Discover Radical Knitting Counterculture In This New Film

by Madelyn Sundquist

In her documentary, Yarn, Icelandic director Una Lorenzen explores the lives of five distinct artists who are revolutionizing perceptions of the craft of knitting and crocheting. Though the use of textiles and yarn has become increasingly accepted in the realm of fine arts, the concept of craftwork being too practical for the high-brow arena still exists. Lorenzen beautifully blends Barbara Kingsolver’s prose with animation using yarn to frame the medium as it — a complex and beautiful material for artistry. 


The film begins with Tinna, an Icelandic knitter who enjoys bringing knitting outside of the domestic realms. What’s wonderful about Tinna’s story is that she lives pastorally with the sheep that are the resource for the wool she knits with — she is honored to take this feminine tradition and expand its bounds — plus, we get to see some awesome shots of the animals!

Here is Tinna creating what she calls graffiti with her yarn knit into a star on a pen post at home in Iceland.

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Tinna also travels to Barcelona, where she uses found scrap yarn to brighten a metal sculpture by knitting it straight onto one of its poles! She binds bouys and small plastic spheres to throw into bodies of water and brighten up the horizon. Her work is all about breaking the idea that knitting is simply a practical craft done privately by putting making knit street art.

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Another artist in focus is Olek, a Polish-born crochet artist working on a piece called Locomotive when we meet her in Yarn. This piece is set in her hometown in Poland and it is literally two train cars being covered in crochet-work done by herself and other people who sit and join her around it — it’s really a beautiful sight.

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Her other work revolves around New York City, literally sealing people into bodysuits of crocheted yarn and even making shark and mermaid tails (header). From sprawling tapestries to a brash canvas covered in yarn that declares, “Keep calm & eat my cock,” to even drenching the infamous Wall Street Bull in pink and purple-hued yarns, Olek has forged a bright path into the art world despite being “the one who doesn’t paint.”

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Then there is Toshiko, a Japanese knitter with a passion for movement and interaction in her art. While finding prominence in Japan through her knitting prior to the work featured in the film, Toshiko explains that she did not feel fulfilled with her craft until it was brought into public spaces. While this began with a commission from the Japanese government to create a park — yes, a knit park! — this innovation has expanded to be appreciated in a broader, more art-based sense. 

Lorenzen also does a wonderful job at filming the pictured knit “monster,” as Tahiko describes it, interacting with the kids climbing, kicking, and jumping, making it a truly finished piece.

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Finally, there is the Cirkus Cirkör, a circus group that focuses on the use of yarn in its production. Aino Ihanainen is the artist behind the ensemble group that explores this. Their trapeze, dance, and performance art use primarily white threads and yarn to show the versatility of the medium — how in an instant a thread can go from nothing to something.

The documentary includes many gorgeous shots of this group performing; rolling over colossal balls of yarn, walking on yarn tightwire, and interacting with other performers on the stage through a physical connection with the yarn.

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Yarn premiered at SXSW early this year, but will be released widely in July — check out the movie poster and trailer below! This film is a beautifully arranged revealing of the counterculture of knitting that is sure to make you see craftwork in a new light.

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Images courtesty of Una Lorenzen and PR team.

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