Picture this: It’s a sunny day, and new leaves rustle overhead as you walk along the Downtown Mall. In the distance you see people moving their arms, loaded with cloud- or cocoon-like substances. As you approach, you realize they’re actually knitting, using their arms like needles to weave thick skeins of yarn made from old shirts, crepe paper, or rope. Someone invites you to join in, so you pause, fish around in a white gallon bucket full of repurposed fabric, and move as the performer demonstrates. You head home with a new wearable garment and the realization that you’ve just made art for the fun of it.
That’s the vision for Two Arms!, an on-the-street knitting experience led by local group Craft Cville, which hosts public craft nights every month and imagines the event as a workshop taken to the streets.
“Arm knitting is knitting on a much larger scale,” explained Amber Karnes, a local crafter and founder of the group. “You can quickly create big pieces. They tend to be hole-y, so they’re quite interesting and malleable. If you’re making something you’d like to wear, you can pull and pry it and just stick your head through a hole and boom, you’ve got a cowl or cape or a poncho.”
When Andrea Koroky, a local fiber artist, demonstrated arm knitting at one of Craft Cville’s monthly meetings, she suggested it as a form of participatory performance art. Karnes, who started indie artist community 7 Cities Crafters in Norfolk before she moved to Charlottesville and now serves as executive director for entrepreneurship nonprofit HackCville, saw an opportunity to further her desire “to keep craft on people’s radar.”
She has first-hand experience with the potential inherent in social creation. “I’ve made connections that last a lifetime that way,” she said. “Making a building or a meal or a piece of art, there’s a real kind of special connection that forms when people make things together. It’s mysterious and magical.”
That magic helps sustain individuals with professional foundations in the quicksand of art. “It’s difficult to make a living wage in this mass-produced society, and I think it’s important to support people who want to make a living from a craft or [art] that they make with their hands,” said Karnes. “It’s a very human desire to want a tribe, to feel like you’re not alone. I think doing this on the Mall, letting other people see you doing something, can be really comforting. We want people to come up to us and talk to us. That’s the root of why community can be an asset, because you connect with people who can guide you through the good and the bad.”
Two Arms! performs on Saturday between 10am and 2pm on the Downtown Mall.