Throughout history, knitting has always been a revolutionary act for women. It dates back to the American Revolution when Betsy Ross purportedly sewed the American Flag and the Spinning Bees took a stand against taxed British imports to the recent sea of knitted pink “pussy hats” seen at protests since President Trump’s election. For hundreds of years the simple act of sitting down alone or in a, ahem, close-knit community has been likened to a form of quiet and crafty civil disobedience. If you think about it, it’s the perfect form of protest for the introvert or for those who find the anger of activism, with its long marches and shouting, emotionally draining.
Given the incendiary political climate of our times, as much as fiber artists try to remain above the nonsense, sometimes it’s simply impossible to keep politics out of one’s yarn stash. So, those who knit are in the spotlight once again thanks to social networking site Ravelry and the 8-million-member knit and crochet internet community that follow it. When it recently banned support of President Trump from their platform, knitters once again tapped into it their badass selves.
“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy.” They posted on their Twitter page on June 23. Their updated policy states that support for Trump is support for white supremacy, which is not conducive to positive community-building. “We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans,” the Ravelry post said. “We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.”As an online center of the knitting world, its stance made waves around the globe. Some hoped politics could be kept out of their knitting community and as a result there has been a backlash from Trump supporters.
A few Latino Trump supporters are in fact angry. Alicia Garcia is a 34 year old Ravelry user from Las Vegas who told The New York Times that she supports Mr. Trump for “what she sees as his patriotism, economic success and tell-it-like-it-is style. Ms. Garcia said she discovered knitting when she was pregnant a few years ago and, as a parent who stays at home to care for her three children, had come to enjoy the community on Ravelry. Garcia added: “If it’s one way, then it should be both ways,” she said. “No politics on this group at all.”
But Garcia doesn’t seem to be aware that Ravelry is responding to a deep rooted racial problem that many Latinas like her are blind to. NPR reported that Ravelry’s new guidelines come as social media companies, like Facebook and YouTube, are grappling with how to deal with the use of their platforms by white supremacist groups to spread racist messages or misinformation across the Internet. The Ravelry team says it based its new policy on similar changes made by the role-playing game hub RPGnet last year.
Knitty magazine followed in Ravelry’s footsteps and when the publication was questioned on Twitter whether they were going to support Ravelry’s decision as well, its editor and founder Amy Singer wrote: “Knitty wholeheartedly supports the brave stand that Ravelry has taken.”
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Trump’s election has inspired politically-based patterns that have sparked impassioned discussions in its forums. Those who are anti Trump ranging from the pink “pussy hats” to an innocent looking scarf pattern with normal stripes on the front, but when viewed from an angle reads F*** TRUMP.
There have also been projects done by Trump supporters. Like the member who goes by the name of Deplorable Knitter and posted photos of hat and scarf patterns with the “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Or messages like: “Build the Wall” and “Trump 2020.”
Ultimately, Ravelry’s decision to ban Trump supporters has to do with the knitting community’s concern about the race conversation. Earlier this year social media has seen hashtags like #diversknitty on Instagram promoting more discussions about white privilege and how the community could support its marginalized members in more overt terms.
The truth is, in this century, knitting is a kind of leisure activity you do when you have enough disposable income to engage in a hobby. That’s why these knitters have been a mostly white and middle class community of people who hadn’t seen political conflict until Trump unfortunately arrived. And for the most part this community is anti-Trump and open to diversification and making everyone who has perhaps felt excluded at one time or another from the craft because they aren’t white feel included.
If you look at Knitty magazine’s submissions page, its editor Singer has already made changes since the Ravelry decision. Knitty’s mission statement now states it seeks to represent diverse communities and body types: “Knitty is for everyone, and it’s important that the photos we publish reflect the diversity of our audience. Our readership is diverse in body size, age, gender, physical ability, cultural heritage, and skin color; we encourage you to embrace that diversity in the choice of images you send us.”
For many, knitting is therapeutic. It’s a place to escape the world’s injustices and pressures. So, it’s understandable that there are people that don’t want politics to interfere in the bigger meaning of what the act of knitting does for the state of calm of their souls. People like Judy Martinez, 63, of Morristown, N.J., who told The New York Times that she started knitting during a stressful time in her life. She turned to Ravelry not only for buying patterns, but for crafting tips. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the site’s announcement: “They really took a stand. So many of the companies don’t do that and sit at the sidelines. The fact that they did that was impressive to me.”
For us too, Judy.