Crafting Online Spaces: Identity and Materiality. An Interview with Hannah Bellwoar | by Amber Buck & Hannah Bellwoar
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Hannah's Use of Ravelry

Screenshot of Hannah's profile page on Ravelry, showcasing the general layout of the site and previewing her avatar and projects.

Ravelry features users representing themselves through items they create. Hannah's "ravatar," or profile picture, features either her image showing off a recent finished project or, more frequently, a close-up shot of that project, either modeled by her or a friend—usually socks, which Hannah knits most frequently. Hannah uses Ravelry not only to share her project progress, but she also uses the site to find knitting patterns and pair knitting patterns with her "stash," which is her online database of yarn she has at home. Hannah also posts progress photos as she continues to work on knitting projects, along with final, FO (finish off) posts.

Read a transcript of this video here.

In this video, Hannah describes why she joined the Ravelry site in 2008 and how Ravelry has both helped to advance her knitting and made knitting more of a social activity. Ravelry has given Hannah the opportunity to connect with a committed group of knitters who share knowledge about and interest in her hobby. The site has also expanded what she calls her "networks of knitting." These connections and the activities she participates in cross online and offline boundaries. As Hannah notes, Ravelry allows her to connect with a community that "gets me."

What is significant about Hannah's literate activity connected to Ravelry is that it is networked. Ravelry not only connects her to different resources for her knitting, including patterns and techniques, but it also connects her to a greater knitting community. Yrjö Engeström (1999) described knotworking as the ongoing process of tying together, untying, and retying activity systems, and knotworking supports the argument that users' activity, rather than particular artifacts they encounter or the official spaces of a social practice, should be taken as the unit of analysis. For Hannah, her literate activity drives these connections including "improvisation and persistence" (Engeström, 1999), and she develops dynamic connections through Ravelry.

Here are two of Hannah's project pages, featured on her Ravelry site:

knitting project pages Hannah's project pages on Ravelry, screenshot one of two. Showcases the way that Hannah's projects are shown through the layout of Ravelry. Hannah's project pages on Ravelry, screenshot two of two. Another example that illustrates the way in which projects are presented through Ravelry.

This networked literate activity is connected to Hannah's identity. She states that Ravelry has transformed her sense of identity from a person who knits into an identity called "knitter." Her understanding of who a knitter is comes from Ravelry, and the site also defines the type of knitter she is. In a separate correspondence, Hannah described her knitting identity this way:

I am a nerdy knitter, I like fine yarns (like fine wines?). I like the academic side of knitting in that I think about knitting as an intellectual pursuit, challenge, problem-solving activity. I am a process knitter meaning I like the process of knitting items more than I care about the final product. I hate to ever "frog" (undo) a project and start over. I despise swatching (knitting a test square with the yarn and needles you will use in a project to see how the fabric will knit up). I knit socks with really intricate patterns that nobody will ever see (unless I hold them up in ravatars, for example). I wouldn't know any of these aspects of my identity without Ravelry as Ravelry is where I first heard about these things. As I began to identify with them, I found myself transforming from a person who knits to a knitter. It was the process of tying together, untying, and retying that formed my identity as knitter, an ongoing process that I still participate in through these networks I've joined on Ravelry.

Interactions between an individual and a group of people create what Dorothy Holland, William Lachicotte, Debra Skinner, and Carole Caine (1998) called "figured worlds," defined as "social frames of meaning in which interpretations of human actions are negotiated" (p. 271). Individuals represent themselves in relation to these figured worlds, and these representations are shaped by their conceptions of and interactions with the group. Through these networked literacy practices, Hannah developed her identity as a knitter.