From Yarn-Bombing to Sewing, 3 Textile Projects You Can Do with Friends
Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem.
The more we fill our days with tapping on screens and keyboards, the more refreshing it is to use our hands on tactile projects that bring us back to the physical world. Art forms like dyeing textiles, finger crocheting, or embroidery can be very physical activities––and oftentimes, they ask us to work collaboratively.
From quilting communities like Gee’s Bend to activist knitting circles like the Yarn Mission, textile and fiber arts have long fostered community-oriented creativity. One possible reason for for this might be that techniques like weaving, crocheting, and sewing are time-consuming and labor-intensive. Working with others on a group project, or beside others on your own piece, can open up space for knowledge exchange, personal conversations, and comradery. To help inspire those interested in organizing a community art project, we’ve gathered three accessible fiber art activities that you can take on with others.
1. Grow your art supplies
Photo by Nafinia Putra.
Many fiber art mediums inspire artists to create their own functional items—like rugs, blankets, or clothing—instead of buying them from a store. And when a maker is knowledgeable on how to source their materials, they can build entire projects with low overhead, and without relying on retailers. One simple way to start learning about where your materials come from is to grow your own art supplies.
Most of the materials needed for paper-making, weaving, and fabric-dyeing can come from plants like flax, willow, and flowers. While you could easily begin a small garden with one or two plants by yourself, organizing a community garden can help bring people together and generate a larger and more diverse crop. For Sharon Kallis, an artist who co-founded a community garden for “art crops” in 2008, teaming up with other artists to cultivate plants is an enriching way to socialize, organize, and source art materials in an eco-friendly manner.
In Kallis’s book Common Threads: Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco Art (2014), she notes that for some artists, the amount of time, energy, and planning needed to grow resources may become tiring. To make sure artist-gardeners stay interested, Kallis recommends having a few lead gardeners to help organize monthly work parties and strategize how the garden is funded. Another method for holding participants’ interest is to put on show-and-tells, where makers can share projects they’re working on that use materials from the garden.
While Kallis’s garden has a vast array of crops, including willow and bamboo, a simpler garden to begin with is one for textile dyes. Flowers, fruits, and vegetables can be grown and transformed into highly pigmented dyes with just a few simple steps. Some popular plants to use are indigo for blues, madder for reds, marigolds for yellows, roses for pinks, and hibiscus for purples.
2. Try yarn-bombing
Yarn bombing by Fantastic Fibers Miami. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.
When fiber artist Pamela Palma found herself with an abundance of yarn left over from previous projects, she decided to “yarn-bomb” the column in her art studio. Soon, visitors started stopping by her studio to see her art and the yarn-covered pole. The project and the attention it received inspired her to create a guild for fiber artists called Fantastic Fibers Miami. The group has worked as a team to yarn-bomb spaces ever since.
According to Palma, the best way to begin preparing for yarn-bombing is to ask people to donate their spare yarn––and not to be picky. “We’re especially happy when we get the stuff that you would never really want to wear, like icky acrylic or bright colors,” Palma explained. These types of yarn are excellent for bombing due to their bright hues and eye-catching textures.
Next, knit or crochet long panels of yarn that you can bring to the site; if you’re working with columns or another simple shape, try wrapping the pieces around the architecture. An easy way to attach the top and bottom of the panels together is to safety pin them, though you may need a lot. When Fantastic Fibers yarn-bombed Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art in January, they used about 10,000 safety pins.
Lastly, Palma’s top tip for beginners is to avoid guerilla-style yarn-bombing––where you cover a site in fiber art without permission. Instead, try to work with a property owner or an art institution to secure a space. “When you know you have support from the community, then you know they’re going to look after it,” Palma noted.
3. Gather people for a day of mending
Photo by Bobbi Menuez. Courtesy of Bridget Donahue.
Photo by Bobbi Menuez. Courtesy of Bridget Donahue.
Inspired by the tradition of sewing circles, artists Bobbi Menuez and Misty Pollen created “Day of Mending,” an event where the public was invited to bring their sewing and craft projects to New York gallery Bridget Donahue. The artists encouraged fellow craftspeople to work on their projects together, and welcomed participants with little sewing knowledge by offering skill sharing––a kind of swap where people exchange expertise––on site. By gathering strangers and friends to help assist one another with sewing projects, the duo created a space for learning, friendship, and conversation to spur.
So instead of tossing clothes that need to be mended into the back of a closet––where they’ll be sure to gather dust in the wake of your procrastination––organize your own day of mending. Start off by inviting a few friends to bring a project to a space; the projects can vary, from repairing a hole in a pair of jeans to sewing a garment from a pattern, and the location can even be your living room or a park. To make the space a ground for new friendships, ask attendees to bring someone with them; to ensure that everyone has the materials they need, make sure to bring some extra supplies such as needles, threads, spare fabric, pins, scissors, and measuring tape. The communal atmosphere will provide the motivation needed to work on projects, swap skills, and spark a conversation with someone new.
Cover image: Photo by Orhan Cicek/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.