Graffiti Grannys - West Cornwall's knitting group

The work of West Cornwall's guerrilla knitting group

Graffiti Grannys John Hancock discovers the work of West Cornwall’s guerrilla  knitting group

On 23 July 1595, the port of Mousehole on Mount’s Bay was invaded by 200 armed Spanish marines. While records of the event are scant, we can safely assume that none of the villagers enjoyed the experience. But it happened again: in the early hours of 1 April 2010, Mousehole saw another invasion, this time by a guerrilla force who left behind them a plague of mice. But on this occasion, rather than the reactions that mice or a Spanish invasion might usually evoke, there were smiles all around. These were jolly animals, colourful and woolly, and the first foray of Graffiti Grannys, a West Cornwall guerrilla knitting group.

Graffiti Grannys are a quirky Cornish interpretation of the global ‘yarn bombing’ movement, which seeks to liven up cold, dull public spaces and installations with colourful knitted or crocheted covers and attachments: it’s a form of graffiti. However, where much graffiti may be near permanent with socio-political undertones, or expressive of a particular culture, yarn bombing (also known as yarnstorming, graffiti knitting or guerrilla knitting) seeks only to bring happiness to those who encounter it and is easily removed, leaving no permanent mark.

It was a news item about yarn bombing in London that first gave a group of West Cornwall ladies the idea of doing something similar but with the twist that they want their ‘bombs’ to be taken away. Each piece bears a label offering: ‘If you like me, please feel free to keep me.’ The idea, as one fan of the Grannys explained, “is to bring a smile to people’s faces”. While the number and identities of individual Graffiti Grannys is a closely guarded secret (if I told you, their revenge would be a pretty sight, possibly knitted and probably brightly coloured), I can reveal that the group includes a 96-year-old lady alongside one who has survived a life-threatening illness. They all enjoy knitting and fabric crafts, seeking no reward other than the pleasure of “knowing that they have made both adults and children who see their work smile”.

When the Grannys added their own brand of material happiness to 2010’s Summer Solstice celebrations at the Merry Maidens stones near St Buryan, a local newspaper reported that: “less than two hours after [their] leaving the site, [the Graffiti Grannys’] work was removed.” Martin Cleaver, monitor and guardian of the site, told the paper that he could not condone their actions because the Maidens are “Grade I Listed ancient monuments”. The resulting row on Facebook polarised opinion and shocked the Grannys. A fan wrote to the newspaper to point out that knitted graffiti does not permanently mark the object it adorns and that Graffiti Grannys only seek to surprise and delight.

Subsequent knitting strikes have met with more unalloyed success and the Grannys do stray away from Cornwall from time to time. One Granny, during a John O’Groats to Land’s End tandem ride to raise funds for the Marie Curie Cancer Appeal, placed more than 100 knitted daffodils at places along the route. A daffodil in Scotland was spotted by an American tourist and subsequently found its way to an Arizona arts festival where it was once more left for somebody else to find and enjoy.

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But West Cornwall is the Grannys’ home, with members from St Agnes to St Buryan, and their exploits mainly adorn the county. They ‘hit’ a lovely tea room in Sithney, near Helston, where they feigned a 60th birthday celebration as diversion to cover the dispersal of knitted cakes around the tables; then, on Hallowe’en 2010, ghosts and witches of a material kind came out to haunt Helston’s Coronation Park boating lake. Camborne railway station awoke one summer morning to knitted figures lining the down platform fence, welcoming visitors to the county; and, after a cold night in December 2010, Redruth’s Welly Dogs woke to find themselves wearing tutus, smoking cigarettes and with sausages for breakfast – all knitted, of course!

Joy is what most people experience when they encounter a Graffiti Grannys’ installation; who could have resisted a smile as a September 2010 Penzance dawn revealed a huge display of marine life, including mermaids, puffer fish, stingrays, octopi and even fishing boats, all spread along a 100 yard stretch of the promenade? These Grannys are true happiness activists whose exploits have included releasing ‘ducks’ on Tehidy Lake, decorating St Ives harbour with hearts for Valentine’s Day and adorning benches in Truro for Mother’s Day.

It’s all done unannounced, under cover of darkness, or involving diversionary tactics. In just over a year since their first exploit at Mousehole, Graffiti Grannys, ranging in age from mid-40s to 96 years, have attracted a loyal band of about 500 followers on Facebook: and on Twitter at @Graffitigrannys.