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.