A bridge needs a blanket like a fox needs a jacket. But adorning one of Pittsburgh’s best-known bridges with 580 knitted and crocheted blankets wasn’t about keeping the 1061-ft. long Andy Warhol Bridge warm. “It is about connecting and bridging communities,” says Amanda Gross, a local fiber artist who headed up the record-breaking public art installation on the 87-year-old, steel suspension bridge spanning the Allegheny River.
To ensure that the idea of connectedness wasn’t merely symbolic, Gross and a large team of volunteers held hundreds of “knit ins” throughout Allegheny County and surrounding areas in senior centers, community centers, and children’s museums. “We taught tons of teenage boys how to knit,” says Gross, adding that some of the panels were knitted by members of the blind and deaf community. She even made one 3-foot by 6-foot panel included in the finished work by attaching small pieces created by 120 novice knitters who attended one of her knit ins held during the fourteen months leading up to the installation, which will remain up through September 6.
Unlike much fine art, which can involve expensive supplies and years of training, “you can knit with two sticks and some kind of fiber,” says Gross, who adds that the fiber work included in the project, dubbed Knit the Bridge, also includes crocheting and weaving. “They are all extremely accessible art forms,” she says. A recent graduate of Eastern Mennonite University with a master’s degree in conflict transformation, she says the project embodies her goal of “using art to create positive change.”
How to keep the multi-colored blankets from turning into a soggy mess after the first summer thunderstorm? Each blanket was made from acrylic fiber, which doesn’t absorb water like cotton, wool or other natural fibers. Then more than 350 volunteers spent last weekend affixing each panel to the bridge using plastic zip ties donated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. After the project comes down next month, all the blankets will be washed and donated to local shelters.
Once seen as a somewhat subversive kind of street art wrapping everything from bikes to buses, large-scale “yarn bombs” like Knit the Bridge are now winning approval — and even support — from local government. In July, yarn bombers in Portland, Oregon got permission to install a large knitted banner on the Broadway Bridge, which spans the Willamette River, in honor of the structure’s 100th birthday on August 10. Headed up by local artist Tyler Mackie, the banner was knit by 150 volunteers from merino wool, and will be divided into afghans once it’s taken down this Thursday.
Pittsburgh’s Knit the Bridge project was headed up by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh with help from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and was funded by more than $100,000 in donations, including more than $20,000 raised on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Made possible with support from Allegheny County, the project was installed on one of the Three Sisters bridges, formerly known as the Seventh Street Bridge. (It was renamed in 2005 after Pittsburgh native, Pop artist Andy Warhol.) Nearly 1900 volunteers worked on the project, which the group is calling the largest yarn bomb ever created in the United States.