Knitting A Protest
6:05 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Knitting A Protest

A yarn-bombed bike rack in Oakland, CA. Photo: Shape Things/Flickr

When most people think about knitting, the images of a granny in a rocking chair or an odd-patterned sweater come to mind.

But there's a nationwide movement called guerilla knitting which treats yarn projects like graffiti. People are tagging trees, signposts, and even bridges with the work.

Here in Charlotte, one group of knitters has a project with a political agenda. Just in time for the DNC.

Members of the avant garde knitting group called Fringe Element are gearing up for a reconnaissance mission. The group goes through a checklist.

"Alright so do I need to bring any materials?"
"No I've got a camera."
"And you've got something to write on?"
"Well yeah I've got my Ipad."

Members of Fringe Element bedecked the statue of Queen Charlotte in Uptown Charlotte. Photo: courtesy of Fringe Element.

They are plotting what is called a yarn bomb. Which is basically taking a project they knit at home and displaying it in a public place. Without permission.

Their mission takes them to the Hawthorne Lane overpass at Independence Boulevard. They are scouting the spot where they plan to hang a giant rainbow made up of blankets of yarn.

The members of Fringe Element are guerilla knitters. That's guerilla, as in guerilla warfare. Think about it like graffiti, except with needles and yarn instead of spray paint. Chris Wysocki is the ringleader.

"It looks pretty," Chris says, "How can you not look at a tree covered in this really cool knitted fabric that somebody took the time to make and put it on there and not smile and be happy?"

It's a national trend that began in Austin, Texas, in 2005. Since then, guerilla knitters have been tagging telephone poles, mailboxes, and even buses.

Fringe Element has done smaller projects. They've covered a car. And they put a new outfit on the statue of Queen Charlotte and her dogs in front of the International Trade Center. But these projects were made out of recycled sweaters and failed knitting jobs. In guerilla knitting slang those are called unfinished objects or UFO's.

But the rainbow is going to be much larger. A full-fledged yarn bomb. The group wants it to make a political statement during the Democratic National Convention. It will act as both a universal symbol for gay rights and a protest of the recent passage of Amendment One.

Chris says it will take some serious engineering, "We were thinking possibly cable ties, duct tape definitely will come into the works, but that won't be the only thing holding the project up."

Knitting the piece will require special needles that are three feet long with the diameter of a 50 cent piece. They will knit with four strands of yarn at once. Normally, a knitter just deals with one strand. And they'll have to stand up to maneuver the clunky needles.

They expect to knit straight through until the convention. Then, they will hang the rainbow like a saddlebag from the overpass.

That is if they can evade the law.

If guerilla knitters are caught, the CMPD says they are subject to a citation. The offense is labeled "injury to real property."

But, the police department reports it hasn't had any run-ins with rogue knitters.

They could, however, see some guerilla knitting this Saturday.

Davey Roberson, the president of the more mainstream knitting group, The Charlotte Knitting Guild says, "We are hoping to do a yarn bombing somewhere downtown."

They are gathering in various spots Uptown to celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day. Davey has asked the members to go rogue and bring extra pieces to tag trees and signposts. But they promise to be cautious and obedient.

Davey says, "If we're putting the piece up and we're asked to take the piece down we certainly will. We don't want to be there to cause problems. We want to be there to cause fun and friendship for that day."

Unlike the Fringe Element, they have no issue to needle.

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