shouldn’t yarn bomb … I do think that she’s an artist who has the right to self-define and that if she doesn’t want her work being called yarn bombing then there should be some respect for that.

What do you think? About yarnbombing? About Olek’s statement? And about crochet as art?


San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!


  1. I’m a little disappointed and annoyed by Olek’s statement. Saying the street is an extension of the galleries makes sense in some ways, but not in the way she means it to. For example, galleries are curated, no? The street is not. She chose to yarnbomb the bull, and lovely it was too, but no one asked her to do it, and clearly some people didn’t like it at all, which is why it was removed so sharpishly.
    In a Sunday Times interview with Banksy, he raised a point about how making art on the street was a good way to begin: “The fact of the matter is, if you exhibit in a gallery you have to compete against Rembrandt, but if you paint down an alley you only have to compete against a dustbin. I guess it’s the art equivalent of hanging around with fat people to make yourself look thin.”
    Furthermore, if Olek thinks that not everyone’s work deserves to be in public, I think it’s rather presumptuous of her to assume that just because her work has been exhibited in galleries, that her work ‘deserves’ to be seen on the street. If I’m working by the rules of her own definition, I don’t think it would/should be up to her to decide.
    Woo, ranty.

    • Kathryn Reply

      @Abi – thanks for sharing your thoughts. You hit the nail on the head in terms of why the comment irked me so much. I still love Olek’s work (and as an aside the yarn street art that she’s done as a tribute to Banksy is really neat) but the comment was offensive. I have to wonder if it was taken in context when printed in the article or if there was any more to it.

  2. I find it amusing that she wants to separate her “art” from the “trite work of amatures.” I personal feel that if I see one more article about that hideous bull cover I will scream. She might do well to remember that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Kathryn Reply

      @Ann – I hear ya … I actually really like the bull cozy but it’s definitely been overhyped with sooooo much media coverage. And I think the implication in her comment that other people aren’t as worthy of public viewing of art as she is was definitely in bad taste.

  3. Well written commentary/comments and I feel the same way. I am also an artist, have work in galleries, and also happen to love street art, and do yarnbombing too (go on call me a yarnbomber, dare ya). I don’t strive to be technically brilliant with knitting or crochet, and don’t pretend to be a great knitter, so I guess I would qualify as an amateur in that regard. Thank goodness as an artist and community activist in the arts I don’t give a rats behind whether my work should or shouldn’t be seen, or whether it passes some quality test for inclusion in street art, phew!!!! If that was the case none of us would get any art done.

    cheers jafabrit the yarnbomber, artist, crafter, activist, tea drinking marmite eater and gawd knows what else.

    • Kathryn Reply

      @jafabrit – Thanks for dropping by the blog and sharing your terrific comments!

  4. What she said bothered me. To be an amateur is to do something for the love of it, not for money. She uses the word so negatively. Yes, she is a successful artist. However, how can she expect people to not classify some of her work as yarn bombing when it’s installed just like yarn bombing? She needs to relax.

  5. This is all exactly what I’ve been thinking!!
    Thanks for writing it so eloquently.

  6. i agree with dot:

    “What she said bothered me. To be an amateur is to do something for the love of it, not for money. She uses the word so negatively. Yes, she is a successful artist. However, how can she expect people to not classify some of her work as yarn bombing when it’s installed just like yarn bombing? She needs to relax.” here here.

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