COVER STORY: Tight knit on the North Shore
Something more permanent has come out of a controversial yarn-bombing project in North Vancouver.
Multi-coloured knitted patterns that wrapped their way up tree trunks and branches in parks along Lonsdale Avenue were carefully taken down by volunteers. After a good wash, the squares were stitched together to create scarves for homeless people on the North Shore, giving new life to these temporary yarn-bombed creations.
The North Van Arts Council is donating around 30 scarves, all made by volunteers, to the North Shore Lookout Shelter to keep residents a bit warmer this winter.
“The wild colours will cheer people up while keeping them from getting cold too,” said volunteer Teresa James, a “guerrilla knitter” who helped decorate an often overlooked park in central Lonsdale this summer.
Repurposing the yarn is a way of giving back to those less fortunate, says James, after many people enjoyed looking at the colourful trees this fall.
“We all have a different colour sense, so all the scarves are different. There should be something that everyone would like to wear.”
This year, around 130 yarn-bombing kits containing instructions and knitting supplies were handed out. Participants met in parks around North Vancouver, decorating trees, poles and even dressing a bear statue with a knitted vest. The vest was ripped off by vandals during the night but the leftover yarn was ideal for creating the scarves.
This temporary art form, however, faced skepticism from North Van city council earlier in the year. In February, the North Van Arts Council’s request for $7,500 to pay for the kits was denied, but the decision was later reversed with a 4-2 vote after council members had a change of heart.
“Yes the artwork is temporary, but there’s more to it,” says Laryn Van Dyk, the art council’s program assistant, in defence of the project. “It’s about community engagement, a chance to meet people and make friends.”
And that’s exactly what a dozen volunteers did last month. Knitting needles in hand, they attached the squares end-to-end while working around the sides to tidy up the scarves.
“We tried using colours we hadn’t in the past, and they look great,” says James, adding each scarf took about half an hour to stitch together.
Kids also got to pick their own combinations, with bright pink being a favourite of the day, proving knitting isn’t just for grandmas. James also experimented, choosing to add turquoise to her yellow and green scarves.
The volunteer knitters had different levels of experience, says Van Dyk, noting a sense of community is created when beginners learn from experts like James, who “starting knitting seriously” when she was in her early 20s.
“I’m trying to pass the excitement about texture and colour onto kids,” says James, who runs a lunch-time knitting group for Cleveland elementary school students and recently got back from a knitting conference in Chicago.
Yarn has changed a lot since she took up the craft.
“The wool was usually scratchy and was ugly colours, it didn’t appeal to me,” says James. Today’s knitters should be “very happy” yarn is soft and comes in vibrant colours.
“They will probably be a lot brighter than what people usually wear,” she says, explaining the charm behind the yarn-bombed scarves.
“Knitting is often considered a lost art. I want to keep it going.”
Donations that keep people warm like these scarves are in demand at this time of the year, says David Newberry, community liaison worker at the Lookout Shelter.
“In the winter, we have warm clothes readily available in the lobby,” he says, adding he expects the scarves to be picked up very quickly.