One June evening two summers ago, my friend Baxter was walking me home when asked me, “Have you seen the teddy bear?” I hadn’t yet seen recently-installed the “Untitled Lamp/Bear” sculpture, and we took a detour through Ruth B. Simmons quad to take a look at it. The sculpture that would later be affectionately referred to as ‘Blueno’ was already attracting the attention of the students on campus that summer. Whether they adored or despised it, people were making their opinions known regarding the aesthetic merit of the art piece.
Later that summer, I traveled to Paris and Ireland with my dear friend and fairy godmother, Ann Hood. She was promoting her most recent novel, ‘The Book That Matters Most,’ which featured a character who was a yarn-bomber. This was my first introduction to the practice of yarn-bombing, a form of non-permanent graffiti that covers structures with knitted material, with the intention of personalizing sterile or cold public spaces. While researching the colorful history of guerilla knitting, I learned this artistic vandalism has covered objects ranging from the Wall Street Bull, to telephone boxes in London. Street art and graffiti are typically male-dominated practices, but yarn bombing takes a more playful and feminine approach to reclaiming public spaces. It became my mission to create a knitted accessory for Blueno that would enable the Brown community to warm to this sculpture, which seemed to have been artificially imposed on our campus.
My knitting is a personal practice that is integral to my identity. Similarly, Ann has written extensively on the healing potential of knitting as a mechanism for working through grief. My mother taught me to knit when I was six years old, and in the ensuing years I would periodically return to the habit. After a personal traumatic experience in the fall of 2015, knitting became a more constant part of my routine. I primarily knit socks, which I began working on during my classes. A professor who would later become my undergraduate thesis advisor and close personal mentor, Richard Kimberly Heck, was influential in encouraging this practice. Riki’s mother was a knitter, and they understood the emotional significance of allowing me to work on my projects during class. Riki’s support empowered me to knit throughout all my classes for the subsequent five semesters. Occasionally Brown students who don’t know me by name will recognize me as “the girl who knits,” because I rarely sit through a class without keeping my hands busy.
The task of making Blueno’s scarf was daunting, as I had never embarked on a project of this size. I audited a machine knitting class last RISD winter session, in the hopes that this would prove a viable method for creating the scarf. While the use of knitting machines is a remarkable skill, it was not the appropriate medium the project. The machines use small needles and very fine yarn, as they are primarily used in the production of textiles for apparel. I came to the conclusion that Blueno’s scarf would have to be knit by hand.
My mother has always been generous in providing me with yarn for any of my projects. She graciously supplied me with the materials for the scarf, which arrived in three massive boxes that occupied a significant amount of space in my Providence apartment. I wanted to use orange yarn for the scarf to compliment the blue sculpture. Orange also happens to be my favorite color, and when I learned to knit, the first thing I made was an orange scarf. My mother also lent me her size 100 needles (35 mm in diameter), which she had used to make a blanket the previous winter. I began knitting the scarf this September, knitting at an approximate rate of one foot in length per hour. The finished scarf was 4 feet wide, and 35 feet long. I cast off the needles on April 1, and assembled a team of friends to help me install it that night.
Emily MacCloud, Sara Dunn, Sophie Kidd-Myers, and Aaron Mayer supported me throughout this entire project. They were by my side from the time when it was just an idea in my head to the moment we were loading the finished scarf into the car to drive over to Blueno. Emily supplied us with a ladder, and in the dead of night, we began the installation. We knew that Blueno was heavily surveilled with security cameras, and students have been reprimanded for climbing on him. We did not know that an alarm would be triggered if we attempted to climb him or that, within a few minutes, a DPS officer would arrive on the scene. We had just draped the scarf over one of Blueno’s shoulders when he approached us. What followed was remarkably fortunate: I used the name of a professor who advises installation projects and is a personal friend of Urs Fischer. The DPS officer was extremely supportive and even helped us complete the installation of the scarf. I was astounded at the finished product. Since I had only estimated the proper dimensions for the scarf and had not done any measuring, it was a stroke of luck that the scarf fit perfectly around Blueno and suited him so well. I was, however, written up by one of Ted’s colleagues, as I did not get official permission to install the scarf. Stefano Bloch, the professor whose name I used, defended the project, and I did not face any repercussions from the University.
The scarf protected Blueno from the snow the next morning and remained on him for the next four days. I am not sure exactly what led to the disappearance of the scarf on Friday morning, but the beauty of this project was that it was never supposed to be permanent. I am glad that I provided Blueno with some warmth, created a knitting piece on behalf of the entire Brown community, and personalized a public place that everyone on campus shares.
However, as I overestimated the quantity of yarn to order, I had plenty remaining after completing the project. I have been knitting human-sized scarves with the leftover materials, which I am happy to sell to anyone for whatever price they can afford. This project spanned nearly two years from planning to execution, and I am profoundly humbled that it was successful and so warmly received by the Brown community. Knitting saved my life. It is my most meaningful way of expressing my love. I would like to share this gift with anyone who was inspired by the work that I was lucky enough to share with the world.