Catching up with Reykjavík’s wool-and-needle wielding hooligans
A couple of weeks ago, I got on the bus at Lækjartorg and was greeted by what resembled my grandmother’s handiwork. Pieces of knitting and crocheted decorations adorned every seat, every window and every panel of the bus, down to the driver’s cash box. I took my place on a seat covered by traditional Afghan pieces and asked myself, “Did someone set off a yarn bomb in here?”
Yes! In fact I found out that many someones did! Six weeks before Culture Night, the public bus company Strætó commissioned a covert guerrilla craft operation known as The Reykjavík Yarnstormers to have their way with one of their vehicles. And this was the fruit of their labour, which involved thirty people knitting and crocheting for six weeks and twenty people installing the pieces for eight hours.
FROM CATTLE GRIDS TO BUS SEATS
The group planned their pieces methodically according to the basic design of a public bus, says Berglind Inga Guðmundsdóttir, one of the original Reykjavík Yarnstormers, who wrote her Bachelor’s thesis on urban yarn graffiti and the impact of crafts in street art. “Linda Björk Eiríksdóttir led the project, communicating with Strætó, distributing yarn that we got and collecting pieces from people that couldn’t make it to the installation. Linda drew up items in the bus, such as seats, handles and benches, but people picked their own tasks,” Berglind says.
“Some pieces were made with seats or the back of the seats in mind. Others were specially made for the larger benches in the bus. Some pieces were made random but fitted perfectly for smaller places in the bus like the handles.” These included things like chevron patterned blankets, large and intricate flower blossoms, wispy, delicate cobwebs, triangle-shaped party banners, a marvellously accurate Reykjavík city logo and, of course, little busses.
Their only real challenge came once they were onboard the great yellow wagon. “The seats are really hard to sew onto so every piece took a good amount of time,” Berglind explains. “We had sore fingers for days after.” However, this small setback was no detraction from the experience itself and the positive feedback they received. “It was great to work with this group of knitters and crocheters,” she says. “It didn’t matter if I was meeting many of them in person for the first time, fibre enthusiasts are just so fun to hang around with and people loved it!”
THE YARN SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
This is far from the first act of mass woollen decoration the group is responsible for. Over the past few months, the Yarnstormers have been busy with projects such as securing rainbow knit-pieces onto street poles and trees for Reykjavík’s annual Gay Pride and undertaking a night-time mission to get some yarn onto every public statue downtown. They would have succeeded in the latter project if the cops hadn’t busted them as they were putting a Batman mask on the statue of Iceland’s first Prime Minister Hannes Hafstein, which stands on Lækjargata.
And we certainly have not seen the last of the yarnstormers, as Berglind reveals they already have a couple of ideas brewing. It is in fact a growing artistic movement that varies in its objective depending on the project, the people involved and the specific location. “It can be a political statement, a feminist statement, a sign of gratitude or a decoration,” Berglind says, “and it can be one or more of these things or all of them or none of them.”
Berglind prefers to leave the element of mystery to her own work without making the significance obtuse. “I just want people to make their own opinions about it without me telling them what it means,” she says. “The best part is being able to speak your mind through the craft.”
WHAT IS YARNSTORMING?
Also known as yarn graffiti or yarnbombing, yarnstorming is the act of putting a piece made of yarn into the public space, be it knitted, crocheted, cross-stitched or whichever way one chooses.