Today my altared space is an urban garden made of yarn. The Ladies Fancywork Society hung these crocheted flowers along a construction fence in downtown Denver. They refer to themselves as yarn bombers, tagging the town with a softer edge of graffiti.
There are 5 women who stitch together the Ladies Fancywork Society. Their tough street identities are adaptations of their grandmother’s names like Esther, Maxine or Lucy Lynn.
It’s all laughter and silliness as they tag bike racks and bus stops with leg-warmer-esque crochet cozies. They want to leave a tough and feminine touch on the city as they have a good time wielding hooks and needles.
I was serendipitously introduced to them by my friend Yvette while spending a weekend in Denver to see a play. I happened to be right down the street and decided to take a stroll over to see the garden made of yarn.
I was undone.
I am from a rural town with only one stop sign. Where I live the houses are scarce and the green fields plentiful. I go to the city seeking excitement for an occasional weekend.
There is no doubt I feel invigorated. Everywhere I look there are people who take elevators into the sky. I get lost in the beauty of a bridge that reaches upward while it supports the folks walking over.
With all this upward mobility I sometimes feel groundless in the city. More pavement than grass makes me wonder if the things that grow there are real. If everything’s painted in neon I’m spying for the sincerity.
That must be why the yarn flowers captured me so completely. Set against the “DANGER: Keep Out” sign they felt so friendly. Their juxtaposition shook me up. The flowers had a sense of humor and, as I giggled, I no longer wondered about real life in the city. I could see it growing out of a concrete pool onto a wire fence.
I was filled with hope.
And it wasn’t just that.
When I was growing up my step-mother, who is an artist, talked to me about the art she made. She collected crocheted pieces from her grandmother and made charcoal rubbings of them. The texture transferred perfectly and into these renderings she would color and paint and layer things like glitter until what began as a grandmother’s crocheted doily became artwork of her own.
Women have been crocheting and knitting and quilting for eons; making everyday life lovely for the living. Those quilts were not just treasured for their utility but for the wedding dresses and christening gowns that became scraps and were sewn into a life reused. Life gained meaning one stitch at a time as women remade these little works of daily art.
When my step-mother traced over these items and added her own coloring and painting into the shades of her personal history I took a lesson. I am coloring in the lines of those who came before me, blending beauty with function as my life story unfolds. I use art to help me understand my history and to entice me into my future.
In addition to The Ladies Fancywork Society and their fence full of flowers, two other women have taken up crochet that changes paradigms. Their handiwork represents the scientific wonders of the coral reef. They gather artists from around the world and are using their colorful creations to wake people up to an oceanic miracle that is dying. The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef was started by twin sisters, Margaret and Christine Wertheim.
How many times have I heard about how I should care about the coral that is dying? But I have never visited a reef. I haven’t been that lucky.
I put this coral reef should along with a dozen others on my shelf: I should have a fireproof box for my important documents. I should floss every day. I should end world hunger. I file this oceanic tidbit about coral right next to world hunger: impossibly too large for me to effect so don’t even try, even though I know I should.
But then I look at these yarn-coral reefs and I feel something deep inside me stir; that artistic part of me that gets dizzy with glee. It’s that part that doesn’t care about should or if I’m able to effect change. It just cares about beauty. It is crazy with curiosity about the math formula that makes this
turn into this.
Suddenly I don’t really care about my effectiveness. I care that I am able to make the art-part of me happy. That is why I love color and whimsy and women who take the mundane daily things of history and try again.
“Brainless, immobile and with only the most primitive nervous systems, coral polyps have built some of the most magnificent structures on our planet. They protect us, feed us and astound us with their beauty. Now they need our help,” says Margaret Wertheim in the LA Times.
The yarn sisters lecture, offer workshops and create a community work of art that has been shown in galleries around the world.
What I find outstanding about these women and the Fancywork women of Denver who tie flowers on fences and my step-mother who colors into her history to make something new is that they all take for granted the connection between art and the rest of living.
It’s as if yarn has grown on fences forever. Re-coloring history is a natural thing. Toying with math principles was always a brilliant way to remind people of an oceanic emergency.
I love the playful feminine energy that says, “Look again.” It’s so much more pleasant than the latest thing I should do to be a good citizen. Art makes me dizzy with happiness. When I’m happy I live with more courage and I do the things I should without really trying.
What juxtaposition did you encounter today that made you smile with relief? Where is the softness in your danger zones? Is there art that inspires you to find a piece of your history and color differently in the lines handed to you?