Fayette County

Knitting group gives a tree a sweater

From left, "yarn bombers" Lori Shepard, Donna Pizzuto and Rita Foster, all of Lexington, attached knitted and crocheted coverings for a tree at the Speech and Hearing Center in Lexington on Sunday. They and some friends have done similar "yarn-bombing" projects for about two years.
From left, "yarn bombers" Lori Shepard, Donna Pizzuto and Rita Foster, all of Lexington, attached knitted and crocheted coverings for a tree at the Speech and Hearing Center in Lexington on Sunday. They and some friends have done similar "yarn-bombing" projects for about two years. Mark Ashley

Some people will do almost anything to enjoy their hobbies.

That's about the only rational explanation for Donna Pizzuto, Rita Foster, Lori Shepard and Lisa Steele standing in the pouring rain Sunday afternoon, putting a sweater on a tree in front the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center on Henry Clay Boulevard.

"I see that the crazies all made it," said a laughing Shepard, the last to arrive.

The four friends, all from Lexington, had planned this yarn adventure in advance, and they're weren't about to let a chilly afternoon drizzle spoil it.

Soon, the tree was being wrapped in bright red, green, blue and yellow yarn, with some purple and other colors thrown in. Turns out yarn does look good on a tree, even soaking wet.

The four women and several of their friends began doing this sort of thing about two years ago, as an outgrowth of their passion for knitting and crocheting. They pick a place around town that could maybe use some brightening up, and they swoop in and start applying yarn.

Technically, it's what is called "yarn bombing," a form of street art or graffiti in which brightly colored yarn, knitted or crocheted, is placed on a tree, building or other large object. It's sort of a smaller-scale cousin to the work of famous Bulgarian artist Christo, who once draped nylon fabric over the Pont Neuf, the famous bridge in Paris, and who plans to stretch 6 miles of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado.

The Lexington women think of it more as just "putting a sweater on a tree." When working, they usually wear T-shirts that identify them as the "Tree Sweater Gang" or "Yarnies With Attitude."

Their first yarn-bombing was at an art studio on Short Street. Since then, they've decorated the Kentucky Theatre, the Living Arts and Science Center, Sayre School and the horse statues in Thoroughbred Park. Sunday's project was their 18th so far, Pizzuto said.

And they've never let the weather hold them back, putting up yarn in summer heat, winter snow and, now, autumn rain.

"Probably the worst was at Sayre School," Zipputo said. "It was January, and it must have been in the 20s when we were out there working."

The women say they usually get permission in advance before decorating a site — they had an OK from the hearing and speech center on Sunday — but not always.

They might leave the yarn in place for weeks or months and come back to brighten it up if it starts to fade. Eventually, they take it down.

"After a year, the yarn starts look pretty shabby," Steele said, "and we can't have that."

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