The 'social knitwork': Guerrilla knitters take on Tokyo
“Guerilla knitting” sounds like contradiction in terms. After all, how can a peaceful, meditative and solitary activity bear any connection to a movement suggesting solidarity in subversion?
Sounds like a tale spun of yarn, but it’s reel ... I mean real, and happening in Tokyo.
A diaspora of around 20 knitters around Japan -- from Aichi to Niigata -- have found themselves entangled in a woolly web of mischief that came about through tweeting.
Outbreak of guerilla knitting
Evidently knitting isn’t just the activity of sedentary septuagenarians, and has taken on a more revolutionary hue.
Last August, the knit tweets resulted in a “surprise attack” on the railings outside a display window of Isetan Shinjuku where one of the knitters, 203gow (her online alias) already had her work -- a 150x170 centimeter woolen deer -- displayed.
Three other knitters (who also go by their online identities), Miquraffreshia, Hanakomet and Emmaruri, were part of the deviant decoration activity.
They randomly draped their woolen works along the metal railings with wilful disregard for distress to the social fabric and allergies to brightly colored wool.
The social 'knitwork'
“Unfortunately, the display was taken down after a couple of days by the cleaning company and our creations were thrown away,” said 203gow, who has been knitting almost every day since high school.
“There isn’t such an appreciation for street art as there is in the West here,” said 203gow.
Guerilla knitting in Japan is a spin off from knit graffiti which first unraveled in the United States in 2005. The united knitters of America decorated lamp posts and street signs with woolen wraps and crochets.
The Japanese online social knitwork first came about as 203gow from Gifu prefecture, Takoyama from Niigata prefecture and Miquraffreshia from Tochigi prefecture contacted each other online around four years ago to exchange ideas and information on their hobby.
All three self-taught knitters share an uncanny passion for knitting octopuses and beards, hence their group name “Que D’accord,” which is a pun on “ke da ko,” or “woolen octopus” in Japanese.
Nevertheless, last October Ebisu Garden Place invited them to launch a similar attack on their public spaces such as benches, railings and light poles, which saw around eight knitters participate in the woolen warcraft.
All in knit together
“Knitting is usually a solidarity activity, so it’s very enjoyable when we can get together to decorate a space with our creations,” says Miquraffreshia, who gave her up full time job around five years ago to become a professional knitter.
She also makes her own reels of colored thread from clumps of wool.
She comes to Tokyo regularly to teach knitting in a class called Kurai Shugeibu (literally “Black Handicraft”) as the lessons are held in the evenings and accompanied by swigs of alcohol.
Accessible to anyone
She was recently pleasantly surprised to find a middle-aged salaryman join her class to make a woolen doll.
“It was his first time but he managed to make a surprisingly decent creation,” said Miquraffreshia.
In May 2009, Takoyama collaborated with a band she knew to combine guerilla knitting with mobile jamming.
She draped her octopuses in a local train plying along the Arakawa district of Tokyo while the band played to the captive audience.
More surprise attacks of knitting
However, attempts to conduct similar guerilla attacks in the Niigata countryside public transport system by leaving, for example, a woolen octopus on the train seat, would more likely be mistaken for an act of forgetfulness, muses Takoyama, who stays on Sado island, and who knits after her day job as a graphic designer.
She picked up the hobby in 2004 and has been teased by her family for only knitting ‘useless things’ such as squids and crows, and not gloves or scarves.
“I would like to knit a pair of gloves or scarf for a surprise attack on a statue, though,” Takoyama said.
Hanakomet hopes to be able to fill Ebisu Garden Place with fuzz again, and 203gow dreams of a surprise attack on Tokyo Tower one day.
While unaware of today being “Knit Day” in Japan, because February 10 can be called “ni-to,” which sounds like “knit” in the Japanese pronunciation, the knitters will be conducting another ‘surprise attack’ tomorrow at Birdland, a jazz bar in Akasaka to add a soft touch to a party there.
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