Community, creativity and collective action prevails in Phnom Penh’s first “yarn storm”
“We didn’t want to call it a yarn bomb because of Cambodia’s history.” said Monika Nowacyzk, founder of Cambodia Knits and coordinator of Phnom Penh’s Stitch and Bitch (SnB) community craft group, which recently completed an ambitious effort to decorate 7 of the city’s iconic cyclo taxis with brilliantly colored pieces of knitted fabric.
The effort was orchestrated in conjunction with the 2014 Our City Festival, a celebration of architecture art, and ideas in Cambodia’s capital city. Launched in periodic discussions in the previous months, the SnB group made a creative application and was accepted into the Festival’s program. The yarn storm was a collaborative community effort, integrating the efforts of over 40 knitters, crocheters, embroiderers and sewers. Yarn for the project, a colorful, bulky cotton, was donated by Cambodia Knits from their current inventory and supplemented by other decorative fibers that added increased visual interest. The festival program also included knitting workshops; participants were taught how to knit in a ten minute lesson and their pieces were also integrated into the installation.
Launched as public transport 70 years ago, cyclos and drivers now number only 450 in the entire country, according to the Cyclo Conservation and Career Association (CCCA). Phnom Penh’s SnB group wanted to integrate the tradition of the cyclo with the ancient craft of needle working, resulting in a visually attractive, utilitiarian mobile art project. Throughout the effort, community participation was key— involving cyclo drivers themselves in the installation. Ms. Heidi Holzknect said, “It is quite rare to have a knitting project involve multiple knitters all united with a common vision to building community creativity. As a newly placed Australian volunteer, the project helped me form bonds with other like-minded people and make a very tangible and beautiful contribution to Phnom Penh street life.”
For the project organizers, the effort required significant coordination to ensure that the pieces were knit to size specifications. Early in the project, the team contacted the Cyclo Association to invite their support and then carefully measured to determine the different lengths needed to cover the cyclo’s various parts. With a spreadsheet posted on the internet, project leaders were able to assign different sections, resulting in a total of 91 finished pieces for the final installation on 7 cyclos. The needle workers represented a wide range of Phnom Penh: expatriates, short-term volunteers, tourists, mothers of expatriates and needle workers from other countries who were connected with SnB. In total, it was estimated that each cyclo required 30 hours of knitting time. The project lasted 6 weeks.
Two cyclos created specifically for the project’s sponsors — Our City Festival and Cambodia Knits — were decorated only hours before Festival’s launch. During the first two days of the festival, there were public installation and knitting workshops where the pieces were grouped by color theme and carefully stitched onto the cyclo’s frames. Pieces that were completed by newly competent knitters were added as final touches.
The culminating event of the yarn storm included a visually stunning and dramatic premiere in conjunction with Cambodia Living Arts. A procession of 38 cyclos, led by the brightly decorated bicycle taxis and 20 drummers, created a spectacle as they wound their way through Phnom Penh’s streets and were deployed through the festival week on the streets of Phnom Penh.