Kansas City knitters and crocheters are not immune to the ugly politics often associated with social media — though this may surprise anyone hanging onto the idea that only sweet old ladies knit.
At the end of June, a website called Ravelry banned users who actively voice their support for President Trump.
The site serves as a social space for 8 million fiber art enthusiasts, that is, people who make things with yarn.
Crafters had been posting patterns for "Make America Great Again" projects and Confederate flags, which created a hostile environment for individuals directly threatened by the president's ideology about immigrants, minorities and women of all demographics.
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. More details: https://t.co/hEyu9LjqXa
— Ravelry (@ravelry) June 23, 2019
"I knew immediately that I wanted to speak up in support of what they were doing," said Trish Fitzsimmons, owner of Yarn Social in Kansas City, Missouri. "For most knitters or crocheters, Ravelry is sort of the center of your universe. To me, it's how I found my knitting group when I first started knitting."
The June decision by the website caused pushback on social media, mostly by users saying they would cancel their accounts.
A statement on the Ravelry website clarified: "You can still participate if you do in fact support the administration, you just can't talk about it here; We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans; We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions."
Those statements are exactly what Fitzsimmons wanted to mirror in her store’s policies when she posted on Facebook: "Hate speech will not be tolerated at Yarn Social. Support for white supremacy will not be tolerated at Yarn Social."
And like Ravelry, she had pushback from customers.
One Facebook user wrote on Yarn Social's message board: "That makes me sad. I will no longer be shopping at Yarn Social or Ravelry. My issue is not with their objections to white supremacy; my issue is them insinuating that my president is one."
Another Facebook user wrote: "Wow, that's a sweeping, bigoted statement for them to make. I'm not a fan of Trump but to say anyone that supports him is a white supremacist, wow. So....fight bigotry with bigotry? Hmmmm."
Fitzsimmons clarified that she's not banning Trump supporters, only discussions in her store or on her social media accounts that support Trump and his policies.
She opened her shop in late 2018 after working as a patent lawyer in New York City for 14 years. She knew she would incorporate a social element, as in socializing while knitting, but that wasn’t all she wanted the name Yarn Social to imply.
"I also chose the name because of the notion of social justice, social rights, and I want that to be part of what we do," Fitzsimmons said.
She explained that a certain sort of activism historically goes hand in hand with fiber art. For the past several years, that’s been referred to as "craftivism."
Chicago-based Shannon Downey is one such artist and activist. Using the name "Badass Cross Stitch" on social media, Downey has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
She described craftivism as: "a new term for the idea that art has been at the center of every major political, social, and cultural revolution since the beginning of time, whether used as a medium for resisting, or one of subjugating, even."
She and Fitzsimmons agree that art is a good springboard for discussions that might be difficult to have. The knitted pink hats worn at the Women's March on Washington, D.C., in response to Trump's comment about grabbing women's genitals were a show of craftivism. The AIDS quilt of the 1980s was also craftivism.
"For people who may have a hard time talking about the gay community and the AIDS crisis, that was something that would sort of be an arresting image," Fitzsimmons said.
Because her concern is the comfort of her customers, she's not worried about losing some of them over her statement.
“I’m doing what I can as a white woman to make a space that people who are different from me can feel comfortable,” she said.
Fitzsimmons said taking this stand "helps me deal with my own personal emotional feelings about state of our country and the state of politics, but also I hope to help the Kansas City community have this conversation."
Trish Fitzsimmons and Shannon Downey spoke with KCUR on a recent episode of Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.