Bombs Away!

The bombers are coming! The bombers are coming!

On August 11, the Yarn Bomb Yukon Collective plans to drop a cosy acrylic jacket onto what’s been called “the world’s largest weathervane”—the DC-3 aircraft that stands outside the Yukon Transportation Museum, its nose to the prevailing wind.

It won’t actually be dropped, but carefully draped over the venerable plane with the aid of a boom lift. After all, it will be a garment large enough to cover much of the plane’s 7,000 square foot surface.

“As far as we know, we’re one of the largest transportation-themed yarn bombs, and we’re definitely the first airplane,” boasts Jessica Vellenga, a local fibre artist and coordinator of the collective.

Early hopes of pursuing a Guinness world record evaporated when the collective discovered what that would cost: about $8,000, plus travel and accommodation expenses for the Guinness adjudicators.

“Sadly, we won’t be going for the official record, but we hope it will be a record nonetheless.”

Vellenga describes yarn bombing as, “a form of knitted or crocheted graffiti that’s non-permanent and non-abrasive and non-destructive when you’re looking to reshape your urban environment.”

The idea of decorating the DC-3—which was built in 1942 and served for three years doing wartime transport duty for the U.S. Air Force before going into commercial service with Canadian Pacific Airways—began with the museum’s executive director, Casey McLaughlin.

“Casey had discovered yarn bombing while she was on vacation in Vancouver, and she thought it was an interesting idea.”

When McLaughlin approached her with the idea of a yarn bomb for the plane, Vellenga’s immediate reaction was, “I could totally make that happen.”

Besides being a practicing artist, Vellenga is vice president of the Northern Fibres Guild and visual arts programmer for the Yukon Arts Centre, which is promoting the DC-3 “bombing” as a public art project.

Before a single stitch was cast, making it happen involved getting the go-ahead from the museum’s board, securing financial assistance from the Yukon Arts Fund, and consulting with conservators, architects and engineers to ensure the project wouldn’t compromise the historical artifact.

“We’re going to be able to cover most of it, the top half of it at least,” Vellenga says.

“The delicate parts, the nose and the tail and the propellers, those kinds of things, we’re not going to cover, because we don’t want to cause any damage.”

Even the top surface of the wings will be covered, she adds.

From local conservator Val Monahan, she learned that only acrylic yarn should be used, because “wool would be abrasive, water-absorbent, and more of an attraction to pests”.

That just left the question of how to make the garment itself.

With just three members, the newly-formed collective couldn’t possibly produce enough fabric to make the equivalent of 74 blankets, each measuring 4’x6′, plus various other “odds and ends and awkward angles”.

In March, Vellenga and Bree-An Lucas, the project’s “second in command” turned to social media to enlist community support. They offered free workshops and lessons for beginners, or people wanting to learn new techniques.

As well, weekly “sit and stitch” sessions each Wednesday from 5-7 p.m. at the T&M Hotel, have drawn women and men of varying skill levels who want to contribute, polish their skills, or just enjoy each other’s company.

On a recent Wednesday, first-time participant Sharon Stevens entertained the group with a story of struggling to learn how to knit left-handed by holding the instruction book upside down in front of a mirror.

Eventually—contrary to her mother’s predictions—she succeeded in knitting a sweater.

“I wore that sweater for years and years and years.”

Thanks to the internet, the DC-3 project has attracted input from far beyond Whitehorse.

“There’s one woman from Texas, and she made squares with a star on them,” Lucas says. “There’s a few people from the States who’ve sent red, white and blue stuff. They feel like they’re contributing, and they would like their colours shown.”

“Today I got a parcel in the mail at my office from the National Arts Centre,” Vellenga adds.

“They had some leftover yarn bombs from the Winterlude project, and they were trying to think of ways to recycle them. They heard about our project and sent them to me, which is awesome.”

With contributions ranging from 4″x4″ granny squares to a blanket for a king-sized bed, Vellenga and Lucas have already accumulated more than three-quarters of the material they need.

While the colours and patterns span a vast spectrum, museum director McLaughlin has a crew knitting pieces in the plane’s original military green.

“Right now we’ve been washing all the blankets and stitching them all together into 4’x6′ sheets,” Vellenga explains.

“Then we’re going to host a sit and stitch at the Old Fire Hall from July 23 to about August 10, where everybody can come by and help us stitch it together.”

After gracing the DC-3 for a month, it will be taken apart and given to various Yukon charities as individual blankets from baby to adult sizes.

As Vellenga sums up, “It’s not a waste of yarn, it’s not a publicity stunt. It is a public art project, and the yarn is being put to good use.”

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