Yarn Bombing in Istanbul

Found an interesting article in today's newspaper; it deals with the local take on yarn bombing as well as local attitudes toward men knitting. Translation below the article.

From Knittin'

A Knitting Operation in Taksım Park

They call themselves “Örgü-t”*! The ever more popular worldwide trend of Guerilla Knitting or Yarn Bombing, is in Istanbul

They are the guerilla knitters of Istanbul…the 20-person group is half women, half men. Most are knitting for the first time in their lives. Sometimes they knit alone; sometimes they meet at each other’s houses or at cafes.

Then they put the pieces they’ve knit together and sew them over objects, “dressing” them. This is the most risky, and possibly the most fun part of the job.

They were going to dress a boat

They met on Couchsurfing, a site for free accommodation; the idea to meet was suggested by Finnish Erasmus student Laura Hagnäs. Laura’s first dream was to yarn bomb a passenger boat, but later they pared down her goal and turned to the bull statue in Kadıköy. Then following the Van earthquake, they wrapped the bull in knits with the word “Van” on them. Organization member Hazar Tunca tells us that the next day they went to the square as “civilians,” and asked passersby “what in the world is this?” They were pleased when they got the answer, “What don’t you understand about it?” Fearing that it would be ripped off, they only left the knitting on the bull for a day, but even in that short time photos were taken and entered into many archives.

Their next target was Taksim Park. After a rumor that the trees in the park were going to be cut, they spent two months knitting enough fabric to cover the trees, and dressed their first trees during celebrations held as part of the Taksim Platform in March. First security came up to them; then plainclothes policemen. “Who are you? Are you protesting something?” they asked. But they say “Now the police have warmed up to it; we hear that they show the tree to tourists for them to take photos of it.”

Unlike the bull, they couldn’t bear to unravel the work on their tree. When the abortion issue came into the news a month later, they dressed their second tree with knits reading “Abortion is a right.” “Abortion is a right” lasted ten days and was finally taken down.
The men in the group say that in this society knitting is perceived as “something women do,” and that they enjoy breaking this perception. Istanbul University archaeology student Hazar, says he had a difficult time getting his knitting needles into school. “As I was entering the campus with knitting needles in my pack, their eyes widened,” he said. “I had to show them the things I’d knit to make them believe me!”

Hazar tells us what knitting means to him: “I’d wanted to learn to knit for a long time. For me, it’s both a stance against mechanization, and a grass-roots, non-hierarchical and spontaneous way of organizing. In one sense it’s also a political stance. Most people aren’t used to seeing a man knitting. Recently I was knitting in Eminönü, and an older woman came up. ‘My boy, what are you doing?’ she asked. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I’m waiting for my friend, and am knitting to pass the time.” I guess she was a little disappointed. We talk about the “efforts of the workers,” we talk about “societal gender.” Actually, they should arrest us!

*This is a play on words. The word “örgüt” in Turkish means “organization” but here mostly refers to political organizations, especially leftist and/or illegal ones. “Örgü” means “knitting.”

Elif İnce
RADİKAL Newspaper, Jul. 22 2012


edington's picture

Thanks for that article. I experienced my first lot of knitting discrimination this weekend when shopping at a local yarn store. Was browsing the wool, trying to find something to knit my daughter a shawl out of. I knitted her one when she was 8, she has now out grown this so asked me to make her a new one. While I was looking for wool, two women nearby started pointing and giggling at me and loudly questioning my 'manliness". I got so disturbed by this I left the shop. I find the attitude of some women quite unbelievable, I am interested to see that this is not just an "Aussie" phenomena, but goes wider.

Oh yeah, great article, would love to do some Yarn Bombing - just need a few people to help me.
Happy knitting,

bobinthebul's picture

And how old were these women? That would be about the time I pull out some choice (tho not necessarily obscene) vocabulary.

I have very little trouble here. There have been a couple times at knitting stores where people have given some funny looks or assumed that I was buying yarn to have someone else make something for me. Lots of yarn stores are "manned" by men here, who have never knit a stitch in their lives. Most of them think it's good that a guy knows how and are even a bit embarassed that they never learned, what with all the wool and supplies around them. My friend Berfin and I actually taught one of them to do a basic knit stitch. :) I knit on boats too, and men usually just take a glance and go back to their newspaper. Sometimes they ask how I started knitting, and make sure to say "You know in Turkey mostly women do this, but in some places men do too." The only intent stares I've gotten are from women. I think they're curious but for more traditional folks there's a bit of a gulf between men and women here.

Kerry's picture

Sorry to hear about your experience Peter, that was very rude of them. Although I rarely knit in public and have been going to the main yarn shop in Sydney CBD for years I occasionally feel that staff who don't know me look at me as though I'm a shop-lifter. I don't let it worry me because I knit with a great bunch of people at the Knitters Guild of NSW.

And thanks for the article Bob.

Tallguy's picture

There have been a few occasions where I have experienced much the same thing here. This is surprising because I had thought of our area as being more enlightened and cosmopolitan.

I, too, have just turned around and walked out of the store, without looking at -- or buying -- a thing. Of course, the best thing would be to speak to the owner before you left to tell her how you were treated, or if you don't feel you can do this at the time, to call or write an email explaining how offensive and rude you felt their behaviour was, and that you left without buying any of the items you had wanted. They seem to respond better when money is involved. Whether it is customers or staff, this kind of treatment is highly inappropriate. That is just not acceptable in any business. Remember, we do buy a lot of yarn!

phew's picture

It works both ways. I live in an agricultural town that has a state college in it. About a month ago I walked into my LYS to visit with the owner as I hadn't been in for about five months due to a tennis elbow injury. A late middle aged woman was standing at the counter when the owner greeted me by name. The woman looked straight at me and asked if I knitted. I responded that "I do" and she stretched out her arm, grabbed my hand and said, "I want to shake your hand, you are are the first man I have ever met that knits." A warm smile came over her face as she quipped " I wish move men had the guts to do it." I have even had husbands look at me strangely at my LYS as they are waiting for their wives and so as not to cause them unease I just ask them point blank if they knit. It opens up a conversation and breaks the ice. And yet, while I join the woman every once in a while at the LYS for a knitting circle I still do not have the courage to knit in public. I lie. I learned to knit to instruct a friend on how to knit. He presented a mess to me one morning at a coffee shop and begged for help. I took the needles, tinked back to the problem (explaining tinking while I was doing it) and then finished the row for him. I did not notice any lack in other conversations while I was doing this. I should say that I have had fingers pointed at me throughout my youth so I am used to it and at my age I could care less what people think. Next time you see someone pointing at you in a LYS or knitting goods section of a store ask them for help. That should stop them in their tracks and it makes them realize how small they are being.


bobinthebul's picture

I say, just do it. The adrenalin rush at first is a bit disconcerting. But after you do, and pretty much nothing happens, then it's amazing how fast it becomes second nature. I think we do build up a lot of fear and "worst case" scenarios in our head. But really...so a woman snickers...and? We can survive that. :)

ronhuber's picture

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Great article, Bob. I hope that the ease with which yarn bombing seems to be accepted translates into more men knitting. However, I won't hold my breath over that thought.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

bobinthebul's picture

Oh, well I don't think even yarn bombing translates into real public acceptance of men knitting. But when someone says "I've never seen a man knitting before," my favorite friendly response is, "next time you see one, you won't be able to say that!" :) In a pretty conformist society, it's natural for people to be curious, and there's no harm in that.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Very valid points. I just love it when their curiosity lets them ask questions and strike up a chat. Don't you?

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

scottly's picture

Somthing looked really familiar about the wrapped trees and then I remembered a friend of mine posted this on FB

Evidently this is a world wide movement, this is the text that went with the picture:

A more gentle than traditional Guerilla art campaign is spreading across the globe - 'Yarn bombing' involves women leaving knitted reminders on objects as varied as trees, lampposts & even a bus. The craze that started in America has now spread to the UK with the 'artist' taking pictures of their work and putting them on the internet.
Magda Sayeg from the all female guerilla knitting group 'Knitta Please' has covered an entire bus in Mexico City BNPS.co.uk

Here's another tree.

bobinthebul's picture

I love the tree! Imagine getting all the way up there and sewing the sleeves on. The real "professional" groups mostly use knitting machines to turn out large swaths in a short time. Here it's all hand done, so far. If they get knitting machines, maybe they will do a boat. :)

TinkerJones's picture

love these pics... though it's curious that the 'bus in Mexico City' has a destination written in what looks like Japanese.
Just sayin'

scottly's picture

Facebook - what can I say.

CLABBERS's picture

After about a year of knitting, I ventured into our LYS without a care in the world. I have always done things a bit differently than most others, especially men. I have always been into the arts...painting, sketching, macrame back in the 70s when it was fashionable, sewing my own clothing for years, engaging in theater (my major in college), singing, and the list goes on and on...even teaching elementary school, which is predominantly a gynocentric society (matriarchy). So, I strutted into the LYS as if it were Home Depot. There before me was a table of five women who were jabbering away and knitting. The owner of the shop was among them and she spoke up and welcomed me into the store. Well! It was as if the plague had just descended upon the women who fell dumb with shock! They turned...they stared...a couple of them smirked. I thought, ah f**k it, this crap again! So, I pulled every fiber of information I have gleaned during the previous year of knitting and asked a question that dealt with merino wool vs. alpaca wool in various gauges, also if they had a selection of DPNs made of rosewood or bamboo, interchangeable Addi Clicks, and a couple other things that only knitters would know. Still, the room was silent. To my pleasure, however, the smirks were gone, knitting and female chatter continued, the owner stood, re-introduced herself, and began taking me around the shop. She was most respectful and I was pleased. It dawned on me that this is what women refer to when they say that in a predominantly man's environs, women have to try harder and be better to just get by. Sadly, after all that, and dismissing the owner to shop on my own for some yarn, I left without buying a thing. Compared to what I could find on the Internet, she was way overpriced. Upon leaving the store, I turned to the ladies and smiled and said that Elizabeth Zimmerman would be so proud of them in their knitting group. Only the owner smiled because she was the only one there who knew who Zimmerman was. I wish that her prices were more reasonable because it's a nice store.

I have since been to a yarn shop in Milwaukee with my friend from this site, Louis Chicquette (prayer shawls). It was nice to go in the shop and again, think nothing of it. A sales lady came by and asked if she could be helpful and we had a good conversation about some of the yarn textures. The lady who rang up our purchases, was gabbing to us as if we were long-lost friends. It was a good feeling. We are planning another trip to the shop.

I think that often in discriminatory situations like men in knitting stores, women in gun shops, and so on, so much hinges on the ability of the odd duck customers to be in tune with themselves enough to walk in so far above the biased crowed that no matter what reactions are, they are barely even noticed. Of course this is easy to say, but I've gotten pretty good at it now.

No need to be stronger than abusive treatment, just be above it before it is delivered to you. I have been a rebel all my life and have championed the cause of those who are different in this word. I think that is why I am so successful as an educator, especially with kids who are way outside the mainstream. I have felt their pain and have learned how to effectively deal with it. In all honesty, I have learned most of my ability to rise above it from some of my most artistic and profoundly challenged children. I thank them often in my heart.


bobinthebul's picture

Just goes to show the world of difference between the coasts and the heartland... When I was in New York, hardly anyone batted an eye in yarn stores, though one woman in La Tienda (a Brooklyn knitting store and cafe) was really fascinated with the idea of a male knitter. But she was in no way disparaging, quite the opposite. In Seattle, it was no different than walking into any other crafts place; one place was run by a man who was in the middle of a really interesting lace piece. I'll be he knew who Elizabeth Zimmerman was and everything. :)

The "womens" and "men's" spaces issue is an interesting one though. As someone arguably on the privileged side of things, it can be a shock to be on the other side. I think it's good for us to experience it, just to put things in perspective. It doesn't make discrimination any more acceptable but it does make us more aware of our assumptions.

In a similar vein, when I was in college in Iowa, there was a group of black students who I ate lunch with in the cafeteria a lot. There, color was no issue, I don't think it ever even came up in discussion. One day they invited me to a skating party at a local rink. I went. It turned out that the party was for the Black Student Union. There were 300+ people there and I was the only white one. I did get some comments, on the order of "what the hell is he doing here?" One of my cafeteria friends asked how I was doing, I said "well...honestly I was a little surprised because I've never been the only white person in the room before." She said, "Oh, I find myself in that situation all the time!" It was a "D'oh!" moment. Of course she did, anyone could figure it out, but until that experience it had never really occurred to me to think about it. I can't say it made me completely comfortable immediately, but it did help me relax and take things a bit more in stride. Now when I go somewhere where I find myself really sticking out like a sore thumb, like some small town in E. Turkey (or being a guy knitting a sock on a boat) :), I just remember that experience, that it really didn't hurt me at all, and I can take the stares in stride.

scottly's picture

I have to be the over-generalization police here. I live deep in the heartland - St. Louis - and I knit everywhere, have been in every yarn store in a hundred mile radius and have never even experienced a side ways glance. In one store I did have a women come up to me and say "You knit?" in a heavy eastern European accent - not one of us liberal heartlanders obviously.

bobinthebul's picture

Well, there are things that it's good to be wrong about. :)