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Yarn bombing and fabulous ways with wool

September 20, 2015
The Mandela Gardens outside the Barnsley Civic, where trees got the yarn bombing treatment.

The Mandela Gardens outside the Barnsley Civic, where trees got the yarn bombing treatment.

Yarn bombing, yarn storming, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting – call it what you will, it’s a wonderfully creative, non-aggressive and usually environmentally friendly and super-crafty way to make a bold and colourful statement using knitted or crocheted yarn. It’s on the rise, too, as the case of Grace Brett, yarn bomber of the Borders, proved this week when she was named the world’s oldest street artist at the fabulous age of 104.

There was some fabulous yarn bombing to be seen earlier this month at The Civic in Barnsley when it launched its two latest exhibitions Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood and the Yorkshire Fashion Archive. The Mandela Gardens on the approach to the launch featured trees decorated in knitted fashions. I now feel totally inspired to go out and introduce my own trees to some yarn bombing. OK, tree – I have one tree (but it’s got apples).

Keith Haring inspired knitwear, Vivienne Westwood. Witches collection 1983- 84. © BoneShaker Photography

Keith Haring inspired knitwear, Vivienne Westwood. Witches collection 1983- 84. © BoneShaker Photography.

Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood presents more than 150 inspirational knitwear pieces from the unusual and eclectic collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield, as part of the Fashion and Textile Museum’s international tour.

It’s a fascinating meander through the development of knitwear and fashion. During World War One, knitted sportswear became an option for modern women who required clothing that was more flexible and presentable. Into the 1920s, the exhibition traces Chanel’s introduction of stylish, practical clothing made from jersey, which was traditionally a machine knit fabric used  to make men’s undergarments.

In the 1920s, the knitted day dress became a practical and smart addition to a woman’s wardrobe, while knitted and crocheted evening dresses offered more sophisticated eveningwear. There is a “make do and mend” section, showcasing creative ways of recycling during World War Two, when sweaters were unravelled and knitted into multi-colour jumpers.

Liberty knit dress, Vivienne Westwood. On Liberty collection 1994- 95. © BoneShaker Photography.

Liberty knit dress, Vivienne Westwood. On Liberty collection 1994- 95. © BoneShaker Photography.

Then there are Fifties’ cocktail sweaters, while the crocheted mini-dress became a staple of the 1960s, with patterns becoming available so women could create their own inexpensively. Fashion designers such as Rudi Gernreich and André Courrèges became leading avant-garde designers, embracing knit and jersey fabrics in their futuristic designs. The 1970s saw Ossie Clark, Biba, Bill Gibb and Mary Quant all used knits fabric to great effect, while the 1980s featured Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Zandra Rhodes and Sonia Rykiel all creating high fashion knitwear collections. Then on to the 1990s when Julien MacDonald challenged the idea of the knitted garment through his experimental use of unorthodox materials.

A Sibling creation as seen on the catwalk.

A Sibling creation as seen on the catwalk.

There is also a contemporary section featuring knitwear label SIBLING, and one of its founders, Sid Bryan, who is from Conisborough, explains that their main aim is to push the boundaries of knitwear, especially with show pieces, such as the ones featured in the exhibition. “We adore knitwear. It’s an old skill and the possibilities within it are endless. Any chance to fly the flag in a knit-focused way is fine by us,” he says.

Sculptural ingenuity from Volpi.

Sculptural ingenuity from Volpi.

The exhibition runs until 13 November and you can also see displays and images from the fascinating Yorkshire Fashion Archive, which features lots of photos of ordinary Yorkshire folk from bygone decades wearing their fashion finery – well worth a visit. For more details, see http://www.barnsleycivic.co.uk/

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