Yarn-bombers bring joy, color to Harlem streets
Three NYC fiber artists work in a coffee shop on personal crochet projects and on their next
BY HAEVEN GIBBONS
Bright orange yarn glides
through his nimble fi ngers
decorated with chunky
silver rings. Under and over, the
thin, silver crochet hook guides
the yarn to its place. The mindless
movement is marked by the tick
tack of his acrylic nails against
Rodrigo Soto- Lobos is a fi ber
artist. He calls the small animallike
creatures he fashions “appreciation
dolls,” but he also makes
other things. He used the bright
orange yarn to make a coaster for
his coffee table. Soto-Lobos is
part of a group of New York City
fi ber artists who meet up at least
once a week to crochet over coffee
But the group also yarn-bombs.
“I’ve been yarn bombing all
over the city for years now,” said
Carmen Paulino who started the
fi ber artist group.
Paulino creates yarn bombs to
bring joy and color to her East
Yarn bombing is a type of
street art that uses knitted or crocheted
yarn to create mural-like
displays.The street art movement
was born in the early-mid 2000s
when street art met fi ber art for
the first time. Yarn bombers
usually cover, wrap or decorate
fences, trees and poles in pieces
of knit or crochet.
Paulino works with people in
her community to create the yarn
bombs. First, Paulino sketches out
her vision for the fi nal project.
Her sketches include what colors
of yarn will be used to make sure
the fi nal creation is diverse as far
as ethnicities, beliefs and culture
and to make sure it touches everybody’s
heart, she said.
PHOTO BY HAEVEN GIBNBONS
“My focus is on unity, bringing
community together with art and
making it meaningful,” Paulino
Each fi ber artist crochets or
knits a piece of the larger project.
The individual pieces are sewn together
before the fi nal piece is hung.
Paulino collaborates with Uptown
Grand Central, Why Not Art, Open
Streets and small businesses to
make the yarn bombs come to life.
But Paulino became a yarn
bomber by accident.
Becoming a yarnbomber
A group of 12 senior citizens
sat at two circular tables under
fl uorescent lights. The art-fi lled
walls offset the cold, dull tile fl oor.
Their worn hands worked hard to
crochet 4×4 fabric squares. The
project helped pass time and fi t
the senior center’s tight budget.
One of the senior citizens constructed
other shapes out of the individual
squares, using two to form
a heart. Paulino spotted the heart,
standing out in the sea of squares.
“What if we sew all of the
squares together to make one big
heart,” Paulino thought.
Paulino hung the four foot by
three foot heart and a sign reading,
“by the senior centers” on a
gate in Spanish Harlem. The fi rst
yarn bomb was complete.
That was in 2014.
After creating and hanging the
fi rst heart, the group made fi ve
more. The hearts started appearing
on gates all over East Harlem
-106th and 3rd Ave., 105th and
Lexington Ave., 111th and 110th
and Jefferson Park- all the streets
popped with new color.
People started to notice.
“It was like a domino effect
happened,” Paulino said. “It happened
so organically, like planting
a seed and letting it grow.” The
projects started to consume her
house and her work. A year later,
she was working on fi ber art and
yarn bombs full-time.
Paulino was overwhelmed with
“thank yous” and Instagram notifi
cations as people tagged the art
in their photos.
“People started coming and
saying, ‘I want to be a part of
this,’” Paulino said.
Weekly meet-ups bring
fiber artists together,
help people heal
The weekly yarn meet-ups
commenced. At the coffee shop
meet-ups, the fi ber artists work
on personal projects and on their
part of the yarn bombs.
Paulino hangs up a yarn bomb.
“Every time we see each other
it’s like a family reunion, like the
show ‘Friends,’” Paulino said.
“People are looking for that connection,
yarn- it’s a magnet.”
Soto- Lobos is a regular at
the meet-ups. He met Paulino in
the yarn-bombing act. She was
hanging a crocheted rainbow on
a fence in East Harlem, on 101
Street and Lexington Ave, as
Soto- Lobos was taking a walk
in the neighborhood. He asked
what she was doing, and he was
immediately hooked, he said.
“It’s a healing process, it’s a
safe space where we share projects,
diffi culties in pattern and
even social life,” Soto-Lobos said.
“It’s such a valuable thing because
I don’t have it anywhere else.”
Soto- Lobos has only lived in
the city for three years. During
the pandemic, he was living in
the middle of the city in Chelsea
on 6th avenue. The neighborhood
was a “ghost town” he said.
“My only exit was the crochet,”
Soto-Lobos said. “It was a life
changer for me.”
Now, Soto-Lobos crochets
everywhere- on the subway and
at lunch. He said people often
approach him and share family
stories about how their grandma
or mom used to crochet.
Paulino makes sure everyone
feels welcome to participate in
the group even if they don’t know
how to crochet, knit or sew.
“No matter what skills you
have, I teach for free because I
learned from my grandma for
free,” Paulino said. “If it teaches
somebody, that person will teach
somebody else.” Adding, “You
don’t need any type of artistry
background. You just do what you
do and share it with the world.”
PHOTO COURTESY CARMEN PAULINO
When Joanna Jean-Deletoille
fi rst started crocheting with the
group, her family thought it was
strange because they thought it
was normally something older
“I love this aspect of doing
something together. It’s a community,
it’s not like the crochet
stereotype, like the old and boring
stuff. My family was confused
when I started crocheting, and
then I showed them the community
and that this is a new type of
crochet. It’s artistic and inspiring.”
Paulino said she hopes to show
that knitting and crocheting really
is for everyone.
PHOTO COURTESY CARMEN PAULINO
Paulino and her team worked on this yarn bomb to honor
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