Mother City yarn bombing

Cape Town texture designer and yarn bomber Isabeau Joubert shares her thoughts on handcraft in the urban space.

From the Series

A few years ago I did my first “yarn bomb” in Cape Town. It got lots of attention and sparked the imagination of many passers-by.

The idea of yarn bombing is definitely not new. The magic was started in the United States and has now become very popular in the United Kingdom. The thinking behind it is slightly different for each artist or yarn bomber, but the common thread is to take the soft art of handcraft out of the home and onto the streets.

Yarn bombing is a way of expressing your creativity in a public part of the city. Its strength lies in the sharp contrast created by the softness of knitting against the hardness and coldness often associated with the city.

My goal is to change (in my own small way) how we see Cape Town as a living city. This city is mine, yours and ours. Go outside, enjoy it, touch it, use it – support your city by truly being in it and contributing a bit of your own personality to its colourful landscape.

Why yarn bombing?

1. It celebrates the handmade and reintroduces craft into a modern context

Handcraft tends to be associated with all things “homely” and “motherly”. But recently there’s a new appreciation and mindset emerging around the value of craft.

Handmade is back and people are starting knitting groups and crochet circles again, which helps to keep these techniques alive for future generations.

With my yarn graffiti I’m pushing craft out of its comfort zone and onto the streets, connecting it to its wildly interesting history of lace smugglers, rope knotting pirates and hardy Middle Eastern nomads knitting on camelback. Going back and capturing that energy around human-made/handmade, we will find its true modern spirit and its place in today’s city.

2. You get to meet other South Africans

While doing yarn graffiti I’ve always enjoyed how many people stop and ask about what I’m doing and why. I love that the simple activity of wrapping a street pole in knitting gives people an excuse to chat to me. These yarn projects always highlight the fact that South Africans want to connect with each other.

3. You see the city in a new way

From afar cities are made up of concrete, steel and brick, boxes stacked and organised to from the grid that is functional by design. By wrapping yarn around the city, you soften the urban environment, making it more inviting for people to explore. People who don’t usually walk the city streets feel at ease to visit/touch/experience these spaces.

That’s when the true vibrancy of the city reveals itself. It is also my way of celebrating pedestrian and city users on their way to work. The more public spaces are used the safer these areas will become. It’s about having a quiet, safe, intimate moment within the city, not just rushing through it to the next meeting.

4. It stimulates the economy

When you explore the city you’ll discover all sorts of people, businesses and shops that you never knew existed. Hopefully that’ll encourage you to support those awesome little shops, coffee spots and services. Just being aware and supporting the little guy makes you responsible for stimulating new and much-needed economic growth in South Africa.

5. But why don’t you rather knit jerseys/blankets for the needy?

I feel that I can contribute more by helping to get people excited about the city again and, in return, a job or two could be created along the way. Public art creates interest and gives tourists and Capetonians something to “go and see”.

Doing your first yarn graffiti is a massive thrill… I promise. And while you’re there on the big, bad streets of the Mother City, grab yourself a coffee and sip it while walking down a part of it you’ve never explored before. 


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