Sunday, September 7, 2014

The invisible hand


Yarnbombing along the Melaan in Mechelen
Photos by John Weaver
When we moved to Mechelen two years ago, one of the first things I noticed was a thriving street art scene. Not the stuff we were used to in Brussels – graffiti, posters, stickers, stencils – there’s hardly any of that in Mechelen. What I found instead was lots of yarn. It was everywhere, yards and yards of it in colorful patterns and cheeky scenes stitched around trees, lampposts, bike racks, bridges, railings…

Like all street art, yarnbombing too just seems to pop up over night. One day last fall, while walking along one of our regular routes through the city, my wife and I noticed that every tree was now wearing a wooly scarf. It put a warm smile on our faces then, and every time we walked by them.

The pieces stayed up all winter and spring and finally this summer I contacted their creator, Christine Van Den Broecke, to meet up for a drink and chat about yarnbombing in Mechelen. It was really nice to meet someone so dedicated to what they do – besides yarnbombing, she voluntarily runs the Mechelen chapter of La Leche League, an organization that provides support and information for women who are breast feeding. 

Depending on the size, a yarnbomb piece can take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple weeks to make. But that’s not the end of the work. Once they are hung, wrapped snuggly around a tree or post, Christine goes back and checks on them every so often to re-stitch anything that has come loose (due to weather or people touching it), and sometimes she even takes them down, brings them home, washes them, and hangs them back up. 

They’re so bright and playful that I was surprised to hear that not everyone is a fan of her creations. She’s even been accused of vandalism (which she denies, rightly in my opinion, and pointed out to me that the definition of vandalism is “removing, destroying, or damaging public or private property” while yarnbombing merely covers.) 

Oh well, you can’t please everyone!

It had been a few weeks since I walked down the Melaan, where I took these pictures, but this week I headed in that direction expecting to see the little monsters smiling back at me from the trees lining the walk. But they were gone. There was no yarn, just trees. I don’t know, but my guess is that Christine felt it was time to take them down.

Christine Van Den Broeke, creator of all the pieces shown above

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