Julia Farwell-Clay


Listen for the Voices You Can't Hear


I was promising my second Rhinebeck observation, and given the response to my last post which I thought of as fairly innocent, I feel little timid about this one since I wanted to wrestle with something more challenging.

I thought Rhinebeck had in general a new and improved feeling to it this year – my lament about community and Instagram notwithstanding.

What was there that felt better? I believe there were more women of color there than in previous years.

So this is the happy side of the coin of that Instagram lament: I wondered if women of color – and in particular black women – may be feeling more welcome and able to venture to Rhinebeck because social media creates a space where people can see who’s going to be there, knowing it will be comfortable to be there as a person of color knowing they will not be the only person in the room. I also credit Kristy Glass’ Rhinebeck Sweater videos where Kristy surveys knitters about their epic Rhinebeck projects. Crochet and knitting alike blend together in what Kristy includes, and Black women indeed see themselves represented there. Kristy does a good and rare job of covering this basic fact in her videos: there are Black Folk (women and men) who sell yarn, who make yarn, and who use it beautifully. Thanks to Instagram and Kristy, knitters of color can see that at Rhinebeck, at least, there’s community.

Industry shows should take note.

There’s a growing chorus for inclusion in knitting. I heard it first from my knit neighbor Diane Ivey (featured in the post thumbnail), and as I’ve spent more time with her this year, I hear it more and more in the wider internet as I’ve tuned in. I see it in the Diversknitty and Blackpeopledoknit hashtags on Instagram. I see more and more of the knitters I follow write blog posts and lengthy Instagram comments about it. There’s a shift afoot, but it needs a push.

I’m a middle aged white lady comfortably represented in the knitting world around me so it’s my privilege and responsibility to listen and amplify that call for Diversity. I have welcomed the choices some knitting magazines have made towards casting non-white models. Indeed, it was one of Twist Collective’s first impulses, to find women who were not white to wear sweaters for the magazine. In the very first issue, and ever issue since then. Meanwhile, Dyers and Designers and Teachers and Shop Owners and just regular knitters of color still haven’t achieved a complimentary visibility equal to the percentages they occupy in our industry.

mini skeins galore, by  Lady Dye Yarns

mini skeins galore, by Lady Dye Yarns

As content as we might feel to say that hey: poc knitters are coming to shows, I think that show managers themselves need to do some work around being more welcoming by curating makers of color into their vendor mix. I invite Rhinebeck and Vogue Knitting Live and Stitches to look at their applications for next year, and perhaps rank inclusion more highly on their list of criteria.

And please don’t tell me you’re not getting applications that qualify! If you’re not hearing from those folks it’s because you’ve done nothing to suggest you’ll listen to them. Do the work.

Go find them!

Brandi Harper is among the teachers featured at VKLive in NYC this January. This is a start. Jeanette Sloan has begun a list of designers you can use as a beginning. If you think of yourself as part of the resistance? Then push back at the prevailing culture and open your ears; to quote a former Professor of mine, Deborah McDowell: “Listen for the voices you can’t hear.”

The knitters will come, and I’ll be among them. Make this industry more welcoming. It’s long overdue.

Further reading:

Diane Ivey’s blog post about the imperative for Diversity in the Industry as a whole

Jeanette Sloan’s Knitting Magazine column “Black People do Knit

Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s germinal thesis “Myth – Black People Don’t Knit

GGMadeit’s blog post “Does Ethnicity Matter?”, read the comments too

Frenchie’s Fiber Muse Podcast interview with Monica Rodriguez about Diversity in Knitting (and more good links).

Clara Parkes’ Instagram Post about Michael Che, read for the comments

Julia Farwell-Clay