In December 2009, I joined Ravelry 'a knit and crochet community'. Online. Now, I have a rather awkward relationship with the virtual world. As a source of information, especially English language information, it's very, very useful for me. But in my experience the word 'community' is frequently hijacked by commercial and political bodies to leverage new markets, or as a useful buzzword for disguising cuts to social funding. And what is communal about staying in, facing a screen?
Ah, but, when genuinely community-minded people have the vision, skills and taste for hard work to boldly go into the virtual world and create the conditions for a welcoming, inclusive, mutually supportive and downright inspiring community - a community where people from all over the planet can come and grow - even I am won over, no, delighted and excited. And that's what Ravelry is about. Much as Jess envisaged in a blog seven years ago this month.
Running parallel to and enriching my 'real' life I now have this 'place' where I can encounter other people with the same or related interests, who share their knowledge, triumphs, messes and learning curves, people I wouldn't otherwise meet because they live in the UK, or Norway, or Mexico, or the US.
It's just like a 'real' club, except it doesn't matter if you have to work late, or you've only got ten minutes, or you can't get a babysitter, or you've no money for the bus, or that you live in a different time zone.
It reminds me a bit of when we were in Dubai, where there's much more of a social mix of cultures, professions and levels of seniority than is common elsewhere in more permanent, and therefore homogeneous, societies. A twelve year old American schoolgirl got in touch. Great-grandmothers who are knitting for new babies. Men Who Knit. OK - that's more common than it used to be. But, Men who Crochet? Yes! People in their fifties and sixties dyeing yarn and selling it through Etsy. Full-time designers and makers. Many blog, some do podcasts, several have books out. And there are professional and amateur spinners, and weavers, and-and-and-.
And in between, we're at work, or school, or looking after our families, in Russia or China or Estonia or Ireland. It's great. And if you don't speak the language that that wonderful pattern is written in, often someone has translated those instructions from French, or Japanese, or German. It's awe-inspiring, really, how it works.
I must admit, I've only recently moved from lurking, 'favoriting' and leaving the occasional comment, to chats and participating in forums, but I've learnt such a lot - I'm learning all the time - and I've been touched by so many people's enthusiasm for their particular skill, or tradition or discovery. I'm having a ball! I even manage conversations in Spanish, without the pressures of real time dialogue in a second language. And there are groups for teachers and theatre luvvies and gardeners - even a dedicated group of composters who knit and crochet!!! Of course I've joined!
So, here are some of the things I've made and am pleased with. The big discovery for me has been the extraordinary scope and versatility of crochet. I've always been a knitter, and never could get my fingers and thumbs round crochet until a couple of winters ago. Since then, though, I've progressed from fat 5mm diameter hooks and fat, cheap, reasonably stretchy acrylic yarn in stripes and rounds to granny squares and flowers and to snowflakes on 2.5mm hooks and fine cotton - not fine fine, on 1.25mm and 0.6mm (?!?!) hooks, you understand (Never gonna happen.) - and simple tops, to basic Irish crochet, and looking at alternative materials like string, plastic and wire.
Perhaps best of all, my virtual life feeds back into my real life. I'm not talking about my unevenly increasing skill and knowledge, but about discovering how many colleagues do their own thing outside work. It turns out that some of my colleagues are also into crochet or knitting, or working with paper, or making jewellery, or baking or sewing or basketry or clay-modelling. It's nice to know. There's a sense of understanding and being understood that adds another dimension to our relationships. And it makes a change from Facebook.
Happy Birthday, Ravelry!