Apr 242012

Spins & Needles is taking a wee break this April (we’re on vacation!) but we will be back to regular scheduled programming with a party on May 25.

In the meantime, we thought we’d put together our guide to finding out about local events and places when travelling to different cities.

We’ve found that more and more some of the best tips, be it local events, restaurants or shops, are in pop-up format or one-offs or from a resident’s point of view that can’t be found in a guidebook (although we still carry the guidebook in print and smartphone format for the basics (e.g. tourist sites, metro map, neighbourhoods).

Head on over to Mobile & Making (the travel + design + DIY blog of Spins & Needles creative director Melanie Yugo) to check out the full guide!

Jun 122010

Ville de Montreal - June 2010
Ville de Montreal street signs incorporated into festival gates

One thing I love about walking around Montreal is how many design ideas you can get from all the large posters and street art in different areas of the city.


Ville de Montreal and Le Husky

Les Amours Imaginaires - Montreal June 2010


We got lots of inspiration last weekend by walking streets that are undergoing construction (Ste-Catherine, Boulevard de Maisonneuve, St-Laurent). It turns out that much of the graffiti on St-Laurent and between Ste-Catherine and Rene-Levesque was part of Bombe sur la Main, which happened the weekend before last, presented by le Quartier des Spectacles de Montreal. Thirty-six well-known and emerging artists descended upon the Main with spray paint, brushes and ink, and attacked 365 feet of boarded up facade. Artists involved included:

Collectif Crazy apes crew
Collectif En masse
La Paria
Péru et Cabin
Chris Dyer
Zilon et Seaz
Collectif K6A crew
Arpi, DKae, Fleo et Tom Sydor
Zeck et Herezy

Here’s some higlights:

Poutine and street art on Ste-Catherine: the best kind of combo (Artists: En Masse)

Roch Voisine Graffiti Street Art - Montreal June 2010
Roch Rocking It (Artists: Zeck et Herezy)

Graffiti Street Art - Montreal June 2010
Artists: Péru et Cabin

Notorius BIG Graffiti Street Art - Montreal June 2010

Apparently the works will be up until the end of summer, when the facades of buildings on the street are dismantled. If you’re in Montreal, definitely try to get to this area to take a look. You can find out En Masse’s, one of the artists collectives who participated,  take on the event here. Le Quartier des Spectacles photoset here.

May 312010

Yard Sale Poster Halifax, Nova Scotia - May 2010

One of the first thing you notice as an out-of-towner in downtown Halifax is that the streets are lined with numerous wooden poles which feature some really creative posters for club nights, art shows and yard sales. I might be mistaken, but it’s like the city is pretty much all for spreading the word about local, grassroots happenings at street level, rather than showcasing huge corporate advertisements behind glass windows.

Yard Sale Poster Halifax, Nova Scotia - May 2010

For example, I loved finding the silkscreened poster stapled to a wooden pole for the Long Live the Queen Festival (which was featured in my last post).

Yard Sale Poster Halifax, Nova Scotia - May 2010

What I found really cool though were the yard sale posters along North Street on our way to the Festival. Rather than the generic orange, black and white “Garage Sale” sign or photocopied pages with varying sizes of Times New Roman text, these posters were like pages from a colouring book: handdrawn with block or bubble text, fun, with loads of colour and caricatures.

Yard Sale Poster Halifax, Nova Scotia - May 2010

Each poster had a different address on it. So it was like making these colouring book-esque posters to promote was the norm in the neighbourhood, each one competing for your attention in an endearing way and making you think that if these posters were so unique, then the kind of items at the sale might be unique too.

Yard Sale Poster Halifax, Nova Scotia - May 2010

These are definitely the kind of garage sales that I want to go to.

Apr 062010

Surfing the net for inspiration, I came across a few past urban camouflage interventions that play with the idea of concealment using various techniques and materials including photography and paint, found objects in commercial spaces and designed tarp.

Two artists use photography to blend themselves in with the environment. Liu Bolin (below) is a Chinese artist whose “invisible” pieces are part of collections titled Hiding in the City and Camouflage. Bolin created the works to protest the actions of the Chinese government, who shut his studio down in 2005. He paints his whole body to match his surroundings and then takes a photo of himself, spending sometimes up to 10 hours on one photo.


Desiree Palmen is Dutch artist who also uses photography to produce her camouflage art. To create the site-specific suits, (including the one below), Palmen photographs a precise location and then paints the image of the place onto a suit by hand. A person then wears the finished suit and poses in the original location – trying to blend into the space as much as possible.


Urban Camouflage, a project conceived by German artists Sabina Keric and Yvonne Bayer in 2007, deals with the question of how to camouflage oneself and one’s identity in the commercial space. The artists wear costumes constructed from materials found in a store (usually big-box stores) to blend into the surroundings.


Here’s a video to see the camouflage in action:

To make urban environments more aesthetically pleasant, Iikka Airas and Markus Wikas designed artificial foliage in their project Camouflage to physically conceal fencing and scaffolding at construction sites.


Mar 212010

Soirée réconfortante du Lait

I last posted about the arrival of spring, but according to the Weather Network, we’ll be getting some flurries late next week (ouch – I just took the bike out of storage this weekend!)

In any case, I thought I’d share these photos I took of these knitted toques used as advertising in Montreal. Having been alerted about them, we were on the lookout for these pieces as we walked about during the city’s Nuit Blanche festival at the end of February.

Soirée réconfortante du Lait

Here’s a video of the toques being put on the advertising columns (by the way, the toques are made of wool stretched over an aluminum frame). You’ll spot where some of  the columns were located:

The toques and knitting in general have been used by le Lait (Quebec’s milk company) to conjure up cozy feelings and nostalgia associated with drinking milk as part of their winter 2010 campaign. A grandmother who knits is the star of the TV spots (most in French and one in English – as well as her knitted motorcycle.) Apparently it took a dozen knitters and 500 working hours to complete set decor and costumes used in the TV ads. More photos can be found here and here.

While the link between grandmothers and knitting is not so novel (although it was done in a playful, ironic manner), what’s interesting are the methods used to link milk and knitting in interactive ways: online, within bus shelters and in metro (subway) stations, and social events out. Bus shelters around Montreal dressed with a knitted toque have jacks where passerbys can plug in their headphones and listen to comforting stories related to milk. Or a free Facebook and iPhone app called Tricot Mania where you knit stitches to score points and create a superhero costume for a milk-drinking septuagenarian. The reconfortant.com website also features a create-your-own knitted portrait page.


I’m not sure if the toques and ads are still running, but if so be on the lookout for them. There’s no doubt that knitting has moved beyond being a private hobby to a social outing, but made me wonder, to what extent has it entered public (or private) space when companies start using it in their ad campaigns? And what does this mean for the future of knit graffiti…

Feb 242010

Spins & Needles Opening Night

With the festival ending a few days ago, we want to give a big shout out to everyone who took the time to be part of this Winterlude 2010 experience.

To all the dedicated volunteers who with cold hands helped with installation, de-installation, photography and crafting/instructing in “extreme”  temperatures and the coziness of Maison Charron.

Installing at Jacques-Cartier Park

To all the urban cozy contributors, from Ottawa-Gatineau, across Canada and internationally. Without you the installation wouldn’t exist.  We received over a hundred contributions in different-sized shapes and colours. It never ceased to bring a smile to our faces when we received envelopes or bags with a new submission and a handwritten message, often with a story behind the cozy.

Cozies First Round Tagging

To everyone who passed the word on about the installation and call for participation and to those who rallied troops together to make stuff.

To those who came out during the workshops, events and installations  -  we hope you had a fun time!

Winterlude Urban Cozy Installation - First Session, Confederation Park

To the National Capital Commission for hosting us to add a new twist to the festival this year.

And to everyone else we may have forgotten, including all those who supported us before and during the festival.

Urban Cozies at Parc Jacques-Cartier

Stay tuned for news for future Spins & Needles programming, including our 5-year anniversary coming up soon.

Feb 242010

Magda Sayeg: Mexico City Bus Project
Magda Sayeg stitching for the Mexico City Bus Project, 2008

Fittingly, the seventh and final artist profile features who many would consider is the poster-lady for urban knit graffiti: Magda Sayeg of Knittaplease fame.

Currently based in Austin, Texas, Magda began Knittaplease in 2005 as a response to the dehumanizing qualities of an urban environment. As her website says: “The simple juxtaposition of this woven material placed within an urban environment has inspired a new generation of knitters who no longer view function as the sole purpose for knitting. This new approach to knitting questions the assumptions of a traditional craft while adding a previously unused material to the world of street art.”

We were able to nab Magda before Winterlude opening weekend for an hour-long conversation over Skype. Here’s what she had to say about urban knit and street art movements, her creative background, how the city has influenced her work and where she sees this whole movement going.

KnittaPlease at National Gallery of Australia
KnittaPlease graffiti at National Gallery of Australia, 2009

S&N: How long have you been making things, in particular knitting? Are there other ways you get creative e.g. music, design other ways?

I’ve been making things my entire life. I’ve never been the kind of kid to be bored and demand instant entertainment. I’m 36 now and if I were bored I’d even cut up newspapers and make hats.

I come from a family where creativity and being an artist wasn’t considered a legitimate profession. As I got older, there was less concern for my parents’ approval so I explored food. That was back in the 90s, when coffeehouses were the cool thing. When I started making food I had such a creative time doing it. I did it for 10 years but then the work load became too intensive. I decided one day to get into craft and making clothes and making things and did a craft market and that just filled me with a newfound interest. I picked up on stuff that I liked as a pre-teen, which led me to opening a shop where I carried good design like from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduates, which perhaps was too cutting edge for Houston. I found myself really frustrated. That’s where Knitta was born. I was looking at the ceiling and then just picked up knitting needles for the first time in 20 years. I would spend hours and hours knitting – there was an instant satisfaction. So when I made that knit graffiti piece for the door handle, I was thrilled with it. I never expected other people to enjoy it as I did. But people who walked by would ask about it. I decided to call up my friend and explained this whacky idea of putting material on steel or signposts. At the time I didn’t call myself an artist or graffiti artist. But people loved it – they got out of their car and took pictures. I decided then I wanted to do every STOP sign in the city.

KnittaPlease at Mexico City Bus Project
Mexico City Bus Project, 2007

S&N: You’ve travelled around the world with Knitta. What’s been your favourite piece that you’ve installed? In what city?

The bus in Mexico City is my all time favourite. (S&N: The project took a week for the six yarnbombers to complete, using repurposed knitted and crocheted blankets. The bus was hollowed out and used as a workshop space for the community arts. The bus is still parked at Plaza San Luis). It’s like I left my child there. I went there with a bunch of material and secretly didn’t know what I was going to do with it. But with the good support of some local people, we got it done in 4 days. It brought a whole new attention to my work – it was like a springboard to my career. I had the Guiness Book of World Records calling. Normally this kind of thing only responded to people who were into craft and the DIY movement.

With travelling you get to meet people all around the world. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my professional career, nothing has every warmed my heart like this. I never had this feeling with retail. I get to connect with other people around the world, who are still friends. Knitting brings such a powerful connection.

Magda Sayeg Knit Graffiti in Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas, 2009

S&N: How does your city of Austin inspire you creatively? How has travelling to different cities inspired you?

Knitta was born in Houston. Houston is inspiring for its food, international flair, but has no appreciation for history or urban planning. Everything is new, little that is old. Freeways, cement, but a lot of trees. Austin has civic pride and it’s changed my attitude. Austin is so beautiful in terms of art but still has a struggling arts scene because it’s a music and film town. But the energy is so great and positive.

In terms of my inspiration, I’m a blog addict for sure. I’ll give a nod to a handful of artists who inspired me when Knitta was a sparkle in my eye, everything from graffiti artists to museums to children. Barry McGee, Jeff Koonz, Tom Freidman. I also absolutely love graphic design. Mike Perry’s blog. I’m constantly inspired by different things from Turner classics to fashion.

Travelling to different cities helps me explore my work. I do approach every project differently. There have been times where I’ve been asked to do something the same as the last project but I like to do different things, to progress. I have a dream list of projects I’d like to do.

It’s interesting, a city like Venice you can’t think of as being the same urban context as other cities. It’s not urban, it’s ancient but it’s beautiful. It was the only city in the world that was made with the intention of not using cars. I’ve asked myself, do I even invade this city with relics? Though because it’s so ancient, I think the young people yearned for something different. I do see myself going back. I’ve been invited to Italy five times in the last year and a half. Juxtaposing urban contexts in all sorts of ways creates a dialogue with someone because it engages the person unexpectedly.

Knit Graffiti by Magda Sayeg, Venice Italy
Venice, Italy, 2009

S&N: What’s up next for Knitta and your other creative endeavours?

As far as projects go, I’m doing large-scale projects in Austin and then Rome and then Estonia. I’m doing a lot of work with corporations. It’s actually worked out quite fun and I think it’s fine working with sponsors. The bus for example wouldn’t have happened it wasn’t for Aboslut Vodka. I am working on the Knitta book and now gatheirng all submissions. It’s kind of unknown territory putting it all together. I’ve got a new website for myself as an artist. I do feel I want to use my name more than Knitta. It was a little bit of collective that I started with Knitta but I am doing more solo-oriented projects so I feel less of connection. But I’m not laying it to rest yet as of yet – it’s my comfort zone.

KnittaPlease at The Standard, Los Angeles

S&N: Where do you see urban art headed in the next few years?

Right now I see cities and people that are responsible for the development of cities paying more attention to the idea that this (knit graffiti) is a legitimate art form. Though that could be good or bad. What I do see though is different kinds of graffiti that won’t be so banned or outlawed. People are putting down the spray can picking up everything from LED lighting to moss to Banksy‘s stuff to Space Invaders. I remember there was a time when skaters were not allowed to skate anywhere. Now every city is competing to have the biggest skate park. I think cities will start paying more attention to the voices of the citizens. I’m definitely seeing this in my own work.

Many thanks to Magda for taking the time to chat with us. Watch for her upcoming art picture book on knit graffiti to be released in October 2010. Also check out her newly launched website to see more photos of her work, as well as the KnittaPlease blog. Look for her trademark knit graffiti in a city near you.

Feb 242010

De-installation, Confederation Park

It was two sad days last Sunday and Monday when we de-installed the urban cozies from both festival sites. It’s hard to believe that the festival is over and that these unexpected pieces are no longer there. Here’s a few shots of what we did:

De-installation, Confederation Park

De-installation, Parc Jacques-Cartier

De-installation, Parc Jacques-Cartier

It took about 60 minutes per site to take down the installation (compared to several hours and many cold hands to put them up). Each pieces was removed with care so that they could be upcycled into new pieces.

The little squirrel/beaver guy below was the result of a collaboration between my mother and I (she crocheted the body, I glued on the features). It currently sits in my office cubicle as a small reminder of the Enchanted Forest. My contribution is also below: the different shades of green leaves.

Hidden Squirrel, Confederation Park

It will definitely be a different experience walking by these bare trees now!

De-installation, Confederation Park

Feb 202010

In addition to the contributions from the artists who have been profiled so far, here’s a recap of some memorable cozies. Don’t get us wrong – we love all the urban cozies that came to us, like they were are own! The ones that follow though definitely brought smiles to our faces for their whimsy, their use of creative materials or the story behind the cozy.

Parc Jacques-Cartier Urban Cozy
Submitted by Ainsley Walton, Ottawa (Parc Jacques-Cartier) – Ainsley combined an old pair of her favourite striped socks she had been saving for the perfect project, a fur trimmed hood and pom poms.

Confederation Park Urban Cozies
Submitted by Anna Kempffer-Hossack, Ottawa (Confederation Park) – – Anna created this non-textile cozy from colourful bread bags she had been saving. The bags were torn into pieces that were knitted together.

Confederation Park Urban Cozies
Submitted by Sue Kean, Ottawa (Confederation Park) – Sue, who was informed by her daughter Melissa about the Project, created this sculptural tutu-esque cozy from tulle, perfect for the Enchanted Forest at Confederation Park.

Parc Jacques-Cartier Urban Cozy
Submitted by Miss Grainger’s Grade 5/6 Class, Ottawa (Parc Jacques-Cartier) – Miss Grainger taught her entire class how to finger knit just for the Winterlude Project. The knitted garland adorns the tree outside the entrance to Maison Charron.

Parc Jacques-Cartier Urban Cozy
Submitted by Gillian Sullivan, Ottawa (Parc Jacques-Cartier) Gillian’s edgy black and red cozy features the word “Tree Cosy” stitched into it. It adorns one of the large trees on the path to Maison Charron, as an introduction to the installation.

Confederation Park Urban Cozies
Submitted by Jenny Robichaud and Catharine Moore, Ottawa (Parc Jacques-Cartier) Jenny and Catharine’s cozy, complete with wings and skirt, was inspired by woodland fairies, perfect for the Enchanted Forest at Confederation Park.

Urban Cozies at Parc Jacques-Cartier
Submitted by Mary Kroestch, Toronto (Parc Jacques-Cartier) We were all blown away by Mary’s craftmanship on her show-stopping cozy, a crocheted/knitted piece inspired by Jackson Pollock paintings.

Confederation Park Urban Cozies
Submitted by Cornelia Robinson, South Africa (Confederation Park) – Cornelia submitted two fantastic hat-shaped cozies adorned with intricate colourful flowers that added character to barren trees.

Parc Jacques-Cartier Urban Cozy
Submitted by Nicole Schlosser, Winona, ON (Parc Jacques- Cartier) – Nicole’s colourful crocheted scarf complete with pom poms and flowers was one of the first cozies we received and drew lots of attention at the Winterlude 2010 press conference.

Confederation Park Urban Cozies
Submitted by Knitsea, Finland (Confederation Park) – Knitsea, a known knit graffiti artist, contributed this cute little knit graffiti square featuring three unexpected cats sitting on a tree.

If you’re in Ottawa, this weekend is the last to check out these urban cozies at both sites, and if you contributed, to check out your own!