Gretchen Roufs' Life As A Graffiti Knitter
When you're lucky enough to write a column like "Freetime" for 11 years, you get inspired by the interesting people you write about. Not surprisingly, I often end up getting involved in new activities in my own freetime. This time, the activity I added to my repertoire isn't as mainstream as, say, teaching swimming or volunteering for the Red Cross. It's a new form of graffiti.
Before you get alarmed that a columnist for a cleaning magazine has turned into a vandal, you need to know that the kind of graffiti I'm talking about is called "yarn bombing," often described as creating graffiti with hand-made pieces of yarn artwork. The movement is said to have started in Houston around 2005, and it has since become a world-wide art form. The point of yarn bombing is to create street art in which such things as stop sign posts, parking meters, telephone poles, trees and other public fixtures get wrapped with something that's been knitted or crocheted.
My mom taught me how to knit when I was seven years old. I was a bored kid with the chicken pox who became a knitter, and I've been knitting ever since. I've made the usual things over the years — sweaters, mittens, scarves, afghans and caps. And then I learned about yarn bombing, and the San Antonio-based "Yarn Dawgz." The Yarn Dawgz is a wonderfully eclectic group of knitters that was founded by two Latino men who are artists and knitters.
I had been watching the Yarn Dawgz from afar, reading about their projects in the local paper and checking out their Facebook page. Eventually, I got my first real life chance to knit with the Yarn Dawgz. It was one of the nicest experiences I could ever imagine.
The Yarn Dawgz typically do their knitting in bars. The first night I showed up to knit with them, I found them on an outdoor patio of a local establishment, surrounded by big bins of yarn and bottles of beer. One of the guys makes his own needles, and let me use them for the evening, which was both endearing and charming. The group (which now included me) was knitting with a purpose; getting ready for an art installation.
The installation, which was being done in honor of Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio, featured hand-knit "koozies" made to cover the new parking meter poles in a historic area currently undergoing a transformation into a cultural gathering place. We made nearly 40 koozies (I made two of them), which were installed on the meter poles with the blessing of the city. The artwork was installed after dark, which, in addition to the trademark red stripe knitted into every piece, is a Yarn Dawgz tradition. I'm happy to say that the project was prominently featured in the local paper.
There are those who think graffiti-knitting is an unusual pastime, but somehow, when you look down both sides of a street and see all these hand-knit covers on something as utilitarian as parking meters, you just know you're looking at something very special. While I love doing traditional knitting projects, I must admit that the Yarn Dawgz projects are compelling. I'm hooked.
I just finished knitting a turquoise blue cover for my mailbox. I plan to install it after dark, just because. And I'm thinking ahead to what I might be able to do on Sanitary Maintenance's booth at the next ISSA/INTERCLEAN show. Stay tuned.
Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “Freetime,” contact her at Gretchen@GretchenRoufs.com.