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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:46 - 12:15
Yarn makes / strong ties

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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Contributor: Alison Mayne, Sheffield Hallam University


The paper reflects on aspects of a larger PhD. study exploring perceptions of wellbeing in female amateur knit and crochet crafters, focusing specifically on the ways that participants share their experiences of making in a virtual social community on Facebook. It seeks to highlight the ways that participants seek wellbeing through knit or crochet practice and in sharing their making in a digital space. Amateur makers weaving both tactile object and social connections through online media are significantly under-researched. This is despite the fact that yarn-based digital communities such as Ravelry have memberships in the millions (Orton-Johnson, 2014) and participants involved in Facebook knit and crochet groups number in hundreds of thousands (Mayne, in press). 


The use of an online community to engage and communicate with participants as well as a platform from which to collect data is a deliberate response to calls from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore the 'ethics and ontologies of participation and collaboration… via digital networks' (Armstrong et al., 2014, p.58). It seeks to promote the value of what may be learned from qualitative, ‘small data’ study of an online community, rather than its more popular, large-scale counterpart. Moreover, questions regarding the ways social media research may be conducted ethically are an integral part of the research conversation with participants. 


This qualitative study has been facilitated through the creation in early 2015 of a closed Facebook community – the ‘Woolly Wellbeing Research Group’ - which was designed to engage participants in sharing their views. Participants are drawn from a pragmatic and purposive sample of women initially invited through Twitter and Facebook crafting groups. There are over 400 participants representing over 20 countries. With the researcher working as participant-observer, data has been gathered from thousands of ephemeral ‘chat’ posts, extended reflections in response to research questions and images of completed textiles or works in progress. 


The situation of this work, at the intersections of digital ethnography and the tactile experiences of textile craft-making, is beginning to explore motivations in contributing to a small community online. Thematic analysis is being used to explore participants’ experience of navigating the haptic in tactile making and its presentation in a digital space and the ethical implications of being part of a research community on social media. 
Participants reflect that their engagement in an online knit and crochet group has provided an outlet for a sense of agency and a vehicle through which to enhance their perceptions of self-esteem. These aspects of wellbeing are being fixed in time through sharing on Facebook, where participants are curating a digital record of their own making. 

Future Work:

The next stage of the study is a digital journaling project, where participants track their experiences of wellbeing through making with yarn over several months. Here, it is anticipated that a more nuanced understanding of participants’ motivations for sharing tactile hand-craft in through an online community may be gained. 


Armstrong, L., Bailey, J., Julier, G. and Kimbell, L. (2014). Social design futures: HEI 
research and the Arts and Humanities Research Council . Brighton: University of Brighton and Victoria and Albert Museum. 
Mayne, A. (in press). Virtually ethical: Ethnographic challenges in researching textile crafters 
online. In Daniels, J., Gregory, K. and McMillan Cottom, T., (eds.) Digital sociologies. Bristol: Policy Press. (Accepted for publication September, 2015) 
Orton-Johnson, K. (2014). DIY citizenship, critical making and community. In Ratto, M. and 
Boler, M. (eds.) DIY citizenship: Critical making and social media. (pp.141-155). Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:46 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01 Goldsmiths University, Building 2