“I believe your life needs more yarn.”
You gotta admit, that’s a lovely quote for a crocheter to read. And its the first one to greet you on Knits for life‘s about page. You’ve seen Lorna Watt’s work before, I’m sure, repinned or shared or tweeted… it is colourful and lovely, and not something that can pass your eyesight without leaving a lasting impression. Lorna is the founder of Knits for life, and a crochet/knitting designer. Lorna works full-time with her sister, Jill, as Artist in Residence for the Downtown Art Project.
Born and raised in California’s Silicon Valley, and a well-traveled linguaphile (15 countries, 3 continents, 3 languages), Lorna found a love for street art while living in Europe. This, eventually, would lead to yarn bombing. Holding a BA in German, a BS in Biology, and an MS in Plant Biology, Lorna has taught college labs & coauthored several publications. She is impressive. She is, unto herself, a phenomenon.
She welcomed my desire for an interview and generously provided the rich answers you’re about to dive into.
(ACCROchet) What did you want to be when you were a child, and how did that evolve to this?
(Lorna Watt) I wanted to earn a string of PhD’s in every subject imaginable, from astronomy to biology, and I still believe in engaging with as much of life as we can in our short time here. A linguaphile, I’ve studied in Spain and Germany and traveled to over 15 countries on three continents. After earning a BA in German and a BS and MS in Biology, I picked up crocheting and was “hooked”. I’m currently doing my darndest not to enroll in art school!
What was your very first yarn bomb and did you think yarnbombing could actually become a business? Can you explain more about how street art led to this?
My travels always ended with film rolls full of as many photos of street art as of touristy things. Street art provides a window into the minds and lives of people who lack the training and/or authority to publicize their viewpoint through traditional venues, but whose perspectives are no less valid or valuable. When I first heard about yarnbombing, it gave me an excuse to join something I love with my own medium. Street art is not just for spray cans and wheatpaste. And if needle arts can join street artists, then what a joy to realize any medium under the sun can as well.
My first yarnbomb was a pair of elf feet on a mailbox at our local post office at Christmas time, full of that rush of nerves and excitement. Most people worry about getting in trouble, but the opposite happened: my local business association and Public Works department contacted me about doing more. From there things have snowballed, and now my sister and I share an art studio where we work together full time.
You also do custom work in a variety of fields – how did that side of things evolve, and what is your process for designing custom work?
Etsy has maintained an amazing community of people invested in the values of the handmade. My shop gets several inquiries per week for custom projects, from replacing a lost glove to replicas of TV and movie props to heirloom gifts. Our large yarnbomb installations also generate a lot of interest from local and international businesses. When people contact me for a project, I try to understand their needs and budget, and sketch a project that works within those guidelines. Sometimes people don’t realize how time-intensive needle arts are, but usually we agree on a design and it comes out better than we could have imagined. Some of my favorites are knitting Mr. Bean’s bear, a pastoral window display at a local yarn shop, and a monkey in a banana tree at a preschool.
I’m looking forward to yarnbombing Twitter’s headquarters later this year (later at the time of the interview)!
AND you sell your patterns, items, etc. Do you sleep? Ever?
Rather than spending more time on more things, I divide my time between several things to keep me stimulated and profitable. Publishing patterns supports my yarnbombing installations, so I’m always designing something exciting and paying the bills. I switched from “manufacturing” handmade products to the passive income of digital downloads when I learned to value my time and tired of making the same things dozens of times.
How is the work separated between your sister and yourself? How did you get into crochet?
When my sister, Jill, isn’t teaching knitting at summer camp, we work together full time. It’s one of the best parts of my job because our skills compliment each other quite perfectly. I’m detail-oriented, she’s the task-master. I’m the day-dreamer, she’s no-nonsense. I like color, she likes whimsy. We learned to crochet from books when we were young, but only picked up our hooks and needles again around 2010 with help from YouTube and websites like Knittinghelp.com.
I love that you plant rainforest trees for each sale – tell me more about that – why it’s important to you, how you got the idea, how many trees have been planted to date?
For every hand made item I sell, I donate a tree to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion campaign to reforest the Amazon forest in Brazil. So far we’ve planted hundreds of trees, and I like to imagine a handmade forest somewhere. In my research on the evolution of biodiversity I learned that the tropics house the greatest species richness on earth, so restoring tropical habitat provides the greatest bang for your buck. When I left my research in plant evolution, I wanted to carry a thread from that life to my new one, as it were, and Plant a Billion provided a practical, effective way to do that.
Do you have a yarnbombing ambition? Like, an ultimate yarnbomb project that’ll make you look on with satisfaction, and think ‘I’ve made it’?
I just returned from my first trip to China. While I was there, China Central Television’s Full Frame, an internationally broadcast show about creativity, aired a spot about me and Jill. I didn’t know when we were filming in San Francisco that I would be in China to see it air. Sitting in a hotel suite in China watching my sister and I yarnbombing San Francisco’s Ferry Building was about as good as it gets. Maybe it could be topped by an Oprah or Colbert bump, but that’d just be gravy! As far as projects, I’d like to one day organize an international yarnbombing festival to showcase the diversity of techniques and messages yarnbombers all over the world are getting out on the streets.
Any advice for people like me, who want to bring yarnbombs to their parts of the world? Where to get supplies, how to proceed, how not get arrested, etc.
I’ve heard of yarnbombs being stolen, or people asked to take them down, but I have never ever heard of someone getting in trouble. Remember that yarnbombing is a non-destructive form of graffiti. The worst that can happen to other street artists is jail and heavy fines. That said, I’d say it’s pretty sissy to worry about getting in trouble for yarnbombing, wouldn’t you? Instead, use this dichotomy to your advantage and think of the best that can happen.
Good point! And thanks ever so much for your time!
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