published Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Yarn bombing: Finding yarn cozies in the darnedest places

The trolley mural on a wall at Glass Street is 32 feet wide and 15 feet high.
The trolley mural on a wall at Glass Street is 32 feet wide and 15 feet high.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Olga de Klein places loosely knit cozies on some trees at the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Olga de Klein is on a journey. From painting to drawing, photography and, most recently, yarn bombing, de Klein thrives on being creative.

Though the 69-year-old says she never knows which direction her creativity will take her, she was pleasantly surprised that her yarn bombing project is being showcased on a nationally televised FedEx TV commercial airing this holiday season.

Yarn bombing is "the act of crocheting and knitting unexpected pieces for public display," de Klein says. "It was started to cover/brighten up insipid concrete and metal structures in urban living. "

In the commercial, a grandmother is talking to her daughter on the phone, asking if she received the "toaster cozy" shipped through FedEx. The daughter says "yes," and the camera shows the husband putting a huge cozy on the Christmas tree as well as several other objects covered by cozies. The last shot is a boy covered completely by a cozy and asking, "Is that Nana?"

Yarn bombing was started in Texas in 2005 by Magda Sayeg, who is considered to be the mother of the unusual art project, de Klein says.

"I had seen her work online and included it in my senior presentation at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga about the history of knitting. One of the things I touched on was what all you could do with yarn, which lead into 'yarn bombing,'" she says.

In April 2012, de Klein yarn bombed trees in front of the Tennessee Aquarium. The "bombing" was part of MakeWorks 10 x 10 project, de Klein says. Last February, she struck again.

"I knit it (cozies) loosely for the trees so the trees could breathe," she says. "Most of the time, the rough areas of bark keep the yarn in place. When I put it on smooth poles, it is secured in a way it does not slide down."

"I did the trolley on one of the walls at Glass Street for their Better Block event. The trolley is 32 feet wide and 15 feet high." It's still covered in yarn today.

But bombing is not the only use for yarn, she says, and it also shows up in her mixed media works, which are on display at Studio 3K at WorkSpace in downtown Chattanooga..

"It is a different way of feeling creative with yarn. The yarn I get is not your typical 'grandmother's' yarn," de Klein says. "It is very colorful, varied in texture, sometimes chiffon, sometimes silk, and most of it is strips stitched together by women in India and Nepal. They either collect remnants from fabric in factories where they make saris, so it does not end up in the landfill, or are from old saris. With the proceeds, they pay for the schooling of their children."

She purchases the majority of her yarn from the DarnGoodYarn website, she says. "The owner of the business, Nicole Snow, has helped me in all my yarn-bomb endeavors, and always came through when I had to place a frantic call for more and/or different colors of yarn, texture, etc.," she says.

It was de her connection with Snow that lead to her participation in the commercial, de Klein explains. Last October, Snow received a grant from the FedEx Small Business Competition that landed their yarn art in the commercial.

"I could not do all this by myself in less than a week, but Nicole had team of knitters who helped as well. Nicole called back, asking me to help her pull it all together and five days later I was on a plane to Los Angeles, where I arrived around the same time as Nicole, both armed with suitcases full of cozies.

"We fitted all the items -- refrigerator door, toaster, dog, Christmas tree, an outside topiary. We only had to adjust the cozy for Fritz, the dog, which was a little too big on him."

A native of the Netherlands, de Klein moved to America in 1967 and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing at UTC in 2011. Her grandmother taught her to knit.

"I stopped knitting for many years but took it up again after Adrian (her youngest son) died, and I knitted one scarf after the other, mindlessly, as it took me away from that cutting pain," she says. "Then, when it was time for my senior project at UTC, and I wanted to get away from doing the same thing, I decided to 'paint' with yarn and it has been like that ever since."

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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