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Julie Kornblum: Knitting Activist

From the moment you arrive at Julie Kornblum's home/studio you know a creative individual lives there.  A beautifully large tree graces her front yard and slowly encapsulating it is dozens and dozens of knitted swatches that make the viewer want to give it a giant hug.
Walking into her home there are creations everywhere from the walls to the spare bedrooms but all with purpose and organization.  Kornblum emits the mother vibe.  You know the feeling, the one you get when you are with your mom.  And it's no surprise that with that nurturing nature she has turned her passion into using materials that normally get thrown away.  Mothers were some of the first Environmentalists you know.  Kornblum is reusing to not just make art but to make a statement.  The environment, the community it all has a symbiotic relationship that becomes a little more beautiful when you introduce the art of knitting.  Making with one's hands and learning from others who know the craft can create a bond that Kornblum has worked towards for years.  Her work with YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) has elevated her connection to the community and allowed her to share her creations with an audience that would not normally walk into a gallery.  And let's be honest seeking a bench or large planter covered in yarn would put a smile on anyone's face.

To see Julie Kornblum's work in person check out her upcoming shows.
April 17-19, 2015: She'll have an artist exhibition booth at Vogue Knitting LIVE at the Pasadena Convention Center where she will be yarn bombing the booth.
April 25, 2015: She'll be creating a yarn bomb installation in a pop-up canopy at Topanga Vintage Market, at Pierce College in Woodland Hills
May 29-31, 2015:  YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) will be doing a similar installation at Dwell on Design at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 
June 27, 2015: Loft at Liz's Diverted Destruction 8 - Unraveled: The Fabric Edition

Julie Kornblum creates a sculpture utilizing her basket weaving skills in her studio in Woodland Hills surrounded by fabric, found objects and non-traditional textile materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

 When did you first realize that your craft was leading you into a life as an artist?
I was pretty young, like in elementary school. Of course there was an assumption that being an artist meant painting and drawing, but I was never attracted enough to those medias. I had these “how to draw a dog or a horse” books, I remember looking through them repeatedly, but I never felt compelled to grab a pencil and paper. On the other hand, I always grabbed random stuff that was around the house to make things out of. I couldn’t keep my hands off of the scissors, fabric scraps, and stuff like that.

A section of Kornblum's tree that is slowly being covered with knitting creations in her front yard of Woodland Hills, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Plastic in the Trees' 42"x43",  Overshot Weaving; Surplus yarn with used plastic bags.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Is the emotional act of creation on a public object like a tree or bike rack different than when creating a functional craft piece?  Does it feel different?
I don’t think the emotional aspect of creating is different if it’s my own work as an individual. If it’s a functional or sellable piece, there are different practical considerations, such as how the clasp on a bracelet works, how the ends of yarn are tucked in on a scarf. But these are also part of the design challenges along with choosing the color and texture palette, and working out the composition.
There are practical considerations in the creative process of all work. When you make a woven wall piece, you have to figure out how to hang it, unless you attach a textile piece to stretcher bars with a hanging wire, like a painting.  I’ve learned to consider the practical along with the artistic. Early on, I would make a piece, and then find I had problems with hanging when it got to the gallery.

Hubcaps, some of which her son finds, are not immune to the creative creations that Kornblum imagines.  Photo © Aimee Santos

But it does feel like I’m shifting gears mentally. I’ll be thinking about the composition, colors, materials, how the elements relate to the meaning or message then, at a certain point, I’ll make the shift to how to construct the piece for shipping and hanging. For a coiled basket/sculptural piece, I need to consider the structural practical aspects almost at the same time as the aesthetic. It’s like, “ok, it will stand without falling over, now I have to step back and make sure it looks good,” or the reverse, “I like how this looks, I’d better set it down to make sure it will not fall over.”  
The tree cover or bike rack have some similarities with the shawl or bracelet, its mostly a question of scale. I have to take measurements, calculate how much to subtract for stretch – this goes back to my garment design experience. Its essentially the same process, one must consider how the piece will look (sometimes from all angles) and how it will be attached. 

Street Bench, Newhall, CA. July 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How has your work with YBLA (Yarn Bombing Los Angeles) changed your overall art practice?
Working with YBLA has taken my work into whole new areas for me. I was always content to be a solitary artist in my own studio. Now I work with a team, and it’s a very satisfying collaboration. We can accomplish much larger scale works than I would have done on my own; and that’s really fun. I have enjoyed doing larger and larger works.

With all the materials in Kornblum's home there is a sense of organization to it all.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Pacific Rim' 20" x 24" x 24" Coiling with used and discarded plastic objects and packaging.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

When did you start knitting with various materials such as wire and plastic grocery bags?  And what challenges have you come across?
It started when I was in school working on my degree in Art, with a concentration in fiber and textile art. I was learning things like weaving and basketry, and I started using “non-traditional” materials that were around. There were lots of unusual surplus materials that had been donated to the art department for students to use. I wove and made baskets with wire and plastic bags. Then, when I revived my knitting and crocheting practice, I just kept using the surplus, non-traditional materials.

One of the biggest challenges is that these things are difficult to work with. They don’t stretch and give like nice, new yarn does. I have to be careful to protect my hands, take breaks, do stretches and exercises. The worst thing about surplus, discarded, and found materials is they are often dirty. I got my stock of colored plastic bags from an artist who had used them for outdoor installations. They’re dirty just from the air outside. The wire is dirty from being in a recycling yard. The hubcaps are black with road soot on the inside. I wash things and I wear scruffy clothes when I’m working I also wash my hands a lot. 

A macro detail of standard vinyl tubing that Kornblum stuffed fabric into which shows how detailed she can get with incorporating textiles and her sewing skills into any piece.  Photo © Aimee Santos

In addition to knitting Kornblum makes jewelry utilizing the same method just using different materials.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Crochet Wire Jewelry.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of Kornblum's largest pieces 'Don’t Disappear My Habitat' hangs in her living room.  Photo © Aimee Santos

The interior of one of her front rooms shows a method to the madness of multiple rooms dedicated to creating.  The room above not only holds her industrial sewing machine but other items that can be worn all knitted and created by Kornblum's own hand.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You have multiple rooms in your home set up as studios.  Does each room represent a different project as well as an emotional feeling that is represented by their environment?
I have tried to place the different types of work in the different rooms: all the yarn, weaving, knitting & crochet in one room; and the wire, coiling and jewelry in the other. But when I get to working, the organization breaks down rather quickly. The practical considerations like lighting and storage space are really what determines where I work, and I actually work all over the house. Each room really just represents what is happening at that moment. 

Continental Art Supplies; 7044 Reseda Blvd, Reseda, Los Angeles, CA. Oct 31, 2014.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

You do a lot of work with the community.  Do you see your work as part social practice and/or participatory?

I see my work with YBLA that way. When I think of myself as an individual artist, I’m still solitary in my studio. I enjoy both. I like doing things that are all my own, and I enjoy the crowd sourced, networked, collaborative pieces. 

A detail of a piece hanging in Kornblum's dining room shows there is not object too strange or nonconforming that she won't use in her sculptures.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Among your experiences working with people and yarn have you noticed that the practice of knitting brings people out of their emotional shells and can be used as a cathartic act for people of all ages?

Oh, yes. This is well documented. In our monthly community workshops at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, we see this happening all the time. It’s kind of a magical thing, all kinds of people make connections with one another. 

A piece in it's inception involves bottle caps, plastic bags and wire as well as time punching holes into the larger pieces to allow for a smooth transition in the weaving process.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Kornblum works on a piece in one of her many project rooms dedicated to the creation of fiber arts.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your front yard has a beautiful tree that is currently being covered by you and your yarn creations.  When did you get the idea to start doing this and how has your neighborhood reacted to it?
The neighbors love it. I’ve gotten only positive comments. I’ve seen people in cars slow down to look at it. Some people from up the street were out walking and their little kids ran up to touch the tree. I did that tree because I had gone through a phase of doing yarnbombs in the Valley, and they were disappearing rather quickly. When I put something up in public, uninvited, I know it’s a possibility it will getting taken down. One has to be prepared for this. I was invited to do a yarnbomb on the street in front of a store, on some planters that belonged to the store. Those only stayed up two weeks, and it was pretty disappointing. So I decided to do something that I knew wouldn’t get taken down. I had been eyeballing that tree for months, and I went ahead and covered it. 

Kornblum had been eyeing the tree in her front yard for awhile and finally started covering it with her knitted creations.  Photo © Aimee Santos