Knitting the Commons is a temporary art project that aims to ‘knit’ together over 80 trees throughout the Civic Center Commons (the Commons) in San Francisco, California. The Commons is the new name for the three blocks between San Francisco City Hall and Market Street, including Civic Center Plaza and United Nations (UN) Plaza.
Working closely with Civic Center stakeholders, the Trust for Public Land and Knits for Life developed the large yarn bomb art installation to accomplish the goal of visually uniting the Commons with playful elements. Knits for Life, an artist-sister-duo, is leading the design and installation with input from the community. The installation stands to remain for up to two years.
Installation is in two phases:
- Phase 1, known as “Thread” was installed on about 75 trees in June 2017. Consisting of brightly colored bands (yellow, red and blue – Civic Center Commons’ colors), the intention of these wraps was to visually connect the Commons. Yarn artists Knits for Life demonstrated the construction process on vintage analog knitting machines in the Commons six times over 3 weeks to engage the community and solicit input for phase 2.
- Phase 2, known as the “Clusters”, brings three clusters of Land, Sea and Air Creature themed trees to each of the three blocks of the Commons. The theme was decided by the public through in person and online voting during the month of June. Phase 2 installation occurs throughout September 2017.
Where can I see it?: Civic Center Commons, San Francisco, California.
How long will it be up?: Phase 1 of the installation, “Thread” stands to remain in place until June 2019. It is being maintained and replaced where feasible.
Who knit all this?: The sister-artist-duo Jill and Lorna Watt, known as Knits for Life, custom design and knit over 17 miles of durable acrylic yarn on a vintage Brother KH-270 knitting machine in their San Mateo art studio. Each panel is then painstakingly hand-sewn on site with invisible seams to ensure maximum longevity and quality.
What does the design mean?: The concept of “Thread” is to use the Civic Center Commons colors to visually knit three blocks together in a surprising and playful way. Each color plays across the landscape of trees, meeting the other colors at one spot on each block where they collide in a colorful gradient across one tree.
Does it hurt the trees?: This project has been approved by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, the Public Works Department and other stakeholders to ensure that no public assets are harmed by the installation. For example, branches on the pollarded trees in Civic Center Plaza are wrapped just one foot length from the trunk in order to avoid interfering with new growth on the upper reaches.
What happens to the knitting when it’s taken down?: Some of the knitting disappears by theft, and may be replaced after a risk assessment. While sometimes we wash and repurpose work, any panels that survive two years in this location will have served their purpose well and will be discarded.