Saturday, April 15, 2017

What it is like to be a woman of color in the fiber industry


Over the years, I've had many positive and life changing experiences in the fiber community. I've built a thriving designing and technical editing business in service of knitters and crocheters who are like myself. Knitters and crocheters who want to do the things they love and live life on their own terms. However, the fiber world at times feel and look very different from myself. I know there are other women that look like me out there just killing it in as designers, dyers, tech editors, etc. Yet, on the surface there doesn't seems to be anyone that look like me. You almost have to go in search of people of color.

There is a glaring, almost jarring, lack of diversity in the fiber community. When you search patterns, there are very few designers and models from major publications featuring men, women, and children of ethnic heritage. And this is troubling.

When communities are not featured, and represented, they don't feel welcome.

They don't feel like there is a place for them in those communities.

The other day I was on a once favorite publication's website (I say once because thus publication was my everything and now I mostly avoid, until I feel valued and represented) and saw the same cookie cutter images of blond hair, blue eyes, size 4 women. That image does not represent the norm. It's an unachievable standard that we place on all women. Is it possible to have a wide array of people represented in publications? Yes. Prime Publication (the parent company of I Like Knitting and I Like Crochet magazines) does it. They regularly feature models of varying ethnicity and age. Is diversity necessary? Absolutely, especially in this day and age of a global economy from a financial standpoint. But more than diversity is needed now more than ever as hate and bad manners seems to becoming a norm.  

Quick back story. I didn't learn to crochet and knit as a child at my grandmother's knees. Heck, it wasn't until the late 90s as I teen that I was introduced to the fiber world when my older sister learned to crochet. For years, she was the only person of color I knew who crocheted, so I didn't see there was a place for me in what appeared to be an exclusive club. Remember, the Internet wasn't what it is today, and there was so social media. I couldn't go searching for other people like me. Besides, I just didn't know what I didn't know. 

It was back in 2008/2009 when I first saw a black woman not only knitting, but making money from it. This icon is Shirley Paden featured on HGTV Knitty Gritty (do you remember that show? This show is what started me on thisfibery journey). This episode gave me life. It gave me a glimpse of what was possible; that I too could be a knitter and a designer. I don't even know if she was making a full-time living as a fiber artist, but i didn't care. She was passionate. She was happy in this world. Whatever she was doing I wanted it. 

Look, the doors to the fiber world are wide open and open to all. I realize that now. The old guards have become irrelevant. The rise of the internet has made that possible. Everyone is welcome.

The truth is, we need to see someone doing something to open the doors to possibilities, the same way that President Obama opened the doors for millions of people of color across the globe. We need to see it modeled. 

In the beginning of my design career I never posted photos of myself anywhere because I didn't want people (knitters and crocheters) to not want to buy and make my designs because I was different from "the norm". To be honest, I don't know if that is true or it was all in my mind. That doesn’t matter anymore because I know my worth now and that I belong. Now, I post my photo on my Ravelry profile and online so that knitters, crocheters, and designers will see me. I want other aspiring knitters and crocheters of color to see someone else doing it and be inspired. I want to be their Shirley Paden.

Until next time... Stitch on!
Tian


















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