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".