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Published: Sunday, 4/22/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Warm & Fuzzy

Yarn bombers leave colorful mark on city

A stealth fiber artist wraps a parking meter post in downtown Toledo. A stealth fiber artist wraps a parking meter post in downtown Toledo.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Guerilla knitters are on the loose in Toledo, dropping bombs on the downtown area in the form of crocheted cozies.

The woolly street art is popping up on signs and parking meter posts, trees, hand rails, and other public spaces throughout the city. The culprits, known as guerilla knitters or artistic vandals, see their work as a kinder, gentler form of graffiti.

It's called yarn bombing, and it takes the most matronly crafts -- knitting and crocheting -- and transfers them from the comforts of grandma's rocking chair to the concrete and steel surfaces of urban streets.

"I can look at them around the world all day long on the Internet, so why not look at them in our own city too," said a Toledo area yarn bomber who asked to be identified only by her Facebook moniker, Streetspun.

Like most graffiti artists, yarn bombers often tag clandestinely and usually at night, targeting public spaces and surfaces, including signs, trees, statues, even bicycles. Hydrants, lampposts, mailboxes -- and objects as big as buses and bridges -- have been bombed in recent years.

Locally, yarn bombers have hit trees in front of the Toledo School for the Arts on 14th Street, parking meter posts on St. Clair Street near Lafayette Street, and a few other public spaces.

About six months ago, Dustin Hostetler, co-owner of Grumpy's restaurant on South Huron Street, noticed that the parking meter in front of the restaurant had a new look.

Yarn bombing, guerrilla knitting, or graffiti knitting is starting to show in Toledo's urban areas. Yarn bombing, guerrilla knitting, or graffiti knitting is starting to show in Toledo's urban areas.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"It was color coded to match our sign," Mr. Hostetler said. "It's really cool."

The meter sleeve had been bombed in a red and black yarn cozy. Across the street, another sleeve was tagged with blue and green yarn to match the paint trims on the Village Law Office and Quimby's At the Park.

"Sometimes I already have something in mind and sometimes I decide right before I do it," said the Toledo yarn bomber. "I also try to maintain them and replace the faded and torn ones too."

Like traditional graffiti, yarn bombing is considered by some communities to be a nuisance and is illegal. In Toledo, it's welcomed.

"We don't consider it illegal," said Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Mike Bell. "It's been targeted to certain areas of town where it's appreciated and adds character to the streetscape. We haven't received any complaints about it.

"Our only concern is when it's done to city trees," Ms. Sorgenfrei added. "The yarn can hold moisture and cause wood rot on the tree stumps. That's the only reason we would take it down."

Despite its criminal nature in other areas, graffiti knitting is a global phenomenon, with bombers sharing their fuzzy works across the country and worldwide. Culprits use photos and videos to document their creations and upload them to blogs, Web sites, and social networks for all the world to see.

Streetspun shares her work through her Facebook page, Streetspun Yarnbombing. On the page, she posts pictures of her latest works and that of bombers from all over the world.

Fiber artists personalize or reclaim cold or sterile public spaces. Fiber artists personalize or reclaim cold or sterile public spaces.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

In London, a group known as Knit the City has "yarnstormed" fountains and fences, and in Paris, a person has filled sidewalk cracks with colorful knots of yarn.

Sometimes called "grandma graffiti," the urban knitting movement got a boost in 2009 with the publication of Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti (Arsenal Press, 232 pages, $19.95) by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain, knitters from Vancouver. The coffee-table book features colorful photos of bombings and also serves as a do-it-yourself guide to covert textile street art.

"I could not have ever imagined the amount of local support that yarn bombing has received," Streetspun said. "It is such a great feeling to know that little bursts of color around town can make people smile, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon."

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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