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For some, Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival is the bomb

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Anna Hrachovec
Detail of 'Mochimochimochimochimochi,' 2011

Having an event bomb is a good thing at the Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival, slated for March 15, 16, and 17 at the Four Points Sheraton North in Mars.

Now in its ninth year, the annual gathering of fiber artists will highlight yarn bombing — a type of street art that dresses lampposts and other everyday objects in handmade cozies — and Knit the Bridge, which is yarn-bombing on a grand scale.

They are just two of the activities festival organizer Barbara Grossman will feature, along with classes, demonstrations and a marketplace filled with specialty yarns, accessories and finished goods.

“We've got it covered from the teeniest, tiniest mochimochi to knitting a bridge, and everything in between,” says Grossman, of Fox Chapel. “The festival appeals to such a broad range of fiber artists, there is plenty for everyone, whether you're brand-new to knitting and crocheting or a seasoned pro.”

If last year's attendance is any indication, Grossman is expecting more than 2,500 enthusiasts this year. The fiber arts have never been more popular, thanks to advances in yarn, techniques and a rediscovery of the joy of making things by hand, she says.

“In our grandmothers' day, there were quilting bees,‘ which were ‘bitch sessions,' really, when women would complain about their husbands, the neighbors, the dog,” Grossman says, with a laugh. “That got lost over the years.”

Today's knitters hold their bees in coffee shops and use social media to generate the buzz that takes their craft mainstream.

“Yarn-bombing was pushing the envelope, at first,” says Grossman, of what is now a global phenomenon that has left statues, building facades, double-decker buses, and even old army tanks covered in handmade cozies. “Now, it's everywhere.”

Hundreds of fiber artists are joining forces to mount the ultimate in yarn-bombing, by covering a local bridge with hundreds of rectangles in an array of patterns and colors.

With support from the Sprout Fund and other donors, Knit the Bridge organizers had hoped to mesh their massive undertaking with the Fiber Arts International, an Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh exhibition slated to begin April 15 at the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Knitters who want to contribute will find plenty of company in the festival's Knit the Bridge Lounge, an event that begins at 7:30 p.m. March 15, says Grossman, who will make yarn available for the project.

Cranberry Township Supervisor Bruce Mazzoni will join the group to talk about a smaller-scale yarn-bombing he has planned for his township's annual community celebration in July. A dozen knitters have committed to dress trees in Cranberry Township Community Park, but Mazzoni is eager to recruit more.

“What I like about it is that it's quirky and unique and popular,” says Mazzoni. “We have eight trees adopted so far, but we want a bunch more to be ‘bombed.' ”

This weekend's festival will celebrate other endeavors with universal appeal, including woven prayer flags designed to spread messages of peace, faith and hope.

“Every year, we offer a free ‘make it and take it' project,” says Grossman of the dishcloth-size flags made to be hung in gardens, so the wind can carry their messages to others. “The idea originated with Buddhists. It's simple and lovely for knitters.”

Other festival freebies include how-to classes, spinning, weaving and dyeing demonstrations, and a pajama party with Steven Bergman, a Minneapolis-based knitting celebrity known as StevenBe.

“He's the rock star of the knitting world — a real showman and a brilliant artist,” says Grossman. “When I met him, his hair was spiked, and he was wearing leather pants and a sweater he'd made out of old cassette tapes. He had a low profile back then, but he's exploded in recent years. When we had him at our pajama party last year, he came in silk PJs and a feather boa.”

Other headliners include Candace Eisner Strick, a New England-based author of knitting books and patterns.

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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