Los Angeles native London Kaye went from wrapping trees in crocheted scarves as a hobby to bona fide professional crochet artist in three years and continues to share her creativity and positive energy wherever she goes.
Is there a story behind your name?
It was my great-grandmother’s maiden name: her name was Lena London. No witty stories, but I like it.
How did you come across and learn crocheting?
My close friend’s mom taught me when I was thirteen—she used a really big crochet hook and chunky yarn. It was the only thing that actually kept me still. When I wasn’t crocheting, I was dancing ballet. When I was a freshman in high school, I broke my back in two places and couldn’t walk around too much, so I crocheted scarves with customizable fringes to pass the time and sold them to shops and friends. I even bought a car at sixteen with my scarf money.
Where did you go to school?
I got a full scholarship to NYU for dance. When I got the letter in the mail, it was a no-brainer. I had gone to ballet camp in New York City, and I loved it. I didn’t even visit NYU—I just said yes! I knew I wasn’t going professional because of my back injury, but it was a great way to go through school and to meet friends. My mom is a dance teacher and an artist, my dad is a writer, and my sister is a stand-up comedian, so I always knew I wanted to do something creative.
How did you discover yarn bombing?
I worked at the Apple store after graduating, and one night an artist named Olek came in. She’s a really well-known fiber artist, and she was dressed head to toe in yarn; my mouth dropped. I had never considered making anything besides scarves and beanies. After she left, I googled her name, and the search results led me to yarn bombing, which is a form of street art where you wrap crocheted pieces around objects found in public. I couldn’t wait to try it the next morning, so I took a scarf and wrapped it around a tree outside my house in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Do you know how your first yarn bomb was received?
Because I had made the scarves and had a website, I put a little tag on it with my information. Within the first week, someone reached out to tell me she and her granddaughter stopped at the tree every morning and talked about it, and it made their day. After that, I decided to give myself a challenge: every day for thirty days, I would yarn bomb something outside and leave it for people to enjoy. And I started Instagramming it, though Instagram was very different back then. I ended up doing it for fifty days instead. There wasn’t really anyone doing it at the time, so it was very organic and my style developed easily.
Can you explain the logistics of yarn bombing?
Because crochet takes so long, I make everything beforehand as much as possible. I always yarn bomb during the day and ask permission, if possible. I’ve been stopped before, but I always have scissors with me and tell them I’ll cut it down after I take a photo. Out of the maybe five hundred times I’ve done it, I’ve been stopped four times, and only once did they make me take it down.
What are the essentials to have when yarn bombing?
I take extra yarn, scissors, a step stool, a fully charged phone, and a tag with my Instagram handle on it. And if I don’t have a step stool, I wear really high platform shoes.
How would you describe your crochet style?
I always use a really big crochet hook, and I’ll use a few different yarns at a time—one will be glittery, one will be furry, and one will be normal. I like to create texture that way. And no patterns!
Would you talk about some of your favorite yarn bombs?
I crocheted a dragon at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Fourteenth Street in New York City. It stayed up for over two weeks, and when it disappeared, people from the neighborhood hung up ribbons saying, “Who took my dragon?” It was one of the first times I saw the community truly care about one of my pieces.
I also yarn bombed the L train in New York City on Valentine’s Day one year. I was on the train for two hours, and I was met by only kindness.
Lastly, I have huge rainbows, a peace sign, and a heart hanging in the center of West Hollywood, Calfornia. They have been up for over two years, and I have added to the mural over time. It continues to grow, and people have made it a popular photo op when visiting Los Angeles.
How did this evolve into a career?
As I mentioned before, I’d always leave a tag with my contact information when I was doing street art for fun. Brands like Starbucks and Adidas started reaching out. Companies started wanting yarn in crazy and out-of-the-box ways.
Was there a pivotal moment for you?
I was hired to make a crocheted billboard for Miller Lite in Times Square. I rented a minivan with my sister and drove all the crocheted pieces to a billboard factory in Ohio. We assembled it there in a week. After it was done, we drove the billboard back to New York and installed it. I was able to quit Apple after that. I’m glad I had my full-time job when I started doing this, though. I don’t think I would have been as successful because I would have been doing things to pay my rent. Instead, I did it because I loved it. After a year and a half, I was able to go part time at my other job, and after three years, I was able to quit completely.
What was your most challenging project?
I agreed to crochet a school bus for a Gap commercial. The timeline was only three weeks, which may seem like a while, but I had never crocheted a bus before. I had to attach the crochet so the bus was drivable, and I had to protect the school bus underneath. I found a parking lot by my house in Bushwick for the bus, but then I had to drive it to the location myself because the driver didn’t show up. Luckily, the only other person awake before 6:00 a.m. turned out to be a kind stranger who knew how to get the bus backed out from where it was parked. I drove it the rest of the way to the location.
What materials do you use?
I use Lion Brand yarn because they have so many options, and it’s mainly all acrylic so it doesn’t fade. Lion Brand even created a line with my name on it that’s specifically made for yarn bombing. It’s weather resistant, and
it comes in many bright colors. I also use a 3-D printed crochet hook that I invented; I even have a patent. You can google London Kaye: inventor. It is the best hook. It’s really light because it’s hollow inside.
How is your identity reflected in your art?
Everything I have made is positive and created so anyone can connect to it. I like to brighten people’s days. I love the street art, because when people see it on the street, they are pulled into the present moment and are no longer distracted by what might be going on in their minds.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
I would love to work with Gucci. They always hire amazing artists for advertising campaigns. And I’d love to work with Nike or a sneaker brand to make a crocheted sneaker.
What drives you to create?
I’m not very good at writing or speaking, but art is a way that I can communicate my point of view. I like to think that when you follow what you truly love, good things will come. The more I love what I do and what I make, others will feel that as well.
Did you ever tell Olek how she changed your life that day?
Yes, I have told Olek all about how she inspired me, and I have worked for her as well.
Are you living the dream?
Four years ago, I was living in New York City, and all I wanted was to be a full-time artist with an art studio living back in Los Angeles and to get free yarn. And now I have all those things. So, yes, I’m living the dream in certain ways. But I always think change and growth and continuing to have new goals is good. The dream is constantly shifting.