If you’ve driven along Sixth Avenue in Tacoma, you likely have spotted the brightly colored yarn-covered bicycle racks that line both sides of the street. But few people know about artist Kassie Mitchell, who has created the dynamic displays since 2014.
The nickname “Yarn Bomber” caught on suddenly in reference to the mysterious individual who designed and placed the displays. Mitchell said she’s just fine with the title and answers to it enthusiastically if she’s caught red-handed sewing her creations onto a naked bicycle rack.
Some refer to her as the “Knit Bomber,” but the Tacoma native is quick to make the distinction. “I don’t knit; I crochet,” she said. “A lot of people confuse (it). When you crochet, you use one hook, and when you knit you use two (needles).”
As a 10-year-old, Mitchell was initially introduced to crocheting by her grandmother and dabbled in the hobby from time to time, but it wasn’t until a brief trip to Minnesota five years ago that she truly became absorbed in fashioning various items with yarn.
“(My phone wasn’t working) and I didn’t have any electronic stimulation, so I stopped at the Walmart and bought some yarn and a hook and started crocheting for the rest of my trip.”
Mitchell didn’t stop upon her return to the South Sound; instead she began creating items to sell at Tacoma’s Art on the Ave.
“First I started with growler sweaters, like a drink cozy for a growler,” she said. “I found out a lot of people didn’t know what a growler was, but they were really drawn to the yarn; they just didn’t know what to do with the growler sweaters.”
Mitchell began creating hats and sold them with relative ease to fund the purchase of more yarn to fuel her new hobby, but she said she wanted to do more.
“One day it just came to me,” she said of an afternoon four years ago, when she decided to start yarn bombing. “I was with some friends and I was just like, ‘I’m going to put yarn on those bike racks.’ I just felt that Sixth Avenue needed a little brightening up.”
Each bike rack cover is basically crocheted as a scarf that Mitchell crafts at home, then brings to Sixth Avenue, where she sets out a small stool and sews the scarf into place with a large yarn needle. The insinuation that she attaches the covers under the cover of night elicits a laugh from Mitchell. “I think that is hilarious because people think I sneak around in the night … I’ll sit there and some people will walk by and not even look at (me).” It’s much easier to see what you are doing during the day.
Since Mitchell’s project began, she said she hasn’t seen any negative feedback from the community or the business owners.
“The (cyclists) really like them because they have expensive bikes with nice paint jobs on them. This way they don’t get scratched or chipped,” Mitchell said. “Businesses like them because it keeps (the racks) from getting tagged. And kids just love them because they are soft; I see kids all the time just loving on them, and it is really cute.”
Mitchell recently entered a contest through the City of Tacoma to help decorate some of the city’s 44 traffic utility boxes, which were previously unadorned, and was selected to decorate two: one at Sixth Avenue and Union, and the other at 72nd and Pacific Avenue.
Any displays that have lost their battle to the elements get replaced regularly, although Mitchell admits she generally stays inside during winter months and starts fresh again each spring, thoroughly enjoying the process.
“It’s a passion,” she said. “I enjoy seeing how people react to them. I enjoy the color it brings to our city, and I like that it makes people talk.”
And speaking of making people talk, Mitchell said she is considering expanding beyond Sixth Avenue. But don’t ask her where — the artist’s lips are sealed, er, crocheted, for now.
Time to make a cover?
Three to four hours.
Time to attach them?
About 15 minutes.
How big is each cover?
Serpent bike racks with four humps are about 400 rows; normal racks are about 140 rows.
How much yarn is needed?
For normal racks, it’s about one skein of yarn.
How long will the yarns last before needing replacing?
Six months to a year.