“We’re all sitting in front of computers all day and maybe we’re not totally excited about our jobs, and even if we are, maybe we need something different when we get home,” Ms. Forbes said. “We don’t have our traditional communities like we used to. We’re all mobile and we move around a lot and travel—[Ravelry] is a nice way to connect with people when you already have something in common with them.”
There are plenty of groups on the site where crafters can connect and exchange information on message boards and chat rooms. Of course, New York–specific groups have sprouted up, too, like NYC Subway Knitters (800 members) and NYC’s Closeknit Crew (22 members).
“New York is kind of the epicenter of knitting. There’s so many groups, so many shops,” said Jennifer Fox, a 29-year-old dietician and researcher who organizes her Upper East Side Knitters group with Ravelry and Meetup.com. She said Ravelry, is an “instant community of people” that can keep new knitters informed and motivated—online and off.
Ms. Fox’s group is comprised of about 70 members, mostly in their 20s or early 30s and who either live or work on the Upper East Side. About half a dozen of them meet three times a month, sometimes at a members’ apartment for snacks and a tutorial, other times for themed gatherings at coffee shops and public spots. Ms. Fox once organized a trip to girly salon Dashing Diva so members could get pedicures and sip cosmos while they knitted.
Alyssa Pratt, 25, is one of the group’s members. “I don’t think we all would have met without the common bond of knitting,” she wrote in an email. “We don’t sit around and talk knitting. We sit, knit and just talk. I think its the best way to get to know someone new.”
Ms. Pratt also has a fiber shop on Etsy.com, an e-commerce site for crafters, and browses Ravelry for “market research.”
“You might see that a lot of people are dyeing things in purples and blues one month. I take that back to the dye pot and see what I can come up with. Its like my own little focus group,” she explained.
Aryn Morse, a 27-year-old employee at cozy yarn shop Knitty City at 79th Street on the Upper West Side, started a group for the store on Ravelry. “We have an email newsletter, but this is more interactive,” she said. Ms. Morse checks in on the site several times a day. She said customers often come in to the shop with patterns printed out directly from Ravelry’s site and ask for yarns that they heard about from other users.
Knitty City’s owner Pearl Chin said Ravelry has increased her sales, and its users have become her store ambassadors throughout the site, recommending Knitty City in group forums. “We get a lot of out-of-town people who come up and say, I looked you up mainly on Ravelry, rather than Googling or on Yelp.”
“Yarn people are really caring, kind people,” Ms. Chin said, which is probably what makes Ravelry so successful. Much of the site’s content is user-generated, with tons of free tips, step-by-step instructions and patterns uploaded by its users. Dozens of volunteer editors have offered to help the Forbeses maintain the site, and members curate a weekly newsletter as well. The Forbeses created a section of the site called For the Love of Ravelry, where users can make suggestions for new features. Mr. Forbes said they’d like to remove the “beta” label soon, but plan to keep the site free to its users, partially because they already give so much back to the site.
Mr. Flood sees knitting as stitched into the fabric of New York for good, a situation that Ravelry has certainly helped. “It’s kind of filling that need for a tactile experience, which we rarely ever have anymore—especially with the Internet,” he said. “We’re not really touching anything anymore. There’s something about knitting, the everyday-life part that’s integrated into an art form, [that] I think is really unique and meaningful, too. It’s connected to something important.”
Maybe with Ravelry, people can knit their way to whatever that something is.