Knitting turned rebellious Friday morning when three masked knitters adorned Riverside Park with their wares. They started early, hoping to remain incognito behind their hand-knit disguises.
Light poles were wrapped with knit peace signs, bike racks were given monster feet. The “A Simpler Time” bronze sculpture near the river got a new wardrobe: a new hat and scarf for the little waving boy, a new scarf for the girl and a spiked dog collar for Fido, albeit temporarily.
After an hour of yarn bombing, the name given to this knit graffiti, they were busted.
“What are you doing?” a city Parks and Recreation employee asked, looking none too pleased.
“Art?” said one of the knitters, who calls herself Dropstitch Murphy.
No, they didn’t have permission. Yes, they’d take it down. Well, most of it anyway. There may be a forgotten monster foot still lurking at the park.
“We’re a bunch of married moms,” said another knitter, who goes by Whamo Knits. “Seriously, I did not expect that.”
Yarn bombs have gone off all over the world — Morocco, Russia, Chile, Finland, Germany, Canada, England. They’ve hit bridges, sculptures, phone booths, buses, parking meters.
“It’s fun,” Dropstitch Murphy said mere minutes before the bust. “In the experiences I’ve had, it makes people smile. I’ve only gotten positive feedback about it.”
Yarn bombing — sometimes called yarn storming or guerrilla knitting — is meant to be a surprise, something unexpected.
When it began is hard to say but the textile street art was popularized in 2005 with “Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti,” a book written by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain. The book and subsequent blog offers tips, patterns and inspiration for “improving the urban landscape, one stitch at a time.”
Yarn bombing is newer to the
La Crosse area. This anonymous group, which also includes Dolly Llama and Knitty Ha Ha, is known as the Bluffside Bombers. They started their yarn bombing campaign on St. Patrick’s Day by decorating a bike rack outside the Root Note. Subsequent yarn bombs have followed with a skull and crossbones outside Blue Line Tattoo and a rainbow wrapping a light poll in front of the LGBT Resource Center.
“I’d like to see more of them,” said volunteer Kabryia Shethebat. “It’s uplifting. It brightens up the area.”
At the first Cameron Park Farmers Market, they left a carrot yarn bomb dangling from the canopy.
The Bluffside Bombers have even crossed into Minnesota, quite fittingly yarn bombing Yarnology, a new yarn store in downtown Winona.
“It was of a skull and cross bones but it was a happy looking skull and cross bones,” said the store’s co-owner Gaby Peterson.
The yarn bombing continued inside the store with little socks placed in the front window.
“They were wonderful,” Peterson said. “It was fun to discover.”
While not a yarn bomber herself, Peterson said the store is receptive to being yarn bombed again.
“We’re big promoters of it,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot of chitchat about Princess Wenonah needing a little pick me up for spring.”
The yarn bombers leave little tags attached to their offerings, letting people know this was the handiwork of the Bluffside Bombers. Yarn bombers usually scope out the scene of their stitched crime beforehand so they know what to make.
“I got a lot of looks measuring the dog,” in the Riverside statue, Dropstitch Murphy said.
Early Friday, the park was pretty cold and pretty quiet. Perfect yarn bombing conditions.
A curious jogger watched as Dolly Llama used a blue size K crochet hook to attach a monster foot to a bike rack. A man in a gray car did a double take as he rounded the corner near Hiawatha.
They leave street signs and stop signs alone, not wanting to distract from the purpose of the sign. Plus, they figure those yarn bombings would be removed right away.
Since yarn bombing is not forever, they use cheaper yarn, reserving the good stuff for their own projects.
“It’s mostly acrylic,” Dropstitch Murphy said.
“Which means after the apocalypse it’ll still be here,” Dolly Llama said.
They stopped their work when a cop car cruised through the park, resuming once he went around the corner.
“Oh, the danger element,” Whamo Knits said. “I’m awake now.”
Technically, they could be issued a $101 ticket for littering, said La Crosse Police Department Officer Kurt Weaver, who jokingly called yarn bombing “the scourge of the 21st century.”
“That’s if someone complains about it,” Weaver said. “It’s not like we’re going to actively go out and arrest them.”
Their yarn bombing efforts will calm for a bit while they prepare for June 11, National Yarn Bombing Day and National Knit in Public Day. The Bluff Side Bombers recognize the somewhat silly nature of what they’re doing. But yarn bombing is a much more adventurous alternative to afghans and sweaters.
“This is something out of the ordinary in my ordinary life,” Whamo Knits said.
And they hope it’s something out of the ordinary for others.
“This makes people happy,” Whamo Knits said. “It gives them a smile.”
“Or makes them slightly confused,” Dolly Llama said.
They see either reaction as a success.