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TEDYouth 2015

Magda Sayeg: How yarn bombing grew into a worldwide movement

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Textile artist Magda Sayeg transforms urban landscapes into her own playground by decorating everyday objects with colorful knit and crochet works. These warm, fuzzy "yarn bombs" started small, with stop sign poles and fire hydrants in Sayeg's hometown, but soon people found a connection to the craft and spread it across the world. "We all live in this fast-paced, digital world, but we still crave and desire something that's relatable," Sayeg says. "Hidden power can be found in the most unassuming places, and we all possess skills that are just waiting to be discovered."

- Textile artist
Magda Sayeg uses handmade, eye-catching yarn bombs to shake up the way we see the world and make us notice things we hadn't seen before. Full bio

I'm a textile artist
00:13
most widely known for starting
the yarn bombing movement.
00:15
Yarn bombing is when you take
knitted or crocheted material
00:18
out into the urban environment,
graffiti-style --
00:21
or, more specifically,
00:23
without permission and unsanctioned.
00:24
But when I started this over 10 years ago,
00:26
I didn't have a word for it,
00:29
I didn't have any
ambitious notions about it,
00:31
I had no visions of grandeur.
00:33
All I wanted to see was something
warm and fuzzy and human-like
00:35
on the cold, steel, gray facade
that I looked at everyday.
00:39
So I wrapped the door handle.
00:43
I call this the Alpha Piece.
00:45
Little did I know that this tiny piece
would change the course of my life.
00:47
So clearly the reaction was interesting.
00:52
It intrigued me and I thought,
"What else could I do?"
00:54
Could I do something in the public domain
that would get the same reaction?
00:56
So I wrapped the stop sign
pole near my house.
01:00
The reaction was wild.
01:03
People would park their cars
01:05
and get out of their cars and stare at it,
01:07
and scratch their heads and stare at it,
01:09
and take pictures of it
and take pictures next to it,
01:11
and all of that was really exciting to me
01:14
and I wanted to do every stop sign pole
in the neighborhood.
01:16
And the more that I did,
the stronger the reaction.
01:19
So at this point I'm smitten.
01:22
I'm hooked.
01:24
This was all seductive.
01:25
I found my new passion
01:26
and the urban environment
was my playground.
01:28
So this is some of my early work.
01:31
I was very curious about this idea
of enhancing the ordinary,
01:35
the mundane, even the ugly,
01:38
and not taking away its identity
or its functionality
01:39
but just giving it a well-tailored
suit out of knitting.
01:43
And this was fun for me.
01:46
It was really fun
to take inanimate objects
01:48
and have them come to life.
01:50
So ...
01:53
I think we all see the humor in this,
01:54
but --
01:56
(Laughter)
01:58
I was at a point where
I wanted to take it seriously.
01:59
I wanted to analyze it.
02:01
I wanted to know why I was letting
this take over my life,
02:03
why I was passionate about it,
02:05
why were other people
reacting so strongly to it.
02:07
And I realized something.
02:09
We all live in this
fast-paced, digital world,
02:11
but we still crave and desire
something that's relatable.
02:14
I think we've all become desensitized
02:18
by our overdeveloped
cities that we live in,
02:21
and billboards and advertisements,
02:24
and giant parking lots,
02:26
and we don't even complain
about that stuff anymore.
02:28
So when you stumble upon
02:31
a stop sign pole
that's wrapped in knitting
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and it seems so out of place
02:35
and then gradually -- weirdly --
02:36
you find a connection to it,
02:38
that is the moment.
02:40
That is the moment I love
02:41
and that is the moment
I love to share with others.
02:42
So at this point, my curiosity grew.
02:46
It went from the fire hydrants
and the stop sign poles
02:49
to what else can I do with this material.
02:52
Can I do something big
and large-scale and insurmountable?
02:54
So that's when the bus happened.
02:58
This was a real game changer for me.
03:03
I'll always have a soft spot
in my heart for this one.
03:05
At this point, people
were recognizing my work
03:08
but there wasn't much out there
03:10
that was wrapped in knitting
that was large-scale,
03:11
and this definitely was the first
city bus to be wrapped in knitting.
03:14
So at this point, I'm experiencing,
03:17
or I'm witnessing something interesting.
03:19
I may have started yarn bombing
but I certainly don't own it anymore.
03:21
It had reached global status.
03:24
People from all over the world
were doing this.
03:26
And I know this because I would travel
to certain parts of the world
03:28
that I'd never been to,
03:31
and I'd stumble upon a stop sign pole
and I knew I didn't wrap it.
03:32
So as I pursued
my own goals with my art --
03:36
this is a lot of my recent work --
03:40
so was yarn bombing.
03:43
Yarn bombing was also growing.
03:44
And that experience showed me
the hidden power of this craft
03:45
and showed me
03:50
that there was this common language
I had with the rest of the world.
03:52
It was through this granny hobby --
03:57
this unassuming hobby --
03:59
that I found commonality with people
04:01
that I never thought
I'd have a connection with.
04:04
So as I tell my story today,
04:08
I'd also like to convey to you
04:10
that hidden power can be found
in the most unassuming places,
04:12
and we all possess skills
that are just waiting to be discovered.
04:15
If you think about our hands,
these tools that are connected to us,
04:19
and what they're capable of doing --
04:22
building houses and furniture,
04:25
and painting giant murals --
04:26
and most of the time
we hold a controller or a cell phone.
04:28
And I'm totally guilty of this as well.
04:32
But if you think about it,
04:34
what would happen
if you put those things down?
04:36
What would you make?
What would you create with your own hands?
04:38
A lot of people think
that I am a master knitter
04:42
but I actually couldn't knit
a sweater to save my life.
04:44
But I did something
interesting with knitting
04:47
that had never been done before.
04:49
I also wasn't "supposed to be" an artist
04:51
in the sense that I wasn't
formally trained to do this --
04:53
I'm a math major actually.
04:57
So I didn't think
this was in the cards for me,
04:59
but I also know that I didn't
stumble upon this.
05:01
And when this happened to me,
I held on tight,
05:04
I fought for it and I'm proud to say
that I am a working artist today.
05:07
So as we ponder the future,
05:12
know that your future
might not be so seamless.
05:15
And one day, you might
be as bored as I was
05:17
and knit a door handle
to change your world forever.
05:20
Thank you.
05:23
(Applause)
05:25

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About the Speaker:

Magda Sayeg - Textile artist
Magda Sayeg uses handmade, eye-catching yarn bombs to shake up the way we see the world and make us notice things we hadn't seen before.

Why you should listen

Considered to be the mother of yarn bombing, Magda Sayeg’s 10-year body of work includes the widely recognized knitted/crocheted covered bus in Mexico City as well as her first solo exhibit in Rome at La Museo des Esposizione. Her work has evolved to include large scale installations around the world including commissions and collaborations with companies such as Commes Des Garçons, CR Fashionbook, Absolut Vodka, Insight 51, Mini Cooper, Gap, Smart Car. She continues to participate in shows such as Milan's Triennale Design Museum, Le M.U.R. in Paris and the National Gallery of Australia, among others. Her installations have also been featured prominently at American monuments to contemporary culture, such as The Standard Hotel, South By Southwest and the Austin City Limits Festival.

Magda has most recently expanded her artwork to encompass new mediums and techniques as with her solo show in Rome, which explored the usage of lighting with knitted material. She continues to expand her boundaries by joining integrated media company 1stAveMachine as one of their directors which will serve as a platform for new types of experimentation and collaboration.

Recent projects include an installation for Dover Street Market in NYC covering a column spanning 6 floors and a knitted/crocheted Route Master Double Decker bus in London.

More profile about the speaker
Magda Sayeg | Speaker | TED.com