Something about knitting graffiti generates a joyful energy. When it shows up on stop-sign poles and narrow trees, or as a scarf on the prairie dog of the St. Francis sculpture in front of City Hall, passersby know that someone—and likely a woman who learned the skill from another woman—not only took the time to work the yarn into a piece, but then carried it to the spot and stealthily secured it with a final row of stitches. Her subversion is a gift. Unlike paint that can mar with its permanence, these colorful strands of fiber seldom last one more twirl around the sun. They are like blooms on the cholla. Appreciate them between the spines of the rest of the scene. Know they will fade.
Watching Icelandic yarn graffiti artist and sheep rancher Tinna Pórudóttir Porvaldsdóttir release the vibrant knitted objects into the world is so calming and profound that I found myself getting a little misty-eyed. Was I really feeling this way in the middle of a documentary about yarn?
The simple answer is yes.
The short-running Yarn follows four takes on the topic, and each is surprising and delightfully outside-the-box. Adding another layer are sparse bits of narration from Barbara Kingsolver. The writer, known for her foray into hyper-local eating with Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life and novels like The Poisonwood Bible, which put complex female characters at the center, has written a piece of prose about knitting. The lines that you hear from Where It Begins include her creation story (of sorts): “Everything starts, of course, with the sheep and the grass. Beneath her greening scalp the earth frets and dreams, and knits herself wordless.”
And it’s that wordless thing, that feeling of making and sharing, that’s so powerful.
Porvaldsdóttir’s sharing happens, too, as she delicately decorates glass buoys and sends them afloat into the ocean. She strolls the streets of Barcelona and Havana, sometimes withdrawing a small hammer from her roomy purse and using her lips to hold extra nails while she works.
Polish artist Olek crochets full body suits, and then follows four models around the city (and in lava flows and forests) to photograph their interactions with people and the environment—the faceless, skinless beings embodied in a thicker, softer skin of repeating loops and clashing shades of orange and yellow and blue. Before that, she covers four railroad cars completely in crochet work and then helps make a mermaid swim with marine animals in Hawaii. When the camera cuts to her hands, they’re literally moving fast enough to blur.
The observation and reverence for the rhythmic nature of these artforms from new director Una Lorenzen serves to naturally knot together the work. And even though that sentence was contrived, the arc of story in the film does not feel that way. Lorenzen seems to capture the essence of how her subjects connect to their art and how they see it as that and not simply craft, clothing or kitsch.
Children who climb and bounce on a swaying knitted play structure make fiber sculptor Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam contagiously happy as she explains how she transitioned from art that hung untouched to art meant to serve a deep human need. The inclusion of a profile of the co-ed Cirkus Cirkör’s show with yarn as a theme adds enough masculine energy to the storylines to keep the balance. And balance they do, on tiny tightropes, all the while relating that the meaning of the act, the meaning of life, is in the striving, the changing.
Directed by Una Lorenzen
Jean Cocteau Cinema