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Knit picking

The invisible knitting of Michelle Obama led to the cancellation of Kristy Glass

Did you know that Michelle Obama took up knitting during lockdown and has knitted several halter tops for her girls? Neither did I, before Vogue Knitting displayed the former first lady on the front cover of the Winter 2021/2022 issue and shared a short interview with her on its website. But so far, nobody has seen the evidence of her new-found hobby. And when someone asked why, it spelled the end of their career.

On the cover of Vogue Knitting, Obama is wearing a black sweater, but it’s not a knitted one. In her video, she chats light-heartedly with 14-year-old Shayna Rose, but she’s not wearing any of her knitted garments or showing them off here either. There are no photos of her knitting in the magazine.

So, naturally, someone asked where her knitting was. This someone was “knitfluencer” Kristy Glass of Kristy Glass Knits, an American knitter known for her interviews with people in the knitting community.

For this question, Glass was cancelled and has all but disappeared off social media, deleting her YouTube channel and setting her Instagram account to private and taking down her website. Glass asked the question on her own “stories”, a function that lets users post temporary photos and comments, so her original comments have now disappeared. But word got out fast that she had overstepped the mark. Questioning a black woman — although the question didn’t involve skin colour — is now a big faux pas in the knitting world.

Shortly after, Glass issued a grovelling apology, as is the custom when these things happen, on her now private Instagram page.

“I want to apologize for the harm I have caused the bipoc community because of recent questions I posed on my stories regarding the cover of Michelle Obama on Vogue Knitting Magazine. I purchased the magazine because I was excited that she has become a knitter and was on the cover. I have learned that asking questions eats away at the joyous moment that it is to see a woman of color on a knitting magazine. I acted without thought. I never want to do harm to anyone, and I feel distraught that I used my platform in this way. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and do better. Thank you for reaching out to help me see why my actions were harmful. I have written to Vogue to withdraw from participation in their events. I will be taking a break from my various platforms to take time to reflect on my actions.”

In Critical Race Theory, you’re guilty either way

Glass was very much part of the woke crowd. The Pratt Institute shared one of her video conversations on racism in knitting, where she speaks with several black knitters about their experiences, on its page about craftivism. It has since been deleted, like all the other videos on her YouTube channel. Ever since “the conversation”, which refers to the culture wars in the knitting community that saw many well-known knitting names cancelled back in 2019, knitters gradually went back to their knitting. There may have been a “new normal”, with knitting brands taking on board the demands of the activists to up their representation of minority ethnic models and designers, but an equilibrium of sorts was reached. Yet the innocuous comment by Glass has set the old tempers fraying again.

Her main accuser is Adella Colvin, the owner of yarn dyeing business LolaBean Yarn Co, which has 44,000 followers on Instagram. “This woman is awful. She can’t get any more awful. When I say awful, I’m being nice,” she says in a video. “When I say something, the stories start pouring in from people who have had horrible experiences. And we’re not just talking about black makers. We’re talking about black, white, Asian, Spanish, men, women, (….) non-binary people who felt belittled by her or made to feel they were the ‘help’ when invited to certain spaces where she was.”

Suddenly she was accused of all sorts of misbehaviour, not only racism for “attacking” Michelle Obama, a black woman, but of stealing designs and selling used balls of wool on ebay.  “Last year, Kristy ripped off my Monarch sweater design for her Rhinebeck sweater,” writes @madebyhaileybailey on Instagram. “I think my story will broaden the greater understanding of just how terrible Kristy Glass Knits is as a human and a presence in the fiber community. Make no mistake, she was the MOST terrible to BIPOC makers in her tokenization and exploitation of them for her own profit.” Glass had several black designers on her show, and in a conversation had referred to one of them as “my black friend”.  Hailey Bailey concedes that Glass had apologised in a private message and offered to have her on her show.

Who knows who’s up the next time that knitting activists decide to descend on someone they don’t like. Kristy Glass — a white, Mormon woman, exuberant (some of her critics say overly so) — may not have been everyone’s cup of tea. She had been vocal in her support for black and indigenous knitters, bought into the premises of Critical Race Theory, and certainly “uplifted black voices” (to use the lingo) with her many interviews with black and other ethnic minority guests.

But in Critical Race Theory, you’re guilty either way. If you don’t include black people, you’re racist. And if you do, you’re tokenizing them. It’s hardly surprising that Glass, one of their own, was devoured, as that’s what tends to happen in revolutions.

In these fraught times, knitting has increased in popularity as an outlet for creativity and a way to focus on something tangible that’s within one’s own control. But for the hardcore knitting activists, knitting is merely a medium to push their causes. The phrase “let’s get back to our knitting” has become a racist dog whistle for them. Yet there is a lot to be said for knitting for knitting’s own sake.

“Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises,” wrote Elizabeth Zimmermann, the mother of modern knitting, in Knitting Without Tears. Zimmermann died in 1999 and never saw cancel culture unfold. An outspoken and unconventional knitting designer, she would no doubt have been cancelled a long time ago if she were around today. But I imagine she would have laughed it off and kept on regardless. When will the knitting community decide to do the same?

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