Jessie Hemmons is a great name for a notorious guerrilla knitter, don’t you think? It sounds pretty bad-ass. Hemmons is a psychology grad student who, in her spare time, knits vivid cozies for the decidedly uncozy. She says she looks for forms in the urban environment, such as bike racks and lightpoles, that are commonly overlooked. (I love the idea of turning people’s attention to these neglected, functional ugly ducklings.) Then she measures the object she’s decided to wrap and gets those knitting needles going. I first came across Hemmons during DesignPhiladelphia, when Minima commissioned a wrap for the tree in front of its gallery.
Yarnbomb at Minima.
I thought this yarn bomb was beautifully in keeping with DesignPhiladelphia’s modus operandi to plop design on the plates of unsuspecting passersby. There was no missing this granny-chic, patchworked tree in an urban landscape of greys, browns, reds, black and white. Hemmons’s fluorescents are the perfect palette for Philadelphia—they really pop against red brick, no?
In the product design universe, the umbrella is a great parallel to this notion of overlooked urban objects, so it’s fitting Hemmons recently designed an umbrella shrug for HAHA Magazine’s Dutch Umbrella Project.
In the interest of getting to know more about this shadowy figure, I subjected Hemmons to a design-phan Q&A:
DP: Slipstitch, midnight knitter, yarnbomber—what do we call you?
JH: Well, most yarn bombers have nicknames that somehow relate to knitting, so Slipstitch is the one I gave to myself. But I guess I would also be called a yarn bomber.
DP: You told 215 magazine, “I couldn’t stand my walk to work, that’s the main reason I wanted to do it.” From where to where was your walk, and how did you go from thinking about it to actually doing it?
JH: I am in Center City a lot, especially up and down Market St., which is full of corporate buildings and it can be just a bleghh environment with little color. Beyond that, I just have this itch to messy up the status quo, and take advantage of opportunities to do so. My first yarn bomb was on Market St. between 15th and 16th, and it was a piece for a bike rack.
DP: How do you decide on a site?
JH: I decide on a site by the practicality of the project. I have to pick objects that will essentially hold the knitting up. For example, if I knitted a street pole, the knit would fall and scrunch up at the bottom whenever it rained. So I look for some way to tie the knit to the object.
Yarnbomb at Rittenhouse Square.
DP: How do you decide what form you want the design to take (i.e. a hoodie, a flower)?
JH: I usually just do whatever I am in the mood for. If I happen to be into knitting a lot of flowers, I will probably have a bunch of knitted flower yarn bombs. However, when I yarn bomb I take color into consideration a lot. I don’t like to use muted colors, so I generally stick to neon.
DP: Do you consider your yarnbombs to be art or craft or design (or some combination of these)—and why?
JH: I guess I would consider it art. To be craft to me means that the object tends to be functional, and I don’t see that in yarnbombs. I’ve never really considered it to be design before, but i could see in some aspects how that could be, except yarnbombs are generally temporary. So deductively I would consider it art.
DP: You went from under- to aboveground when two galleries—Jolie Laide and Minima—commissioned your work this fall. Was there anything about the process that differed with the commissioned works? Did you collaborate with the gallery owners on the design?
JH: Yes, when I did pieces for the galleries it meant that I had to work with the material in the space that I was given. I collaborated with the galleries mainly in regards to space, then I was left with the freedom to do what I wanted to do.
Yarnbomb at Jolie Laide.
DP: Are there other yarnbombers in Philly, and if so, do you compare notes?
JH: Yes, there are other yarn bombers in Philly, that I think have sprung up around the city lately. I actually tend to work by myself, but I have collaborated on different projects with local knitters. I would love to work with people, but I have difficulty with time management. I tend to be pretty impulsive with my yarnbombing.
DP: You’ve wrapped light poles and you’ve said you want to wrap an abandoned house. Have you made any steps toward the house goal? And what else are you itching to wrap?
JH: Yes, I would love to knit an abandoned house. I have been looking for grants to afford me the opportunity to complete that project. I would love to work with a local youth organization to help me knit the pieces that would cover the house. My goal is to really branch out of Center City and start moving into lower income neighborhoods and really just knit around the grass lots that children play in, knit objects on playgrounds, knit around social service buildings, and also knit on crumbling infrastructure. In Center City…. maybe the Rocky statue.
Really, he's asking for it.
DP: What projects/bombings do you have in the works?
JH: I am working on a pretty big project that might not be done until the springtime.. I like to keep it a surprise, because that’s part of the appeal to yarnbombing. But.. it will be in Chinatown. Also, I am working on a piece for URBN, down in the navy yard.
DP: What are the pros/cons to being a designer/artist/creative person in Philadelphia?
JH: I think the tough thing about Philly is that people get over things so quickly. One minute everyone likes your work, and the next minute it’s too “mainstream”. But I think the pros about working in Philly is that the city really gives artists the opportunity to be noticed. Many galleries feature Philadelphia artists, and the city is small enough that public art can be noticed and you can sort of “brand” yourself on the street.
You can find out more about Hemmons at her website, ishnkits.com.
[all photos except Rocky are courtesy of Hemmons]