The Racism Drama Unraveling the Knitting World

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

It started, as approximately zero other controversies have before, with the cover of Vogue Knitting.

Last month’s magazine—circulation 206,000—featured former first lady Michelle Obama in a genial conversation about “becoming a knitter.” The cover was widely celebrated by women of color, who rarely see themselves represented in the white-washed world of knitting media. But over Thanksgiving weekend, a white knitting YouTuber named Kristy Glass took to Instagram to criticize the cover, asking why Obama was not wearing knitwear and why her wedding ring appeared to be on the wrong hand. (The answer to the latter was simple: the photo was flipped when it was printed on the cover, which often happens in magazine publishing.)

To many Black women, the comments felt wildly insensitive. There have been only a handful of Black women on the cover of Vogue Knitting in its 89-year history, and women of color in popular media are disproportionately scrutinized and attacked. To others, it served as confirmation of something they had long suspected: that Glass had always been a little problematic.

One of these women, a yarn dyer named Adella Colvin, took to Instagram Live to express her concerns. She talked about being a Black woman in a predominately white space, of feeling used by white influencers to boost their diversity bona fides, of not speaking out for fear of being labeled “angry.” And she shared a personal experience with Glass, in which she felt the influencer had rebuffed her attempts to talk about some of these issues.

Glass quickly posted what many saw as a backhanded apology for the Obama incident to her Instagram stories—“I now know that I should have just celebrated the cover and not questioned anything about it,” she wrote—followed by a longer apology on her profile. But the damage was done. Within days, Glass deleted her YouTube account, set her Instagram to private, and suspended donations to her Patreon account.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Kristy Glass' Instagram story apology over her comments about Michelle Obama's Vogue Knitting cover.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Instagram</div>

Kristy Glass' Instagram story apology over her comments about Michelle Obama's Vogue Knitting cover.

Instagram

“Unfortunately I have made some public mistakes this week and I am not strong enough to make mistakes in public,” she wrote in a departing note.

“​I feel bad for the harm I have done the knitting and bipoc community for my stories around the Vogue Cover. And I also feel bad that some have taken the opportunity to misrepresent me and my character.”

Then she disappeared.

If the intensity of the knitting community is shocking, you probably haven’t been paying attention. In 2019, months before the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the knitting world had its own reckoning with racism, spurred largely by popular blogger Karen Templer and a post about her upcoming trip to India. The post was largely positive, but strikingly tone-deaf: She compared going to India to “being offered a seat on a flight to Mars” and suggested that, “If I can go to India, I can do anything.”

Women of color called her out for the insensitive post, and Templer apologized profusely. But the incident triggered a larger conversation around discrimination in the knitting world—one that, predictably, also led to a backlash. One white knitter, Maria Tusken, posted a YouTube video claiming she spoke for the “silent majority” of knitters who didn’t want to talk about racism, and later released a yarn collection called “Polarized Knits” that featured colors like “Micro-aggression” and “Gaslight.” (Her Instagram bio now reads: “Dyeing yarn in Montana. Homemaking. Wrongthinking.”)

That same year, the founders of Ravelry, the largest knitting social media site in the world, unceremoniously banned all support of Donald Trump from their website. The ban followed an influx of pro-Trump patterns—MAGA throw pillows and “Build the Wall” hats—into what had been a largely liberal community. (The 8 million Ravelry users were a driving force behind the pink pussy hats sported at the original Women’s March.) In a short statement, the founders said they could not maintain an inclusive space while allowing open support for white supremacy, and added: “Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”

The ban made national headlines and late-night news shows, and further bifurcated the knitting community, as evidenced by the rash of memes that sprung up at the time: “I Stand With Ravelry” vs. “Make America Knit Again.” It also spawned a new class of conservative “knitfluencers”—including one who calls herself “Deplorable Knitter”—as well as Trump-supporting Ravelry alternatives like “Freedom Knits,” the tagline of which reads: “Where artistic freedom is respected.” (The site now appears largely inactive.)

In some ways, the knitting world in 2019 resembled how America as a whole would appear after the reckoning of 2020: divided between those who wanted to listen and learn from conversations about race, those who didn’t, and those who were offended at the very suggestion that they should.

It was in this environment that Glass rose to popularity. A model and actress turned knitting enthusiast, Glass started her YouTube channel in 2016, after an “unexpected health scare,” according to her website. In 2019, Glass was among the class of white women who responded uncomfortably to the race conversation, claiming it had become too “negative” and that everyone should practice “forgiveness.” After a backlash, Glass uploaded an interview with four creators of color and set about diversifying the guests she featured on her channel. Her YouTube channel earned rave reviews for featuring a diverse array of guests, and her following grew, reaching nearly 35,000 subscribers and more than 6.5 million views before it was deleted.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Kristy Glass</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Steve Mack/Everett Collection</div>

Kristy Glass

Steve Mack/Everett Collection

But some women of color felt conflicted. To them, her interviews seemed like a gesture at diversity without a true understanding of the issue. (Colvin would describe it in one of her Instagram posts as “collecting Black people like Pokemon.”) In one interview, Glass asked a Black dyer named Laverne Benton whether she featured a lot of women of color on her social media “on purpose.” In a follow-up interview, Benton turned the tables on Glass and asked what she was doing to support Black women in the knitting world. “I love black people,” Glass said at one point. “I want to talk to them.”

Colvin says these tensions were why she turned down Glass’s invitation to appear on her YouTube show in 2019, after meeting her the year before at the Vogue Knitting Live! Expo. In direct messages obtained by The Daily Beast, Colvin told Glass she was not in the right space for an interview “in light of all the things that have been going on”—a reference to the recent conversations about racism. Glass responded by saying she was sorry and wishing Colvin well, but did not follow up on Colvin’s suggestion that she explain her feelings in person. “It almost felt dismissive,” Colvin said of the interaction.

There were other things that irked Colvin over the years—a photo of Glass and a friend frolicking in the woods shortly after George Floyd’s death was a memorable one—but she largely stayed silent and, as she put it, “extended grace.” Until the Obama incident.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Vogue Knitting</div>
Vogue Knitting

The day after Glass posted her stories about the Vogue Knitting cover, Colvin decided to make her concerns public. She says she didn’t intend to “cancel” the influencer—she stated on her Instagram Live that her comments were not a “call to arms” or an invitation to “attack” anyone—but felt the need to warn other people of color in her community. “Too many of these conversations are had behind the scenes. Too many of these conversations are had in secret,” she said in the livestream. “And the people who are coming into this industry deserve better.”

Two days later, Colvin started getting texts from friends telling her to check Glass’ Instagram page. The influencer had posted a lengthy apology to her followers— “I have learned that asking questions eats away at the joyous moment that is to see a woman of color on a knitting magazine,” she wrote—but had also posted a video of her private DMs with Colvin, along with the caption, “For the record.”

To Colvin, it felt like a personal attack. She returned to Instagram Live and let the influencer have it, calling her a predator and a coward. “You post those DMs thinking they’re supposed to hurt me but have your comments restricted where nobody can comment?” she said, addressing Glass directly. “You’re a coward. You are a coward, you are disingenuous, you are a racist.”

The comments started rolling in. “We have to out anyone behaving this way,” one commenter said. “Kristy Glass, make your own content. Stop the exploitation.”

“Her whole business model screams white saviorism to me,” added another. Yet another commenter reported they had briefly followed her just to “say my piece.” “I said what I said,” they added. “Fuck her.”

Other Black knitters, including Benton—the dyer who had participated in the particularly painful interviews with Glass—started posting about their experiences with her, too. (“Since some people don’t understand the problem, here is one piece to show you,” Benton wrote on a repost of one of the old interviews. “#Receipts.”) Two knitfluencers, Cecilia Nelson-Hurt of @creativececi and Diane Ivey of @ladydyeyarns, filmed an hourlong livestream about the controversy. It even birthed its own short-lived hashtag, #steppingthroughglass.

Seventy-two hours into the uproar, Glass bowed out. She set her Instagram to private, hid her YouTube channel, and suspended donations to her Patreon.

“I value everything I have learned from you,” she wrote in a departing note to her patrons. “I want you to hear from me that I have tried and done my very best. I am an imperfect person just like everyone else, and so grateful for life lessons.”

Glass may have disappeared from social media but, as the kids like to say, the internet is forever. The conversation around Glass continued even in her absence, spawning articles on multiple internet culture sites and at least one of those pastel-tinted “explainer” Instagram carousels. The controversy has its own thread on the “craftsnark” subreddit, and a wiki.ng page entitled, “Kristy Glass Drama: Michelle Obama Controversy, What Did She Do?” Deplorable Knitter even got involved, uploading a video to her YouTube channel, Politically Incorrect Knitters, in which she called the outcry “crazy” and “bizarre” and her co-host accused Colvin of “raising profit off controversy.”

Colvin, who has remained active on social media, has borne the brunt of the backlash: other knitters sliding into her DMs to tell her she is “making enemies” and “setting back the BIPOC community,” and some accusing her of “borderline blackmail.” (The later comment came from a user who also claimed that the rallying call “pay black women,” actually meant “pay us otherwise we will destroy your life!”) If the comments under the Politically Incorrect Knitters video is any indication, there are a swath of women who believe Black knitters owe Glass a debt of gratitude for including them in her videos at all. “She always was open and nice to all the black knitters,” one commenter wrote. “How in the hell did she piss them off by being too nice?”

Some Reddit commenters were similarly dumbfounded, questioning whether a few comments about the cover of Vogue Knitting were worth this level of response. “She may have other things to apologize for, but the cover stuff is some woke garbage,” one commenter on the craftsnark subreddit said. “I’m excited that Michelle Obama is on the cover, can’t wait to buy it, but she totally should be wearing knitwear.”

But the women who spoke to The Daily Beast are quick to emphasize that this is not about the Vogue Knitting cover, or even about Kristy Glass; it is about racism in the knitting community and how little has changed since 2019.

“Kristy Glass was given grace for three years,” dyer Diane Ivey told The Daily Beast, noting that Glass had largely been forgiven for her 2019 comments. “And so for her to be insensitive to the fact that the first Black first lady is also part of this community now, and make these attacks, shows that you haven’t learned anything from your mistakes.”

“There are people who make mistakes, and there are people who are problematic,” she added.

Even the scattershot blog coverage of the story, Colvin said, has been tinged with racism: articles featuring photos of Glass looking pale and forlorn alongside photos of Colvin’s livestream in her PJs. “I don’t care if people see me in my bonnet and my pajamas,” Colvin said, “but it becomes something different when you use it as this narrative of, ‘Look at this beautiful flower of a white woman… She needs saving because this unkempt black woman in her bonnet with her attitude is trying to hurt her and cancel her.’”

“They called her an influencer,” she added. “And they called me an ‘online knitter.’”

As a result of the backlash, Colvin has stepped back from her business slightly. She canceled all of her recent wholesale orders, which she said required returning between $40,000 and $50,000 in deposits. But it will also allow her to investigate her customers and suppliers more thoroughly, and discern which are actually committed to racial justice and which are only paying it lip service. “Doing that has absolutely given me my power back, I feel,” she said.

She knows that speaking up about Glass has probably earned her a few enemies. But, she added breezily, “If people don’t like me they don’t like me.”

“I’d rather have a handful of people who I know that when it gets tough and the real work needs to be done, they’ll be there—rather than a bunch of people who just want to stick to knitting,” she said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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