The Year in Review
As I ponder the high and low points of 2003 for knitters, I realize that they have less to do with the material aspects of knitting and everything to do with the community itself.
Community is Queen
Don't get me wrong—we welcomed all sorts of fantastic new yarns, gadgets, and books. But we also strengthened our connections with one another, far beyond the confines of physical location.
Everywhere I looked online, virtual "knitalongs" big and small urged knitters to join forces in their endeavors to complete pre-decided projects.
Even in our forums, dozens of knitters came forth to knit squares for "healthful throws," a healing blanket for someone in need. Others bravely plowed through their stashes and finished current projects as part of the No Yarn for One Month groups.
This increased connectedness was perhaps the greatest gift of 2003. But it most certainly isn't the only one. Join me as I explore other highlights of 2003.
In 2002 we saw the rise of prepatterned sock yarns, with Opal and Regia leading the way. The trend plateaued in 2003, when most major yarn manufacturers got into the action with their own nearly indistinguishable renditions.
While many knitters remain hooked on these yarns, others have turned to the more random delights of hand-dyed yarns from the likes of Interlacements or Lorna's Laces.
Within the realm of other yarns, here are my votes for 2004.
Yarn of the year: Beaverslide Dry Goods
I stumbled upon this yarn during an afternoon of Web wanderings. Based only on their story and the lovely pictures on their Web site, I ordered a batch of yarns to try.
Within just a few days my order arrived, beautifully wrapped and smelling vaguely of sweet flowers. The hanks of yarn seemed plain enough, but the fibers were unusually soft and plush, and the colors particularly subtle. I love discovering new sources of yarn, and Beaverslide Dry Goods exceeded my expectations.
The quality, consistency, and professionalism are matched by an exceptional price. A medium-sized women's sweater averages $37.50, which is almost embarrassingly low considering the obvious work and attention that go into the product. That's why this yarn gets my vote for the yarn of the year.
Most delicious splurge: Jaeger Cashair
If I had to pinpoint the one most desirable splurge of 2003, it would be this 65% cashmere, 35% merino blend. When I say splurge, I mean it. At $19.95 a skein, you could pay $400 for a sweater.
The colors are limited, but there's no denying the divine buttery softness of this fine yarn. Even a less financially burdensome hat or scarf would be heavenly.
Best bang for your boutique-yarn buck: Artfibers Kyoto
Most yarn shops carry yarns from other manufacturers, but the San Francisco-based Artfibers has its very own yarns made in Europe and Japan. This year I fell in love with Kyoto, a luxurious yarn that Artfibers has spun in Japan.
It pairs a superfine strand of brushed mohair and wool with a smooth, barely spun strand of luminous silk. The result is elegant yet cuddly, the best of all possible worlds. What I like most about it, besides the delicious look and feel, is the fact that a medium-sized women's sweater in Kyoto will run you under $90. For a special yarn such as this, that's a bargain.
Closest yarn to jewelry: Skacel Roulette
Sometimes we want a glamorous yarn that'll do all the work for us. Roulette is one such yarn. With a shimmering, sparkling material that looks like it has fine seed beads embedded in it, Roulette reminds me of the kind of vibrant, elegant material you'd see used on the bodice of a Renaissance-era gown. Even garter stitch looks good with this yarn.
Most resourceful recycling: Soy Silk Phoenix
Made by South West Trading Company, Soy Silk is an environmentally friendly fiber made from tofu manufacturing waste. Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are then cut and processed like any other spinning fiber. The result is a soft, pliable, and attractive yarn that's reasonably priced and appropriate for any ribbon-style design. Expect to see much more from South West Trading Company in 2004.
The trend that won't die: bulky garter-stitch scarf patterns
Too many of this year's new glossy books featured bulky garter-stitch scarf patterns with the complexity of a toothpick. I'm as fond of garter-stitch scarves as the next person (and gave several away this year for Christmas), but I don't think we need to pay $24.95 to have them in books. Really, how many ways can you write, "Cast on X stitches, knit every row until desired length, cast off."
Most-hyped book: Stitch 'n Bitch
We'd already seen the rise of so-called "stitch and bitch" knitting groups across the country. But Debbie Stoller took the trend one step further when she published her Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook.
Cute, funny at times, and deeply sincere at others, the book occasionally trades heavily on the "hip" concept. Stoller's voice and personality permeate the first half of the book, but she steps aside completely when it comes time for the patterns—something Lily Chin was criticized for not doing in last year's most-hyped book, Urban Knitter.
New book trend: the knitting lifestyle
Several new knitting books emerged this year with content far beyond the simple knit and purl stitch. Not only does Melanie Falick's long-awaited Weekend Knitting provide beautiful and well-designed patterns, but it also ventures to provide recipes, including butter cookies and hot chocolate, as well as basic instructions on such things as how to make a pot of tea or boil an egg.
She even adds tips for living a more knitterly lifestyle, such as how to run a relaxing tub, have a knitting-themed film fest in your house, or decorate rooms with yarn.
Career move of the year
Speaking of Melanie Falick, she gets our Move of the Year award for leaving her editorship with Interweave Knits and moving to upstate New York to work with book publisher Stewart, Tabori & Chang.
Knitters far and wide clamored for her position, subjecting themselves to a stringent interview process designed to extract the very last element of inspiration, creativity, and potential from their brains.
Finally the winner was announced: Pam Allen, author of Knitting for Dummies and a featured designer in Falick's earlier book Knitting in America. Allen gets to telecommute from her home in Camden, a lovely coastal Maine town.
Most welcome book re-release: Knitting in the Old Way
Just as we began to grown numb from the bulky garter-stitch scarf monotony, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts threw us a bone with this re-release of a meaty, timeless classic. In this new edition, she was joined by co-author Deborah Robson.
This is the first release from Gibson-Roberts and Robson's new publishing company, Nomad Press, which will be re-issuing Gibson-Roberts' other classic, Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy, in March 2004.
Travels and Tools
Favorite yarn shop discovery: Woolly Lamb in Pennington, N.J.
Many of us dream of creating a new yarn store from scratch. For Susan Olson, that dream became a reality when she saw the "For Rent" sign in the window of what had been Handwovens of Pennington. I happened upon her new store during a trip last summer and was awed by what I found inside.
Best knitterly road trip: New York State Sheep and Wool Festival
I'd heard about it for years, and this fall I finally made it to the venerable show of shows in Rhinebeck, New York. Larger-scale commercial yarn shows such as Stitches are rapidly losing ground to fiber festivals such as this one, and I expect this trend to continue in 2004.
Most airplane-friendly needles: Denise Interchangeable Needles
I was initially hesitant to try these needles simply because of their aesthetic appearance: plastic, plastic, and more plastic. But I brought them with me on the plane flight to Virginia for the 2003 KR Retreat, trusting in the company's assurance they were airplane-safe. I was quickly seduced by the light weight, warm feel, and staggering variety of options that one simple needle kit provides.
Most airplane-friendly yarn scissors: Clover Thread Cutter
Theoretically this doubles as a pendant, but let's be real: it's a tool. Modeled after similar devices that were popular in earlier times, this nifty little device will effectively cut through most yarns without posing any risks to your fingers.
Most of us carry scissors for this same purpose, but some occasions—air travel, jury duty, or any other high-security activity, for example—forbid such sharp tools. This simple device offers an alternative.
What's in store for 2004?
As I write this, I'm staring at an enormous pile of yarns and books that are patiently awaiting their turn for review. Some are from the big-name manufacturers, while others are from new independent startups (including one that deals exclusively in imported cashmere).
Several of the books delve deeper into specific aspects of fiber play, from spinning designer yarns to felting and knitting with beads. Others take us back to classic sweater design, with well-written patterns that use simple, well-made yarns.
People ask me how I manage to find things to write about every week. As we enter 2004, I'm happy to report that there are more tools, trends, books, yarns, festivals, and shops than ever before—and I look forward to sharing them all with you.