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An Interview with Yarn Bomber Jessie Hemmons

January 23, 2012

I happened to track down the artist who yarn-bombed Rocky and she’s right in our backyard. As some of you know from previous posts, I worked for Smokin’ Joe Frazier and “Rocky” stole parts of his life for the movie (without compensation or credit). So I was really excited when Jessie Hemmons of IshKnits agreed to an interview for The Pine Cone Gentleman! (To see more pictures of each piece, click on the each picture)

The Pine Cone Gentleman: How did you get started knitting? (assuming that knitting came first and then the yarn bombing.)

Jessie Hemmons: I started knitting because I was constantly on public transportation with nothing to do, since reading while in motion makes me feel pretty woozy.  I had to pick up a new hobby to keep myself occupied.  I picked up crochet first, because I remembered learning as a teenager, and then I learned to knit from a book.

What was your first bomb and what made you want to get into it?

I always wanted to be a writer or someone who did wheat pasting or stencils, but I just didn’t have skills in those ways.  So I gave up, and just started to enjoy knitting apparel.  But the desire to work on the street always lingered, even past all of my angst-y phases. I saw some photos online of people “yarnbombing” and questioned how resilient the work would be in harsh weather conditions, so I put off the idea for a while.  Then I came across the book Yarnbombing, by Leanne Prain and Mandy Moore, and realized that if yarn bombs could fill an entire book, then they must withstand rain and snow.  The same night I bought the book, I crocheted a small cover for a bike rack.  I placed it on Market St. near 16th.  I remember being so giddy and worried about being caught, but no one said a word.  I just sewed it onto the bike rack and walked away.  The next few days were like that.

I first heard of you when you yarn bombed the Rocky Statue…was that your most challenging piece?

JH: Rocky was actually one of my easiest pieces.  I yarnbombed two whole street lights for a show at Jolie Laide Gallery.  That was my most challenging installation to date, since street lights are about 2 and a half stories high. It certainlymade me realize that i was afraid of heights.  Rocky was just so fun. I knit the piece in 3 days, and waited in line to install it, just holding the piece and a little ladder, behind all the other folks waiting to get their picture taken with Rocky.  It was funny to me that I waited, because that line of tourists has always been a pet peeve of mine.  When it was finally my turn, I put the ladder up against him on a Saturday afternoon, and just sewed the side together.  While I was installing it, two ladies continued to have their photo taken with the Rocky statue (fists up).

You have a BA in Psychology – Do you see any overlap of your degree and yarn bombing?

 I actually have an MS in Clinical Psychology, and I see an enormous overlap with the work that I do.  It’s multifaceted, because my work is as much about my personal growth as it is about hoping to help a community to grow.  Until I started knitting, I was pretty far removed from my feminine side, and using the needles has helped me to embrace a whole new community of women, as well as a traditionally female craft used to essentially “comfort”, and I even enjoy the color pink now (well, just hot pink).  On the other hand, I really feel like it’s important to have a positive social assertion.  It seems to me that the most effective voice in struggling communities is the one that is the most threatening, hostile, and violent. I want to help people in any way that I can to feel comfortable expressing themselves positively.  I don’t expect to effect any great social change, I am just trying to do the best that I can, in the only ways that I know how.

What has been your favorite piece to work on?

  I think that my favorite installation up until this point has been my seat covers on the Market Frankford El.  I was wondering how to reach a larger audience, and so I figured that since the subway reached both ends of the city and everywhere in between,  that would be the best place to work.  I guess I have always just found it pretty funny how I literally I found a way to reach a larger audience.  I also always love to hear about what happens to the pieces after I disappear.  I heard somewhere on twitter that some man riding in the Northeast ripped off one of the covers and shouted, “You can’t save a seat with a blanket!” That has been my favorite reaction to my work so far, because it just felt so fitting.

Do you have anything you’d like to promote?

 I will have an exhibit in the Art in City Hall Gallery, for FiberPhiladelphia 2012, with the Reception on March 15 from 5-7.  A talk will follow at the Art Alliance on April 5th.

Note: You can follow isknits on Twitter here

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