Back in February we posted a call for entries for The Modern Craft Project, presented by Ketel One® Vodka in partnership with Wallpaper* magazine. They were looking for modern craftspeople who push the limits of traditional craft, true innovators who could also represent Ketel One’s tradition of making high-quality products. The winners would receive a portion of the Ketel One® Legacy fund to use to refine their skills and take their work to a new level. We are excited to talk to all three U.S. winners about their craft and experience.
You might not know Magda Sayeg’s name, but I’m sure you’ve either seen her work or the work of those influenced by her. She was one of the first “yarn bombers”—she who creates street art except instead of using paint, she uses yarn. She knits and crochets contrasting patterns and colors all over just about anything you can think of from cars to street poles to tree trunks. Quickly recognized for her work, Magda has been called on by companies such as Etsy, MINI, and Gap to do projects for them. I thought it would be cool to ask her more about the yarn bombing phenomenon and how it all started for her.
Where did the interest in knitting and crochet come from?
Not sure exactly. I often joke that I compensated for my mother’s absolute disinterest in all domestic duties. Anything handmade was completely foreign to me so when I saw anything handmade—sewn, knitted, crocheted… it was all very fascinating.
How does one even get started or recognized for yarn bombing? How did it evolve for you?
The timing was right on. When I look back at this whole experience, the DIY movement had begun and there was a renaissance happening in all crafts. But it was a newer, fresher interpretation. Street art was changing as well. There was more than just the spray can that was used. Now if you asked me this same question 10 years ago when I began putting my knitting out on the streets, I would not have analyzed it this much. It was really a selfish pursuit… wrapping that first stop sign pole just felt right. I didn’t understand or foresee the broader implications of what was happening here.
How much time does it take to make one of your larger installations? Do you have a team?
It is all about the team. I used to do these projects all on my own, and I had no life. When I brought in more skilled people, I realized the value of speed and efficiency. There are two parts to any project I do: the first phase is production of material and the second is installation. This entire process can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks….which is really insane when you see the amount of knitting that is done. I have managed to produce hundreds of square footage of knitted material in a matter of weeks. Most projects have tight deadlines that clash with the normal speed of knitting and crocheting. I have solved that problem by bringing in a team of knitters when needed. If one knitter can yield X amount of footage of material what can 2, 3, 4, or 8 people yield at the same time? That is how stuff gets done when a company like Gap calls you up and needs you to cover an entire playground in NYC by next week. It’s not magic, it’s good project management.
Do you get inspired by a color scheme or pattern or do you let the place you’re installing be the inspiration?
Color schemes, patterns, color combos… I am constantly aware of this in my daily life. I have a file I add to almost daily. My favorite part of this process is seeing a color that isn’t that appealing but when combined with another color or colors, it’s beautiful. Color schemes and patterns have to be decided long before installation so usually I am already done with production by the time I arrive at the site. Most of the time I discover a color scheme and pattern I am excited about so I figure out some way to bring it in to the next project or future projects.
What do you like better: crochet or knitting?
Good question! I knit more than I crochet but I prefer crocheting to knitting. Crocheting is like sculpting. I can take any random object, like my skulls, and crochet every detail rather easily. Knitting isn’t like that—I would lose all the details. BUT I can produce knitted material faster than crocheted material. There are knitting looms and machines that speed up the process. As far as I know, there are no crocheting machines.
How did you find out about Ketel One’s Modern Craft Project and why did you decide to submit your work?
I believe I saw something about the project on a blog. When I read that Ketel One was looking for people who celebrated craft with a modern approach… I was like THAT’S ME!
I don’t usually enter competitions so for me to actually submit work, there has to be screaming flashing signs that push me to act upon it.
What was your reaction when you learned that you were one of the winners?
I was in Australia, and I remember getting a call at 3 AM, which usually isn’t a good thing, but the time difference was around 14 hours ahead of the States. I was told I was short listed, and they would call me next week if I were chosen. Next week came by, and I assumed it didn’t happen. Then, they called at the end of the day and told me. It was like Charlie Bucket finding the golden ticket in the very last Wonka bar. No one was around except my bulldog, Stella, so she is the only one to witness my victory dance… thankfully. I may have tried to high five her as well.
What do you plan to do with your part of the Ketel One Legacy prize fund?
Make more stuff! Especially the expensive prototypes. I think this is dilemma I find myself in—I make work for specific projects… always feeling a bit unsatisfied that I never have time to experiment. I have a dream list of things I want to do. This prize will definitely put a dent in it FINALLY.
What do you think about the stereotypes of women who knit and crochet and how do you feel you’re breaking through those boundaries?
This craft, which is strongly associated with women has, in the past, been delegated to a domestic existence where it has been undervalued and under-appreciated. I love that, in some way, I have contributed to showing the strength of this craft—knitting and crocheting doesn’t have to be functional, it can be subversive, renegade—even illegal in certain cases. It’s bad ass! And it makes me proud, as a woman, to be a part of something that is so powerful. Taking this craft that is female dominated onto the streets graffiti style, which is male dominated, is what is appealing (or not) about yarn bombing. As long as it evokes some emotion, I believe it is good. Even if you don’t care for yarn bombing, it is undeniable that this has spread globally. I may have started this, but I certainly don’t own it anymore. Tens of thousands of people—men, women, children are doing this now. There is even a National Yarn Bombing Day. With the increasing mass appeal there is always a downside… I see a lot of bad work out there… or the corporate world tries to package it for their own profit in a way that feels contrary to the spirit of the movement. But I still see a positive side, especially when a grandma emails me to tell me she tagged her friend’s mail box… this will always make me smile :)
What is the creative process like for you?
When I am first approached to do a project, I always dream big. As the project develops it is usually downsized to something more palatable, manageable, or affordable. I am constantly thinking about what is next. In an ideal world, I get to do exactly what I want, but this is rare. Actually, I believe it is part of the creative process to be able to understand obstacles and compromises and still make something I am proud of in the end. I also like working with a project manager. That way I can focus on the creative process and keep my head free of all the usual details. I am very visual. I explain myself better through images… even my own work/profession is hard to explain with out some visuals. When I say I am an artist (which I am reluctant to say) people instantly assume I paint. And when I say I work with yarn, mainly knitting and crochet, they instantly think I make baby blankets… that’s when the iPhone comes out.
The creative process never stops for me. In my downtime, I look at blogs and save images for anything from designing my house to experimenting with lighting. So when something comes up like designing a chandelier for someone I have a lot of notes and images to start the process.
What are you currently working on at this very moment?
At this very moment, I am demoing my house, but when I am not inhaling fiberglass, I am making products. I love the collaborations I am doing right now with ceramist Ryan McKerley and the weaved pieces I am making with my friend and talented photographer Dave Mead. I love the spirographs and am looking for an opportunity to make one that is super sized like 20-50 ft in diameter. I always dream big—can’t help it.
And I am working on a community project that may be my favorite one yet… it’s a little hush hush for now but I believe it will be one of the most meaningful projects I have worked on.