Katie's Craft Corner: Get hooked on Ravelry

There’s a lot that’s changed about formerly grandma-dominated knitting in the past 10 years, the most significant being the way crafters connect with each other and learn new things. A good example of this is Ravelry, a social networking service specifically built to connect you with new projects and new like-minded friends.

The Facebook of the needlecraft set, Ravelry was started in 2007 and has over 3 million users. Thousands of free patterns are available through the site, as well as Q&A forums and special interest groups. An email allows you to join for free, and a profile picture along with a short bio completes the sign-up process.

On your profile, you’ll be able to upload photos of your finished projects and have other users give you feedback via comments and “favorites,” (similar to Facebook’s “like” button). Save designs you like by queuing them, and add notes or ratings on the project once you start knitting or crocheting.

When you find a design you like, click the “projects” tab to see the photos of the item that other knitters have made. This is a way to get a realistic look at the design, as sometimes artful designer photos can hide flaws. You can even narrow down the projects by color if you wonder what that sweater would look like in navy blue instead of the pictured color.

Most projects are free, though some are for sale, typically for under $8. If you enjoy designing your own patterns, Ravelry is a great way to share them. Post your designs for free, or you can even set up a Ravelry store where you can sell a PDF of your designs (Ravelry keeps about two percent of the profit).

Many relationships between designers, knitwear magazine editors and book publishers have been established through Ravelry, making it a useful tool for getting a design career started.

On Ravelry, you can also read reviews of yarn, helping you to make good purchase decisions and see projects knitted or crocheted in that specific yarn. As with any product review, you’re going off of personal opinions, but if a majority of comments claim a yarn feels itchy or cheap, they’re probably right.

Of course, the most unique aspect of Ravelry is the social interaction. You have the ability to “friend” other users, and unlike Facebook, most of your “friends” will be people you’ve never met outside of Ravelry. Your relationship with other “Ravelers” is not so much a friendship but a support system. You would friend someone on Ravelry because you like their designs/projects/ forum conversations and want to conveniently see their latest postings in a tab on your profile.

For a new needle crafter, Ravelry is a boon. The forums allow you to ask a question about a project and get feedback and advice from fellow users. Links to blogs and tutorials allow you to grow your skills in a way that suits your learning style.

Ravelry features groups, much like fan pages, which anyone can join with one click. Groups feature project photos from their members along with topic-specific forums. Anyone can start a group if you don’t find one you want.

There’s a group for everyone, and groups range from general (Teen Knitters, Designers, Sock Makers, etc.) to the niche, and that’s where the fun happens. Obsessed with the BBC’s “Sherlock?” Join the group page and chat in the forums about “Sherlock”-inspired knits as well as the latest episode (a social element of the site is non-knitting related conversation in the groups). Love Anthropologie’s knitwear? Join the group dedicated to making copycat hats and scarves from the store.

For being an open, public network, Ravelry is well moderated. After being a 3-year member, I’ve never found hateful or derogatory speech in a forum or in comments. Debates do occur, though the formation of groups tends to steer people toward others with the same interests and tastes, so debates are rare.

The site can be challenging for newcomers to navigate, with the juxtaposition of pattern/yarn search engine and social network taking a bit of trial and error as well as lots of exploration to get used to. Because everyone’s profile is public, take steps to protect your privacy, such as a username that doesn’t contain your last name.

Even if you don’t knit or crochet, Ravelry is worth a look, if for nothing but the sheer magnitude and uniqueness of the site. You might even be inspired to pick up a new hobby.

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