COLUMBIA — Columbia’s streets are a little warmer these days, thanks to yarn bombing.
Colorful, knitted fabric has appeared on three parking meters on Ninth Street and on the Thomas Jefferson statue on Francis Quadrangle in the past few weeks.
Yarn bombing, or knit graffiti, is an international trend that takes street art to a new level. In countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States and many others, knitted and crocheted fabric has joined traditional spray painted murals and installations as street art, said Bex Oliger, co-owner of True Blue Fiber Friends, which has about 2,000 customers in mid-Missouri.
Social knitting groups have been talking about doing this in Columbia for years, Oliger said.
“Social groups have gone one step further here by actually covering things in yarn,” she said.
Last week was the first time Oliger has seen yarn bombing in Columbia. She suspects that younger knitters are responsible for the recent yarn bombing.
“There’s this stereotype that knitters are your grandmothers and aunts and not college students,” Oliger said.
Oliger said knitters “yarn bomb” for fun and to bring attention to the community and the art form.
“Somebody has too much yarn and too much time on their hands,” she jokingly said.
MU sophomore Becca Zurbrick passed the leg warmers on Thomas Jefferson on Monday while giving a campus tour to prospective students and their parents.
“My tour thought they were awesome,” Zurbrick said. “Strangely enough, I think it reflected well on the university. They found the act very fun-loving and creative.”
The yarn bombing undoubtedly adds color to an otherwise muted cityscape, but is it vandalism?
Public Information Officer Jill Wieneke said no.
The knits would not be considered vandalism because they do not damage property, she said.
“Someone putting a scarf on a meter is not really important to us,” Wieneke said. “Our job is to respond to complaints.”
The knits are still hugging the parking meters, but the leg warmers were removed from the Thomas Jefferson statue Monday night.
While MU Campus Facilities did not take off the leg warmers, the department did plan on removing them after Homecoming weekend.
“We would never leave something like that up,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “It wasn’t a part of the artist’s original work.”
Wieneke said police would respond if businesses or community members complained . At most, violators would be issued a littering ticket, she said.
“It’s not a high priority, but it is something we take care of,” said Jill Stedem, Department of Public Works spokeswoman.
Columbia does not have a vandalism ordinance but does have property damage and littering ordinances.
The first part of the littering ordinance reads, “A person commits the crime of littering if he throws or places, or causes to be thrown or placed, any glass, glass bottles, wire, nails, tacks, hedge, cans, garbage, trash, refuse or rubbish of any kind, nature or description.”
According to these ordinances, yarn bombing would be littering. The yarn is “thrown” over an object and can be removed without damage to the property, Wieneke said.
Wieneke said the city would treat a toilet-papering incident in the same way.
Oliger is not sure where the knit graffiti will appear next. Knitting groups have discussed yarn bombing the MU columns and downtown light posts in the past, she said.
“I’ve heard rumors that the quadrangle trees look cold,” Oliger said.
I walk down Ninth Street almost everyday. I noticed a “knit cozy” on a parking meter a few weeks ago. A week or so later two others appeared. When knitted leg warmers appeared on the Thomas Jefferson statue on campus, I knew I had to find out the story behind it.
I heard a lot of chatter about those leg warmers from students. After doing some research, I learned about yarn bombing, an international trend where knitting and crocheting enthusiasts have added their spin on street art and urban graffiti.
When I started this story, I ran into a lot of dead ends. The surrounding businesses and active community members did not know what was going on. I was lucky to be able to talk with Bex Oliger about the subject. The story was fun to write, though. I’ve never had to explain what yarn bombing is to so many people, including three city officials.