Craftbomb: the power of the pom pom(May 09, 2013)
Craftbomb: the power of the pom pom
You don't have to walk far in Edinburgh to hear somebody complain about the trams. Five years in the making (so far) and costing over £700m, even residents once in favour of the scheme have struggled to stay positive. So it came as no surprise one September morning last year to find the words 'Tramway to Hell' emblazoned across road works on the city's iconic Princes Street.
What was surprising, however, was the form this display of public frustration took, because it was not through a spray can nor placard, but via a rather beautiful piece of crochet. Using yarnbombing or guerilla knitting, as it's known, to make a political statement is becoming increasingly popular – largely because the medium takes on just as much importance as the message.
Why throw glass bottles when you can take the moral high ground in every way, and vent your discontent through creativity rather than destruction?
This June, the Secret Outdoor Crochet and Knitting group (or SOCK for short) will yarnbomb the roads leading to the G8 summit in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In true yarnbombing style, nobody from SOCK was available to talk about their mission (apparently they were "all tied up") but the knitting will speak for itself, with pieces reflecting education, love and peace being crafted as we speak.
As with any political protest, it's hard to quantify the impact. But when it comes to smaller, more grassroots projects, the power of the pom pom can't be underestimated. Next week is Voluntary Arts Week, an annual celebration of amateur arts and crafts across the UK and Ireland. This year, for the first time, the week will include a 'CraftBomb' – an opportunity for communities throughout the British Isles to liven up their neighbourhoods. Whether they weave tapestry or baskets, knit, crochet or sew, voluntary groups of all ages have been encouraged to get involved.
But why? Does wrapping a tree in wool, or perching a felt bird on a park bench actually achieve anything? Again, it's hard to quantify, but if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, the answer could be yes.
Last August, an area close to Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow was yarnbombed by crafters working with a local primary school. Thousands of people passed by their creations on the way to Olympic events in the stadium – which not only raised a smile during the long wait for trains, but galvanised the local community to tidy up an area of grassland neglected by the council for years.
Earlier this year, hundreds of pom poms were strung from trees in a Leicestershire park, with the aim of helping reduce a fear of crime in the area. A bunch of knitting might not dissuade somebody hell bent on vandalism or violence, but it's the antithesis to graffiti and broken glass when it comes to public perception.
"It wasn't really an area of high crime, it was just perceived to be," explains Niddy Noddy of the KGB (Knitting Guerrillas of Birstall) who got involved in the project. "But it's hard to feel threatened by a place that's covered in pom poms."
Niddy Noddy (as she likes to be known while in guerilla mode) co-founded the KGB with close friend Troutmask in 2011, as a creative outlet for herself. Eighteen months later, their project has touched many – from the people who make the items, to the children who went on their woolly egg hunt and the mums invited to pick one of their woollen flowers 'planted' for Mother's Day.
"People absolutely love it, and so much energy and enthusiasm has been harnessed," says Noddy. "Life can be so insular. People go to work, come home and shut their doors. So we're really pleased that we've started something that's had such an impact on people's lives."
The KGB may have a lot of fun, but as Noddy says, "we're not just here to be silly – we care." According to the NHS, the five steps to mental wellbeing are to connect, be active, keep learning, give to others and take notice.
"Unwittingly we're contributing to all of them," says Noddy. "We didn't set out to do that, it just happened as a happy side effect. We're helping people connect with their community. They'll pass by a tree they see every day, but their brain filters it out because we lead such busy lives. Suddenly they're looking at it and taking notice. Somebody emailed us yesterday to say it brightens up their day every time they go past.
"We're helping people to learn new skills, and giving something to the community – something that makes them smile and feel part of something bigger. And if they're feeling happy, they pass that on to someone else. We create things for people to talk about that are positive, not negative."
This weekend, CraftBombs will spring up in all sorts of locations, so enjoy them, and the way they make you feel. It's political with a small p – but there's nothing small about the bigger picture.