Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Interview with grrl+dog a mile high

stitching on the knitted covenience

You're on a domestic flight alone, the peanut pack and tinny drink are gone and that great book would be even better right now if it wasn't lying back on the kitchen table. You've read the safety card. Twice.

Tucked behind the vomit bag is your answer, especially if you happen to be flying Jetstar next month. It's an interview with me, in my original incarnation as guerrilla knitter.

In case you can't make the Jetstar flight, here it is:

the knitted tree - part of the Wollongong festival I worked at

Jetstar: What's motivated the shift toward crafting becoming popular? 

the knitted convenience - a heritage listed urinal in Taylor Square, Sydney
Me: Who knows - but if you mean gaggles of X genners going nuts over wool and fabric, I’d say its because their mums didn't knit or crochet and they’re wreaking revenge, one hook at a time. I can think of worse ways to widen the generation gap. As for me, I had the privilege of sitting at Mum’s knee while she taught me.

Jetstar: In your own words how would you define ‘guerrilla knitting’ and ‘yarn bombing’.

installing a knit in Newtown, Sydney
I prefer guerrilla knitting - although all my pieces are done in broad daylight because I can’t be bothered with the stealth stuff. The funniest guy I met while installing asked me if I ripped up the pole and slid the knit on - he just couldn’t figure out how it got there. When he saw me stitching it on he was relieved.
GI Joe as guerrilla knit

How does performance knitting differ from guerilla knitting or is there some crossover?
Me: The knitted convenience was pure performance - covering the Taylor Square urinal in knit was a performance piece. We called ourselves “The Von Trough Family” , dressing up with names like, “Purl Harder” and “Uri Nawl” to stitch that on. Locals loved it and kept it looking nice for the whole month. Considering it’s such a high traffic area, it was not damaged at all.

That is the essence of what I’m doing with guerrilla knit. I’m offering a fresh look at an urban environment, and an opportunity to regain a sense of stewardship. A sense of place; ”We all own a bit of this, so lets take care of it.” Sometimes you need a bit of silly knit to wake you up.
 You can see images of that performance on flickr.
the knitted convenience - a historic urinal
There is a U tube clip of the highlights- it went viral a few years ago which meant anyone who could use a keyboard had an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.
Jetstar: How does the process of yarn bombing work? Is it done stealthily by cover of darkness and how do you pick where you will place your piece? Do you still place message tags on the pieces? Are they pre-knitted and then placed? Sorry, that’s a bit of a long one …
Me: yep, I pre knit. - Sometimes to site specific measurements - like the custom leg warmers and mitts for a little  girl statue in Adelaide’s Rundle mall. Before that she wore condoms on her arms and I wanted to change that. That was back in 2009 and nobody knew much about guerrilla knitting back then.
guerilla knitted statue in Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Jetstar: Do you think the movement is more political now than it was when crafting was particularly seen as ‘women’s work’? 
Me: Easy tiger, it’s just knit.
knitted stones

Jetstar: How did you first become involved in crafting? You’re referred to in many places as Australia’s first ‘yarn bomber’.

Me: What an absurd thing to be - but yes. I’ll talk about knitting as I’ve always been a “maker” , but knitting - well that was because of a work place bullying incident. I was so shaken and anxious my hands needed something to do to stay calm and I reached for the needles. 
Mum taught me when I was 11, but that was a long time ago, and all I could remember was one stitch. So I stitched that. I kept stitching. By the time I figured out how to deal with the bully, somebody took pity and taught me to cast off. Luckily the boss above the bully was on the ball, and we worked out a way to deal with the situation. 

Meanwhile I had about 10 very long strangely coloured piece of knit that needed homes. So I took them out to Newtown and began stitching them to poles and trees.It was pretty scary at first, but then I realised when your’e doing something weird in the street, people won’t make contact in case you are a lunatic. I was safe, and met some lovely folk who clearly had no fear of lunatics. I’ve even had cops walk past.

Jetstar: How have your projects been received by the public? Have you ever made any specifically to sell?

Me: One lady wanted me to guerilla knit the pole outside a friends place as a house warming gift. It was such a lovely thought there was no way I could charge her. That was the day I met Margaret thatcher’s lost twin. She hopped out of her chauffeur driven car in a fabulous wool pant suit with helmet hair and asked me what I was doing. She was charmed.
But I have worked with several councils and galleries on large public projects. Once I knitted 10 metres to cover a  Bert Flugleman  sculpture. He was very nice and gave his blessing. That was Wollongong’s Gallery in 2009. 

I love working with big projects like that because they involve everyone. That’s the beauty of knitting. You can be in a room full of strangers and if you knit, pretty soon there will be a conversation. Nice people knit. Knitting means warmth and hand made and snuggly and nobody can be nasty if they knit. It’s a social solvent.

foyer of the National Gallery of Australia

When we installed 500 pieces of knit at the National Art Gallery in Canberra, people came from all over and would not leave till they spotted their knit. And those poles are 12 metres high. And it was winter. In Canberra. They’d be craning their head up and then standing proud for photos. That is the magic of a simple thing like knit.

Jetstar: Has craft become more open to both genders partaking?
Me: Knitting has no gender.

Jetstar:Are you involved in any crafting groups or have you run any workshops (besides the curation of the Hazelhurst Gallery and the public toilet coverage ones)? Or do you have any workshops coming up in June/July you can give me the details of? (I have looked some up but it would be good to have some recommended).
Me: The thing is, I’m actually really shy. I just shut down in groups unless I can be all bossy and run them. Sadly though I get frequent requests, many groups underestimate the amount of lead time needed to successfully pull of a large community project, you know…too little too late. 
I love speaking about the powers of knit in community building, especially as someone who has dealt with bullying in the workplace. Seeing bright knits in unexpected places just has to fun, even if you're talking about something slightly unpleasant.

Jetstar: Is the sense of community part of the appeal of being involved in a craft/artisan movement?
Me: See, you keep talking about this…movement… I have no idea what you’re on about. I can only speak about what blows my skirt up and it’s connecting people. One by one, like when you knit. In a way it’s knitting people back into a sense of place.

Jetstar: What appeals to you about hand made work both as a maker and consumer? Can it be a therapeutic process?
Me: You’re talking to a lady who’s just ditched ten years of antidepressants and you’re asking me if it’s therapeutic? Hand me that pizza and I’ll tell you. Look, I’ve always been a maker, it’s in my blood. And if you‘re a maker there’s no choice. You make. It certainly isn’t the money.

 The last artisan market I was part of closed unceremoniously through lack of love. In this economic climate, the makers will still make because its a soul deep need to create, but you can bet they still keep their day jobs. 

Jetstar: Your blog indicates you’ve recently moved from Sydney to SA. Is there any difference in the reception of your work? Or has craft spread Australia-wide?

Me: Huh? No I was born in Adelaide, and you know what they are famous for. I high heeled it out of there age 20 and never went back. OK, I do return when family obligations require, but I take my own water.


  1. I think yarnbombing is cool insofar as it being new wave public art. I read somewhere in the last few days, though, where someone questioned why it wasn't considered graffiti like other graffiti in that it is a defacement, in its way, of public or private property. Good question. The further comment was that it is a real waste of resources since the yarn could be put to better use providing clothing for people in the underclass. And the more I think about that, the more I agree. What a waste to cover trees, buildings, motorbikes, cars, etc. when that yarn could be keeping people warm.

    1. So Connie, do you think that traditional artists should use their canvases and paints to build shelters for the homeless? Should the potter make bricks to build houses? Should weavers be making carpets or clothing or curtains? I'm still not sure where I stand on yarnbombing but I find it hard to understand why yarn (which is just another medium for artistic/creative expression) must only be used for clothing??

    2. I am afraid I agree with Christine's point. Art is communication, it adds to the spirit, it makes us pause and wonder. That is why yarn bombing creates value in the world....

    3. Well said Christine and Emma. This post has put a big smile on my face. If all that these installations do is make people smile it's enough but I would think they do far more. I'm inspired by the tree in Hockney colours and would love to take a busload of children to see it, I'm amused by the snug canary yellow urinal and blown away by the revamped Bert Flugleman sculpture. Well done Denise, I love what you do!

    4. Connie, Why pay artists for 'useless' artworks or waste money making movies? Why do any sort of art, including knitting for trees? Because the soul needs creativity as much as the body needs warmth. Maybe more. I see yarn bombing as art and am sad that you don't.

  2. As I am not planning a Jetstar flight any time soon - thank you SO much for this interview. I think its great & all that you do & create is amazing & mindboggling. I just love it .... I was walking through some areas of Christchurch city recently, still devastated from the earthquakes, & here was some yarnbombing done - some bright cheeriness amongst all the devastation. It made me stop & smile. Like yours does in these photos grrl.
    My son is a billsticker - his (paid) job is to stick posters up on designated billboards & bollards advertising art events & suchlike in the city centre - he is always, always stopped by do-gooders telling him "do you know what you are doing there ... I am going to ring the Council & report you..." He wishes he had a penny for everytime this happens, he could retire :-) I thought of him when I read of you doing this & wondered if loads of people stop you to inquire. Keep up the great work & the creativity ... its inspiring. I am not really a knitter (yet) but I did "doiley bomb" the lamp-post outside my section ... does this count I wonder ???!!! Julie :-)

  3. Wonderful article, made me really chuckle you putting them in your place regarding Adeliade. he he. Loved your honesty, mind you that's no surprise. Well done on incorporating the bullying, you are not alone in yarning your way out of the darkness. A BIG congrats.

  4. i enjoyed the read...and had i read it while flying on Jetstar it would have prompted me to tear the vomit bag into fine shreds and reknit it on a pair of borrowed biros...

  5. Brilliant interview- I really enjoyed reading it- spread the love one row at a time:) Loving the pink knitted wig too!

  6. Such a good detailed interview and lots of things I knew about from before but they were all recalled interestingly.
    Yes, knitting has so many good things going for it - not to mention you get to make cool stuff.
    You are queen/empress/ leader of us all.
    You are quite right -if you are a maker you are a maker and make things all the time....
    Buster and I send lots of love.

  7. How lucky for us you came across the article. I think the Flugleman partnership works so well it looks like it was meant to be, and how refreshing he wasn't an artist who thought his work so 'precious' he wouldn't let anyone even touch it let alone add to it, great. x

  8. Great interview! I loved looking at the knitting bomb photos. I'm with you when you say the 'love' has gone out of the artisan market...I too participated for 25 years in a 'Top-of-the-Line' juried craft show which would garner 10,000 people with a $5.00 donation which went to women in need, abused, etc. Then it began to go 'commercial' because some of the dumb vendors wanted to make more money and not support the one-of-a-kind marvels people were creating. So, there you have it! It always ends up being about politics.
    I'm glad you were able to be 'out there' showing your craft.


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