On Yarn Bombing and Ethics

Yarn Bombing

Olek, aka the bad girl of yarn bombing who doesn’t consider herself a yarn bomber, is in the middle of controversy again.


Photo credit: Olek for Pangeaseed. Isla Mujeres, Mexico. August 2014 (photo © Pangeaseed)

Last week, she wrapped pieces in Cancun’s Underwater Museum with her signature camo-graffiti crochet in a campaign to “save our seas” supported by PangeaSeed, who, according to their website, is an international organization who collaborates with members of the art, science, and environmental activist communities.

Monday, Artnet News reported that Mexican authorities and the Underwater Museum were looking to press charges as Olek had allegedly tampered with the museum’s art without permission and damaged sea life growing on the statutes in a protected wildlife area in the process of creating her uninvited installation.

Here is a video produced by PangeaSeed that shows Olek’s installation in process with an audio of her project rationale:

This is an interesting ethnical dilemma – on both sides there are individuals who are passionate about our oceans and marine life.

Questions arise: Is a barnacle’s life worth less than a shark? Does an artist making her mark on a landscape for political reasons of the entire oceans’ health trump a few individuals concern one small patch of ocean? Is this a stunt that uses an artists’ celebrity for attention, or will it be an effective campaign to make active change? Does the Underwater Museum already call attention to PangeaSeed’s concerns by shining the spotlight on our oceans through art already?

Over the years, I have been repeatedly asked two very specific questions about yarn bombing – which this project brings up again. Here’s my attempt to give the best answers I can, from what I’ve gleaned from talking to those who create political work and those who want to stick in the realm of cute and cozy.

1. Is Yarn Bombing Illegal?

Yarn bombing, unless done with the permission of a host organization or a private property owner, is illegal. Most municipalities encourage it, but some do not. If you are installing something without permission – it IS graffiti.

From day one, Mandy (my Yarn Bombing co-author) and I have always encouraged new yarn bombers to assess their personal risk level – ask yourself, are you willing to get caught? Are you willing to get arrested?

If yes, proceed with caution. If not, don’t. Graffiti is a crime and those who partake in it consistently take risks to make this kind of art. Yes, yarn bombing is generally considered a warm and fuzzy activity, but sometimes it is not. Some artists paint pictures of kittens and unicorns, some paint our worst nightmares. Why should we assume that the yarn bombing world only represents one spectrum of opinion? Just as with any other art form, yarn bombing represents human behaviour  – a wildly diverse and unpredictable variable if there ever was one.

2. Is Yarn Bombing damaging?

Yarn bombing can be damaging. Let’s not pretend that it can’t be.

Unlike spray paint which sticks to a surface, generally yarn will eventually be cut away from a surface or rot away but it can mark surfaces, or restrict access, or be adhered with materials that are damaging.

Trees are often what people are concerned with. I’ve heard concerns on both side. I’ve had an arborist tell me that as long as knitting on a tree didn’t restrict a tree’s growth or sap production, it’s fine. I’ve had another scientist tell me that it could eventually hamper the tree’s growth or attract insects who would want to kill the tree. Some yarn bombers take it upon themselves to remove knitting when it starts to look old; others leave it up to chance and weather. Natural fibers droop and fade, synthetics look good longer but essentially never biodegrade. If you live in a rainy climate, like I do, things will rot. If you live in a desert, it might last forever. Animals may take it into their habitat, bugs might suffocate under it. Just as we flip-flop over paper vs plastic, there isn’t a perfect answer to this question.

My main suggestions for yarn bombers is to:

  1. Do as little damage as possible – fix your work to a surface that cannot be altered (I’ve heard suggestions of using spray foam to adhere knitting to a surface – the horrors)
  2. Make sure that your work does not create a situation dangerous for other beings, make sure that they can’t trip on it or get caught in it. Don’t cover up reflective signage. Don’t destroy animal habitat. Think safety first. Do research on the site that you are planning to cover.
  3. Take responsibility – if your work offends, is it intentional? How will you react? Are you willing to accept all sorts of feedback and consequences? Check your inner critic and make sure that your statement meets your personal ethics. Can you morally stand behind you project? Think about the risks and assumptions involved.

Let’s make this a conversation. Your response to this post is invited and encouraged. I want to know what you think.

All this with a little bit of yarn…

Cities, Creativity, Graffiti, Yarn Bombing

Yarn street works by Femoesa, who is based in The Hague. Who says that you can’t create great street art with just a little bit of yarn?



Pretty clever, isn’t it? This takes fence-wrapping to a whole new level.


All photos are courtesy of the artist and used with permission. To see more of Femoesa’s work see http://femoesa.com.



A Conversation with Knit Artist Olga O’Shea

Books, Yarn Bombing

Tell me about your art.
I love knitting, I love being creative with yarn. I knit with yarn that is donated to me and I cover various objects with fiber. Objects that I use are recycled and saved from the landfill. It all started with a mishap of my daughter’s bike. Thinking that bike was in the car, it was actually behind the car, I accidentally drove over it. It was a good kid’s bike, but not fixable. What could I do with it? The idea came to cover it with yarn. That is how the journey begun.

How does the act of giving away art build community?
The idea of giving is really important to me so I connect with community through passing on my work for people to enjoy. I  donated a couple of bicycles at Christianne’s Lyceum in Vancouver. I also feel that it is important to contribute to charity. I don’t really have very much time to physically volunteer at any place so I will knit practical things like hats and donate them to different organizations.
You’re a yarnbomber too! Can you tell me about some of your yarn bombs?
I love yarnbombing, but there is a fine line between art and littering. I believe yarn bombers should take responsibility of maintaining their artwork. With lots of rain in Vancouver area, there are many knitting pieces just fraying away, they should be removed.
I took part in few international projects, like the Yarn Bomb Yukon Plane. The plane was covered with yarn, exhibited and all the knitted pieces were put together and donated to charity as blankets.
Some other projects that I have been a  part of: http://www.woolagainstweapons.co.uk/  in UK
and http://cafamgrannysquared.weebly.com/  in LA. This is my “local” yarn bomb at Place Des Arts! http://www.placedesarts.ca/about-us/overview.aspx. Some of my work will be exhibited at  http://birdonawirecreations.com/. Come and visit!