The world of yarn dyeing is gorgeous and diverse. It’s one of the things I love most about it. We have women, men, and non-binary folk from all walks of life with huge amounts of talent and expertise. It’s what makes this industry rich, exciting and full of innovation. It’s inspiring and it’s one of the many things that keeps me tethered to this beautiful community. 

This is why I was disappointed to see that Unravel festival has chosen to host a panel about yarn dyeing at their upcoming Autumn festival with a panel of exclusively cis-white men: ‘Guys Dye’. Without context, this sounded fine at first but when I discovered this is their only panel about yarn dyeing, I couldn’t help but wonder why we are being presented with a panel of ‘experts’ from this single demographic. Yarn dyeing is a large business with no shortage of folk from all walks of life doing their thing with wool and colour; there surely couldn’t be a shortage of speakers to choose from?

I posted some Instagram stories on Saturday 30th July asking Unravel if they viewed this panel as representative of our industry. I asked where the representation is of our diverse industry. I said that you only need to look at instances like Tom Daley (and I’m sure he’s a lovely chap) and of the pedestal that was created for him at breakneck speed once the news broke that he was a knitter, as is so often the case for cis-white men and often at the expense of highly skilled creators with years of experience who are overlooked again and again and again. I said that whilst these men absolutely are part of our industry, they do not represent it. I said that I think Unravel can do better than this.  

I also said that if you’re asked to participate in something like this, do you ask if there are speakers from underrepresented demographics also participating? If not, why not? I said that I was genuinely pleased to see anyone given opportunities like this (and I truly mean that) and that I don’t know any of the men personally but I’m sure they’re all well-meaning nice dudes; but if you’re not holding the door open for others whom you know never get it even offered, that is an issue. It’s on all of us to ask these questions.

What came after is still percolating in my mind a week later and I’m still angry. One of the panellists, I won’t name him, let’s call him Panellist A, sent me dm’s asking to chat. Sure, fine, I expected at least someone involved to want a conversation. When they messaged me back, the first thing they wanted to let me know was that “in the week I’ve been told ‘gay people are the worst’ this is a lot”. Let’s unpick that…

Let’s take a moment to remember that inequality is intersectional. We all have overlapping identities, some that carry power and privilege, some that can mean discrimination and disadvantage. I’m a white, cis-woman; that carries privilege. I’m bisexual and in a relationship with a cis-man which again comes with safety and privilege despite my queer identity. I could go on but this isn’t about my own list of how many steps up or down the ladder of privilege I can take but you get the picture. People can have many overlapping identities but the point is that being gay doesn’t mean your cis-male white privilege doesn’t help you along the way. Ignoring this is naive at best and ignorant at worst. I’m just going to say it, centring your own hurt feelings when informed that your privilege is showing is textbook bullshit (I highly recommend Ruby Hamad’s book White Tears/Brown Scars for further learning on this highly effective tactic).

Panellist A was upset that his ‘ethics are in question’, once again centring his own feelings above any discussion about representation in our industry. His feelings were hurt, that’s what mattered. He then went on to say that he agreed that “A bipoc voice is needed but until gents are existing and men accepted in the space maybe none are coming forward”. Just re-read that sentence back again. Yep.

He went on to say that he thinks he is “standing in the gap until others can”. The thing is, taking up space without lifting a finger to ask why there isn’t better representation of minorities is not what ‘standing in the gap’ means; frankly you’re just standing in the way. I repeated my point that not once have I ever said that any of these panellists should stand aside, they are part of our industry, but there is and should be room for more. Panellist A wasn’t having it. I wished him well.

Honestly only in this industry can white cis-men cash in their privilege to ride the glass elevator up (“wow, a man knitting”) and then ask for a refund when they don’t like it being pointed out. I was being asked by Panellist A to ignore the white male privilege that I had pointed out and instead focus on the fact that he too, is actually a minority…

The thing about the yarn and fibre craft industry is that, despite Panelist A’s protests, it does not operate within a bubble outside of our white-supremacist patriarchal society. Internal misogyny is real. Bias is not extinct. To pretend otherwise is a fantasy. Men might not represent the majority in yarn dyeing but they are not oppressed because of their gender.

I wish when Unravel reached out with an email on the Monday after my stories were posted that I could report a more positive interaction but the overall message was that no one else was available. Really? They asked if I had any personal recommendations for future speakers so I offered to introduce them to the yarn and fibre craft business collective that came together with the shared vision of better equity, inclusion and representation of our diverse industry members. To date, no response to this offer has come back, it feels pretty clear that no one is interested in having a meaningful conversation. No one else was available so what can you do…?

It’s 2022. The yarn and fibre craft industry has been discussing discrimination and equity, diversity and inclusion since at least 2019 but we are still here. The cries of “of course I’m committed to inclusion, of course we are, of course…” but actions speak louder than words. I’m still angry because it’s not good enough. I see a lot of people reposting Instagram posts in their stories with well-worded explanations about inequality and discrimination, to spread knowledge and educate, but it’s not enough if this isn’t overtaken by actions; change will never come with that alone. So I’m writing to express my anger and in the hope that in saying the uncomfortable words out loud, one day very soon we can see better.