Yarn-Bombing Grandmothers

Monday, September 15, 2014
The original yarn-bombed tree at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre in Durban, South Africa. Photo: Nina Logan.

In my time working as a Researcher-Curator at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, I had the privilege of learning about many amazing stories from across Canada and around the world. One of my favourites involves a tree, yarn and a group of remarkable women. When the Museum opens this September, visitors will see a beautiful example of a partnership between Canadian and African grandmothers. Located in the Museum’s final gallery – called “Inspiring Change” – is a life-size model of a tree covered in crocheted squares of wool. The tree is based on a project done for World AIDS Day in 2012 when a group of grandmothers at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre in South Africa “yarn-bombed” a large tree as a symbol of hope and a reminder of families in need. This beautiful work garnered a lot of attention, including the attention of researchers at the Museum such as myself.

Women knitting
Grandmothers in South Africa make yarn squares for at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre. Photo: Paula Thompson / HACT

Through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Museum got in contact with the grandmothers at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre and asked the grandmothers to redo their project, but this time with a different twist. The grandmothers in South Africa gathered the colourful wool squares they had not used for the yarn-bombing in 2012. Rather than yarn-bomb a local tree, however, they mailed the squares to the Museum. Once the squares arrived, a group of Winnipeg grandmothers  – called Grands ‘n’ More Winnipeg – came to the Museum to crochet and knit the squares together onto the model tree. The final result was a beautiful work of art that will now stand in Canada’s newest national museum.

Women knitting around tree branches
Grandmothers in South Africa yarn-bomb the tree at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre. Photo: Paula Thompson / HACT


The yarn-bombed tree will be featured in a display case with other objects from across Canada and around the world. Each object is supposed to speak to the question: “What can positive change for human rights look like?” Change can look like many different things and take many different forms – including that of a beautiful and colourful yarn-bombed tree. It serves as a testament to the fact that, by working in partnership, African and Canadian grandmothers are making a difference and supporting human rights.

Women knitting a tree
Members of Grands ‘n’ More Winnipeg yarn-bomb the model tree with squares from South Africa. Photo: Steve Salnikowski

In Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS is an epidemic. Almost 15 million children under 15 are AIDS orphans. In some countries, 60 per cent of these children live in households led by a grandmother, and these grandmothers are playing a pivotal role as stewards of Africa’s next generation. To help their efforts, the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Canada launched a campaign in 2006 to unite African and Canadian grandmothers. Today, 240 grandmother groups across the country work to raise awareness of, and funds for, the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Women standing by a yarn-bombed tree.
Members of Grands ‘n’ More Winnipeg with the model tree. Photo: Steve Salnikowski

What makes the grandmother groups so special is that their work is not charity; they are committed to working in partnership with African grandmothers to promote justice, dignity and human rights for everyone. Canada’s grandmother groups recognize that African grandmothers are a capable and powerful force in their own right, and see their role as providing support for the strength and self-sufficiency of these incredible women.

For more information on the Canadian Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, visit www.grandmotherscampaign.org and for more information on the human rights of African Grandmothers, please visit www.africangrandmotherstribunal.org.

Add comment

Log in or register to post comments