By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
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By Ben DuBose
She's always been an impatient knitter: half of a blanket, a quarter of a hat, a sliver of a scarf. She has to intertwine her hobby with a full-time job, a daughter and a boyfriend. Last May she began working on a baby blanket for an expectant friend; by September the baby was out and the blanket was only halfway done, even though she'd found time to stitch plenty of cozies and coasters in the meantime.
"I get bored and antsy," she says, "and that's why I probably have about ten different projects going at once."
These unfinished swatches of comfort and color used to be scattered around her house -- fuzzy testaments to crafter's ADHD -- but two months ago she figured out a slightly illegal, completely irreverent way to get rid of them: graffiti. Knit graffiti.
One night she went out with another Montrose mom and stitched a pink-and-purple cozy onto a boutique's door handle. It was an act of artistic defiance, a soft, warm tag in a part of town dominated by aerosol arrogance. Other swaths began appearing on street signs, car antennae and park benches, and word soon got around there was a new crew of taggers in town.
Their noms d'artiste are AKrylik and PolyCotN, but you can call them Knitta.
The back of Poly's house is rumbling. Her kids are playing dress-up with AKrylik's daughter, and each new outfit is announced with an explosion of giggles and a sprint to the mirror. The two moms are fairly oblivious to the fashion show, save for the occasional "You look great, honey."
Poly and AKrylik wish to remain anonymous, but we can tell you they're both working mothers in their early thirties, both attractive and both brunette. They almost look like sisters, sitting on the couch at Poly's house, knitting and talking about how their graffiti differs from the spray-can variety.
"It's considerate to the victim," says Poly, rifling through a bag of yarn. "If they don't like it, they can just unbutton it."
"It's not vandalism," adds AKrylik, fiddling with her baby blanket. "I almost wish there was a little more permanency to it, that it was a little harder to remove."
On the coffee table is a morass of stockinette coasters and cozies. Each item has a paper tag attached to it, a calling card of sorts, with the message "knitta, please!" or "whaddup knitta?"
These tags pop up every week, usually on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. But tonight is a special occasion: Poly's going out of town this weekend, visiting family and doing some West Coast bombing, so the women of Knitta are tagging on a school night. That is, they'll be tagging once Poly's husband gets home and can look after the kids.
Knitta is at the confluence of two rising cultural tides: crafting and street art. The former has been embraced by hipsters almost as much as bad haircuts: sites like Craftster.org boast 300,000 unique visitors a month; Stitch 'N Bitch groups are popping up all over. As for street art, it hasn't gotten so much respect since the days of Basquiat: Timeand Esquirerecently ran articles of praise; the Museum of Modern Art in New York has begun acquiring contemporary pieces.
"We're taking graffiti and making it warm, fuzzy and more acceptable," says AKrylik. "I like the duality there. Also, I really think there can be a lot more to the new, alternative knitting craze than meeting at the local coffee shop every Sunday afternoon to make scarves together -- not that I don't like to do that, too."
A toddler wearing diapers and stiletto boots greets Poly's husband when he gets back from the store. The hubby shakes his head, sits down in the kitchen and begins helping his daughter make a family tree for school. He plans to put photos of Divine, from the John Waters movies, in place of relatives whose pics can't be found. As he gets out the scissors and paste, Poly and AKrylik gather their things and hit the door.
Victim No. 1 is the owner of an SUV in the Museum District. Poly shoves a pink, white and blue cozy on the antenna, bending over just long enough for AKrylik to snap a photo for their Web site, www.myspace.com/knittaplease.
"You know, we have these friends with all these punk-looking little boys," jokes AKrylik. "We should just pay them to tag."
On the way to Westheimer they stop at the corner of Hawthorne and Dunlavy and revisit their greatest work so far: a stop-sign pole wrapped in a five-foot-tall orange-and-blue cozy. "We knotted it on," says AKrylik, "and it took forever."
Buttons, they've learned, are where it's at.
Poly stands guard while AKrylik puts a pink, red and gray swatch on the bike rack at Poison Girl; it's done faster than you can say "Christo." The duo then walks down that stretch of Westheimer that might as well be called Aerosol Alley.
"I've always wanted to have a nice, big, giant garage door and a sign that says, 'Graffiti away, if you're good,' " says AKrylik. "I love Gone and I love Next. Those are two really good taggers."
"I like it when it looks like there's effort, like, 'Man, somebody climbed up on that freeway pole,' " adds Poly.
They hop in the car, the Menil Collection their next target. But things get sidetracked when Poly's daughter calls, complaining about her schoolwork. "That damn family tree," Poly says afterward. "Why do they have to do that? We don't have pictures of grandmothers of ex-husbands."
After three quick stops -- a swatch on the rail of the Menil Bookstore, a cozy on the antenna of a Jetta and another swatch on a bench inside Rudyard's -- the duo pauses to take home a couple of pizzas to their kids, who've begun calling every ten minutes.
"I was thinking I'd yell at them and say, 'This is important to me!' " jokes Poly when they pull up to the house.
Their next stop is Memorial Park, where AKrylik plans to wrap a tree with the blue-and-green baby blanket she never finished. "I closed it off, put buttons on it and now it's a Knitta piece," she says, holding it up in the light.
After trudging down the path and waiting for joggers to pass, the women put up the four-foot-long swatch in less than a minute, only to decide it's not facing the right way. They take it down, wait for more runners to go by and put it up again.
On the way back to the car, they avoid patches of mud -- "If we were true gangstas, we wouldn't care," says AKrylik -- while bragging about past tags. They've done plenty of car antennae over the last two months -- men seem to remove the cozies faster than women -- and even wrapped the pay-phone cord by the Rudyard's bathroom.
"There's really no message or point," says AKrylik. "It's not an ideological experiment or anything -- just something we thought would be fun and funny at the same time."
These gangsta mamas have big plans: cozies for car bumpers, hats for fire hydrants, carpets for sidewalks and, if only they can get enough people, curtains for bridges and covers for water towers. They recently recruited five new members -- WoolFool, DJ Hooker, Loop Dogg, Purl Nekklas 14KT and GrannySQ -- and want Knitta eventually to become a Montrose icon.
"You know what it reminds me of, except that his things were a little more permanent?" asks AKrylik. "Chicken Boy. It reminds me of Chicken Boy's stuff, because some people know who he is, but for most people it's 'There's that chicken guy sticker.' "
A Chicken Boy cutout, complete with droopy face and coxcomb hat, hangs on the wall at Poison Girl, the bar where Poly and AKrylik return to the scene of their earlier crime. Since they know the owner, they're there for sport, wanting to slip a knit coaster under someone's drink without being noticed. But the bar's not as crowded as they'd like, so they give up and head for the door after one beer.
A doe-eyed bartender looks at them knowingly and says, "Did you see someone tagged our bike rack?"
"That sucks," says AKrylik, bluffing. "Now you're going to have to get a pressure washer to clean it up."
On the way out they throw down a coaster and place an empty beer bottle on top of it. Once outside, they burst into laughter, knowing it wasn't their best work but that it's time to head home.
After all, it's a school night.