Jared Flood is kind of a celebrity on Ravelry.com, the social networking site its users call the “Facebook for knitters.”
A 26-year-old designer and artist, Mr. Flood—who looks the part of a knitter, with his trim, soft beard, square-framed glasses and uniform of self-created cardigans and sweaters—is also known online as Brooklyn Tweed (his Web site is brooklyntweed.blogspot.com). He’s known in New York knitting circles for his boyish good looks as well as for the simple, fashionable knitting patterns he posts on Ravelry, where he belongs to 59 different groups, from Birkenstock Lovers to Tweed Heads. He devotes a couple hours every morning to answering emails from his fans on Ravelry. He said the site “kicked my ass into gear” into building a career in knitting.
“It’s definitely something that I use as a regular source of inspiration because it’s the fastest way for me to see the most varied source of knitwear, like, without even leaving my computer,” he told The Observer last week over eggs at the Greenpoint Coffee House, located a few blocks from the one-bedroom apartment that he shares with his partner, an opera singer. “There’s lots of things you wouldn’t get to see every day.”
Over the past few years, as more and more New Yorkers like Mr. Flood have developed an obsession with knitting, as fancy yarn stores and “stitch ’n’ bitch” circles have popped up all around us, that old-school pastime has gone online. And Ravelry has become the Internet tool to help the typical needle-wielder navigate through the woolly wild.
“Anybody who is not on Ravelry,” a friend said recently, pausing to lean in—close—“is stupid.” Many users describe Ravelry as a kind of home, one that is uniquely theirs because of the time and energy they put into the site. It doesn’t feel like so many other social networking sites that are run by advertising agencies and work as promotional gimmicks. Rather, Ravelry is a community builder. Mr. Flood said the site is so useful that it has become almost synonymous with knitting: “It’s hard to imagine what [knitting] was like before Ravelry.”
Currently, there are about 275,000 Ravelry users, and there’s a waiting list that is more than 5,000 knitters long. The site works like this: Once users sign in, they can create a profile and start uploading photos of their most recent projects. There’s space to indicate which pattern, yarn and needle size they used—which is useful if other users want to make the same scarf, hat or sweater. They have a “project queue” where knitters can tag and rank patterns that they’d like to work on in the future, and a “favorites” feature, where they can track other users’ progress. Blog posts chronicling their process can be integrated onto personal Web sites. Designers can also create online stores to sell patterns and other projects.
Mr. Flood said Ravelry breaks down the traditional walls built by knitting magazines, in which only published designers were recognized for their work. Ravelry, like almost everything else on the Internet, leveled the playing field.
“What Ravelry has kind of done,” he said, “is spark people to support designers like me and independent people who are working and really know what they’re doing and really love what they are doing, but aren’t necessarily, like, they don’t want to be tied to this publishing, big-business model that they’ve sort of had to deal with.”
RAVELRY’S CREATOR, Jess Forbes, 31, learned knitting from her grandmother while she was growing up in a New Jersey township near Clinton. For years, she had been knitting and blogging at frecklegirl.com before coming up with the idea for Ravelry. Her husband, Casey Forbes, also 31, watched her get frustrated trying to find good information about patterns and yarns on the Internet.
“I’d search for the right pattern to go with the right yarn or needle and knew all the information was out there; I just couldn’t find it in a convenient spot,” Ms. Forbes said. Mr. Forbes had a job as a programmer, and after ruminating on the idea for a few months, sketching logos on bar napkins, they started working on the site in January 2007. By that summer, they had both quit their jobs to work on Ravelry full time—living off donations from users, sales from their online shop and advertising from small knitting and fiber businesses on the site. The Forbeses, who live in Boston, catered a familial image for the site—their googly-eyed Boston Terrier, Bob, serves as the site’s mascot and frequent guest on the company’s blog, titled Where My Stitches At? Ms. Forbes, giving voice to the homey, fuzzy feelings knitting inspires, said that the site’s mission isn’t just to get its users chatting online—they can also make connections in the real world.
“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.