Wikipedia & WikiProject Textile Arts


I started editing Wikipedia in June 2018, and I just completed my 250th edit! Here is the story of how I got started.
My Wikipedia user page / List of contributions


I am a maker: I like to know how things are constructed and then I like to build them. I am interested in textile- and fiber-based activities in general, and material and clothing construction in particular. However, I see a huge disconnect between my interest in fabrics and the interest and importance that society places on those topics.

The clothing industry is inundated with fast-fashion, where keeping up with the the newest trends is held to a higher standard than purchasing clothes that will last. Individuals often don’t know how to appreciate or even comprehend the craftsmanship or quality of the things they’re buying. Society is moving towards hyper-consumerism, where people are unaware of where their clothes come from–who makes them, what they’re made from, or how much work goes into producing them.

As someone who is incredibly interested in pursuing and keeping alive textile art traditions, I am saddened by this societal disconnect. I wish more people shared my enthusiasm for learning and participating in the textile arts.

I would like there to be more weavers and sewists, and for fewer people to react with surprise at those hobbies. I would like more people to know that jacquard loom punch cards are the precursor to today’s computers. I would like to see fewer clothing advertisements about “knitted fabric” when the fabric is actually woven. And I believe that one way to accomplish this is by improving the quality of Wikipedia’s articles on textile arts.

I believe that the availability of good resources can help improve the popularity of a topic. Resources that are freely available, accurate, and in-depth make a topic space accessible. And accessibility lowers the barrier of entry for people looking to learn about a new activity.

A problem with textile resources

I am a weaver, knitter, and sewist. Over the past 15 or so years, I’ve gradually acquired knowledge on these topics, through trial-and-error, online blogs, and the occasional class. A lot has been written online about these topics, but the quality of the writing is variable and it’s hard to find high quality information about advanced techniques or niche topics.

For example, last year, my mom took classes on flat-pattern drafting and how to construct a moulage. Inspired by her excitement and the possibility of designing my own clothes, I asked for her class resources and started teaching myself. At one point, I googled “moulage” to learn the history of this form-fitting garment. The number of graphic injury images outweighed the number of fashion articles; as it turns out, “moulage” also refers to mock injuries used in medical training. In the end, I could not find the information I sought.

Later in the year, I decided to knit a hat for a Christmas gift. Before starting, I looked online for an objective discussion of stretchy cast-on methods. I bounced around through personal and corporate blog posts, occasionally fighting to read the content hidden between large ads. I ended up finding an incomplete list of cast-on methods, but it had no context; there was no discussion of common usage or pros and cons. I cross-referencing items on the list with instructional videos and diagrams. However, I ultimately concluded that unless I personally tested each method, it was impossible to determine which method was stretchiest. I settled for a pretty good solution that I’d used before, and which wasn’t even on the list!

The problem that I ran into over and over again is that there is no central place to look for educational overviews of obscure textile-related topics. Even when the information exists, it’s often scattered far and wide across the internet and in books, and those books are often not quickly obtainable (they’re out of print, at a far-away library branch, or only available via online order).

Wikipedia seems like the perfect place to collect this information. It is a well-known resource for tons of obscure topics, and already contains some general information about textile arts. Wikipedia is not a place for tutorials and how-to guides. However, it could be home to labeled diagrams of different knit and crochet stitches drawn in a consistent style, comprehensive lists of sewing and overlock machine stitches, and histories of traditional weaving patterns. I would like to see a future world where Wikipedia is home to comprehensive and in-depth information about the textile arts.

How I started editing Wikipedia

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to start improving Wikipedia. At first, I found the simple idea of being a Wikipedia editor to be a completely foreign concept–what do you mean, they allow anyone to just change things?

I started editing because of bad grammar. A sentence in an article I was reading had misplaced commas and misleading wording; I quickly rearranged the sentence in my head and my version made so much more sense. When I complained to Jake and wished that it was better, he told me I should go for it–make the required edits instead of waiting for someone else to do so. I looked at him askance; I had never considered editing Wikipedia. However, I took his advice, clicked the “edit source” button, and improved the sentence.

250 edits later, I’m still enjoying it. And along the way, I’ve found many reasons to keep going.

Maintaining edit momentum

Making a couple of grammatical edits in random articles is all well and good, but I wanted more direction. I wanted to make a difference in a topic space I deeply cared about, so I decided to join the Textile Arts WikiProject. A WikiProject collects together similar articles, allowing editors to focus on just the topics that interest them. There are not that many active editors within the Textile Arts WikiProject, so I feel like my contributions are especially impactful.

In addition to knowing that I am improving Wikipedia’s textile content, I have found other reasons to keep me going.

I get to improve articles that I’ll actually use

I wanted to know more about how the modern weaving reed came to be, but the Wikipedia article lacked a cohesive narrative and required copyediting. I made changes to sentence formatting to emphasize the appropriate points and to improve readability.

Along the way, I solidified my own knowledge about the topic, and I know that I’ll have a resource to visit if I ever need a refresher. I also know that I’ve made the article easier for others to understand.

It feeds my competitive side

A month ago, I stumbled upon a list of all reported issues within articles covered by the Textile Arts WikiProject. This past month, I’ve been playing a numbers game with myself, trying to see how many issues I can resolve before the weekly list get updated.

So far, most of the issues I’ve resolved have involved cleaning up and clarifying article citations, often by adding missing content or rescuing dead web URLs (by adding links to cached pages on the Internet Archive). However, I’ve also added wikilinks to articles that don’t link to other articles, added dates to ambiguous timelines, and uploaded pictures to articles that lacked them. I can proudly claim responsibility for most of the recent drop in outstanding issues.

I get bragging rights!

I get to tell other people about the changes I’ve made, and in the process try to get them interested in adding content to Wikipedia. For example, haircloth is a stiff woven material used to add structure inside men’s suit jackets. I first learned about haircloth from talks with my mom (when she was designing and sewing a wool coat), as well as from sporadic reading of Jeffery Diduch’s blog. However, the haircloth Wikipedia page did not mention its use in men’s suit jackets; before my edits, the article only talked about the types of fibers in haircloth and its historical uses in breweries. I added a short paragraph summarizing its use inside the panels of traditional or high-end men’s suits. And, knowing that my mom would appreciate the spread of this particular bit of knowledge, I got to tell her all about it.

In summary

Editing Wikipedia is not just a passing fancy for me. I find it incredibly fulfilling to be improving a resource that anyone and everyone can use, and to be able to immediately see the results of my work. And as an added benefit, it gives me an easy way to learn about all sorts of obscure topics.

Wikipedia is an incredible treasure trove of knowledge. I am doing my best to make just a tiny section of it better. Come join me!