In conjunction with the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s special exhibition Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth Century American Art, a group of Memphis fiber artists known as Memphis Knit Mafia have organized Knit the Brooks, a yarn bombing of the benches, rails, bike racks and more outside of the Museum. Andria Lisle, Public Programs and Public Relations Manager at the Brooks, said they have been thrilled by the response from Memphis Knit Mafia. “We love the idea of an outdoor installation that park visitors can enjoy even when the Brooks is closed,” said Lisle. “We think it’s the perfect 21st century response to Angels and Tomboys!”
Brandi Rinks asked Christiana Leibovich, the founder of Memphis Knit Mafia, a few questions about the project and her thoughts on yarn bombing.
Q: Tell me a little about Memphis Knit Mafia. How long have you been meeting? How many members are there?
A: I started the MKM in November 2007 on a Ravelry.com message board. I just wanted to meet other people nearby who loved knitting and Memphis. We met in person a few months later. We become a closed group two or three years ago as it all got too big. The ladies in the group now are my best friends. They are Family.
The current active membership is 8 to 10. People move in and out of town (or the country) so there is a little flux.
Q: Do you often do projects like this? What skill level are your knitters? Are you prejudiced against crocheters?
A: We have done some projects like this before, but on a much smaller scale. A piece here or there, really. All of our current knitters are very experienced, but weren’t necessarily when they joined. Several of us crochet as well. It takes all kinds!
Q: Do you have a favorite yarn? I’m partial to Alpaca.
A: I’m obsessed with Malabrigo. I also collect scraps. I love a good patchwork project.
Q: How did you get involved with this exhibition at the Brooks? Did they contact MKM or vice-versa?
A: Andria at the Brooks contacted me. I’m an artist, and I love collective art projects so I was thrilled. She and I discussed some ideas then I drafted some sketches for the curators to review. They have been so enthusiastic and supportive through this process.
Q: What all will be yarn bombed at the Brooks? Do you know how many square feet will be covered? How many fiber artists are involved in this project? Is it just Memphis folks, or are there people from other areas as well?
A: A LOT. The benches, lights, bike racks, railings and more will all have some coverage. Over 1000 square feet of knitting by more than 50 participants. We have people from Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis, even England!
Q: Exactly how does this project tie into the Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth Century American Art exhibit?
A: I can’t speak for the museum, but for me, I think knitting and crochet were a huge part of what it meant to be a girl in the 19th century. They are often thought of as granny craft now, but this was a skill and an art passed down from one generation to the next. It met a need (socks, blankets, etc.), but girls were also able to express themselves artistically through fiber. Now, it feels so reclaimed by my generation and has almost become subversive in its applications (like knit graffiti). I think it is a natural match.
Q: I know each fiber artist was given a specific area to cover which was coded and had certain dimensions. How did you go about figuring all this out? How will the installation take place?
A: I measured and photographed each area to be covered. I have a spreadsheet with all the pieces which we will follow to get started. We will be using zip ties and, if available, loose ends to attach the pieces. Once the swatches that have an assignment are placed, we will use extras to cover other areas and fill in.
Q: Yarn bombing has exploded in popularity the past few years, and it’s been covered extensively in the news, on websites, there are yarn-bombing collectives, yarn graffiti artists, and anything and everything from trees and statues to pot holes and buses have been yarn bombed. Some just think it’s fun and pretty, others consider it a way of reclaiming urban space. What does yarn-bombing mean to you and/or Memphis Knit Mafia? Have you seen any yarn bombing in Memphis?
A: Yarn bombing to me is mainly about a chance to create something that feels cozy and inviting in a public space. I really love the idea of triggering a memory for someone interacting with it – a grandmother, a favorite sweater, a baby blanket. And it adds a little more beauty and color without damaging the existing space.
We’ve done some other pieces: Cafe Eclectic, Republic Coffee, Gus’s Fried Chicken. We have several small, kind of hidden pieces around town, a sort of shout out to other knitters, like an inside joke.
Q: Do you have anything else to add?
A: Don’t be afraid of knitting. It’s not that hard and the worst thing you can do is make something weird, which isn’t really that bad.
Check out the yarn bombing and the Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth Century American Art Exhibit at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, February 16 through May 12, 2013.