HOW FIBRE ARTS CHANGED A SMALL TOWN
Knitfest is a weekend Yarn and Fibre Arts Festival who aim to promote yarn and fibre arts and it’s artists while promoting the small regional town of Maleny. When 32 business’s in the main street of Maleny closed down over 2 years, the town was struggling financially. Local Event Coordinator Debs Swain knew she could do something to help her beloved home town. Knowing the effects a festival could have on a small community, she set about to create a special event for Maleny. As a fibre artist for over 40 years, she had a vision to yarnbomb the whole town.
Knitfest has a team of highly skilled yarn artisans, meeting each week, who have not only created a myriad of decorations but also teach newcomers to knit and crochet so that everyone can get involved. They also have a lovely lot of ladies who can’t leave their homes, so their caregivers take out wool from Knitfest each week and return with lovely pieces the ladies at home have made. They no longer feel invisible but a valuable part of a huge project.
The first task was to make hand made crocheted bunting to go along all the shop fronts to add colour and movement to the whole street. Then they decorated the trees and shop front posts. Everywhere you look, there is colour and fibre arts using different mediums. The effect is magical. Since then, the group have gone on to become extreme yarnbombers. They have yarnbombed a BMW car, lifesize mannequins and a large under the sea diorama each taking around 10 months for the group to make. They’re very proud of their efforts and people send in contributions from all over Australia.
The Knitfest team are the craftiest recyclers ever. They take unwanted yarn, unfinished knitting and crochet projects, yarn from deceased estates and donated yarns, to put together pieces to yarnbomb the main street. Yarnbombing, also known as Guerilla Knitting, started in the USA 13 years ago, is still a very new art form. It’s a way to use up leftover yarn and decorate cold inanimate objects to beautify them. Nothing goes to waste, said Festival Director Debs Swain. “We never unpick unfinished projects but instead, add to them and repurpose them into something else. If we get a shawl or rug with holes in them, we either mend them or add a crocheted flower to cover the holes so they take on a new life”.
No-one realised the impact that the event would have, pulling people together for a community event. Meeting each week, the yarnbombers talked as they shared their skills and lives. It was soon apparent that this wasn’t just a group of knitting nannas. Everyone had a story to tell. Some women were getting back into the community after long term caring for a loved one who had passed away. Other ladies were recovering after a stoke or operation and wanting to get their motor skills working again. Some ladies had recently moved into the area and wanted to meet new friends and get amongst the community while others were suffering depression from not having many friends due to various reasons. Some ladies realised it was the first time in years that they now had friends.
Many people have asked what happens to all the yarnbombing after the Festival is over. Any pieces that can be used again for next year are saved and repurposed for next year’s theme. Anything in excellent condition is given to Busy Needles, a local group who send knitted items to age care, homeless and low economic families thru the Salvation Army, premature babies and also to Groups who take clothing out to indigenous communities. Some pieces are near the end of their life but still useable for animal shelters for blankets and bedding so they are sewn together to be sent to various shelters. Some of the knee rugs are donated to elderly nursing homes. We don’t waste anything. The decorations start going up 2 weeks before the event and stay up all week.
With 10,000 people attending the festival last year, financially it has turned this small regional town into a thriving centre again. The festival includes 27 workshops from prominent fibre artists, 100 trade stalls, Tree decorating competitions where community groups or individuals and business’s, can choose a tree to yarnbomb. The Program Guide, and information on how to get involved, volunteer, book a workshop or enter the competitions, is on their websitewww.knitfest.com.au