If you’ve been walking or driving in Reno over the past few months, you might have noticed the occasional tree limb, sign post or other part of the city’s infrastructure wearing what looks like a wool sweater. If you’ve seen these brightly-colored, hand-knitted coverings, you might have also glimpsed an embroidered tag at the bottom and asked the question, “Who is Yarngurl?”
“For me, lately, it’s just kind of been my outlet for, kind of more fun ideas that I’ve had,” said Yarngurl, who requested that her identity remain a secret. “I do a lot of knit and crochet and that’s a lot of what I’ve been doing … for the last year. It’s been an outlet to do something that I love, but just have it be not serious, just for fun.”
In her daily life, Yarngurl is a local artist who specializes in knit and crochet—skills she learned as a middle school student in town—selling meticulously crafted clothing and embroidered goods. Yarngurl is her “yarn bombing” alter ego, prowling the streets of Reno looking for opportunities to weave her own intricate brand of street art.
“Basically, it’s knit and crochet graffiti,” she said. “One of the reasons why it’s fun is it’s harmless to the property. It’s not spray paint kind of graffiti where I’m permanently altering whatever surface I’m working on. Everything I put up can be just cut off and taken down.”
Yarngurl has been doing this kind of unsanctioned (although not outwardly illegal) knitting for years now but began an official Instagram account for her work at the end of February. Her pieces include things like a knitted representation of female genitalia she installed on a public fence for International Women’s Day (a nod to the #MeToo movement, she said); a large, pattern-wrapped tree branch; and a 6-foot-plus rainbow colored sleeve on a stop sign near the Great Basin Food Co-op.
“I like doing the stop signs just because I think it’s really entertaining to, like, creep up to a stop and look over and notice something like that is really fun,” said Yarngurl.
Yarngurl mostly gets her ideas from places she identifies that might be good to “drop some stitches” as her Instagram profile reads. She’ll measure the object first, which she does as inconspicuously as possible.
“I do it during the day a lot of the time and definitely get some interesting looks when I’m walking up with a tape measure to make the installation,” she said. “But I just kind of go with the fake it ’til you make it—pretend to be really confident and like that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
The coverings take a few hours to make and are usually made from “upcycled” acrylic fiber in order to weather the elements as well as yarn can.
“The upside to using the upcycled materials to begin with is I can then—if I’m lucky enough to be the one who gets to take it down, sometimes other people take it down before I get there—I can just use the yarn in another project,” Yarngurl said.
Yarngurl said that some of her friends and family have guessed at what she’s up to, but her art alias exists more as a way for her to channel her creativity than out of a genuine fear of, say, legal reprisal.
“I’ve recently just kind of been trying to put myself out there more and just, like, think a little bit less, maybe,” said Yarngurl. “I know it’s been easier to do that when I know my mom’s not watching.”