It’s a cold winter’s day, and you’re out and about in your local area admiring the scenery. As you continue to walk along the road, though, something unusual catches your eye as you approach a tree. At this point, you realize that a scarf has been tied around it, but this isn’t just a random occurrence.
Over the course of a normal week, we’ll probably spot some eye-catching street art as we go about our business. However, in the last few years, another craze has emerged in certain countries across the world. More and more people are beginning to notice scarves wrapped around objects when they’re out and about.
The scarves in question range from home-made efforts to those bought in a store, and most are displayed in a similar manner. Commonly, the winter accessories are carefully tied around certain things outside, such as trees and fences. It’s a unique, striking sight, with the phenomenon growing in popularity in recent years.
For instance, by 2016 the trend had reached countries like America, the United Kingdom and Canada, highlighting its effectiveness. But this wasn’t just a random artistic movement that people caught on to. In fact, there was a real poignant meaning behind the specific placement of the scarves.
If you’re struggling to express yourself, art is one of the best avenues open to us. From painting to mosaics, you’re given the chance to really find your voice and put your talents to the test. Yet while some people dream of having their work displayed in a gallery, others prefer to share their efforts via the street.
Street art can be found in most major cities across the world, ranging in style and overall meaning. One of the most famous practitioners in this area is Banksy, an Englishman who’s produced numerous satirical socially-conscious paintings over the years. In more recent times, though, another artistic trend has grown in popularity on the streets.
Known as “yarn bombing,” this trend is essentially an alternative form of graffiti. But as the name suggests, instead of using paint or pens, the individuals utilize various pieces of knitting. To give you some idea of what that might look like, a notable effort occurred back in 2011.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a famous statue can be found outside the Museum of Art. It depicts Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa from the beloved Rocky movies, which are set in the City of Brotherly Love. However, a woman named Jessie Hemmons had an issue the towering sight, so she decided to do something about it.
Hemmons’ problem was that she didn’t think that people weren’t going to the museum after looking at the statue. With this in mind, she approached the figure one day in 2011, armed with a needle and pink wool. The artist then knitted a vest around Stallone’s character, which included a message that read, “Go See the Art.”
Off the back of that eye-catching stunt, Hemmons then went on to explain the appeal of the growing knitting trend during an interview with The New York Times in May 2011. She told the newspaper, “Street art and graffiti are usually so male dominated. Yarn bombing is more feminine. It’s like graffiti with grandma sweaters.”
The trend itself began a few years prior to Hemmons’ effort in Philadelphia – a woman named Magda Sayeg is credited as starting the craze. Back in 2005, Sayeg ran a store in Houston, Texas, when she was struck with a seemingly innocent idea. At the time, Sayeg wasn’t a fan of the local area’s aesthetic, deeming it unremarkable and dull.
So, in an attempt to spruce things up, Sayeg grabbed some yarn and made a cozy for the store’s front doorknob. Once the piece was in place, members of the public started to gravitate toward her shop, admiring the woolen cover. “People got out of their cars just to come look at it,” she told The New York Times.
Encouraged, Sayeg then decided to produce another knitted piece, but this time it wasn’t for her store. In fact, the Texan fashioned a “leg-warmer” for the base of a street sign in her neighborhood. After that, she began to produce even more work, to the point where she brought together a team of like-minded knitters.
However, Sayeg couldn’t have possibly predicted what happened next, as yarn bombing started to take off in several other countries around the world. From Europe to Australia, women of all ages appeared to welcome the opportunity to express themselves in this most unique way. Although the meaning behind the different works were quite varied.
Some women used their knitting as a form of protest, with one needleworker in Australia hitting out at sexual violence. Meanwhile, there were others who viewed yarn bombing as a way to break free from certain stereotypes. In their mind, it helped subvert the expectations surrounding ladies of a particular age.
“[Women] use a very homemaker medium to go out in society, their society, their local area usually where they live,” one Australian lady told The Conversation website in March 2014. “And [they] leave these craftworks around. They’re actually going out and doing something altogether very different. And they’re attracted by the naughtiness of it.”
The woman added, “That’s interesting – the attraction that that has. It’s a safe way for women to be naughty because we’re not supposed to be naughty.” Another yarn bomber came forward to speak with the website as well. She went on to share how she felt during her early knitting attempts on the street.
The keen crocheter said, “I live in a country town, and word gets out about those sorts of things and there is a high chance of being seen by somebody. I don’t know. I thought someone might stop and go, ‘Hang on a minute, what do you think you’re doing? Aren’t you a respectable member of society?’”
Quite apart from the rebellious aspect, there are many other yarn bombers who just want to follow Sayeg’s lead. Much like the Texan, they felt inspired to produce knitted works to help brighten up their respective communities. To expand on that, another woman clarified her aims with The Conversation in March 2014.
“I mainly do it to beautify an area, especially if there is a lot of graffiti,” the urban knitter explained to the website. “I like to show that not all ‘tagging’ is bad.” As for Sayeg, her life took a very surprising turn following her initial knitted efforts, leading to some exciting opportunities.
Incredibly, Sayeg was contacted by brands such as Mini and Toyota to work on their adverts, where her knitting would join the cars under the spotlight. By 2009, she decided to shut down her business and focus on the craft that made her famous. But the hard work didn’t end there.
Due to the number of clients that wanted to acquire Sayeg’s services, she subsequently hired a few assistants to aid her. “In the early years I identified with underground graffiti artists,” she admitted to The New York Times. “Now the very people I feared I would get in trouble with are the ones inviting me to do this work for them.”
With this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a scarf wrapped around a tree was just another example of yarn bombing. After all, it’s a trend that’s been in the public spotlight for over a decade now. However, that’s not the case here, as we’re about to find out.
Back in 2014, an anonymous individual in Ottawa, Canada, decided to leave various scarves on statues around the city. At the time, temperatures had plummeted below zero degrees, which inspired the person to act. As became apparent, they wanted to help as many homeless people as they could through the winter.
The generous individual also attached a short message to each of the scarves, outlining their purpose. The note read, “I am not lost! If you are stuck out in the cold, take this scarf to keep warm.” From there, that simple act of kindness went on to inspire a remarkable craze over the next couple of years.
After what happened in Ottawa, residents from Winnipeg, Canada, looked to get in on the act as well. Ultimately, over 200 scarves were tied to poles across the city, with the public getting involved to assist the homeless. At that point, Americans then started to follow suit, as the phenomenon continued to grow.
Before long, the scarves were being joined by other knitted garments on trees, fence posts and railings. Collectively, these kind-hearted acts were soon referred to as “scarf-bombs.” Furthermore, the craze inspired the formation of several groups, including one called The Wrap Up Project, which was based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The group was spearheaded by keen knitter Angelia Reed who also set up a Facebook page to advertise their efforts. The social media page now drew over 900 likes and more than 950 followers. As for Reed, she gave some insight into The Wrap Up Project’s activities after they started up in February 2015.
“We left more than 300 scarves and over 200 hats in those months,” Reed told U.K. newspaper The Telegraph in January 2016. “We started our second season of scarf-bombing in October 2015, and have been scarf-bombing once a month. This season, we’ve had enough donations to be able to scarf-bomb the city of Lancaster, as well as our neighbor city, Columbia.”
Residents of Ohio threw their wooly hats into the ring as well when Susan Butler created the Keep Warm Cleveland group. And as she reflected on that, Butler made a rather touching statement to the British publication. She said, “We cannot change the world, but we can change someone’s world.”
Meanwhile, the scarf-bombing trend eventually made its way across the pond to the United Kingdom a short time later. Once that happened, Carys Thurlby, a resident of Worcester, England, looked to follow Reed and Butler’s lead by creating a social media page. As a knitter herself, Thurlby was desperate to help those in need.
“I thought, if we should go to so much effort, why not do something useful rather than decorative?” Thurlby told The Telegraph. “I started a group on Facebook and 200 people had joined within 15 minutes.” Much like their counterparts in Canada and America, they went on to produce a number home-made scarves for the homeless.
Thurlby’s group of knitters also showed their commitment to the cause in another way, as we’re about to discover. When the winter months rolled in to Worcester in 2015, they wanted the scarves to be readily available to those in need. So with this in mind, the locals made a surprising decision.
“Everyone really got behind the idea,” Thurlby informed the newspaper. “Some people sent me what they’d made and others wanted to hang up their woollies themselves. So we met at 4.30 a.m. in the freezing cold one day in early December, and tied scarves onto railings outside Worcester Guildhall.”
However, that’s not to say that other individual yarn bombers weren’t showing a similar level of commitment. For instance, one woman in Saint Paul, Minnesota, hit the headlines in December 2015 following a jaw-dropping effort. Thanks to her, a huge number of homeless people had something warm to wear over winter.
This urban knitter’s name was Elizabeth Sammons, and 2015 proved to be a truly life-changing year for her. From birth, Sammons had to deal with a heart condition, ahead of an important operation in June 2015. At that point, the Minnesota resident finally received a transplant at a medical facility.
While Sammons recovered, she started to make some scarves for homeless people. And she continued to put her knitting skills to test as the year progressed, before hitting the streets that December. Surrounded by a group of helpers, Sammons traveled to more than 20 local parks in a single day.
Ultimately, Sammons and company dropped off over 1,000 scarves, which they left tied to the trees in 21 different parks. She told CBS Minnesota, “I think it’s a great thing to be able to do for the community. [There’s] a lot of people behind it, a lot of support. It’s really nice.”
Thurlby echoed that sentiment during her interview with The Telegraph, while making an additional point. She said, “The message we wanted to send out was ‘this isn’t giving a skanky scarf, we’re creating something handmade, for you.’ When you hand make something, you really do think about who that product is for.”
“When people say they make it with love, they really mean it,” Thurlby added. “If you’re homeless you deserve something nice and new and well made. It was a lovely warm, fuzzy thing to do – both emotionally and literally.” Put like that, it’s no real surprise that scarf-bombing caught on like it did.