Friday, March 13, 2015

Ravelry: A Double-Edged Sword

Just as it's difficult now to remember a pre-internet world (remember when you couldn't just "Google it"?), it's getting hard recall the pre-Ravelry knitting universe. I owe my own career as a very minor knitting designer to the existence of Ravelry and the tech geniuses who came up with the idea and then implemented it. Ravelry is fantastic, and as someone with substantial sales to the EU, I'm beyond delighted that Ravelry is going to start dealing with the VAT. I love that I can publish a design, hear back from knitters, make changes or corrections to a pattern, see what other knitters have done with it, what they like or don't like, etc. I love seeing what else is going on in the knitting universe, and talk about accessibility! I can sit in my third floor library on a day when it's snowing and the temp outside is -20C, press a button on my computer, and print out a copy of a pattern I've been admiring. Wow!
So what's not to love? Well, there is a dark side, believe it or not. Like all social media, Ravelry is a creature of the moment. It's very much about the latest, hottest item. Granted, it's amusing, even exciting, to watch as one's new design hits the "most viewed" page. But inevitably, a few days later it will be supplanted by the next new thing, which in turn will be replaced by something else. Of course, there are some wonderful patterns that linger in the top few "most viewed" pages pretty much eternally. The Hitchhiker Scarf comes to mind. But lately, I've noticed that designers and design companies are really pushing the envelope when it comes to getting attention. Take your pick from mystery KALs, photos of bare skin, photos of models with really, really unusual facial expressions, and yes, upside down photos. It's a crazy world out there when it comes to attention-getting tactics. And even worse is the pressure to constantly produce new material at an ever-increasing tempo to feed the need for the latest and newest. Does this result in quantity over quality? What does it mean for the quality of life of knitwear designers? Doesn't creativity also demand time for reflection? I don't know the answers to these questions, but these are important questions worth asking.
Let's dial back to the pre-internet knitting world of Elizabeth Zimmermann. For many years I used to receive Schoolhouse Press's Newsletters with their typewritten instructions and black and white grainy photos. The newletters came out twice a year. That's two, and only two, major published designs in each twelve-month period. And with instructions which by today's standards aren't much more than bare bones. (It should be noted, however, that Elizabeth was constantly unventing and producing astonishing knitted objects, many published posthumously.) Would EZ have survived and thrived in the whirl of the Ravelry moment? It's certainly nice to see the Baby Surprise Jacket is one of those designs that's an eternal fave on the "most viewed" pages. But my bet is that she would have made some entirely pithy remark to put all of us in our places, and got on with the things that mattered to her, without regard to whether or not they were "hot right now".

12 comments:

  1. I agree, especially about some of the strange poses and makeup that a certain designer uses in his more recent designs, many of which are not very wearable, at least in the "real world". His earlier designs were much better, in my opinion.

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  2. I often wonder what my grandmother, a gifted knitter who taught me, would think of today's knitting world. She often used the same pattern over and over, varying the yarn, and determining herself what sized needles, etc. she would need. She shopped at a lone yarn shop two towns over or the local dept. store but only when they had 100% wool. She would never believe the patterns, magazines, yarns, etc. that are available today. She would never believe the big business yarn is. She knit. Period. It's the same with French cookery. They do it in small kitchens that from the outside seem ill-equipped but the meals they create is amazing compared to a US kitchen filled with seasonal gadgetry from William Sonoma, etc. I'm confused by yarn these days! It's almost not worth it to sift through the different kinds, prices, online shops, colors, etc. It threatens to stop me altogether.

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  3. On the other hand, it is wonderful to be able to purchase just one pattern rather than an entire magazine. So frustrating to buy a magazine with 20 patterns of blah when all you wanted was the mitten pattern on page 36.

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    1. I totally agree with you on that! I think we owe Jared Flood for forging into that territory. When he was designing for Berroco, his patterns were the first (to my knowledge) to be available both online as singles, and in-store as hard copies. I almost never buy magazines anymore, with exception of the occasional Rowan one. The action these days if pretty much all online.

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  4. Yarn, patterns and knitting aren't the only commodities to suffer from the HRN syndrome. I see it especialy in foods. Quinoa one month, coconut oil the next.

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  5. Well! I say we take a leaf from EZ's book and not play into it. Personally, I prefer to find designers whose work I enjoy and stick with them. Along with the ever shifting variety of "it" looks on Ravelry comes a wide (and not always useful) variety of pattern-writing styles.

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  6. There is a lot of pressure for designers to produce and produce and produce, especially if this is your living. Using social media is another whole job on top of it. Some people have figured out how to make their mark using Ravelry. Good on them. I haven't figured any of it out yet.

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    1. Deb, you are one of the few actually making your living from knitting, so bravo! I know I am fortunate enough to be financially secure, thanks to Bill, but even so (or perhaps because of that) I've made the decision so far not to put myself out there on Facebook or Twitter. The blog and Ravelry alone take up enough time.

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  7. This is so thoughtfully written, and I agree entirely. This is the nature of social media, things come and go so quickly...blink and you'll miss it. I do think good, creative patterns endure and some designers deservedly get loyal followers. And EZ is probably still a bestselling knitting author, I'll wager! I love Ravelry for the peer inspiration. Thank you for sharing Harriet's Jacket- it is a wonderful design and will stand the test of time.

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  8. I've found you because Harriot's Sweater is hot right now... And free? New spinner a year in and this seems like a do-able project. EZ reinvented?! An adventure might be just about to begin... Thank you.

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  9. I've found you because Harriot's Sweater is hot right now... And free? New spinner a year in and this seems like a do-able project. EZ reinvented?! An adventure might be just about to begin... Thank you.

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    1. Yes, rather ironic isn't it, right after writing this post. I'm still a fairly new spinner. Buttonbox was my first drop spindle-spun garment, and Zora my first wheel-spun project. I admit I prefer spindle spinning to the wheel.

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