Ravelry’s ban on Trump support has proven divisive, but it’s already creating broader change.
The longtime internet knitting community Ravelry updated its content policy this week to ban support of President Donald Trump from the platform. The new policy holds that support for Trump is support for white supremacy, which is not conducive to positive community-building.
Ravelry’s announcement of the policy change, made on Twitter on June 23, was short and to the point, noting, “We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy.”
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. More details: https://t.co/hEyu9LjqXa
— Ravelry (@ravelry) June 23, 2019
In the full updated policy, Ravelry clarified that its ban on Trumpism “includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content.” The policy also states that the ban does not apply to other forms of conservative content, nor is it intended to target conservative Ravelry users themselves, specifying that “hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.”
The policy also notes that Ravelry is following the lead of the longtime gaming forum RPG.net, which banned Trump support in October 2018.
“We will not pretend that evil isn’t evil, or that it becomes a legitimate difference of political opinion if you put a suit and tie on it,” the gaming site’s moderators wrote in their own announcement at the time. “This is because [Trump’s] public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable. We can be welcoming to … persons of every ethnicity who want to talk about games, or we can allow support for open white supremacy. Not both.”
Ravelry is a niche website in terms of the broader internet, but with 8 million members, it’s the online center of the knitting world. And its stance has made waves both inside and outside the community, from calls to keep politics out of knitting to backlash among broader groups of Trump supporters.
Perhaps most notably, it’s the latest development in a conversation that’s been happening in the knitting community for months and is having real-world effects, for better and for worse.
Ravelry’s new policy has drawn support, backlash, criticism, and everything in between
Ravelry was founded by husband-and-wife team Casey and Jessica Forbes in 2007. It soon became a beloved website among knitters and other fiber artists, and its users formed many offshoot communities and subgroups that had nothing to do with knitting. The site quickly gained a reputation for fostering a loving, supportive network of knitters; in 2011, Slate called it “the best social network you’d never heard of.”
Like most internet communities, it’s run by a small team of administrators and relies on its members to shape its values and determine the direction of the site. Ravelry did not return Vox’s requests for comment, but many of its community members have been very vocal on social media about their support of the site and enthusiasm for its new policy.
I just responded to someone claiming to be representing a large group of conservative knitters and crocheters, asking if Knitty supports @ravelry’s decison. The answer is still yes. Knitty is about inclusion, and IMO, this policy is about making inclusiveness SAFE. pic.twitter.com/2kjbcM2ZFu
— Amy Singer (@knittymag) June 25, 2019
Within Ravelry’s forums, some users have collected media write-ups of the decision in a thread devoted to that purpose; they have also discussed ideas for new site merchandise that declares “Proud to be a Raveler.”
On Instagram, memes reading “I stand with Ravelry” have garnered thousands of likes.
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I stand with ravelry and their decision to maintain a safe space for all yarn & fiber enthusiasts everywhere… Thank you @hi.ravelry for being a VOICE!!! ❤ ♂️ #hummingbirdmoon #indiedyer #hardworkingwitchymama #knittersofinstagram #crochetersofinstagram #spinnersofinstagram #weaversofinstagram #pride #equality #hiravelry #craftivism #diversknitty #istandwithravelry #lovenothate
My favorite thing is all the non-knitters asking knitters if we’ve heard of this great @ravelry site that’s banning Trump support. I cannot overstate how widely used and loved Ravelry is in the community. It’s like asking if you’ve heard of Twitter.
— Felicity Disco (@FelicityDisco) June 24, 2019
Ravelry’s social media accounts have also become a target for insults and harassment, from both upset members and angry outsiders. Shortly after announcing the policy, the site closed its registration to new members, and moderators began freezing comments sections and deleting inflammatory posts and discussion.
“I deleted my account because their decision to ban support of Trump only helps to perpetuate this massive hysteria that has overwhelmed this craft for a long while now,” author and self-described gay conservative knitter Gregory Patrick wrote on his blog, Mad Man Knitting. “Through knitting we should be hoping to build alliances with our alleged enemies through the majesty of our shared craft.” He also wrote that he believes the site had become too political, arguing that “skeins … were not spun to be weapons.”
In an email, Patrick told Vox he had been a Ravelry user for 10 years before deleting his account. “And I assure you, hatred came just as powerfully, if not more so, from the other side when it came to politics.” He said he felt Ravelry had “rip[ped] a hole in this already shredded community.”
“The language and tone of their statement was DESIGNED to start a fight. Rather than allowing this community to find ways to heal, they decided that the conversations required to get to a better place would be banned.”
To Patrick, who told Vox that “my political philosophies are based on my own life experiences, and not based on my gender, race, or sexual orientation,” Ravelry was overlooking the power of knitting to bring people together across political divides. “[W]e as knitters are fortunate enough to have that one peaceful craft to begin a simple conversation with. We start with, ‘Where did you get that gorgeous yarn?’ or ‘What are you making?’ to something deeper over time,” he wrote. “And yes, things can get heated when we discover how passionate we are about our opposing beliefs. And that is wonderful!”
But many in the Ravelry community argue that it’s a mistake to assume that knitting is inherently peaceful. Not only have knitted and hand-sewn crafts like “pussy hats” and Handmaid robes become an increasingly visible (and sometimes controversial) part of the resistance to the Trump administration, but fiber arts have long been a means of resistance — remember the AIDS quilt? — and have carried politically charged connotations for decades.
Knitting and other forms of crafting have long played a role in political movements
Taylor Payne is a St. Louis resident who got involved in craft-based activism, colloquially known as “craftivism,” during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. At the time, she told Vox, she was experiencing PTSD from the act of protesting, including sensory and auditory flashbacks and insomnia. Through a direct-action training group, she met a friend who taught her how to knit, both as a form of therapeutic stress relief and as a form of resistance activism. Together with a friend and a group of other Ferguson activists, Payne co-founded the Yarn Mission, a collective that “knits for black liberation,” encourages black visibility within the knitting community, and champions support for black businesses.
“It was life-changing for me,” she said.
Payne’s experience aligns with a long history of knitting as an act of resistance.
According to Karina Drost, a longtime Ravelry member from Washington and the owner of an Etsy crafts shop, the Well and Spindle, “the political history of fiber arts is “as old as civilization.”
“[K]nitters were used as spies in WWII by the Belgian government,” she told Vox in an email. “Others had to physically create flags for countries or symbols on things like patches for resistance fighters to wear. A woman created by hand the first version of the American flag. These types of crafts were once part of surviving. … So yes, I feel that fiber arts are inherently political.”
It’s perhaps inevitable, then, that a website like Ravelry would also play host to political activism.
Karida Collins is a Baltimore-based knitter who started her yarn business, the Neighborhood Fiber Co., in 2006, the year before Ravelry was founded. She told Vox that when she started, the knitting community was “a lot whiter and a lot older … when I would travel to trade shows, I was often the only black vendor, and I was often one of the few people of color in the building.”
By contrast, Ravelry itself “skewed towards younger, more tech-savvy people, and for the most part those people were for Obama, and you saw a lot of that [on the website],” she said. “It took a while, but that’s what grew into pussy hats. People have been using Ravelry for political expression for a while.”
Drost observed that craftivism became an even larger part of the knitting community after Donald Trump took office. “I have seen ‘Fuck Trump’ knitted beanies, MAGA hats painstakingly taken apart and then put together as KKK hoods and Nazi armbands to make a statement about our current administration, crocheted blankets with ‘Nasty Woman’ stitched into them, embroideries made with stories from the #MeToo movement and also with encouraging words of resistance, etc.,” she said. Fiber arts “have given some degree of power and control throughout history to those who do them and now are being used as beautifully crafted statements against an oppressive racist regime and sharing them with the world. They are powerful.”
That statement holds true for Trump supporters as well; since Ravelry announced its policy update, an Etsy shop called Deplorable Knitter, which coincidentally earned its first customer review just a few days before the announcement, has received about two dozen more reviews in the week since. The shop primarily offers patterns for knitted hats and cowls with Trump support and anti-abortion messages, and these reviews frequently reference the Ravelry ban: “Thank you from this unRaveled deplorable knitter,” reads one.
The knitting community has been having conversations about how to be more inclusive for several months
At the heart of Ravelry’s recent decision to ban Trump are the knitting community’s ongoing conversations about race. Beginning in January 2019, the site and its adjacent community of Instagram knitters found itself engaging in discussions about forms of oblivious racism, white privilege, and how the community could better support its marginalized members. On social media, hashtags like #diversknitty have given the community ways to visualize and discuss issues that are important to specific subgroups.
Within Ravelry itself, a community post made by Casey Forbes appeared on January 14, 2019, citing the recent discussions around race and asking, “What can we do to make Ravelry more inclusive? What are we going to do to make fiber arts an inclusive community that we can be proud of?” Among the responses was one from a forum member who noted that in Ravelry’s present state, even innocent threads, such as one asking for a list of diverse yarn businesses to support, were likely to be completely derailed and shut down by “bigots or lowkey racists. … That doesn’t seem like something you want to be okay with.”
Amy Singer is the founder of Knitty, a craft arts magazine that launched in 2002. She told Vox in an email that she’d been following the conversations since she saw them begin on Instagram in January.
“I absolutely think these conversations are necessary (I’m a lefty middle-aged white jewish woman) and have learned a lot about what [black and indigenous people of color] have faced in a community I had previously seen as welcoming to all,” she said. “Since January, the online conversations about race have spread to include diversity in economic status (shaming those who cannot afford expensive yarn — this does happen ALL the time) and body size/shape.”
Drost told Vox that the Ravelry ban “shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.”
“It’s been coming,” she said. “Those who suggest we ‘make knitting fun again’ or ‘keep fiber and politics separate’ have repeatedly been questioned why they hold this stance, and it’s been shown again and again that they can’t answer without setting themselves up to have their beliefs and intentions that align with the Trump administration known.”
Additionally, Collins emphasized that this connection wouldn’t have been made, let alone become official Ravelry policy, without the work of people of color. “Ravelry taking this stand would not have happened without the very real work that took place beforehand from people of color, mostly women of color. explaining this and educating people and putting themselves out there and exposing themselves to hate messages and threats,” she said.
Payne told Vox that while she sells her patterns on Ravelry, she’s never considered it to be a particularly safe space. She said her patterns are frequently named after famous black women like Harriet Tubman and bell hooks, and that sometimes on Ravelry, even just posting the names of such patterns can result in hostile comments in response. She hopes that now, thanks to the policy change, the site will be a more welcoming place for her to use.
Still, she noted, “Just because someone doesn’t support Trump doesn’t mean they’re not pushing white feminism on us.”
The knitting community evolved alongside real-world activism. Now the real-world effects of that activism are trickling up.
Ravelry’s decision to ban support of President Trump has prompted some to voice their hopes that the move could embolden other internet communities and social media platforms to take similar stances. While that seems like a long shot, the Ravelry ban has had immediate consequences for many people in the knitting industry.
“Everyone uses Ravelry,” Collins said. “Even the store owners and designers get their patterns from it.” That means, she argued, that small businesses have found themselves unwittingly linked to its decision-making.
“I have a friend who owns a shop in a solidly liberal area who has had multiple messages from people asking why she hasn’t come forward to take a stand with Ravelry,” Collins told me. “Similarly, I have a customer [with a store in] suburban Chicago, [in a] mostly Republican area. The store owner said, ‘I stand with Ravelry,’ and there’s been backlash for her among some of her customers.“
Collins was quick to point out that “knitting is a leisure activity, and in order to have leisure time and money to spend, you have to have a certain amount of disposable income. So we’re already talking about something that’s an activity for, at the very least, mostly middle-class white women.” Within this mostly white community, real-world consequences for knitting-related political stances have, until now, been rare. But Collins believes that people who want Ravelry and other knitting-related businesses to pick a side — either pro-Trump or anti-Trump — outnumber those who want them to remain neutral.
“Lots of people have thanked me for having a stance,” she said. In the days since the ban, she’s noticed more definitive stances coming “largely from stores and designers who had previously tried to be inclusive but not openly political — yarn shops [whose customers] are asking them why they haven’t taken a position,” she said. “I guess there’s just so much going on in this environment. You’re selling a luxury item; nobody needs to buy yarn. Up until this point, stores and designers could kind of get away without putting much on the line, because it was mostly happening on Instagram.”
But because so many retailers within the knitting industry use Ravelry, for many of the site’s users, its evolving stance has moved largely theoretical discussions about activism into real-life spaces.
Singer told Vox she has already made changes to Knitty as a result of Ravelry’s decision. The submissions page of the magazine’s website, where freelance writers and knitting enthusiasts can submit articles for consideration, now contains a section explaining Knitty’s mission 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.”
“We’re 100 percent in support of visible diversity, and think Ravelry’s new policy can only help make their space safer for those who have felt previously excluded from our craft because they’re not white,” she said.
But both Payne and Collins are slightly more skeptical of the reach the policy will have; each spoke of the need for ongoing change within the knitting community. “It’s a nice start, but there’s still a huge economic disparity within the fiber industry,” Payne told me. She says she hopes the ban will make it easier for black knitters to conduct business on Ravelry and within the wider yarn industry. “Hopefully [the ban] opens up more conversation, so there can be equity among [sellers], with us being able to survive and support ourselves and do what these white people are doing.”
Payne noted that in particular, black dyers (usually independent workers who hand-color yarn) often have trouble getting their products sold in stores alongside that of white wool-dyers. Collins agreed with this assessment. “A lot [of] designers or yarn-dyers … have witnessed their own inability to get their products out there alongside the more curated, shiny-happy-people beads of certain white [creators],” she said. “I think that’s a very real thing.”
She also stressed that “before you can talk about the economic disparity within the knitting community, you have to recognize that it mirrors the disparity in the larger community.” Payne, too, pointed out that the problems Ravelry is tackling both predate Trump and are much larger than the knitting community itself.
Still, they both told Vox they were excited by the move and hopeful that it would create lasting change.
“It’s something worth celebrating,” Collins said.