And it’s not just about knitting patterns anymore: sites like Ravelry provide a “safe space” to discuss politics. Deplorable Knitter and Medora Van Denburgh, who runs a 239-member Bernie Sanders group on Ravelry, both said they live in areas that generally lean in the political direction opposite to theirs, and Ravelry makes them feel less alone.
This is something we’ll see more of, Literat predicts. Other niche groups she studied, such as Fortnite gamers and fan fiction sites, created active subgroups around political conversation in the same way. Typically, people feel secure around the main interest at first (in the case of Ravelry, knitting or crochet), but become more and more involved in political discussions over time.
Online communities that are hyperspecific to certain hobbies also help spawn dialogue across political divisions, a key point in a polarized political environment where people spend much of their time in ideological bubbles, Literat says. .
“You get a much wider range of opinions in these spaces,” she says. “You see people who are already politically engaged, but also people who don’t come to these places, at least initially, because of politics.”
Censorship against freedom of expression
Or they weren’t. Ravelry’s equation between Trump support and white supremacy is a controversial move, even for supporters of the ban. (Ravelry declined to comment for this story, and co-founder Cassidy Forbes told me in an email that the company “[doesn’t] really a press that isn’t in the yarn industry – it’s not a new policy or anything, just something we’ve been doing over the past 13 years. “)
Pam Mauser, the founder of Freedom Knits, says she founded the site because she was insulted by Ravelry’s position. “I knitted a 2020 Trump hat, and they took it off without notice,” says Mauser, from Indiana. “They just sent me a message saying it’s no longer acceptable. But what’s acceptable on the site is stuff that says “F — Trump”. It’s political.
Mauser says his site welcomes both liberals and conservatives. “If you want to post about Obama, that’s fine,” she said. “It’s not political. It’s Freedom Knits. I don’t believe in censoring people who don’t believe like you.
Across the aisle, Van Denburgh said banning support for Trump was also not something for him. “I was really blocked by the conflict between my principles [of free speech] and my reluctant admission that Ravelry did the right thing in enacting the ban, ”she said.
The controversy shines a light on the future of political organization: ultra-niche, small but vocal online communities built around an otherwise non-political hobby or interest. For Literat, the Ravelry ban presents a litmus test for the future of niche site censorship and whether it is better to forge a single, politically homogeneous community or to separate fringe users.
It also gives women a new way to politicize themselves online. For Amy Singer, the founder of another knitting site, Knitty, this is good news.
“The one thing that craftsmanship has always done is to bring comfort,” she says. “It gives us a way to express what upsets us, to hope for change and to bring comfort. Knitting is not for grannies. We are no longer afraid.