I’m Clara Parkes. Almost two decades ago, I abandoned San Francisco’s high-tech hubbub to build a quieter creative life on the coast of Maine. I’d always been a knitter, but as soon as I got to Maine, I began knitting, and stockpiling yarn, in earnest.
By 2000, online yarn shops had begun to take hold—and I was ordering yarn online from everywhere. Which is when I noticed something strange.
I’d read the descriptions of the yarns, I’d look at their pictures, and I’d develop a vision in my head of what that yarn would be. But when the yarn showed up on my doorstep, more often than not, it did not match my vision at all. It felt different. It behaved different.
I looked around to try and find more in-depth information about yarns—the stories behind them, the mechanics of how they were made and how they would best behave in projects—and found nothing. Magazines were restricted by advertisers who needed support, so they couldn’t be honest or seek out the new and unusual. And that’s fine, magazines needed to stay in business.
But I wanted more. And so, in 2000, I started my own journey to figure out why. What makes yarn tick? Where does it come from? And what are the ideal uses for each kind of yarn?
I decided to share my journey in a new online magazine and community for knitters, the same one you’re visiting today. Knitter’s Review became that place where people could learn about new and noteworthy yarns and tools and gadgets and events and books. I did the swatching, I found out if the yarn snagged or bled or was full of knots, I even flogged every skein to see how it would age. In September 2000, I hung up my shingle, invited people to subscribe, and dedicated myself to publishing new articles and telling you about them in my email newsletter every week, rain or shine. That was 17 years ago.
“Long before social media cluttered every corner of our existence, Parkes’s conversational 411 about new yarns and interesting pattern designs forged connections among far-flung knitters, who discovered they were a global community rather than lone practitioners of a cozy hobby they’d learned from Mom.” – Kathy Blumenstock, The Washington Post
Along the way, a forum was added, which welcomed more than 80,000 members before closing in 2015. I also held an annual retreat, which took place in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. I wrote the book of my dreams, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. It was followed by The Knitter’s Book of Wool and The Knitter’s Book of Socks. Then, I turned my attention to narrative non-fiction with The Yarn Whisperer and, in 2016, Knitlandia, which surprised us all by gaining favorable reviews from The Washington Post and landing on the New York Times bestseller list.
By 2013, however, I was starting to grow restless. I had hit the limits of what I could understand about yarn without actually walking through the steps a yarn company went through to create a really good skein. Without that experience, I felt like I risked becoming the food critic who could barely boil an egg at home. As if on cue, I was given the opportunity to purchase a 676-pound bale of superfine Saxon Merino wool from Eugene Wyatt’s flock in Goshen, New York. And an idea sprouted. Clearly I didn’t need 676 pounds of yarn myself…but what if I shared the fruits of this bale with other people and turned it into my learning tool? I told Eugene “yes” and created my own sort of year-long How To Make Yarn in America program, traveling to Eugene’s farm, the scouring plant, mills, and dye houses, and being completely honest about each step. The yearlong editorial project was called The Great White Bale. When it was done, I was hooked. I loved working with farmers and mills not as a critic but as a partner and public advocate. And so, in 2014, I launched creation of Clara Yarn.
Today, I’m as passionate about yarn as ever. I continue to seek and share stories here that deepen our experience of knitting, while also helping make us more discerning consumers. I want you to be able to go into any yarn store, visit any fiber festival, and feel fearless and confident about your yarn choices. Our world has grown beautifully yarn-aware, with more names and facts and stories attached to each skein coming out. Which has allowed me to take Knitter’s Review even deeper into the woods to seek out the truly rare birds.
Inevitably, Knitter’s Review amassed a hefty archive of reviews—many of which detail products that are long, long gone. In 2016, I did a sort of editorial KonMari and moved my favorite and most notable bits from the archives to this site you see here.
“… for the knitting community what Cook’s Illustrated is for chefs and foodies.”
– Folio Magazine
I still live in Maine with my partner and cat, dividing my time between an old farmhouse and an old city house, both of which are stuffed full of yarn. And I still send out that newsletter. Won’t you join me?
Questions? Comments? Drop me a line.
Photo by Pat Philbin
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