I confess that when I sat down with Stephen Duneier (aka the “Yarn Bomber”) to talk about his recent Guinness world record for largest continuous crochet square, I did not know the difference between crocheting and knitting. So I asked him.
“Heh, I get asked that question a lot,” said Duneier, a lecturer in the Technology Management Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I learned that in crochet, you pull yarn into a fabric using a drumstick-like needle with a small hook at the end. It usually makes for thick, comfy, warm, and often colorful scarves. But Duneier’s art goes beyond scarves.
He started with scarves, but it didn’t last. “They didn’t interest me,” he said. Then one day, while sitting under a 40-foot tall eucalyptus tree during a hike in the Santa Barbara mountains, he had an idea. “Why don’t I just try to wrap this tree [in crochet squares]?” After all, he said, “the tree wouldn’t be very particular about how good [he was] at knitting.” Eighty-two days later, it was done; he had covered every inch of eucalyptus bark, and in stunning fashion. But he didn’t stop there.
One night while crocheting during a visit to New York, Duneier wondered if there was a faster way to crochet on a large scale. He recalled “that the least efficient part of this process was starting a new square. If I just made them larger, I would skip making new ones. And I just kept going with that.” At 10:30 that night, he walked to the only open arts and crafts store in Harlem and came back to the hotel with all the yarn he could carry. “And then,” Duneier said, “I just started crocheting like mad.”
He crochets every chance he gets — in the office, on planes, and in the hospital. And in New York, he crocheted every night for at least an hour and a half. When he returned home a few days later, he was at 25 square feet. It was then that he began to think about a record. “I looked it up on Guinness and couldn’t find a record, so I applied!”
But they rejected him, claiming his square belonged in the “largest crocheted blanket” category. The self-proclaimed Yarn Bomber appealed, arguing his attempt was different, that unlike the blanket record, which consisted of separate blankets knitted together, his was a singular effort — one giant, continuous “granny” square. Guinness conceded and accepted the new record with one condition: “They said ‘fine, if you make it 100 square meters we’ll make the new category.’”
Duneier believes the organization gave him an enormous number to discourage him, but he said, “Great! Now I’ve got a target, and 790 days, 400,000 double crochets, 25 miles of yarn, 1,089 square feet and a neck ache later, I set the record.”
Duneier insisted that it was never about the record. “Even if I didn’t officially make it into the book, it wouldn’t bother me,” he says. What was most important to him was setting a goal and designing a way to approach and reach it. Problem-solving for each new project and the progress from start to finish is the real reward. His philosophy is to take it step by step, and the smaller the step the better.
“You have to break these giant goals down into tiny little tasks that anybody can complete,” Duneier said. This idea is the key behind his numerous achievements, and the reason he can juggle his art with university teaching and his work in finance. It is also what he teaches here at UCSB in the Technology Management Program.
Duneier currently resides in Santa Barbara with his family. He organizes and executes huge “yarn bombings” within the vast natural beauty surrounding Santa Barbara, for which he receives contributions from an army of almost 700 artists from all around the world. He uses social media extensively to connect with his global audience, as well as for updates and locations of upcoming projects.
Duneier has completed two yarn bomb projects so far in 2015, and from the sound of it, we can expect more to come. Keep up with him online for updates, and keep an eye on your neighborhood trees — you might suddenly find them snuggly clad in yarn.