Magda Sayeg
1,403,604 views • 5:30

I'm a textile artist most widely known for starting the yarn bombing movement. Yarn bombing is when you take knitted or crocheted material out into the urban environment, graffiti-style — or, more specifically, without permission and unsanctioned.

But when I started this over 10 years ago, I didn't have a word for it, I didn't have any ambitious notions about it, I had no visions of grandeur. All I wanted to see was something warm and fuzzy and human-like on the cold, steel, gray facade that I looked at everyday.

So I wrapped the door handle. I call this the Alpha Piece. Little did I know that this tiny piece would change the course of my life.

So clearly the reaction was interesting. It intrigued me and I thought, "What else could I do?" Could I do something in the public domain that would get the same reaction? So I wrapped the stop sign pole near my house. The reaction was wild. People would park their cars and get out of their cars and stare at it, and scratch their heads and stare at it, and take pictures of it and take pictures next to it, and all of that was really exciting to me and I wanted to do every stop sign pole in the neighborhood. And the more that I did, the stronger the reaction.

So at this point I'm smitten. I'm hooked. This was all seductive. I found my new passion and the urban environment was my playground.

So this is some of my early work. I was very curious about this idea of enhancing the ordinary, the mundane, even the ugly, and not taking away its identity or its functionality but just giving it a well-tailored suit out of knitting. And this was fun for me. It was really fun to take inanimate objects and have them come to life.

So ... I think we all see the humor in this, but —

(Laughter)

I was at a point where I wanted to take it seriously. I wanted to analyze it. I wanted to know why I was letting this take over my life, why I was passionate about it, why were other people reacting so strongly to it. And I realized something. We all live in this fast-paced, digital world, but we still crave and desire something that's relatable.

I think we've all become desensitized by our overdeveloped cities that we live in, and billboards and advertisements, and giant parking lots, and we don't even complain about that stuff anymore. So when you stumble upon a stop sign pole that's wrapped in knitting and it seems so out of place and then gradually — weirdly — you find a connection to it, that is the moment. That is the moment I love and that is the moment I love to share with others.

So at this point, my curiosity grew. It went from the fire hydrants and the stop sign poles to what else can I do with this material. Can I do something big and large-scale and insurmountable?

So that's when the bus happened. This was a real game changer for me. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this one.

At this point, people were recognizing my work but there wasn't much out there that was wrapped in knitting that was large-scale, and this definitely was the first city bus to be wrapped in knitting.

So at this point, I'm experiencing, or I'm witnessing something interesting. I may have started yarn bombing but I certainly don't own it anymore. It had reached global status. People from all over the world were doing this. And I know this because I would travel to certain parts of the world that I'd never been to, and I'd stumble upon a stop sign pole and I knew I didn't wrap it.

So as I pursued my own goals with my art — this is a lot of my recent work — so was yarn bombing. Yarn bombing was also growing. And that experience showed me the hidden power of this craft and showed me that there was this common language I had with the rest of the world. It was through this granny hobby — this unassuming hobby — that I found commonality with people that I never thought I'd have a connection with.

So as I tell my story today, I'd also like to convey to you that hidden power can be found in the most unassuming places, and we all possess skills that are just waiting to be discovered.

If you think about our hands, these tools that are connected to us, and what they're capable of doing — building houses and furniture, and painting giant murals — and most of the time we hold a controller or a cell phone. And I'm totally guilty of this as well. But if you think about it, what would happen if you put those things down? What would you make? What would you create with your own hands?

A lot of people think that I am a master knitter but I actually couldn't knit a sweater to save my life. But I did something interesting with knitting that had never been done before.

I also wasn't "supposed to be" an artist in the sense that I wasn't formally trained to do this — I'm a math major actually. So I didn't think this was in the cards for me, but I also know that I didn't stumble upon this. And when this happened to me, I held on tight, I fought for it and I'm proud to say that I am a working artist today.

So as we ponder the future, know that your future might not be so seamless. And one day, you might be as bored as I was and knit a door handle to change your world forever.

Thank you.

(Applause)