The covert crafter reveals a little about herself and her unique artistic mission.
We can’t reveal the identity of the Clintonville Yarn Bomber, who for several years has adorned the telephone poles and road signs of Columbus’ free-spirited north side neighborhood with fiber art creations ranging from silly to serious. The mystique is part of the fun, she says. We can share, however, that she’s a Clintonville resident and in her 50s—“people think I’m much younger and much cooler than what I really am,” she says—and previously worked in the event marketing field.
Yarn bombs are whimsical artistic installations, often put up surreptitiously under the cover of darkness. The Clintonville Yarn Bomber first hit the scene about three years ago and has since inspired other knitters in the neighborhood to follow suit. Her Facebook page, Bee’s Knees Yarn Bombs, serves as a place to show off the work she and others create, and to take commissions from area enthusiasts.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
When did you learn to knit?
My grandmother taught me when I was around 8 years old. We started with crochet, the chain stitch. I didn’t know how to turn; I was just so excited that I could make this thing that my grandma did with her hook. I remember my dad coming home that night and me being like, “Grandma taught me to crochet!” And it was just this long, long piece of crocheted string that ran, like, the length of the house. She taught me to knit, too, and needlepoint. I didn’t do much knitting through high school and college and young adulthood. But then I had to get bifocals, which made the needlepoint more difficult, and that’s when I thought about picking up the crochet hook and knitting needles again. That was about five years ago.
What made you decide to start making yarn bombs?
I was laid off of my job about three years ago in a major downsizing event at that company. I was just kind of floating; nothing was really coming together. I wasn’t seeing a finished product in anything in my life. I saw a yarn bombing in Yellow Springs and thought, “Oh my God, that’s it. That’s something I can do.” It fit three kind of needs that I had at that time: It was something that I could do with my hands; it was something that wasn’t important if it looked perfect; and it gave me closure. I could work on something that night and by the time I went to bed, I would have three or four inches that I could put on a telephone pole somewhere, and I could drive by it later in the afternoon and go, “Yes, that is something that I completed today.”
Do you remember your first yarn bomb?
It was the ugliest, simplest thing—just a colored band around a pole. It was maybe 6 inches in length. And then the next night I would make another band, and I would go up and stitch it onto the pole and to the previous one. And they just kept growing. I was just using whatever yarn I had on hand, but I started looking at it and thinking, I could actually put together colors that make sense. Then I started playing with different stitches again, too. It was almost like a sampler telephone pole.
So I started in the spring, and I remember telling my husband that I was going to do a Fourth of July themed one—a stars and stripes. Then I thought, well, I can go beyond that. The first one that was really a character was that Halloween; I did a big, one-eyed monster. Then at Christmastime, I did like a 12-foot tin soldier. And it just went from there.
Do you have any favorite locations?
I mostly work along High Street. My favorite, favorite spot is near Overbrook Drive. It’s actually where my very first bands went up. I love it because, if you’re driving north, it’s kind of like an incline up High Street. It borders a park, so there’s no other visual competition, storefronts or anything. It’s just the poles. And that’s the spot that continuously gets reported. So there’s a grump somewhere that reports them to the city, and they take them down. In all fairness to the city, they’ve reached out to me via my Facebook page and said, “We don’t seek these out. We’re not scouring Clintonville looking for your work, but if it gets reported to 311, we have to remove it.” I try not to be biased about it, but man, there’s got to be something else you can be miserable about than some yarn on a pole!
At one point I did get an art permit from the city—it's the same permit that the Columbus Arts Festival gets—and we were able to do a short-term, two-week installation. We put up a lot of yarn bombs there by Overbrook. They got reported, and the city was able to tell them, “I’m sorry, they have a permit. It can stay up for two weeks.” But it was so much hassle. It’s just easier to do it under the cover of darkness and ask forgiveness later.
How do your commissions work?
People can reach out to me via Facebook, and usually they opt to put something on their private property, so it won’t be at risk of being taken down. Pricing can vary based on how large the project is and how much time it will take. A great thing is that I don’t have to calculate materials into it hardly at all because I have so much donated yarn. Our community is incredibly generous. I always tell people, “Just tell me your budget. I’ll do anything within your budget.” And if their budget is $20, but I think knitting up until $30 is going to make it look better, that’s what I do.
For the last two months, I’ve told people that for $25, I’ll do any street sign you want. Most folks are picking a stop sign at the end of their street or a no-parking sign. And $20 of that amount, I’m donating to the League of Women Voters to support voting rights. That has been so popular. I’ll keep doing it up until Election Day. The designs have been all over the place; I’ve done Charlie Brown, I’ve got a Prince piece that I’m anxious to put up. I think I’ve done four “go vote” themes.
Can you estimate how many yarn bombs you’ve created over the years?
My husband asked me that just the other day, and it’s hundreds. Particularly with these road signs for $25, I bet I’m going to have 75 up this year alone in Clintonville.
What do you love most about installing this kind of art around town?
One of the most exciting things for me is to see other pieces and know they’re not mine. I’ll try to take pictures of other people’s work and put it on my Facebook and say, looks like we have more hookers or bombers or whatever. You can tell mine apart because I always put a little bee on mine. It would be so fun if everyone had a little signature piece!
A 7-year-old named Josie here in Clintonville saw a stop sign wrapped in yarn and was interested; now she’s this accomplished yarn bomber. I saw that on Instagram, and my heart melted. I reached out to her dad and asked if she’d consider collaborating with me on a project. So we’re going to do “Horton Hears a Who”-themed bomb.
So I could wrap it up today. I could put those needles away, and I would be so happy that it’s kind of caught on. And I’m pretty proud of Clintonville—with the exception of one incredibly grumpy person—for embracing it, because not every community would put up with it. Sometimes they’re silly, sometimes they border on political craftivism messages, and not every community would embrace them like Clintonville has. I’ve been really proud.