Toshiko, for example, began her career as a gallery artist, making relatively small, stand-alone pieces meant to be looked at and admired. Over time, however, she became dissatisfied. “Textile is made for people, developed for our comfort,” she explains in the film. “I had forgotten about people.” She was also concerned about the growth of apartment buildings in Japan; she worried that children no longer had as many opportunities to play together, or to play outside. “Someday, I would be a mother and I don’t want to raise my children like this,” she said. And so, in order to reach out to people and especially to children, she began to create large-scale nylon climbing structures, with comforting wool orifices for kids to slide into and out of.

Toshiko’s installations are wildly popular—but almost none have been placed in art museums or galleries. Her promising career as a mainstream artist essentially ended when Toshiko started including the public in her work.

Olek also has a wary relationship with the gallery scene. In that milieu, she said, “I’m the one who doesn’t paint.” She adds, “I get a lot of shit, usually from men. It’s a really sexist, fucking chauvinistic art world.”

Olek deals with this exclusion in much the same way that Tinna and Toshiko have—by shunning the gallery right back. The film highlights, for example, a project Olek did with the environmental conservation organization PangeaSeed. Olek crocheted outfits, including amazing full-body mermaid suits donned by divers in the Caribbean. The documentary shows the colorfully clad swimmers sliding through the water amidst marine life.

The giant yarn installations of Cirkus Cirkor aren’t complete until the acrobats start climbing around inside them, just as Toshiko’s art needs children crawling through it to come alive. When women are artists, Yarn insists, art becomes about tangling people up together, rather than staring at each other from a distance.

A painting is flat; you’re supposed to look at it from outside. But fiber art is tactile; you’re meant to touch it and feel it and wear it. When you acknowledge that women can be artists, art is freed from the gallery. Art literally jumps into your lap, as long as you’re willing to look down and see what your hands have been doing.

Unfortunately, the mainstream art world isn’t always willing to take up that yarn. But Tinna doesn’t care about the opinion of the mainstream world, anyway. “If they don’t recognize this as art, their loss.” Diversity in art is sometimes presented as a kind of charity; something you do for those who are excluded. But, as Tinna says, an art scene that can’t appreciate her, or Olek, or Toshiko, is an art scene that is circumscribing itself, not them. Art, Yarn insists, can take on whole new shapes when grandmothers, and women, are wound into its fabric.

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