For those who don’t knit or crochet, Ravelry’s newer policy of barring patterns, projects, and even talk of President Trump might seem like no big deal. Who cares what happens on a site for fiber arts if you’re not a user? But everyone needs to care. It’s a sign of the increasing lengths to which people will go to create and maintain echo chambers, places their ideas can proliferate unchallenged and unchecked. Once there, they can forget the rest of our society and what really makes us a community.
I’ve been knitting as long as I can remember. My grandmother knit, and my mother crochets. Fiber arts are an important part of my identity and personal habits. Anyone who knows me well knows that tucked into my bag at any given time is a knitting project in some stage of completion. I also often visit and commiserate with other knitters and help them with their projects. I love to help people overcome obstacles, and walking others through tricky knitting techniques such as steeking and fair isle satisfies me. It’s passing on traditions and knowledge that span centuries.
Knitting has brought people into my life who share my love for quality yarn and the soft but sturdy end products. We talk about our lives over the fast clicking of our needles, and despite sometimes huge differences in our philosophies, our common love for fiber draws us together and helps us find common ground.
A hot cup of tea and hours spent creating something beautiful in the company of someone else can be an excellent way to find all of the ways we’re actually similar across our many divides. No matter how much media might try to make you believe that people can’t get along and that our country is hopelessly fractured, it’s not true. Find an interest, a common goal, something to work on side-by-side with others, and you’ll remember that those around us really aren’t that different from us.
Hobbies and interests should be able to pull together truly diverse groups of people from all sorts of backgrounds and lives. It’s one of the best things about hobbies, outside the sheer joy of creation and stress relief. But this community has been rocked by controversy, engineered by one of fiber’s most well-known sites: Ravelry.
When Knitting Got Political
Ravelry is somewhat like the Amazon of the knitting world, with a side of social media. You can find patterns for sale and destashed yarn. People there discuss patterns, yarns, and all sorts of things. Knitters can track their projects with pictures, yarn data, how the project went, what pattern and size they made, and even what type of needles they used. For many knitters and crocheters, it’s become almost a one-stop-shop for inspiration and project planning.
This community for knitting, a seemingly pretty apolitical activity, suddenly this year got very political. The site banned all Donald Trump talk with a policy succinctly named “No Trump.” It banned all Trump patterns, MAGA wear and gear, and usernames with these themes. It pushed off users who had been on the site for years, all in the name of protecting diversity and standing up to white supremacy.
The users who were banned weren’t engaging in racism on the site. They weren’t name-calling. They were existing and selling patterns and knitting along happily.
Not all political speech on the site is gone, just right-leaning speech. You can still buy patterns for Hillary Clinton hats, such as the “I’m With Her” hat (also “I’m With Her” 2, 3, or 4). Or the Women’s March hat, with nearly 13,000 projects made. For the more demure, there’s the “She Persisted” beanie. Not to mention, a Democrat donkey chart and Democrat dishcloth. You can “Rock the Vote” with Democrat fingerless gloves. Want to knit a Ruth Bader Ginsburg American Girl dress? Ravelry has your back.
Fracturing a Community
It’s obvious Ravelry isn’t avoiding politics or political patterns, as long as those patterns promote one political side. Along with this came a hunt across the knitting world, with efforts to make sure designers and yarn-sellers are woke enough.
And further to my last tweet it isn't just the Ravelry leavers who like to make demands of designers.
Several white women in my DMs asking for evidence of my "anti racism" work before they consider buying one of my patterns.
Seriously? It's a £4 pattern, either buy it or don't
— LouiseTilbrook (@LouiseTilbrook1) August 26, 2019
An incredibly popular knitting pattern designer with more than 100,000 Instagram followers (now down to 99.8k) just recently had to switch account comments off because people would not stop badgering her about her stances on identity politics.
There’s been much speculation about why Ravelry did this, and people have begun countermovements such as #RavelryExodus and #walkawayfromRavelry.
— CrochetConservative (@CrochetConserv2) June 26, 2019
Some of the crafters who have been on the site for years, who established themselves as part of the fabric of the site, have left. One is Gregory Patrick of Mad Man Knitting. Patrick has been part of the knitting world for over a decade. His hobby helped raise him out of a dark period of his life.
“About 10 years ago, I had to rely on my knitting when I became homeless,” he said. “Unable to find any work, I started knitting teddy bears and selling them first for enough money to eat, then eventually I was selling enough of them to rent a small place to live.”
Patrick is a conservative, and Ravelry’s new direction alienated him. His perspective helps point out why identifying as a conservative fits him best: “That can be difficult for a gay man today. Liberals allege that your political philosophies rest on your race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, my conservative principles come from my life experiences, like when I was homeless. A liberal mentality prone to socialism would have left me in poverty for the rest of my life. But the conservative concepts of capitalism allowed me at least the chance to provide for myself anything better than the government ever could.”
Patrick left Ravelry as soon as the site announced its No Trump policy. “I canceled my membership the moment I saw the big glaring notice that Trump supporters were white supremacists, and we were no longer allowed,” he said. “You see, there was already a division in the knitting community that had deepened after Trump’s election, beginning with the pussy hats. If you weren’t wearing one, or didn’t agree with the Women’s March, then you were already being shunned and being called hateful names. This craft was already tattered and torn, and Ravelry just added fuel to the fire.”
This week, one of Ravelry’s founders, the husband half of a husband/wife team, came out as transgender.
Creating an Echo Chamber
The site created an atmosphere on the premise of diversity and acceptance — as long as you’re diverse in the ways they want and accept their ideas. Was it ever about racism? Or was it all just a set-up to create a “safe” atmosphere for the founders?
It certainly looks like they picked a common characteristic — Trump support — as a barometer to purge people, making the site a narrower, more limited place, more likely to enthusiastically support this announcement. And that’s sad. It took a community built around knitting and crafting and the joy of fiber and closed it off, all based on fears people would be mean rather than on any real actions.
#RavelryExodus I packed up and made a quiet exit. I am not on either side of this political hot potato. But I think it is inherently wrong to label people, censor people, all the while claiming you run a welcoming inclusionary website when clearly you do not. WokeGroupthinkBS.
— Kate Donnelly (@1cdneh) June 28, 2019
This has imputed bad intent to many people who have done nothing wrong. It’s created an echo chamber in a time where we need fewer of those, not more. And it’s fractured communities that were built on sharing what brings us together, not what makes us different. As Patrick noted, “These knitting needles and yarn skeins were never intended to be weapons.”