Taking Chicago by storm — one yarn bomb at a time
today at 10:39 am
I bet most people could come up with at least ONE thing they have enjoyed during the stay at home order. Perhaps working in your PJs. Day drinking (I’m not complaining about cracking open a beer on my patio before 5 PM). Not fighting traffic to get to work. For me, I have enjoyed the discovery of new artists and excited to share their talents on this platform.
A woman in the Hello South Loop group shared a photo of the neighborhood asking people what they thought was different. It was essentially a photo of personal bike racks and I noticed each rack had something to keep them a little warmer. The post got many pondering who had been busy decorating the bike racks. Turns out that someone is Valerie Sherman, local crocheter and knitter who wants to take Chicago by storm, one yarn bomb at a time.
How Valerie got inspired
“My mom taught me how to crochet when I was a kid, and it’s always been a big part of my life. For over 5 years, I taught knitting and crochet to detainees in the Cook County Jail through an organization called Committed Knitters. I’ve always wanted to do a yarn bomb, and when we moved to the South Loop area last August, I saw some trees that had been covered with knitted panels, so I figured this was a neighborhood that would appreciate funky, cozy kind of street art like that. I started with a bike rack in November. I’ve done almost 20 pieces now; it’s a great way to use up scrap yarn and brighten up the neighborhood a bit.”
Creativity runs in the family
“I think what first made me think this kind of thing was possible was my dad’s creative side. He was a blue-collar kind of guy but welded these elaborate, weird sculptures all over our house growing up. One time he pulled this rusted part from abandoned farm equipment in the woods behind our house, welded spoons, and forks onto it, and it became a scorpion. When he got inspired, he would feel compelled to keep going until it was done. When he saw that piece of rusted metal, he saw a scorpion. I feel the same way when I see a nice, unadorned bike rack. I’ve just got to keep going.”
The interrogation begins
I have always wondered – are crochet and knitting the same? If not, what is the difference between the two?
Common question! Crochet is done with one loop at a time and one short hook. Knitting is done with a bunch of loops on two long, pointed sticks. You can yarn bomb with either one, although I tend to crochet because it’s faster and easier to create free-form shapes.
I find it fascinating that you taught detainees at the Cook County Jail how to crochet and knit. That sounds like a wonderful program. Did you teach women, men, or both? Were they receptive to learn? How did being involved in this program change you as an artist (if at all)?
Right now, Committed Knitters teaches only women in jail and hosts some programs on the “outside.” It is a hugely popular class – there is typically a months-long waiting list. It’s sometimes the only chance of normalcy that these women have each week, and it builds self-esteem and patience. Everyone walks into the class with a difficult past, but the main thing that differentiates those who learn quickly from those who struggle is the strugglers always say, “I can’t do this. You won’t be able to teach me.” You have to turn that mindset around before they can learn because the negativity and fear are so limiting. I felt afraid to yarn bomb for years, but like my jail students, I eventually realized the people who did it weren’t more creative or skilled than me, just braver.
On my travels, I have seen yarn bombs in various cities, mainly on trees and bike racks. It adds color to a neighborhood and appears environmentally friendly. Do yarn artists need a permit to do this?
Not in Chicago, but it depends on the city. It’s a gray area, as the installations are not permanent and aren’t generally damaging to surfaces. I have asked police if they would stop someone installing one, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. I think they have bigger things going on. The whole thing does require a certain amount of zen because some pieces are a lot of work only to be taken down or stolen, and you have to be OK with that or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
I love hearing about families who have a creative side and inspire one another. Did you and your dad ever collaborate?
He and I did collaborate a few times; he helped me achieve an idea I had for random puzzle art. He and my mom also let my sister and I paint murals on our basement walls. Like the jail students, he taught me if you can imagine it, you can make it happen. Dream big, get weird. He passed away in 2012 and his artwork is a real gift to our family.
You mentioned June 11 is Yarn Bombing Day. Are any events underway in Chicago to celebrate this? What types of installations do you have planned?
I haven’t heard of any yet, but so far I’m planning to suggest ways to participate, even if you stay home. I’d love people to make sleeves for bike racks that we can install around town (and in that case, I’d like to find a local business to serve as a drop off point). Here’s the Facebook event I’m working on. Also, I’ve met the woman who put together the other pieces in the area and we’re going to collaborate.
What is the best way for people to contact you if they are interested in your work?
I’m on Instagram pretty frequently: @valerieplz
Who else wants to learn?
I have always wanted to learn to knit and it’s never too late, right? Valerie has influenced my yearning even more. I look forward to the yarn bombing event on June 11 and hope to see Valerie in action.
*All photos courtesy of Valerie Sherman