Monday, July 25, 2011

Fiber Arts in the Online Era

I have been a knitter and sewer for most of my life and a spinner and weaver for a little over 20 years. During the last 15 or so years, I have watched with amazement as the Internet has changed my life as a fiber artist. I want to share some of my favorite sources of information with you. Some you may already know of. Some may be new to you. I hope that at least one tip you read here sends you off in a direction that you hadn’t anticipated.

Let’s start where I started: e-lists, sometimes called “listservs.” The ones I know best are on Yahoo Groups.

yahoogroupsIn the Search field, type in whatever your fiber interest might be, knitting, weaving, quilting, surface design, dyeing, etc. Yahoo will generate pages of e-lists related to your search criterion. For example, I just typed in Crochet. Yahoo returned 11 pages of possible e-lists that I could join (with many e-lists per page) that focus on crochet in general or some more narrow aspect of crochet.

If you don’t want to wade through the mass of information that Yahoo Groups generates, here’s a shortcut. A fiber arts lover named Ron Parker, a transplanted Minnesotan who now lives in Sweden, maintains what he calls his List of Fiber-Related Lists.

ronslistsRon’s list is arranged alphabetically and has everything from AlternativeQuiltList to WeLuvKnitting, and many, many groups in between. As you can see in the screen shot above, you can click on the name of the list or the name of the “list owner” for more information. Ron’s list is a huge resource for dyers, quilters, felt-makers, knitters, weavers. . .anyone who has an interest in a fiber art and wants to communicate with people with similar interests around the world.

Now let’s move on to the biggies. First up is Ravelry. Ravelry is a social networking site for mainly knitters and spinners, but there are groups and forums for weavers, crocheters, dyers, etc.

RavboothTNNA The above photo (photo credit: Ravelry website) is the Ravelry booth at TNNA, a huge trade show in the US for fiber-related vendors (yarn, books, dyes, etc.). Slate, the online magazine, recently published an excellent article on Ravelry. Slate is owned by The Washington Post, and the same article appeared in that newspaper as well.

One of the things that sets Ravelry apart from simple e-lists (though there are many groups/forums on Ravelry that function in pretty much the same way as e-lists) is that it allows individual users to enter their yarns, books, completed knitted items, patterns, etc., into a personal database. For those who have on-the-go Internet access (e.g., with a smartphone), this means that you can tap into your personal database of yarns that you already own when you’re in a yarn shop trying to decide what pattern might work with your yarns, whether you need yet another set of needles to work with the yarns you have, or whether that cone of 8/2 turquoise Tencel has enough yarn left on it for you to use it for a warp for some scarves.

Next up and similar to Ravelry, but designed for weavers, is Weavolution.

weavolutionWeavolution also has discussion groups, pages of drafts that you can use in your weaving, lists of yarns, etc. An innovation that Weavolution began perhaps a year or so ago and that seems to be thriving is online classes, called “Cyber-Fiber.” The class instructors are some of the top weavers, designers, and others in their particular niche of the craft. Participants sign up for the class, and then participate via webcams and microphones. What a treat! Sit at your computer in your pajamas and learn how to dress your loom back to front with Daryl Lancaster as your teacher.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the late Ralph Griswold and his On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics. Before his untimely death a few years ago, Professor Griswold, who believed deeply in making information freely available to anyone who wished to use it, took on the immense task of scanning every weaving publication (books, magazines, monographs, etc.) that was either in the public domain or for which he could obtain copyright permission to post to the Internet. This means that whole books, many of them rare and old, are available as free downloads in PDF format from the website.

The contents Professor Griswold’s website are mirrored on another wonderful site for weavers, Kris Bruland’s The reason for the mirrored website is that no one is quite sure whether the University of Arizona will continue indefinitely to host Professor Griswold’s material. If the Griswold site is removed by the university, weavers will still have access to the information on Bruland’s website.

There are many other delights on Bruland’s site, however. For example, Bruland, a computer programmer, wrote a program that allowed him to generate drafts for everything in one of the great (and possibly most confusing) tomes in the weaver’s literature: G.H. Oelsner’s Handbook of Weaves. Rather than struggling to understand Oelsner’s cryptic methods of presenting drafts, weavers need only plug in the number of the draft from Oelsner’s book, and Bruland’s website will give you a draft viewed as contemporary drafts are generally written.

This is only a small sampling of the many online resources that have become available to fiber artists in recent years. There are hundreds more. Many museums have extensive photos of their collections online and listings of materials held in their libraries. Many longtime handcraft magazine publishers, for example Interweave Press, are dipping their toes into the sometimes chilly waters of online, downloadable magazines.

As Calvin said to Hobbes in the final of Bill Waterson’s great comic strip, “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy. . .let’s go exploring!”

by July blog editor Ruth Blau

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