Why Isn’t There a Site Like Raverly for Sewing?

 

ravelry for sewingThe longer I’ve worked as an independent sewing pattern designer, the more it’s become apparent to me that those of us who sew are missing out on something amazing. We are missing out on Ravelry.

Ravelry is a free site for knitters and crocheters. Ravelry is an organizational tool, a yarn and pattern database, a social site, and a tool for small businesses, all in one. It currently has over 3 million users. Think about that number for a minute. It’s incredible.

Founded five years ago, in May of 2007, by husband and wife team, Jessica and Casey Forbes, Ravelry has become the central website for fiber artists. It’s a thriving social network and so much more. Users routinely say that once you see how Ravelry works it will ruin the rest of the internet for you. It’s that good.

When the site first began it functioned as a virtual binder for users to hold their patterns and supplies. Early users asked for a way to talk with one another. Casey researched forum sites, didn’t really like how any of them functioned, and set about creating one in his own style. Groups came next, allowing users to further gather around specific interests. Next came buttons, similar to but cooler than the Facebook “like”
button, that allow you to love, agree, or disagree with a post, and mark it as funny, interesting, and educational. The majority of the site’s users participate in the discussion forums.

The social aspect doesn’t stop there. People use Ravelry to plan local meet-ups and events.  They
trade and sell parts of their stash to one another. Last year’s Ravellenic Games, a community craft-along that took place in tandem with the Olympics, had 10,000 participants creating 55,000 projects.

And perhaps most importantly, users feel strongly that they are working together to build this community right along with Jessica and Casey. Ravelry users spend their own time adding to and cleaning up the
database and volunteering to help other users in the help chats. And Jessica and Casey have given users quite a bit of power to help form and maintain the site. Ravelry is generous and trusting the way an in-person community would be.

Ravelry truly shines as a research tool. It is full of useful information helpfully organized. Every pattern has detailed tags and attributes allowing for a very powerful search engine. While searching Ravelry
for patterns, you can keep track of ones that look interesting, then go back and look at them more closely later. You can plug in a particular yardage of a particular yarn and find the perfect project. You can see finished projects other people have made from those patterns, and variations and notes. You can
set up your own library in Ravelry, add books and magazines and PDF pattern that you own, and then search through them. Even if you don’t have interest in the site as a place to find community, if you knit or crochet you’ll quickly come to rely on its wealth of information about patterns and yarns.

How does Ravelry make money? Ravely took no venture capital and has no plans to go public. There are no membership fees. The plan all along was to make a profit through advertising. Casey and Jessica want Ravelry’s users with small businesses to be able to afford to advertise on the site so they created an advertising model to allow for this. The fees are low and they have many 100’s of advertisers with small budgets. In addition Ravely has a merchandise store and it allows designers to sell patterns as digital downloads, taking a small fee. As a pattern designer selling on Ravelry here is what you pay:

$0 to $30 in monthly sales: free

$30.01 to $100in monthly sales: 5% of total sales

$100.01 to $250 in monthly sales: $5

$250.01 to $1000: $10

$1000.01 to$2500.00: $20

$2500.01 and up: $50

As a designer you can use the Ravelry shopping cart on your own site. That in itself is amazing – you don’t need to pay for a separate ecommerce service! Imagine if Etsy allowed you to install their shopping cart
on your blog and didn’t insist that customers log on in order to make a purchase.

Designers have embraced this model whole-heartedly. In 2012 1,114,909 patterns were sold on Ravelry resulting in $6,177,399.87 in sales. 98% went to the designers directly. Two words come to mind about this structure: generous and trusting.

Okay so I think I’ve made the case that Ravelry is amazing. But here’s the question on my mind. Is there something inherent to the fiber arts that makes a site like Ravelry possible? If not, then why isn’t there a sewing equivalent to Ravelry?

I put this question on Twitter this morning and here are some of the responses I got:

  • Knitting had a resurgence earlier than sewing. Sewing is just now hitting its stride.
  • Sewing is cliquey. There are quilters, garment sewers, embroiderers, and crafters. We are divided.
  • Yarn is different from fabric. Matching yarn to a project is a more specific thing than matching fabric to a pattern. It’s helpful to see what others used.
  • Yarn is in a more “raw” state than fabric. It’s more like solids than printed fabric. Seeing what
    others have used is more informative.
  • It’s difficult to print sewing patterns from a home printer.
  • Knitting and crochet are portable whereas sewing by machine isn’t.
  • There’s already a tradition of community within knitting and crochet, while sewing is something you do alone.

Although I see each of these points as valid in some way, I’m not sure I buy the overall argument that this just isn’t possible.

There have been many starts: MySewingCircle, Kollabora, Threadbias, BurdaStyle, PatternReview, SeamedUp, and SewMamaSew’s new Sewing Room. Why are there seven? The more starts there are the more divided things become. Have we waited too long?

Let’s look for a minute at the longest standing and perhaps the largest of the seven: PatternReview. The site has some traction with over 300,000 members and 115,570 pattern reviews.  Membership costs $30 for a year, though, and although members find the site to be helpful, they widely acknowledge that the
user interface is clunky and badly in need of an update (I read recently that Ravelry is one of the world’s more successful deployments of Ruby and Rails technologies).

PatternReview is twice as old as Ravelry and not nearly as vibrant. Nobody is saying that once you see PatternReview it will ruin the rest of the internet for you. But it’s at least got active users and that’s perhaps the hardest part to build.  What it needs is a visionary and a developer bring it into the modern age of the web.

Casey and Jessica are a rare team. They’ve got both the ability to describe a site people want and the skill to create it. I fail to believe that there’s something about sewing that makes it impossible for a Ravelry-like community to exist around it. We need this and I think with the right site created with vision and skill we will jump onboard.

—–

Edited: Threadbias responded to this post and I published their response here.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been wondering this for ages! Most of my friends are knitters, and they all spend ages on Ravelry, to the point where Ravelry terminology (“disagree”) has become a part of basic conversation. When I started sewing I looked around for the equivalent, but found just bits and pieces. I think Pattern Review is the closest, but honestly the design and set up is so outdated that I don’t think the new guard of internet sewers is likely to pay any attention to it. I passed by it 3 or 4 times before I even saw what was really useful about it. OTOH, I started knitting a couple of months ago, and Ravelry is immediately inviting, and amazing for browsing patterns.

  2. says

    Nice summary of it! There is a free pattern review membership, but you’re right that it’s built on really old technology.

  3. says

    I think the other problem is that these other models are worried about branding. What I like about Ravelry is that, I am the brand. Ravelry is what *I* make it. I’m also not bombarded with advertising either. I love that there are no keyword/Ad Sense type of ads that show me adverts based on browsing keywords.
    Clunky or outdated interface is another problem. I used to be active on Craftster until I found Ravelry. Craftster’s lay out is stuck in an odd late 90s/early 00s phase. And honestly, the high snark to actual helpful answer ratio is way too high for my tastes.

  4. says

    I’ve been wondering this too.
    I suspect the right people have not yet taken control of/built a sewing site that is flexible enough.
    These type of sites are very, very different from your standard retail, or even special interest site, and have to have the flexibility built into them from the beginning. They probably require skill sets from their designers/programmers that are difficult to come by.
    Having watched my hubby work on the website for one of our biggest Fabric retailers here in Australia, (which due to our population, is admittedly not as big as an American one) I know that there are just so many categories that have to be considered when it comes to fabric, haberdashery, notions, tools, patterns, etc. Then add colour/surface design choices, sizing etc. to those already complex categories. Structuring that information in a sensible, hierarchical way is crazy complex. and takes real dedication from the client and designers/programmers to get it right.

  5. says

    How do we find a Ruby on Rails programmer as multi-talented as Casey, who would be interested enough in sewing, and the sewing community? …not to mention as invested as Casey and Jess are in Ravelry. A rare pair, indeed!

  6. says

    Abby, I had this EXACT discussion with a friend this week as she showed me the amazment of Ravelry. I was dumbfounded. I think some parts would be difficult to transfer to a sewing site (like documenting a fabric stash) but so much of it would be so totally awesome.

  7. says

    If there was a site I would use it. I agree it has to be the right sort of site and Ravelry is the best model I have seen. Whilst there are some sewers who only do one type of thing, here in the UK there is not the dominance of quilting there seems to be in the states. I run a social monthly sewing/knitting/crochet group in my street, and they are all interested in a range of fiber arts and sewing.

  8. says

    Ravelry is incredible. I’ve gotten help with patterns within minutes in the forums when I’d normally have had to wait until a yarn store opened.
    I would love for a similar sewing site. I’m sad to hear someone say that the Craftster community is not as supportive now, because it used to be incredible, although I agree that the layout hasn’t been kept up to date.
    I thought that the Sewing Circle is made by the same people that run Ravelry, but it just hasn’t caught on.

  9. says

    Yes, I saw that there was a free version as well, but the fact that there’s a paid tier is by nature divisive. No everyone has an equal footing to be a part of the community. The site looks old and it doesn’t work in a responsive, interconnected way. I think this is a go great or go home sort of situation.

  10. says

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here, Claire. Ravelry is a complicated site. Like award-winning complicated. In order for savvy sewists to flock to a similar community it needs to really be great. That takes dedication, vision and skill. I do feel confident that it can happen, though!

  11. says

    Yep, difficult for sure, but not impossible. None of the reasons people came up with for why this kind of site doesn’t exist yet are show stoppers.

  12. says

    I was a Crafster user back in 2004 and found it pretty frustrating even then.
    MySewingCircle is not made by the same people who created Raverly. And I agree that it hasn’t caught on. The science behind what makes things catch on is pretty fascinating, but that’s a topic for a different post.

  13. says

    Well, I don’t think I’m the one to make it happen, but I do think there’s a great opportunity out there for some creative, motivated, and skillful people to tackle this project.

  14. Andrea says

    I wonder if Craftsy is fitting the bill for that need right now. I see awesome discussions and interactions going on in the classrooms, and in comments on projects and patterns. For instance, this random project I grabbed the link to was saved (kinda like a bookmark) by 1700+ with 230+ comments – ow.ly/n3dia I’m sure there are better examples, but like I said, I just randomly grabbed one.
    Much like Ravelry, the projects link to the original pattern, and if the pattern has a page at Craftsy, you can view all the projects that folks have made with that pattern, and comments relative to each.
    I can “follow” other folks, and see what they are making and posting.
    Also, Craftsy doesn’t charge to list and sell patterns. See http://www.craftsy.com/blog/patterns-faq/#Pattern_fee
    No affiliation, just a happy Craftsy user. :-)

  15. says

    Question. Is it better to have a large crafting community that encompasses all areas of crafting (knitting, sewing, etc) or to have separate communities for each? It seems like a lot of effort to switch between communities and keep separate established profiles.

  16. says

    I hadnt thought of Craftsy as a community like Ravelry, but youre right that some of this sort of interaction is happening there. Craftsy just partnered with JoAnns and Im hopeful that the user base will grow even larger. Obviously it isnt just about sewing, but perhaps sewists can find a home community there.

  17. says

    You ask a really great question, Sherrie, and Im not sure of the answer. My hunch is that the market for fiber arts is significantly different than the market for sewing and that we have different needs, but perhaps Im wrong there? Id be curious to hear what other people think of your question.

  18. says

    I’ll be sure to jump back if anyone throws in their $0.02. :)
    I study communities all the time and the crafting space definitely has my attention right now so I’m pretty genuinely curious.

  19. says

    TypePad seems to like to boot me out rather than post my responses …
    I’ll stay tuned to hear if anyone else has their $0.02 on this. I study communities all the time and am pretty zoned in on the crafting realm right now so am genuinely curious.

  20. says

    It seems like there are so many attempts. Clearly its an idea that people are thinking about. Ill be interested to watch how things develop over the next few years.

  21. says

    Man! Ravelry sounds awesome! Yes, we need this! Please do this. I love Sew Mama Sew but find it a little clunky right now. Kollabora doesn’t seem a community-sprit minded.

  22. says

    I hope someone does. Im afraid it wont be me, but this is surely an opportunity for the right person, or team, to tackle. Those lucky yarn people!! We need in on the action.

  23. says

    I am with you! I pondering that too! I am a Ravelry fan and I’m on pattern review and a couple of others but never found one as perfect for sewing as Ravelry is for knitters. The trick is in the simplicity, make it simple, practical and functional, with an accaptivant appeal and easy to brows. The pattern archive have to be standards for each pattern and not a mess. Say well, Casey and Jess has the vision and skills to develope a perfect and so well loved site and community.

  24. says

    Ravelry works like a dream. I don’t knit or crochet that much, but I browse often in Ravelry and buy a lot of patterns on an impulse, just because it is so easy!
    Have you approached the makers of Ravely with this matter? They seem the people to do it and do it well. A similar site for sewers seems like a sure recipe for success.

  25. Dana says

    I have wondered about the same question, am an active Ravelry user and knit more and more whereas I sew less and less. R. is a great source for inspiration. I miss something similar for sewing and disagree on all reasons against a sewing site that you found (maybe apart from the printing issue, but that surely could be solved, also). Hopefully there will be a well working solution in the future, I would participate gladly.

  26. says

    Hello! My name is Deana and I have wondered the same thing. I actually just launched my site the Sewing Stash last Wednesday and the goal of my site is to be the “Ravelry” for sewers. I have created what I believe to be an easy to use format that includes a pattern/tutorial search engine that anyone can contribute to free of charge. It’s also free to search it. There is a fabric section and blog tat are currently up and running. In the next few weeks that last 2 sections of the site will be launching as well Community and a library. The community will be set up similarly to Ravelry.
    I want to create a simple to use community for sewers. Please feel free to check it out. http://www.thesewingstash.com . There is currently a giveaway running to celebrate launch day.

  27. says

    Hi Andrea,
    The Sewing Stash is my site and I am hoping it gains popularity too as when I designed it my vision was exactly that – a Ravelry for sewists. Hopefully it will find the same popularity!

  28. says

    I’ve thought this exact same thing since Ravelry first came out. Maybe someone will come up with the perfect site that’s easy to use. Whenever there’s a swap on flickr then we get the social interaction there for the swap duration but nothing centralized.

  29. says

    Deana, congrats on the new site, I need to go check it out. I’m guessing reading a post like this, and the comments, which spell out alot of what makes Ravellry great (minimal commercialisim, the strong sense of community, etc…) gives you some fabulous market research to go on!
    I too, think Craftsy is closer to what we are describing than the others mentioned here. Yes, they charge for classes, but much is free.

  30. says

    Hi Melissa,
    Would love to understand what you mean by “Kollabora doesn’t seem a community-sprit minded”. We had in mind to build a site the helps others to start making or to improve skills and to find like-minded people.
    Let me know what you wish for. Feel free to email me nora at kollabora dot com.
    I’m a passionate crafter, I learned to crochet and knit in 2nd grade, taught myself to sew as a teenager and learned all kinds of crafty skills from silkscreen to woodworking from my parents. I was longing for a plattform that let’s me explore these hobbies, learn new ones, and find inspiration from others.
    We’re at the very beginning with Kollabora. We’ll be releasing in a few weeks a resource tool that will be very helpful for all crafters. So I hope you either check back or sign up for the newsletter (which will inform you about that).
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    Best,
    Nora
    http://www.kollabora.com/

  31. Min says

    I am a knitter who learned about ravelry just a year ago, and your right it ruins all other knitting sites for me:-) . I recently started sewing again and my first thought was is their a page like ravelry for sewing? In researching that I came across your blog- I will check out some of the sites you mentioned, but also wanted to post so that if there is a talented programmer out there researching this they would find there are a lot of us who would be interested in participating on that kind of site!

  32. Marlos says

    Has anyone considered asking Casey and Jess if they would expand Ravelry to include sewing?? I think it would be easier to add that than to create an entirely new site? I wouldn’t be surprised if most knitters/crocheters dabbled in sewing as well

  33. Laura says

    A very interesting post! Like Min, I knit and sew, but haven’t done any sewing for a couple of years. I’ve just been inspired to go back to my sewing machine by the Great British Sewing Bee and my first thought was – I wonder if there’s a Ravelry for sewing yet?! Which is how I found your blog…
    In the past I have found PatternReview really useful but as others have said, it’s so awful to navigate and use, particularly when you’re used to Ravelry… It’s such a shame as I find it soooo inspiring to see what others have done, the changes they’ve made, how different garments look on different shapes and sizes etc. I think there’s a huge potential for a community site for sewing.
    I am off now to investigate some of the options above, but I do wonder whether somehow getting Casey and Jess involved would be the best idea – if we’re trying to replicate what they’ve done so well already! I think that they’re kept pretty busy keeping Ravelry the most awesome site on the web though :-)

  34. says

    You know, I’m sure it’s been suggested to them. I think that Ravelry hit at a good time, when the web was still new for many people. They were able to bring it all together in one place, something I think would be really challenging now no matter how good the platform. It’s interesting to think about!

  35. says

    Why oh why indeed. We have a wonderful website at Stitcher’s Guild (www.artisanssquare.com) but while we have the forums and posts we lack the database functionality that makes Ravelry *so* awesome. If only they would expand to sewing!

  36. Sue says

    I didn’t know your site existed. I will check it out. These things take time and im sure Ravelry wasn’t this big when they first started out. Good luck with your sewing site I hope it is a huge success story for you. Off to check your site out……… Sue

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