Feeling Unseen: The Promise of Diverse Spaces at EYF
Edinburgh Yarn Festival, from the perspective of a first time attendee.
My expectations were placed on every slice of the spectrum: high intensity chaos filled with yarn being thrown in every which way, pure joy, skeins of mohair somersaulting through the air, changing tones before my eyes. The opposite end featured pockets of respectful conversations about diversity, racism, and the lack of representation, moments that mirrored and reflected some of the same online discussions. An array of every colour that ever existed, both fibre and person.
It was magical, and perplexing. A remix of both. Let’s rewind for a moment.
Just a few weeks prior, a large, unwieldy box, filled with antique discussions, was slashed open in our making community. A tricky and open talk about the detrimental causes of white supremacy, the importance of personal and cultural narratives, and the underrepresentation of BIPOC across the world. In short, many of us haven’t been represented in the crafting sphere; the tension was thick. Fabric shears had no chance.
It was a mess. Social justice and the handling of human emotions are intricately laced, and seemingly impossible to unravel, but all the while something that can be broken down to the most minute levels. Sensitive and fragile. Discussions about race has the unfortunate burden of being very white-centred, a thought I’ve turned over in my hands many a time. We are in a perpetual state of coaxing people out of their violently one-sided shells, pleading for them to see us, begging for changes that some obviously have no intention of shifting. Painful realisations.
Like a coconut cracked open, sweet nectar spilling forth, offering nourishment you couldn’t see but knew was there. This was, in fact, creating what I consider movement. Absolutely there were, are, and will continue to be individuals who bravely speak out on their respective platforms, giving insight to the years and lifetimes of bringing awareness to the masses. Whether the tools they use are years of private education mixed with family dynamics that push for excellence. Or from one land of people to another more foreign, even if living in the identity space of two uniquely diverse cultures, maybe even communicating out of an oppressive sphere where the only chance to affect change is to speak up.
We came together. Our seemingly small BIPOC voices have carved into the stone of specific privilege, and given way to a broken bridge of once overlooked voices, people. The community spoke out about diversity, size shaming, accessibility, gender, sexual orientation, the lot.
As we spoke out, some others didn’t, many revealed hidden agendas of blatant, unapologetic racism. It is sad, but would you rather have not known that some of your favourite social media friends have vile thoughts about you? Me neither. There are those who don’t see the underrepresentation and white supremacy as an issue. But in some ways, you kind of had to be "there" to get the full wave of emotions that started on January 9th.
Who wants to design the Anniversary cards?
Adrenaline doesn’t even cover the minefield that has been the last few months. Not even my favourite bath bomb could wash away those emotions.
So anticipating what would go on for EYF was a little hair raising.
I think it’s safe to say that people traveled the world to Edinburgh, specifically to engage with friends whom they haven’t seen in many a moon, or those who were given a chance to connect in real life for the first time. Oh and the yarn. The yarn fumes is what truly gathers us together in a tight and woolly embrace. I had the chance to have some of my yarn in a sweet and beautiful pop-up shop, I got to meet so many wonderful people, this was the highlight of the festival to me. Seeing so many knitters with a capital 'K' was a dream.
I expected impassioned talks about racism and diversity, coming together in groups to speak and pick apart what has happened in the lives of many BIPOC in our loving community. EYF wasn’t like this. The conversations that I experienced came from places of fear, people unsure of the right words to use, knowing glances from humans unaware of how to approach the topic. "Is this the right time?" is the general feeling I picked up. Those who found the moment to approach and offer their words of encouragement, solidarity, dismay, worry, relief, faces of hope. It was refreshing to hear in person the thoughts, cradled in warmth.
There were of course some who found it their right to approach with judgement and malice, whispers of "What have you done to our community? It used to be a peaceful place, now all I see is this racism thing." Glares that made my head spin. I felt unsafe at times, feeling lost at sea, looking and only seeing white faces, where I expected to view a visibly diverse space of makers across the venue. Sadly, again, this wasn’t the case. Yes, it was a beautiful experience, one for the books, yet the difficult topics need to be approached.
I was extremely upset and highly disappointed at the lack of diversity and representation in both the festival goers, and many of the vendors. I just expected more. But I also recognise that in my mind diversity means seeing people of all shades and human colour present. (You can check out the EYF photo gallery, which has just been posted online at the time of writing this, to get an accurate representation of what the festival looked like.) Out of around 100 vendors (as per the EYF Vendors page) there were maybe 5? 6? BIPOC brands, from solo vendors to others who sold products from BIPOC. This list may be inaccurate, but from my research, these are the findings. Not enough. Not even by a mile. Why? Why aren’t there more vendors of colour at a festival of this magnitude? Surely the opportunity is there, if present for white vendors.
The EYF founders did graciously allow BIPOC to meet-up at a table in the marquee area. It was in a brightly lit room, filled with the energy of knitters and crafters galore. Some of us got to meet people who we hadn’t had the pleasure of knowing before January; I wish there were more of us to connect in this way. We laughed, cuddled, cooed at which projects were sparking joy, admiring yarn. We felt a sense of familiar safety. Still, there were moments of mircoragressive behaviour, resulting in a brief, and highly uncomfortable moment that did happen at the meetup. I wouldn’t call it racism, but myself and a few others saw it as a subtle intimidation tactic, something to covertly cause ruffled feathers.
Overall, I left feeling confused, sad, unfinished. Why must we as a collective ask to be seen and represented, only to receive an answer similar to: "We did notice the lack of diversity, but didn’t know how to fix it."
Ever the optimist, I can sit with the raw feeling of the undeniable warmth, joy, and love that followed meeting so many beautiful people. The entire experience left me with a an overwhelming sense of "We must continue the work" or "Now may be the time to build our own diverse table."
If the firm grip the gatekeepers have on the bars of inclusivity don’t loosen up, who will be the ones to allow the key to turn, letting all in equally…