Friday, October 11, 2013

Jessie Hemmons

So they call you the Yarn Bomber. They do. Yes. Did "they" come up with that or did you? No. It's actually a well established term for people that do the work that I do, which started in 2005. I started in 2009. So I'm actually kind of late to the game. There are other Yarn Bombers? Of course, yes. It actually started in Austin, Texas--A group called Knitta Please. Why did you call yourself the Yarn Bomber when I met you? You said, "I'm the Yarn Bomber." In Philadelphia. There aren't others? Not in Philly. Well, there are a couple. There's a woman that does it in Chestnut Hill named Melissa Maddonni Haims. But I feel like her practice is broader than just yarn bombing. I'm specifically yarn bombing. Okay, so what's going on with that? Why are you doing this? What's specifically gratifying about it? It's actually more of a street art for me and less of a fiber art kind of thing. I have a background in political psychology. So I'm actually more interested in community activism and relating to that. I'm putting knitting in the public realm and areas where I feel like people might notice it. But what I really want to do is work with community organizations to make large-scale projects in disenfranchised neighborhoods and things like that...and not on my own as this like imperialistic white girl coming in and assuming I know what neighborhoods want and need. I want to do it with the community. I feel like I need to get a name for myself first, and then I can approach non-profits and work with them to do these projects. How is the yarn itself and that form of expression--on the street, wrapping something, even a tree, which is controversial for some people--how is that accomplishing something? I guess it's kind of multi-faceted. Number one, it's what I'm good at. I can't stencil. I can't paint. I can't do things like that. Knitting is what I'm good at. It's also kind of feminist in a way--mockingly feminine. Street art is very male-dominated. And so, here I am, with the most feminine medium I can work with, working within that very masculine culture. It's making a statement. It's also just simply vibrant and non-permanent, yet non-threatening. I think the threatening aspect speaks to gender stereotypes. Do people think that knitting is non-threatening because women do it or is it because of the knitting itself? In China, supposedly, men sew and women don't. If most men knitted, would people find it non-threatening or no? Most people assume graffiti done with painting is done by men. They find it threatening and criminal and they don't want it in their neighborhood. And you're challenging these stereotypes. It's something I didn't think about until I started seeing people's reactions. The reactions were mostly positive, which is amazing. But is it because I'm a silly girl doing craft projects, or is it because of the knitting itself that makes it positive? I don't know. I feel like that's a question to be answered. I teach restorative justice and a lot of these students are into graffiti. Sometimes they seem more engaged with quilting than with paint markers. When I'm knitting on the subway, I feel like men will get reminded of their aunt or their sister or their grandmother that taught them..."oh, I knew how to crochet when I was a kid. My grandma used to do that on the porch all the time." They come up to me on the subway and talk to me about it, and I feel like it makes this connection for them. Maybe it's subconscious, but they feel some connection to the work and end up looking at it in a positive way. You know, they used to make yarn in this building. The landlord told me that before WWII they were in business because people used to just buy yarn and make their own clothes. Right. I go up to Huntington and Yarn Mill and other places like that to get yarn and the yarn is thin and more for machine knitting than it is for hand-knitted garments. It's generally like Philly at least. I'm trying to develop a way to turn the fabric from cigarette butts into yarn. I'm calling it "Buttressing." Oh really? People are doing all sorts of stuff. There's cat fur yarn out there! If I were able to figure out the buttressing, would you knit with it? I would knit it. I would knit anything. If it can be put into string, i would knit it.

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