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Diverse Voices, Inclusive Images

February 28, 2019

This winter has seen a flowering of conversations within the Instagram knit community about the impacts of racism. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) knitters have shared examples of the racism they’ve suffered both online and in real life at knitting groups, yarn shops, and knit events. Vox published a summary of the discussion to date here, it’s a reasonable place to start. Another is the Unfinished Object blog, which “explore(s) how diversity becomes inclusion, how representation morphs into change”.

So many BIPOC knitters and makers have shared their experiences, their feelings, and in so doing become targets of online hate. These knitters have taken big risks and suffered damaging consequences by speaking.

Vulnerability is oh so hard. It’s something you extend to friends, hoping that you will be held, and accepted. This vulnerability is something that many BIPOC knitters are extending to make a safer BIPOC space within the crafting community. This conversation has extended an opportunity to established white designers like Alexa and I, to make change for the better.

We personally would like to thank the following knitters and makers whose stories have impacted us: @su.krita, @ocean_bythesea, @thecolourmustard, @thepetiteknitter, @astitchtowear, @nadiratani, @kindahamaly, @jeanettesloan, @tyneswedish and so many more.

Thank-you for raising your voices, thank-you for sharing your stories.

We are sorry that our Instagram feed and our publications have, overwhelmingly, reinforced white norms of beauty, instead of challenging them. We are sorry that we personally have been ignorant and not educated ourselves beyond a superficial level on issues of racism, nor considered our white privilege critically.

Alexa and I have been listening, hearing, thinking, debating whether or how, as white women designers, we might contribute to this conversation. Unfortunately, waiting for the right words hasn’t lead to them. So we’ll fumble and falter, instead of remaining silent.

“We didn’t create racism, but that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to work to interrupt it.”

Omkari Williams in conversation with Layla Saad on her podcast here.

We believe this. And we are coming to learn what damage is done through passivity, through silence. We strive to learn to act and communicate differently.

Alexa and I have, for the most part, shared only pretty pictures of knitting and our children with you over the past 7 years, staying silent about politics, philosophy, parenting, what we’re reading and what we think and feel except as it relates directly to knitting. BUT for us, this conversation feels DIFFERENT. Different in impact, and different in importance.

In our minds, our work at Tin Can Knits has centered around a ‘you can knit this, we can help’ positive attitude toward making, an attitude with accessibility and inclusiveness as key. Voices speaking out for racial inclusion have shown us the ways which we have failed to do those things, we are sorry and we aim to do much better.

Intent isn’t the important thing; impact is. How our images and words land, how they make our audience feel, that’s what is critical.

This conversation changed my mind about the power of sharing stories on the internet. It also changed my perspective on my own responsibilities.

We are white designers and publishers, and we have a large audience and platform. To that end Alexa and I are thinking critically about the ways in which our content is exclusionary, and figuring out what we can do differently. We’re considering:

  • Our privileged positions: the ways in which we unfairly benefit from our white privilege, and from other intersecting privileges we hold.
  • The images we create; and other knitter’s images that we share, and how can we create a more diverse and inclusive vision with our work on Instagram and in published patterns and books.
  • Whose voices, outside of our own, are we sharing.
  • What products do we promote, and who benefits.
  • Our own influences, what we read, watch, listen to.
  • The education and resources we share with our audience.
  • The language we use; how we’re framing ‘normal’.

Some Antiracism resources we’ve found useful in our education process so far:

  • Where Change Started Introduction to Antiracism by Glenise Pike – helpful guidance and a place to start, with a glossary of terms.
  • Layla Saad – Me And White Supremacy Workbook – a self-guided examination of your personal position within our white supremacist society. Love her podcasts too.
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo – written by a white woman for white people. Read it to learn to avoid defensiveness, to overcome your discomfort around speaking about race, to own your white racial identity, and to learn about interrupting racism.

There are many other excellent anti-racism educators out there, these are simply a few I have personally been finding helpful – Google and Instagram will lead you to many more.

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2019 11:07 am

    “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Words of inspiration, to share every day and on March 15th. Happy Birthday RBG!

  2. cathy oshea permalink
    March 7, 2019 7:06 am

    I applaud your journey and effort in this area. Thanks for this blog entry.

  3. Jess permalink
    March 6, 2019 8:11 am

    Thank you for this post.

  4. Jane Ramsbotham permalink
    March 4, 2019 8:20 pm

    I am a knitter and a lawyer and a woman. Although more women are in law then ever before, the misogyny and parternalistic attitudes can wear me down. In the knitting world I found a group of fascinating, interesting talented women who embraced and encoraged me. I saw myself reflected everywhere. I am white and a mother of one. This conversation has made me reflect on my happy place and realize that very few others are often reflected in that world and it makes me sad but also excited. Sad for the people who haven’t felt invited to this happy place and haven’t seen themselves reflected. Excited because there are knitters out there with stories and perspectives I don’t know and I am sure with amazing ideas and a love for the craft that I will now seek out. I think my happy place just got larger and more interesting and I hope I can do something to make people feel that we see you.

  5. Bindy in Australia permalink
    March 3, 2019 2:37 am

    Hi Alexa and Emily,
    I think it’s wonderful that you’re tackling the issue of racism and under-representation of people of colour in the knitting world. I also really appreciate your willingness to say, “we’re still learning”. As a white woman who has studied race and privilege and now teaches about it, one of the damaging habits we white people have held onto for centuries is to say “we’ve got this figured out…let us tell you how it’s going to be”. As I teach, the need for humility is HUGE and I appreciate yours.

  6. Pam Yurk permalink
    March 2, 2019 4:39 am

    Thank you for helping us all in our journey of understanding. We can go on as is – status quo, exclusion and ignorance or we can work toward empathy, growth and change. I am committed to educating myself, and I appreciate your commitment to understanding and sharing. I’ve learned so much from you both about knitting, design and color – thank you for helping me grow in this direction too.

  7. liz n. permalink
    March 1, 2019 7:00 pm

    The clarity of your statement is encouraging. I’m pleased to see you using your influence within the community to exhibit real and sustained progress toward inclusion.

    As a WOC, I understand that many white women within the knitting community have been, in effect, blindsided to learn how their own unrecognized biases contribute to the exclusion of us, and I’m encouraged by those who have taken the problem of racism within the knitting community as their own burden to carry with us. Others would rather we keep quiet. That isn’t going to happen.

    I am not surprised that we continue to see so many who completely–intentionally or otherwise–misunderstand what racism, supremacy, privilege, fragility, exclusion, and silencing actually are. To be surprised that knitting blogs and Instagram accounts are speaking to racism (often referred to strictly as political) is amusingly befuddling to me. Makers of all crafts–knitting, quilting, weaving, etc.–have, for centuries, used their craft to express political thought and to influence change.

    To those who are uncomfortable with this discussion and would like for the rest of us to be quiet, oh, how I wish I had your privilege. If only I could slough off the color of my skin to live one day without watching my back, my step, my tone, as you do. If only I could freely enter my LYS without someone thinking I’m there to steal what they think I cannot afford. If only it were as easy for me to ignore daily aggressions as it is for you to ignore this very real problem within our community.

    • Michelle permalink
      March 15, 2019 11:45 am

      This makes me so sad! As a white woman who grew up in a largely racist household, and NEVER understood it! I challenged my parents at a very YOUNG age….saying “they are just people; why does the color of their shin matter.” I don’t understand and never will. It makes me sad to see and hear about stories of people being treating differently and brutally simply because they are viewed as “different” because of skin color. I am so sorry this happens and I appreciate you being vulnerable and sharing some struggles with us!

  8. March 1, 2019 3:13 pm

    Thank you both for sharing such a thoughtful and inclusive post. Growing up and being a part of a bi-racial family, it is certainly something that is always on my mind. As a business owner, I too am considering how I can change, be better, be more aware.. and most importantly make everyone feel safe and loved in this community.

  9. March 1, 2019 12:57 pm

    Great post! The reluctance that some people have to hearing words about inclusion and diversity, especially in the “sacred” space of knitting, reveals that this conversation must be held. I have no doubt they are also unwilling to challenge the status quo in schools, churches, and their own neighborhoods. I stand with the BIPOC knitters!

  10. March 1, 2019 9:03 am

    Thank you for this. We can all do better.

    • Sharon permalink
      March 1, 2019 1:06 pm

      How often I have read blogs by enthusiasts and small business owners of all kinds who say they started because they couldn’t find the content they were looking for! In the process they have become experts, not by including everything under the sun, but by honing in on their own passion. How can everyone be everything to all people?!

      • March 1, 2019 1:15 pm

        Clearly we’re never gonna be ‘everything to all people’, that’s never been our aim – we just love designing knitting patterns. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t consider how to be more inclusive! That has been one of our central missions, in sharing our work, and we’re confident that we can do better.

  11. Jenn Thomas permalink
    March 1, 2019 9:02 am

    This conversation can also be extended to LGBTQ issues as well. My 11 year old homosexual child has been bullied about being homosexual and that he chooses to learn to knit (which I’m especially proud of how he has handled the situation). Thank you for acknowledging that there is a problem within the knitting, (and indeed the entire crafting community).

    • March 1, 2019 9:06 am

      Hi Jenn – Thank you for this, we absolutely agree. We plan to look at the many ways we can more inclusive!

      • Jenn Thomas permalink
        March 1, 2019 9:48 am

        Thank you. And I really love your designs.

  12. Ruth permalink
    March 1, 2019 12:46 am

    I fully concur with Erin Echlin’s words above.
    I’m not really sure why you feel you have to explain or justify your ‘whiteness’. I love your blog because you share your work, ideas and inspiration along with your family in beautiful photographs on the land that you live. It truly inspires me to challenge and believe in myself, as I am sure it does for anyone who reads it, giving me the confidence to try new projects with a sense of encouragement and excitement.
    Being sympathetic and understanding of negative and harmful experiences people have had is a fundamental, important and supportive part of being in any community, be it knitting or otherwise, but assuming a role of complicity by default is, I believe, a confusing and very damaging stance to take. It’s equates confidence and pride with patronising ignorance at best and arrogant superiority at worst.
    Please don’t make your wonderful positive, encouraging and inspiring work that you do and share into a racial and political apology!

    • March 1, 2019 9:11 am

      Hi Ruth – We are happy that our work is inspiring to you, but we have come to realize that it is not true that for everyone. We want to do better and make our work more inclusive and inspiring to all.

  13. Erin Echlin permalink
    February 28, 2019 8:47 pm

    i don’t know what happened to initiate this post, I do know that your newsletter was about sharing your beautiful patterns, sharing your knowledge, sharing your beliefs that we could stretch our belief in our own skills to try new things and accomplish things that we never thought we could. You opened a door to share your lives and family with us which is both brave and generous.

    From what I have read, your blog / newsletter was not meant to be about politics or racism or parenting or philosophy so I am uncertain why you should feel the need to apologize that it was not…. it was about knitting and designing. Being black, white, yellow, indigenous, or eurasian is irrelevant to anyone’s skills in knitting, none of those things affect your skill so your not talking about them is not surprising.

    Please know that I appreciate what you have shared with us, that you have encouraged me to try things that I otherwise would not have without ever knowing what age, race or sex I am and I, in no way felt abused, berated or belittled by that fact. Rather I felt encouraged and empowered. I am truly sorry that people have made you feel bad about having put yourselves out in the world to share something that you love. That you use your family for your models should not be a reason to feel that you are white washing or blatantly enforcing or highting your “white entitlement:. You were talking about your knitting, your patterns and teaching others something that you loved. Being made to feel bad for accomplishing your goal and not talking about something entirely different that you never set out to discuss should not be something that you should be castigated for.

    Know that many of us appreciate you and what you have done and never may have told you so… in this moment I am stopping to ensure that you know there are those of us who thank you, appreciate you and have felt empowered by you.

    • March 1, 2019 9:22 am

      This conversation has been ongoing on Instagram for the last 2 months, you can check out the links at the top of our post, if you’re interested in learning more.

      We’ve not been, as you say ‘made to feel bad’, we’ve been listening and learning, and feel a responsibility to do better.

      We’re glad you’ve been inspired, however, we’re working towards being more inclusive, to inspire and welcome more people. In order to do this, we need to recognize the ways in which we’ve not been inclusive.

      One’s race is irrelevant to a knitter’s skills, however, I think it’s important to recognize how unwelcoming it can be to not see yourself, not see examples of people of your own race, in the images that surround you.

  14. Heather permalink
    February 28, 2019 6:30 pm

    Thank you for this. It’s nice to see such a thoughtful, considered post. To be honest I never even considered that this was an issue which of course means that it is!

  15. February 28, 2019 6:18 pm

    Thanks for this post! I support the changes you’re bringing to Tin Can Knits!

    I’d also like to bring up how difficult it has been for me, a deaf person, to find knitting tutorials with captions. On occasion, I’d leave a comment under someone’s youtube tutorial suggesting captions only to be met with, “…but the auto-generated captions are pretty good” (they aren’t) or “I don’t know how/I’m just a small channel.” I’ve given up on knitting projects because I couldn’t find help online.

    Even as a white person, the knitting community has been exclusive, just for an entirely different reason.

    • February 28, 2019 6:20 pm

      Thank you for this! We need to improve our inclusivity on multiple levels!

  16. Anita permalink
    February 28, 2019 4:43 pm

    Please continue to photograph your families in all your creations. That is part of the magic of Tin Can Knits. You are always friendly to everyone.

    • March 1, 2019 9:32 am

      We’re glad you felt welcome here, but that hasn’t been true for everybody. We want everybody to feel welcomed and inspired like you do.

  17. Ina Davis permalink
    February 28, 2019 3:56 pm

    I agree with Pjenzi. I was surprised and pleased to receive this post today. I have a Korean son-in-law and an Amer-Asian granddaughter so I am happy to join the conversation. Although I try to not be racist in my daily life, I was raised in a racist environment and carry some of those scars within me. I try to consciously act in non-racist ways to accept people of all colors and races in my life.

  18. Julia Mason permalink
    February 28, 2019 2:34 pm

    My extended family has been bi racial since I was a child. Growing up with cousins who were half Korean and American with skins tones different from me made no differences to me. Now one of my cousin’s has biracial children and grandchildren.So I do not make a distinction of color when I meet some one. It is their actions and behavior that determines how I interact with them.

    • March 1, 2019 9:45 am

      We’re learning too – here’s something that we read that helped us understand how the idea that we ‘don’t judge a person by the colour of their skin’ can reinforce rather than question racism:

      • Alleigh permalink
        March 15, 2019 10:05 am

        Thanks for that link– it’s a terrific summary, especially for someone like me who not only never thought about color, but even about gender. While I grew up in a mostly white town in California, it never crossed my mind that my friends were different races (some of us looked different, but then, to me everyone looked different even of the same race), and looking back I remember the student body president and the head cheerleader were black (as the term was then); I had no associations to give me prejudice in my narrow world. I genuinely believed that racism was a thing of the past, something that was taught in history class. I always found the colors and features of people from different heritages beautiful. As a girl and later a woman, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t go into the sciences (I was really good in math and science and *always* had encouragement as far back as I can remember) and went on to a successful career in chemistry. It helps to be shown that it is really important to become aware of the differences and difficulties people of color face (especially in a non-angry piece, to be honest; it’s easier to understand when laid out this way). I had no idea there was a problem in the knitting world before the Instagram explosion.

        I searched my past to see if there was any way I could personally relate to issues women of color face. I remembered feeling a bit wistful and left out because all the princesses in the fairy tales I loved were blonde and blue-eyed, while I am brown-haired and brown-eyed… and that therefore it was something I could never be. Obviously this is ridiculously minor, but it was a small window into the importance of seeing people who look like you in the things you do or want to do. It’s a small thing, but it’s a window, or at least a glimpse, into the experience of women of color, something to start from. Perhaps others might find a similar touchstone to begin from. Understanding helps action.

  19. February 28, 2019 2:24 pm

    Thank you for this.

    In the absence of a blatant statement of support, PoC are inclined to believe White people stand for the status quo, and will be reluctant to engage. So even though you may not consider yourselves racist (and know your are not) sometimes you need to be explicit in your statements and behavior, lest you be considered part of the crowd. Sometimes you have to stand up and make it clear who you’re standing with!

    I’m a Black woman who has been knitting for about two years now and while I have found several BIPoC knitters, it was a real struggle to find resources on spinners and weavers. ( I would love to buy yarns and supplies, in support of them, but it’s really hard to find them.) luckily I did come across a couple of websites doing in depth interviews and focuses on BIPoC in knitting.

    • February 28, 2019 2:26 pm

      If you check out the solidarity swap on it is a great resource for finding BIPOC yarnies and designers!

  20. Katie permalink
    February 28, 2019 1:53 pm

    Talks about racism on a knitting website are surprising.

    • pjenz1 permalink
      February 28, 2019 2:34 pm

      It’s not an easy path. It’s an important one. You will be teaching a lot of people who are truly unaware. Good for you! The fact that you are talking about it an unexpected space is going to bring awareness. Thank you.

    • Cindy permalink
      February 28, 2019 6:47 pm

      Katie, as I’ve listened to BIPOC makers these last few months, one thing I hear them saying is that this is only surprising to those of us who are white. They have been dealing with racism in maker communities their whole lives; we are the ones who are just now seeing it. I’m so grateful to them for their patience and courage.

      Thank you, Tin Can Knits, for the obviously thoughtful vocabulary and sentiments expressed in this post! This is important stuff.

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