Let’s get one thing straight, this is NOT a film about your grandmother’s knitting circle! In fact, director Una Lorenzen’s ‘YARN’, which opens in New York June 24 and Los Angeles July 15, is going to completely revolutionize the way the world sees the traditional art form of knitting and crocheting.
With narration dotted throughout from famed American poet and novelist Barbara Kingsolver, this film showcases the artistic, disruptive and beautiful work of a group of women taking knitting and crocheting out of the house and into the world in a variety of really cool and interesting ways.
Olek is a world renowned artist who uses the yarn in her crochet creations to grab the public’s attention while also seeking to change the gender imbalance in the greater art world in her own unique way. She originates from Poland and her work has been displayed all over the world. Hailing from Denmark, Tilde Björfors is the creator of Cirkus Cirkör, a contemporary performance troupe which uses yarn in every aspect of their physical movements.
Icelandic badass Tinna uses her knitting creations as a form of feminism by ‘yarnbombing’ or ‘yarnstorming’. She pins her artwork on walls, on fences, on streetlamps and sign posts around the world which showcases her often political message in a colorful, artistic and non-threatening way. Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam from Japan infuses her background as a researcher in textiles with her passion to use knitting and crocheting to develop “play sculptures” for children with her company NetPlayWorks.
We cannot emphasize enough how freaking cool this documentary is and how it will challenge you to look at art through a lens you never expected to. We had the opportunity to speak to Montreal-based Una Lorenzen (originally from Iceland) about the stories woven throughout the documentary, the surprising amount of feminist themes that pop up, and why the art world needs to take heed.
First of all, congrats on such a brilliant film! ‘Yarn’ is a must-see documentary. How have audiences reacted to this film?
It’s been incredible! We are amazed by all the positive responses and interest and are exited to see what the rest of the world thinks as the film starts screening in the US this weekend!
There is so much synergy with the idea of a ball of yarn throughout the film, not only woven between the women’s stories and lives but also how it takes the audience on a journey around the world. What was the process of finding each of these women?
The idea was to make a poetic overview of the subject and so the film includes people from very different sections of the yarn world. They are the voice of the film, rather than us filmmakers controlling the overall message. However with a vast subject like this, a red thread is a must and when our writer and producer were looking for artists to highlight they were focusing on people who work mostly by hand (and as it turns out mostly crochet), a technique that is very trendy these days.
Creating a film focusing on the nostalgic and sensational feel of yarn, taking us anywhere between giant yarn sculptures and wool socks, tapping into a vast subject through a poetic overview of our characters and their journey. We used the textured animations, Barbara Kingsolver’s prose and original music to emphasize the nostalgic and sensational mood.
Both Olek and Tinna talk about how they are trying to take the “grandma” stigma away from this art form. As a director, what drew you to work on this project based around women who knit and crochet?
When the producers approached me I was immediately intrigued by the subject and the characters. Although the artists are not chosen based on gender it was clear early on that the film would have a strong message about gender equality and we embraced that. Although I don´t knit/crochet myself (learned it in school but haven´t done it since) I was of course surrounded by wool from day one because I’m Icelandic (the sheep have basically kept us Icelanders alive for centuries) and have an immense respect for it – how can you not!
I also have great respect for textiles in general since my mother was the head of the Textile Art Department in Iceland for 25 years. The memories of walking through the department, smelling the wet wool and the blotting paint and all those giant, gorgeous weaving looms is something that probably influenced my life and work in an indirect way. All these aspects, my personal memories of yarn and the strong voices and work of the characters made this project irresistible.
Each of the women are really doing something cool with crocheting in completely different ways: Tinna as a street artist, Olek as a disruptor and activist, Toshiko as an innovator in the early childhood play space, and Tilde in the performance space. Who was your favorite woman to film and why?
I have such a respect for all of the artists because they are all unique artists and have important and different inputs into the many angles of yarn. I especially like Toshiko, a textile artist of the older generation who then takes a turn in her career, turning the art form into something completely unique, fascinating and needed. In the film she also gives us a much-needed insight into the history of the medium. But our view(s) as filmmakers didn’t influence the way we put the film together, everyone that watches the film seems to gravitate towards different characters in the film – that’s what makes it fun, to see our audience each connect to one or more of the characters.
We love how Tinna talks about how her crochet work is part of her feminism because she can use it to break down stigma around the art. How important was it to you to share these kinds of messages in the film?
Very important. What became very clear was the strong direct and indirect feminist voices of our artists and we embraced that all the way. It is great to contribute to such a needed topic. I think it’s great how Tinna is using crochet as a feminist symbol.
Olek is pretty well known in the art world and has had her work displayed in numerous countries. She speaks of how male-dominated the art world is and she is disrupting this using a modernized take on a traditional art form. How do you think a story like hers will change the way people look at a material like yarn?
First of all I agree with Olek that the art world is in some way biased. It is clear that the history of handmade yarn work such as crochet and knitting is mostly a female history (although some men did it here and there) and therefore it has a feminine connotation, which I think Olek is deliberately using as a part of her concept by creating interesting opposites and tension.
It is important and interesting to look into history and remember that textile arts have been displayed in galleries since the Bauhaus era and there was a big boost during the 60s when Textile departments were for the first time set up in art schools around Europe, during the second wave feminism. But this is not common knowledge and in general because yarn is literally all around us we tend to take it for granted. I think Olek’s work will not change the feminine connotation with yarn (and why should it?) but it will help some people open their minds about yarn when they see it in a new context.
How do you hope ‘Yarn’ will elevate the presence of women in the art world as well women’s stories in films?
Some of the stories we hear in YARN are stories that many of us can relate to as women, stories about gender discrimination. So I think the film is an important input into the discussion on gender equality. In terms of the art world, our film clearly shows that there are gender issues within that “bubble” that need to be fixed. However, I believe that the film will be a reminder that creativity has no boundaries and the energy, power and talent that we see, goes to show that women can and will be doing amazing things, no matter the circumstances or location.
What do you want audiences, who have not yet seen this, to know about ‘Yarn’?
YARN is still a brand new film and very few people have actually watched it yet, so we are both intrigued and excited to see how our audience will respond to the film. Although a female-centric film in terms of characters, we hope that our audience will be both male and female as it’s important that it’s accessible to all. In fact, recently we had our Icelandic premiere and a couple of the male audience members loved the film and couldn’t believe that YARN offered something more than what one might perceive the film to have been, a history of yarn and woolly socks – something that the film is absolutely not.
We also want it to be surprising, we want our audience to find out something new about yarn and to realize that it’s an exciting medium to convey beautiful pieces of art, political messages, metaphors and so much more. It’s a film about the endless possibilities of yarn, it’s a feel good, positive, colorful, poetic exploration of yarn. We hope it will inspire those that have no connection to yarn, to inspire those that use yarn to explore more possibilities and to engage those that want to learn a little more about the medium and how it can be more than just that woolly jumper you have at home.
It’s also important to add that it’s not a heavy political or current affairs film as with so many documentaries today, neither was it intended to be a chronological look at the history of yarn. It’s a poetic journey where you’ll be immersed in the material and the film will take you to different countries and cultures and explore the use of yarn through 4 main characters who each have an immense amount of passion and depth behind their use of the medium. I’ll say no more as we want you too to experience YARN yourself!
YARN opens in New York City on June 24th at the IFC Center, and Los Angeles on July 15th at the Laemmle, before expanding throughout the US this summer. For more information and to see where the movie is opening, visit www.yarnfilm.com.