Ten years have passed since I began these year-end retrospectives. In that decade, our world has changed significantly—our knitting world and the world at large.
Hindsight is a beautiful, decadent thing. It allows us a greater perspective, helps us see the bigger picture that is often obscured in the day to day. As I began reading through the archives to get my bearings for this year, a remarkable story unfolded before me. It goes a little something like this.
Back in 2002, things were pretty simple and pretty amazing. I talked about the rise of blogs, self-patterning sock yarns, and a “sassy new quarterly online-only magazine” called Knitty.
We turned to 2003, celebrating the success of Debbie Stoller’s new book, Stitch ‘n Bitch. Pam Allen became editor of Interweave Knits magazine, with previous editor Melanie Falick departing to launch a new imprint at Stewart, Tabori & Chang. In 2004 we wallowed in the accessories boom and tried to read books about the spiritual side of knitting.
Fast-forward to 2005. Everybody was knitting Kate Gilbert’s Clapotis pattern and taking part in a cool new collective knitting concept called a “knitalong.” (Catchy, no?)
The next year brought a massive market correction that devastated some yarn stores and companies, especially those heavily invested in synthetic novelty yarns. Among knitters, however, all was not gloom and doom. The world went bonkers over Cookie A’s Pomatomus sock pattern, while 800 skeins of Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock yarn were snatched up in a matter of hours at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. By the end of the year, a popular blogger named Stephanie Pearl-McPhee raised $80,000 in contributions to Doctors Without Borders (a number that has since grown beyond $1.1 million).
Then came 2007. We’d hoped the worst of the market correction was over, yet more brick-and-mortar stores continued to close as knitters shifted their yarn-buying habits increasingly to the Internet. Socks remained a hot-ticket item, but we also saw a rise in lace knitting and a new kind of “mystery” knitalong in which the participants were fed instructions bit by bit without knowing what they were knitting. In April, young newlyweds Jessica and Casey Forbes launched a new Website called Ravelry, and in October, I published my first book. It was a big year, both for knitters and for me personally.
The next year seemed to be all about connections, whether through blogs or online communities, fiber festivals, or knitting groups. Online, those connections were so immediate and far-reaching, people’s collective responses so flammable, that companies began talking about hiring extra staff just to put out the flames and manage their online reputations. (My mere mention of unchecked online outbursts that year, and their consequences, caused its own unchecked outburst.)
It was also an extraordinary year for books. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee dominated the knitting-essay market with the release of not one but two books that year. Franklin Habit published a collection of cartoons and essays, and the Mason-Dixon Knitting duo of Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner added their own timeless contribution to our bookshelves.
This was also the year we began to see a significant rise in socially conscious yarn buying, whether using fibers from the once-discarded hides of the American bison or from oft-overlooked British sheep breeds. And last but certainly not least, 2008 was a great year for knitwear designers as we welcomed the launch of Twist Collective and Patternfish.
The excitement and momentum of 2008 rolled over to 2009, or, as I dubbed it, the year of the upstart. Ravelry launched its Pattern Store service, Ysolda Teague published two charming collections under the Whimsical Little Knits name, and Anne Hanson was my top contender in the Most Prolific Designer category.
Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Tina Newton made big plans and aimed high, bringing the knitting world together for the first-ever Sock Summit. The United Nations declared 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibres, and, as if on cue, I released my second book, love letter to wool (The Knitter’s Book of Wool), in October. By the end of the year, traditional book and magazine publishers were on notice and clearly grappling with the paradigm shift from print to digital, paid to free.
Knitwear designers continued to come into their own in 2010, bursting from the shadows (and guidance) of the publishing houses and releasing works on their own. We saw successful new collections from Miriam Felton, Rosemary Hill, Gudrun Johnston, Stephen West, and Mandy Powers.
Two such knitwear designers, Cookie A and Alice Yu, broadened their reach even further by hosting the first-ever Knit Nation in London.
But it didn’t stop there. Some designers—two, in particular—took the bold step of launching their own yarn companies. First came Quince & Co., launched by Pam Allen (who’d long since stepped down as editor of Interweave Knits magazine and her more recent position as Creative Director of Classic Elite Yarns); and then came Brooklyn Tweed, from the wildly popular knitwear designer and blogger Jared Flood. (Just a few hours ago, Jared released the fourth installment in Brooklyn Tweed’s Wool People pattern collection and it is, in a word, outstanding.) Both yarn companies were unique in their commitment to sourcing, spinning, and dyeing their yarns completely in the United States.
By the time we reached 2011, the Knitter’s Review calendar of events was quite suddenly overwhelmed with new listings, both big and small. Interweave and Vogue Knitting threw their hats into the event ring, and Stephanie and Tina orchestrated a second, even grander Sock Summit.
While hand-dyed yarns had been increasingly prevalent over the years, 2011 was the tipping point after which they held as much clout in the market as their commercially dyed counterparts. Many dyers boosted production to support a larger wholesale market. Supply became an issue as mills were overrun with orders for stock bases. Some dyers took the leap and had their own custom bases spun; others replicated those bases. What had been a sideline cottage industry was officially capital-b business.
In 2011 we also watched as many of the recently hatched indie designers collaborated with equally new hand-dyers to bring us clubs featuring exclusive patterns and custom-dyed yarns. Our appetite for small-scale local production increased, and our understanding of fiber CSAs went from “huh?” to “where do I sign up?”
And Then There Was Now
Which brings us to the 2012 we’re about to leave behind.
That sassy new quarterly magazine called Knitty? It just celebrated its 10th anniversary. As of February 29th of this year, Ravelry topped 2 million members. Both Twist Collective and Patternfish are going strong, and Interweave Knits and Vogue Knitting magazines now offer digital downloads of their patterns. A search for “hand-dyed” yarns on Ravelry returned 1,507 matches.
Indeed, between Ravelry and Etsy, creative livelihoods that would’ve been inconceivable 10 years ago are now being sustained, and quite healthily.
Our creativity is spilling over into other mediums, especially sewing. Purl Soho led the way many years ago when it began selling sewing and patchwork materials. Loop followed suit with the opening of neighbor store Spool, and on the West Coast, natural dyer A Verb for Keeping Warm now also carries fabric and trim.
Don’t Tell Me, Show Me
Knitting has always paired well with visual learning. We used to go to our LYS and ask someone to demonstrate a stitch or technique. In an ideal world, we can still do this. But online learning has been on the rise, first with simple YouTube tutorials, now with companies dedicated exclusively to online learning. In fact, the biggest story of 2012 would have to be Craftsy.
While it didn’t launch this year, it did reach a critical mass with its cherry-picked selection of teachers (including the likes of Stefanie Japel, Marly Bird, Kristin Omdahl, Felicia Lo, and Nancy Marchant) and classes on every topic imaginable. You pay by the class, with several smaller “teaser” classes available for free. Classes usually feature multiple video “lessons” (which you can watch whenever you want) paired with homework, usually for a finished project. You can ask questions and participate in discussions with other students. Teachers like it because they can teach one class, really well, and have that class reach a potentially unlimited number of students—far more easily than if they were traveling from town to town, suitcase in tow.
Chasing at Craftsy’s heels is CreativeBug, a younger company that follows a slightly different model more similar to Lynda, the online software and video tutorial library. With CreativeBug you pay a set monthly subscription fee and gain open access to all the classes you want. The class offerings are a little more limited than Craftsy (sorry, bakers, no cake decorating tutorials here) but features an already impressive lineup of instructors including Natalie Chanin, Liesl Gibson, Heather Ross, Melanie Falick, and Jill Draper. The more workshops they add, the more appealing this model will become.
Even among traditional publishers, video-learning offerings are on the rise. For proof, look no further than the phenomenal success of Ann Budd’s new 2-DVD set, 45+ Knitted Cast-Ons and Bind-Offs.
Despite all the changes, one thing remains constant. The more we settle into our virtual world, comfortably straddling the likes of Facebook and Ravelry and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and Flickr, our need for meaningful personal connections seems greater than ever. Our Knitter’s Review events calendar continues to grow. Every day we’re getting news of a new retreat, a new festival, a new planned gathering somewhere in the world.
I’m happy to report that 2012 was a big year for wool. The Campaign for Wool, under the patronage of Prince Charles, helped bring global attention to this noble and annually renewable resource, from farmers and manufacturers to handknitters and elite fashion houses. Sheep grazed along a turf-covered Savile Row in London, and then they took over Bryant Park in New York. (PETA held a protest, asserting that shearing sheep for wool is an unusually cruel process, and distributed materials encouraging visitors to consider more “environmentally friendly” wool alternatives including fibers made from recycled plastic and other petrochemical-based substances.)
The future for domestic wool—at least on a large scale—is still at risk. It is, after all, a commodity—just like corn, soy, or wheat. In December, the New York Times ran an article detailing how severe drought and the economic downturn have combined to create “perfect storm” conditions for sheep farmers in the western United States.
For knitters who crave to know more about their yarn, where it came from and who made it, there’s still much work to be done. It remains a challenge to scale from one or two flocks to quantities of yarn that would support knitters around the country, consistently, and at a price knitters can afford—that manages to compete with the $3 skeins from Peru while also providing a fair and reasonable livelihood for those who made it.
Those are our challenges in the coming year, and they are my challenges in the coming year. To identify and promote worthy yarns from around the world, but also to walk through the process myself.
We’ve come a long way in just 10 short years. We are far more inquisitive and sophisticated in our curiosity. We are more demanding, but also more discerning in our demands. We crave new challenges, new ideas, new products. And when we find them, word spreads like wildfire.
All in all, I’d say we’re going to have a pretty grand adventure in 2013. I hope you’ll join me.
Happy New Year,