It all started with a borrowed library book on knitting for Texas-based artist Magda Sayeg. Teaching herself how to knit during her teens, Sayeg is now known as the originator of yarn bombing and has gone on to bring colour and life to many an ordinary object and location throughout the world by adorning them with hand-knitted covers.
“My first piece was a stop sign pole – well my very first piece was my door handle – but the stop sign pole truly was the act of yarn bombing,” says Sayeg. “Little did I know the broader implications of what I was doing, the fact that it was going to resonate across the globe.” Sayeg’s textile graffiti has since covered buses in Mexico, sculptures in France and food carts in Taiwan.
The element of surprise is essential for Sayeg: “My work lives in public spaces and is supposed to have this unexpected dialogue with the world. From the start, I have been really intrigued by people’s reactions and started creating more and more in response to the reactions.”
She believes that the intensely positive public feedback is a response to the overdevelopment of urban surrounds. “In a way, it [yarn bombing] is empowering [you] to take back a little bit of your own environment. We live around such visual pollution [that] we become desensitised to it and we don’t even complain about it anymore. This act of kindness, this act of humanity is nice and refreshing.”
When creating an artwork, Sayeg doesn’t spend every waking second knitting. Instead, she has a team of knitters (sometime as many as 15 helpers) who have their own looms, plus a team that installs the artwork. For her piece in the Strand Arcade, Sayeg wrapped two six-metre tall fibreglass gum trees in colourful Australian wool. When asked about choosing the colours for her designs, she explains that “colour is one of the most exciting processes that I go through. It’s fun for me to take a colour that is normally not very pretty or unpopular or maybe even dated and try to bring it to life by adding more colours.”
Working with The Campaign for Wool on their initiative to promote the benefits of wool, Sayeg reveals, “I got to use Australian merino wool from Nundle Woollen Mill. It is really pleasant. It’s beautiful to touch and it’s a really wonderful experience. If I had it my way, I’d always be working with something like that.”