How Politics Tested Ravelry and the Crafting Community

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In the spring of 2016, artist Jayna Zweiman persuaded her friend Krista Suh to buy a Groupon for her crochet class at a yarn store called Little Knittery in Los Angeles. Wool shops like bike or record stores can be daunting to newcomers; Patrons and staff sometimes act like members of an exclusive club that shares the language of obscure wool blends. But Kat Coyle, who has owned the Little Knittery for nine years, has worked hard to make it a welcoming place, outfitting it with worn Persian carpets, a huge pink sofa, and several comfy chairs. Every Friday there was “knitting nights”, open to everyone. After a few lessons, Zweiman and Suh became regulars. The audience ranged in age from teenagers to geriatrics, and sitting around knitting or crocheting gave two people an “opportunity to really listen,” she told me.

On November 10 of the same year, two days after Donald Trump was elected president, Zweiman Suh called and told her that she wanted to go to the Little Knittery for consolation. Zweiman was particularly interested in the concerns of older women in the store, and when she found out about the Women’s March, she knew she wanted to participate. She had a background in socially minded design projects, and she and Suh considered knitting a special hat to commemorate the march. Coyle agreed to help write a pattern that is visually striking but accessible to knitters of all levels. Looking around the store, they selected a fuchsia colored yarn that is made by a Uruguayan fiber company called Malabrigo. The easiest hat to knit is a flat rectangle that is folded and sewn together, creating two saggy corners that resemble cat ears. Coyle knitted three prototypes, and within days the group was calling him Pussyhat, a nod to Trump’s hot microphone with Billy Bush. “Krista had this vision of huge crowds wearing the same style, wearing the same hat,” said Coyle.

She continued, “I just said, ‘Let me take a picture of this and I’ll show it to Ravelry.’ Often referred to as “the Facebook of Knitting,” Ravelry has nine million registered accounts – around a million of which are active every month – a comprehensive database of patterns and yarns, and hyperactive message boards. “Telling a knitter to try Ravelry is like telling someone who just got a computer, ‘Hey, you should check out Google,’” said Edith Zimmerman, an avid knitter and author of the popular E. -Mail Newsletters Drawing Links. . When new knitters come into the store, Coyle usually says, “Go to Ravelry. Just go on. It will blow your mind. ”She added,“ It’s all about the world. And that happened “with the hat. “It was all over the world.”

After Coyle posted the Pussyhat pattern on the website, the women worked with more than one hundred and seventy-five yarn stores around the world that served as drop off and pick-up points for knitters and hat recipients. “The country has sold out pink thread,” Coyle said. (Four years later, Malabrigo’s fuchsia yarn is often behind.) Some people went to the Little Knittery thinking they could buy pussyhats. “And we said, ‘We’re not making them for sale,'” Coyle told me. “’You have to knit it yourself or have someone knit it for you.’ ”

By January 21, 2017, the day of the Women’s March, according to Zweiman, hundreds of thousands of hats had been knitted, which are a visual symbol for a moment in political history. “We made a sea of ​​pink pixels,” she said. Prototypes of the pussyhat later appeared in several exhibitions in large art museums. Sandra Markus, Chair of the Fashion Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), has published research on Ravelry’s Pussyhat Project Group, which has approximately 4,500 members, some of whom still meet regularly to discuss knitting and politics. She remembers the discussions surrounding the pussyhat at her local yarn store on the Upper West Side, where women gathered to knit. “Being able to really combine the political with the craft,” said Markus, “I think it was the first time that this was done in such a significant and visually effective way.”

“I know how much knitters like a project,” Coyle told me. “I also knew from my own community that they were really anxious and depressed. And what is knitting good for? Calms the nerves. “

Not everyone on Ravelry was reassured, however. “Embarrassing and humiliating,” wrote a user named Glassbonnie about the Pussyhat. GirlsandDogs called it an “incredibly ugly hat with a vulgar name”. Others argued that the energy devoted to the pussyhat could be channeled into caring for the homeless, a comment that sparked more digital snipers. “Unless Everyone of your knitting is for charity, please do not try to teach people, for their own reasons and in their own time, what to do for themselves, ”wrote Merrymcg14.

Hat patterns sparked political discourse during Trump’s tenure. As he prepared for thought, his followers began posting hat patterns with slogans such as “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall”. These hats eventually led to a ban on all Trump discussions on Ravelry.

“Let’s take off Everyone your personal protective equipment. “
Cartoon by Yasin Osman

“Ravelry is just a microcosm,” said Kim Denise, one of the site’s volunteer moderators. “Strikers are just like society.” Denise joined the site in 2009, and even then she noticed “increasing radicalization among Obama haters” on Ravelry. “Trump got to the point.” Jessica Marshall Forbes, one of the two founders of the site, remembers the early days of Ravelry well. “You know, we just wanted to make a nice website about yarns,” she told me. “I look back at it now and think, ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad.’ Because look what we’re up against now. “

Founded in 2007 by Jessica Marshall Forbes and Cassidy Forbes, a young married couple, Ravelry was designed to cater to the needs of seasoned crocheters and knitters like Coyle, who was among the hundreds of people invited to test the site during beta. Cassidy and Jessica had met as students at the University of New Hampshire. Five years after graduation, Jessica worked abroad for Brandeis University; She started knitting to cover her thirty-minute drive. As Jessica got more knowledgeable, Cassidy began to notice her frustration in finding knitting patterns. There were many popular blogs focusing on knitting at the time – Yarn Harlot, the Knitter’s Review – but finding patterns and information about techniques could take hours of research. Cassidy, a computer programmer, couldn’t knit, but she was able to set up an online database. The couple started talking about what a knitting website might look like, and they sent out feelers on Jessica’s blog Frecklegirl: “The idea is to make an encyclopedia of cool patterns (and yarn too ??) social. I think it would be nice if knitters had a place where they could share their finished creations, get help with ongoing work and get ideas for future projects. “

One commenter wrote, “You’d better consult a patent attorney as soon as possible! Serious.”

The couple made a New Years resolution to launch the site they tentatively named Entangled before a knitter friend suggested Ravelry. After the confidential beta testers came up with various ideas for improvement, Jessica went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, one of the largest events in the country for yarn lovers, and got down to it.

When she returned to her hotel that evening, Jessica said she opened her computer to “find thousands of people on the waiting list to get on”. She called Cassidy. “What should we do?” She asked. “Should we cross the waiting list?” It was, as Jessica said, “an innocent time” on social media – Twitter was barely a year old – but she was already getting a taste of how easily users could get angry. Some people on the waiting list accused the site of “just being a popularity contest. You have to know someone to get in. “

Cassidy soon quit her job. With no funding and no business experience, she and Jessica started selling T-shirts with thread jokes like “Where are my seams?” or “I swatched,” a reference to the small pieces of fabric that more demanding knitters make before starting a project. They turned their little apartment into a fulfillment center and sold about thirty-two hundred shirts. “Instead of getting money from outside investors, we were really started by the community itself,” said Jessica. At the end of the year, Ravelry had 57,000 users.

Ravelry became the largest crochet and knitting pattern database in the world, allowing designers to sell their patterns without going through an established publication. The site currently lists more than a million patterns for traditional hats, sweaters, scarves, frocks, and mittens, and for items that would be hard to find in a store or knitting magazine: sasquatch mask balaclavas, barbie suspenders, dog sweaters based on them Catwalk looks, ChapStick holder in penis shape. (Cassidy never seriously knitted or crocheted. She made an octopus once but never completed the eighth leg, and the object is referred to as “the Septopus” in the Forbes home.) Users can also meticulously log their projects, from the pattern Needed up to the meter of yarn and added tiny modifications to a pattern to photograph every step of the process. Upon completion of a project, a user gives the work Ravelry’s most satisfactory label, a “FO” or Finished Object.

One of my favorite patterns is a sweater with an ambitiously detailed map of the world, knitted using a technique called intarsia. The sweater appeared in a special collector’s edition by Vogue knitting in 1991. A Ravelry user noted it took her 25 years to complete the garment. “I was very happy that the Eastern Bloc countries had not yet separated when this pattern was created,” wrote a Raveler in her log because it would have been so time-consuming.

“Finding people online with whom you had something in common was brand new,” says Jessica. The site’s lively message boards feature groups like Fountain Pen Lovers, Christians with Depression, Modest Girls-9-18, and the Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group. During the 2008 elections, social activity in the forums was intensified. Ravelry had only one full-time employee besides Cassidy and Jessica, and they continued to address member concerns individually, making users feel that Ravelry was more of a community of acquaintances than a rapidly growing social media network and commercial platform. “We were kind of innocent and naive and thought that people would behave well, but that’s not the case, not even on a website about yarn,” Jessica told me.

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