Knitting isn’t just about sweaters or mittens these days, and artist Jessie Hemmons knows that first hand. She is a yarnbomber—a guerilla knitting street artist—who uses yarn to create exhibits in public environments, such as a tree, statue, or even a VW bus. Her use of vibrant colors has caught the attention of communities from Philadelphia to Oakland, and even allowed for some extraordinary commissioned work. See how Jessie uses Pinterest to dream up and lock in her next design target.
Can you give us a bit about your background and how you got into yarnbombing?
I first saw some photos of yarnbombing online in 2009. Friends sent me links to different projects they had seen on the internet because they knew that I loved to knit and crochet. At the time, I was mostly knitting clothing and accessories, but I think friends passed the links along because they knew that I absolutely loved and admired street art. When I first saw the projects, I was skeptical about the durability of the knitting in outdoor climates, and in terms of creating my own project, I was especially concerned about the harsh weather that can occur in Philadelphia.
Then I found an entire book of yarnbombs while looking through knitting books at the bookstore. The book was called, “Yarnbombing” by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain, and inside I found tons of yarnbombing projects from all over the world. Finding this book finally gave me the confidence to start yarnbombing in my own city. That very day I began crocheting my first project and went out the next day to complete my first installation. I had crocheted a 12 inch cozy for a bike rack in downtown Philadelphia. I was very nervous when I began to install the piece, but to my surprise, no one seemed to pay attention to what I was doing. I sewed the seam of the crocheted piece around the bike rack as quickly as I could and then I walked away.
People yarnbomb for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes people yarnbomb for political or artistic reasons, and others yarnbomb for community reasons or simply to enhance the asthetics of their environment. I usually yarnbomb for all of these reasons, at different times. I am very inspired by making artwork accessible to all different kinds of people, which is why I usually yarnbomb in very visible places. I think sometimes people can feel excluded from the “art world” and so it makes me feel happy to have those people engage my work and be inspired by it to create something of their own.
What is the wildest experience you’ve had yarnbombing either as a commissioned project or without permission?
The craziest experience I had yarnbombing happened when I moved to Oakland, Ca. Whenever I tried to yarnbomb in the area, I was met with resistance by citizens and officials. I decided to yarnbomb one of the large heart sculptures in San Francisco’s Union Square. The first time that I attempted to cover one of the hearts, at 5:30 am, I realized I hadn’t measured the sculpture accurately and the piece didn’t fit. I went home and knit the remainder of the pieces and went back a few days later. The second time, the piece fit, but I didn’t start installing until around 6:45 am. By that time, a security guard had come on duty and started yelling at me and threatened to call SFPD. I removed the piece because the guard seemed very eager to call the cops, I think because he was elated at having such an exciting thing to do so early in the morning. After that experience I was determined to install the piece (mostly due to my rebellious nature). I decided to wait a little while to try and install the piece again, like a week or two, so that the guards would forget about me. When I finally returned, I was able to sew the entire piece around the heart. I took one photo before a guard showed up and yelled at me to take it down. My partner and I quickly walked away from the scene. I’m still not sure how long the installation lasted, but I believe it was probably as long as it took for him to find a pair of scissors.
According to your website, you’ve yarnbombed a VW bus. How long does a project like that take?
I knitted a yarnbomb for a VW Bus as a commission for Free People in Japan. Because I work on a knitting machine, I was able to fabricate the piece about 15 times faster than had I worked by hand. I was able to complete that installation in a matter of two weeks.
We caught your Artsy Inspiration boards which seems to be a brainstorm for some fantastic creative concepts. How do you brew up and discover new ideas?
I use Pinterest whenever I’m looking for visual inspiration for anything. I love to knit and crochet all sorts of things, not just yarnbombs. I love to knit clothing and accessories and home decor and sometimes even avant garde knitting, and I use Pinterest whenever I need inspiration for my next project in any of these areas. I have even been able to find tutorials and crochet patterns on Pinterest. Looking through a visual landscape for information makes the research much more stimulating and user friendly, so I look to Pinterest for as many inspirations and resources as I can.
I haven’t used Pinterest for business, but I can see the potential. There is such a diverse user audience on Pinterest, and they all have their own unique style and preferences. In a business situation, this would make it a great platform for me to express my unique view and my inspirations, as well as my previous projects. Using Pinterest would also provide me with insight into the inspirations of a company or brand that I might be interested in working with. This could give me the upper hand in proposing a potential project, as well as help me see if our style preferences are aligned.
What’s next on your bucket list to yarnbomb? Any dream ideas in the works?
I recently moved to New Orleans, so I’m mostly excited to yarnbomb in a new place, and introduce my new city to my work. I would love to yarnbomb one of the horse drawn carriages in the French Quarter!