It’s a Great Yarn!
Have you heard the one about the yarnbomber and the forgetful hubby?
Chippy’s infamous yarnbomber is a woman of many faces – all of them, so far, pretty much hidden from public view.
She has become a public calendar as well as a town icon, being warmly thanked by a young man who only remembers to buy his wife roses each year when her Valentine’s Day hearts appear!
The yarnbomber has revealed her secrets to ECN in a rare interview.
So read our Q & A for the full and fascinating story.
Q: What made you begin yarnbombing?
A: That’s hard to answer. But I’ve always done this sort of thing, not always with yarn, sometimes with other crafts. I’ve always been a compulsive decorator, putting things on people’s doorknobs and planting things in people’s gardens all over the world. The yarnbombing began when I moved back to Chipping Norton permanently in 2003.
Q: What was your first piece of public work?
A: I put the odd crochet flower on people’s doorknobs, but that first Christmas I knitted some little Christmas pudding and Santa hats, and put them on the bollards. It was the first major thing I did.
Q: How do you choose the theme for your next piece of work?
A: People contact me and ask me to do things, or I do certain events every year, building up over last 10 years. I have a whole list of them now – town, Autumn and Xmas festivals, the literary and music festivals, Halloween, St Valentine’s Day, Comic Relief, St George’s, David’s, Andrew’s and Patrick’s Days, to name but a few. I also do special one-off events like the Royal Wedding and the Queen’s Jubilee.
Q: How do you choose the places you decorate?
A: Ah, these are limited. They have to be places where I can attach things without damaging anything. I have to be able to attach the yarn to itself – I’m horrified when people use drawing pins on trees, and never do it. Someone had a go at me once about it, and I had to tell them it wasn’t me!
Q: Why is it so important to remain anonymous?
A: All my friends know who I am. A lot of people round here actually see me doing it now, because I can’t be bothered going out in the middle of the night any more. I’m getting too old for that! But really, I don’t want any fuss, no acknowledgement. I just do it to raise a smile and give something back to the town. The more I’ve found that people like it, the more I do it. Not too much in the last six months because of my husband dying, but I’m gradually getting back into doing it. I’ve got an attic full of stuff now – bags and bags of it – so it’s quite easy, it just takes time to put the items up and down.
Q: Have there been any close shaves in terms of being caught?
A: Yes, often! People see me and say: ‘Aha! So you’re the knitting lady’, or ‘You’re the phantom knitter’. And I say: Yes, but you don’t know who I am, do you? And I don’t like it if people take photos of me. Ten years ago, when I was a lot younger, I used to go out in the middle of the night or the early hours and put the stuff up, so people wouldn’t know. And it was a bit of a mystery thing. I gather that kids around the town were making up stories about this phantom knitter, which is great fun!
Q: What keeps you going as the yarnbomber?
A: It’s the feedback. People like and appreciate it. I get bags of wool left for me at places like the library. There was a donation last year at Fibreworks, the wool shop – a kind lady had donated 20 pounds for the Phantom Knitter’s’ expenses.
Q: What do you want to achieve?
A: Just to make people smile. Or aware of an event – the music festival, or Halloween, or Christmas. Once I was putting the hearts up for Valentine’s Day, when a young man came up and said: ‘If you didn’t do this every year, I’d forget to buy my wife some roses! He also mentioned St David’s Day – every time he saw the Welsh flags come out, he remembers to say Happy St David’s Day to his Welsh relatives. I’m a public calendar, if you like!
Q: Do you ever get any negative feedback?
A: Only negative in a roundabout way. I’d been putting bees and ladybirds around people’s houses, including a bee on a bush outside the home of an Australian couple in Spring Street. They loved it. So much so that the lady was furious when someone nicked her bee, and posted an irate letter in the next Chippy News demanding it back! Very little stuff gets taken in Chipping Norton – it’s a very rare event.
Q: What is your all-time favourite piece?
A: I don’t have favourites. Certain things I’ve loved doing, such as helping out the ACE centre during the campaign to save it, and the Christian event Passion for Life, with all the churches together. Pudsey’s great too – the kids love it, and if I don’t put a Pudsey Bear face up every year for Comic Relief and Children in Need, the kids get very cross. I also enjoy the Welsh stuff with all the daffodils, though I’ve no Welsh connection myself.
Q: Why do you think yarnbombing has become such a craze in the UK?
A: It’s not just the UK, it’s all over the world. Five or six years ago I was in contact with people in Germany, Sweden, America, Australia – there are yarn bombing sites and forums everywhere. It’s gradually blossomed among people who like to create things – like Banksey really. I get called Mrs Banksey here! The name has stuck in Chipping Norton.
Nearly every town now has a group of knitters, and yarnbombing has become the latest craze. I encourage people and tell them it’s easy to do. Apparently in some places people attack the pieces and take them down. A few years ago I took some pieces over to Stow-on-the-Wold, and had two or three taken by the next day. I’m happy to say it hardly ever happens in Chippy!
Q: Do you enjoy any other arts or crafts?
A: Lots! I used to sew all the time, theatre costumes, do all sorts of crafts. But knitting and crocheting are the main thing now.
Q: What do you use?
A: Acrylic – it’s cheap and doesn’t lose its colour. Wool is too biodegradable, expensive too. I go for cheap and cheerful!
Q: Are yarnbombers always female?
A: Not all yarnbombers are female, but most are. And most yarnbombers operate in groups, not single people. I can’t persuade anyone else in Chipping Norton though, nobody else is mad enough. No real apprentices yet. I’ve got knitting groups going all over the place, here and Middleton and villages around. I teach people all the time. Not one of them is mad enough to do this. I once had someone help me take stuff up and down; she took some of my hearts out to Over Norton last Valentine’s Day – the residents were very excited when they thought I’d been out there, but no, it was my helper!
Q: What does Chipping Norton mean to you?
A: A lot. I feel very lucky that we ended up here. I lived with my husband in Norfolk, we were both teaching abroad, and decided that no one ever visited us there. Wanting to be close to our grandchildren in Witney, we started looking around the area for a house. Fifteen or sixteen years ago, my daughter-in-law found a little cottage in Chipping Norton for us, I was thrilled.
I was welcomed straight away. My husband had retired by then, I was still teaching in Cyprus. I was absorbed straight away into the town, but didn’t get cracking on knitting until I moved back here permanently in 2003. It’s so easy to live here, to get involved in all sorts of activities. Such a friendly place, just amazing. And my family love it as well, they’re so happy that we settled here. Just a wonderful place, and anything I can do to keep people in Chippy happy, with my limited resources, I’ll do. To raise a smile for as long as I can.