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Urban knitters spin yarn into graffiti

By Nicole Saidi, CNN
  • Guerrilla knitting is a reaction to street art machismo
  • Buildings, tree trunks, vehicles among targeted objects
  • Magda Sayeg considered founder of the movement
  • Share your street art photos, stories with CNN iReport

(CNN) -- Forget spray-painting crude symbols under the cover of night. Colorful knitters armed with needles and skeins of yarn are unleashing their own brand of colorful guerrilla art to breathe new creativity and spirit into the machismo of urban art.

Denise Litchfield of Sydney, Australia, is one of these global artists. She helped cover an old men's restroom with yellow yarn designs, and then shared photos of the display with CNN iReport. She says she loves guerrilla knitting because it's so unique, different and unmasculine.

"It's a response to the growing street art world to make a distinctly feminine statement in urban art in a way that is far less harmful to the surroundings. As in, it does not need solvents or cleansers to remove. It's stitched on, and if you don't like it, you unpick it."

Tree trunks, door handles and street signs are fair game. Projects as large as buses and buildings have been undertaken as a response to garden-variety shenanigans. The artists seek to bring their own feminine flair while beautifying their surroundings in a nondamaging way.

Litchfield and the rest of the restroom-stitching whizzes were helping to create an appropriately colored project called "The Knitted Convenience," which they put up in August at a historic toilet facility in Sydney's Taylor Square. Many of the knitters were women in colorful knitted wigs, but there were some men there, too.

See the installation take shape

The city's historic public toilets hold a special place in feminists' hearts. The women's restroom in Taylor Square was one of the first female public toilets in the area and symbolizes growing female independence and power in Sydney. This makes the restrooms a target for activists and even urban knitters.

Part protest, part artwork, part cultural zeitgeist, the exhibition is an ironic take on feminist history and a way of exploring themes of gender and sexual orientation.

More recently, Litchfield created knitted projects at the Viva La Gong Festival in November. She knitted objects in the area, to the delight of locals, and covered an entire coily sculpture in multicolored weave. The projects benefit the community, she says, and she documents her work and other projects on her personal blog.

Not too far away, in New Zealand, iReporter Mico Santos found graffiti artists from OutdoorKnit creating knitted hearts and other loving imagery near a barren lot surrounded by industrial scenery.

Watch the artists put up the hearts

Santos' footage shows the group walking up to chain-link fences and weaving the shapes onto the metal openings. The artists told him they felt a little bit like grandmas, but they enjoyed doing something different. Even babies were brought to the scene of their project.

Texas artist Magda Sayeg says the beauty of knitting is it's friendly, welcoming and doesn't destroy property. Sayeg, considered the mother of urban knitting and founder of the Knitta Please group, says ruining others' things is "probably the wimpiest thing a graffiti artist can do."

She prefers artwork done out in the open, where others can see it. She's not even a fan of writing on bathroom walls. Too much privacy.

"There's nothing badass about that."

Sayeg started doing small projects around her, then began larger ones. She's installed knitting projects covering structures and a bus in Mexico City, Mexico, in November 2008. She's been around the United States and to countries including Italy and Australia.

Share your photos of street art

Lots of graffiti can be done without a spray can, Sayeg says. She's seen examples of artists who make their work by cleaning spaces to create outlines. Others grow patterned cultivations of plants and moss. She says she's fascinated by graffiti as a whole.

"Graffiti is becoming less hated. There's more of a curiosity that people have for it."

Sayeg is working on a book now and asking people to send pictures of their projects. She says she started urban knitting for selfish purposes and to beautify her environment. In the end, she says, street art is obvious and accessible to anyone.

"It's art that anybody can see. It's not just people that visit the galleries and museums. It's people that deliver your mail that are going to see your art."