By Paige McDaniel
When is the last time you rode your bike down 6th Ave? Did you notice anything different about the bike racks? A vigilante armed with yarn has turned these normally black metal racks into art, creating a blast of color against the city buildings. But who is responsible?
Her name is Kassie Mitchell and she shows no sign of stopping.
The blonde-haired, bright eyed, knit-hat-wearing Tacoma native has put her crafty fingers to work on the streets of 6th Ave, and people are noticing. Like a thief in the night, Mitchell saw color where there was metal, art where there was only dust and rain and she sought creative redemption for the boring bike racks lining the bustling street.
Spark of Inspiration
It all started in front of Engine House No. 9.
“I looked at my friends and said, ‘I’m gonna put yarn on those bike racks,” said Mitchell. “So I did.”
A few nights later, in August of 2013, Mitchell sat down in front of Tandem and began her first yarn bomb, a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” present for the new store. Within a day, five plain bike racks had disappeared underneath decorated sweaters.
“I just sat back and wondered what would happen and what people’s reaction would be,” she said.
Extremely positive. The neighborhood was soon buzzing with curiosity at its newest attraction, wondering who this “yarn bomber” was decorating their streets.
Mitchell isn’t a stranger to events such as Art on the Ave that parades down 6th each summer. She has previously sold hats, scarves and her famous Growler Sweaters; a simple knitted wrap for a beer growler with a shoulder handle. But her sales weren’t the star attraction.
“I saw how much people really liked the yarn. So I started thinking about where else I could put it,” said the artist.
Why 6th Ave?
Mitchell spent her childhood and teenage years wandering up and down the streets of Tacoma, particularly stomping the grounds of the Ave.
With the happiness of the neighborhood in mind, Mitchell made it her mission to bring smiles to the people of Tacoma.
“I want to make this neighborhood as happy as possible,” Mitchell said. “I live in this artistic and diverse neighborhood… why isn’t there more going on? This brightens up the neighborhood… and gives people something in common to talk about.”
Mitchell’s bike rack art falls under Guerrilla Art – temporary and spontaneous art that doesn’t require a permit. But the lack of legal processes isn’t what drives Mitchell’s passion toward the practice.
“Guerrilla Art is temporary art. It’s not meant to last forever; it’s meant to be enjoyed here and now. Will it last? I don’t know. Are you looking at it right now? Enjoy it. It might be gone tomorrow,” she encourages.
Yarn Bomber Logistics
Each cover takes about a day to make, though one could bust it out in four hours if determined. They take about one skein of yarn and are made up of a double-crochet stitch. Once completed, Mitchell heads out to her next target, puts down a towel to sit on and sews the cover onto the bike rack. She then pulls the cover over the rack and zip-ties each end to anchor it. You can see a video of the process here.
The covers are splashed up and down 6th Ave., some with themes (such as the Seattle Seahawks in front of MASA and doughnuts in front of Legendary Doughnuts) and others that are just fun and quirky. Mitchell has had trouble with losing the 3D creations, like a pancake and a hot dog, but replaces the stolen piece with a sad face.
While it may seem like a well-thought out creation, Mitchell states the opposite.
“I don’t overthink my art in any way, it’s spontaneous… Art is supposed to be fun.”
While the decorated bike racks have most certainly brightened things up, they also provide an important function for cyclists. Most of the avid riders around the neighborhood will sport old vintage bikes. When tied up to the rack, the paint would get scratched. Thanks to Mitchell’s yarn bombs, the bike racks are actually being used for their original intentions.
“I just wanted to bring color to the neighborhood. These brought color and function,” Mitchell says with a smile.
So will we be seeing more of these yarn bombed bike racks?
Mitchell intends to redo them in the spring since some have shown wear in the Washington weather. But Mitchell doesn’t have any other firm plans for what the future holds for her yarn.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do… just see what moves me between now and then,” says Mitchell. “I just think that every little bit helps, every little bit of art helps. A little bit of something for everybody else.”
For more photos of Mitchell’s work, visit her Facebook page and say hello!
All photos courtesy Kassie Mitchell.