A Taste of TNNA:
The National NeedleArts Association Summer Trade Show
June 9-13, 2005
Columbus, Ohio

by Cat Bordhi

Perhaps you meet regularly with a guild or group of knitters whose friendship and talents nourish both your life and your knitting, and, if you are fortunate, you also occasionally attend thrilling fiber events, like the Black Sheep Gathering in Oregon, or Stitches.

Knitting industry professionals are especially blessed because they can participate in these plus the professional shows that allow them to get together to take classes, examine an amazing wealth of new yarns and tools, and have fun together.

Twice a year the National NeedleArts Associationand International Needleart Retailers Guild put on the Needle Arts Market, usually referred to simply as TNNA, with five days full of gala events, over 100 classes, demonstrations, book signings, and a market floor so enormous and enticing that it definitely takes days to almost see everything.

Tearing Down the Walls
The Great Wall of YarnEven before you step onto the market floor, there is the Great Wall of Yarn, where dozens of yarn companies hang bundles of long strands and knitted swatches of their latest yarns for retailers to collect and try. Picture Niagara Falls streaming with yarn instead of water, and you'll have the idea.

Notebooks, tape, and scissors are provided so retailers can make a collection of samples with notes for shopping purposes. For many, this is their first and last connection with a sense of being in control before they step into the knitters' heaven on the other side of the doors.

The Friday Night Fashion Show
A highlight of every TNNA is the Friday night fashion show, and this one featured 100 garments on the stage of an enormous grand ballroom packed with thousands of excited needlework-obsessed individuals who'd already had a glass or two of wine and some very nice appetizers. Two giant screens beside the stage gave even those in the nether regions of the ballroom a close-up of the models as they sashayed about in the beautiful designs.

Many of the garments, bags, and accessories were over the edge in some way—lots of glitzy fibers, generous asymmetrical shaping (look for Norah Gaughan's brilliant "Dramatic Circular Pullover" from Artful Yarns), oversized fit (Trendsetter's ethereal "Mohair Coat," knit side to side, made the crowd sigh with pleasure), or yarn that resembled (and sometimes was) real fur.

Really long (perhaps 24") fringe showed up on many garments, swinging provocatively as the models strutted (Berroco's "Urban Cowgirl" was particularly appealing). There were capelets and shrugs galore, in such splendid variety that I think everyone left inspired to knit at least one. Watch for the cover of Vogue Knitting's upcoming fall issue, featuring a garment designed by Annie Modesitt that converts from a jacket to a shrug, worked in three colorways of Lorna's Laces.

Every design received some applause from admirers around the room, but like an instant poll, only a few garments received spontaneous thunderous applause from the full audience of thousands, revealing what we actually love most in knit design.

Hanne Falkenberg models one of her stunning designsThe first such reaction came when a model walked out in Hanne Falkenberg's new "Mermaid" jacket. This fitted and fluid garter stitch jacket in two colors was easily recognizable as a Hanne Falkenberg design, with its flawless placement of elements to mesmerize the eye and create a garment that is comfortable, functional, and so timeless in its beauty and style it can be worn forevermore. (The next day, in Hanne's booth on the market floor, there was a long line of smitten designers and retailers waiting to try on her beautiful sweaters and jackets in front of the single full-length mirror. I'm making one in sea green and sea blue.)

A dramatic mohair floor-length black cape from Louet with a large egg-shaped medallion on the back (made of woven knitted linen strips in pure, clear colors) also earned and deserved a huge wave of instant applause. The medallion shone quietly yet dramatically like an enormous jewel on the model's back, and it could have been worn at any time in history.

Lisa Evans' (from LB Evans Handknits) "New Paisley Shawl" won the third round of total applause. Her rendition of a single enormous paisley motif unfurled sensually on the rectangle of Himalaya Wool/Silk and Recycled Rayon, knit in earthy colors reminiscent of Persian carpets and fine curries, and lined in Pippin-apple green silk. This ancient yet modern design won the crowd's heart.

(I wonder how many in the audience knew that the paisley motif is one of the oldest in art, and represents the womb. This information comes from Judith MacKenzie McCuin, who may know more about textile history than anyone on this continent. In her workshops, she shows slides of an 8th- or 9th-century Madonna with a single paisley-motif womb to illustrate this symbolism.)

One more design from the fashion show deserves mention because of its importance, beauty, and transcendence of passing fashions. If you are a lover of Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries or a lace knitter, then you know Eugene Beugler's name. Now in his 80s and still knitting and creating lace (in Eugene, Oregon, where he is a regular in one of the local yarn shops), he contributed to Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries, collaborated with Elizabeth Zimmermann, and is one of the most venerable pioneers of lace knitting of both the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fiber Trends is honoring this important man by bringing out a Eugene Beugler Collection of four lace patterns. One of them, the "Flower Eyelet Afghan," appeared in the fashion show. Knit of drapey Mountain Colors Mountain Goat, it was worn with the upper corners draped over the model's arms so that when she moved, it swung elegantly in a kimono-like way. A few months ago I saw samples of all four lace designs when visiting Evelyn Clark, who helped work on these patterns with Fiber Trends, and the designs are exquisite, suitable for knitting in many weights of yarn.

Empowering the "Ordinary Knitter"
Sally Melville with a smile!I was merely hoping for a glimpse of the pieces in Sally Melville's newest book (due out in September), Color: the Power and the Glory, but I got so much more. I am only sorry that you weren't all there with me to actually meet Sally and see a dozen of her gorgeous new designs.

This woman, who holds new and not-so-new knitters' hands so extraordinarily well, has probably done more than any one individual to encourage and empower the current flood of new knitters. Her latest book will definitely empower and inspire you, no matter what level knitter you may be. Sally is an energetic, friendly, bright-eyed woman completely at ease with herself and eager to share the tricks that make even her most complex designs easy for beginners.

The intarsia color blocks on the cover sweater of the new book, for instance, are worked with 12" to 18" strands of yarn, measured and cut ahead of time and easily pulled into place for knitting, without tangles or bobbins. The wonderful "Big Bang Wrap," which Sally said was her favorite piece in the book, has an ever-so-slightly flared wide border running all the way around that folds back into a shawl collar, defines the waistline in the back, and flows like soft water down and around the sections that fall to the front.

When I admired the gentle and absolutely perfectly orchestrated flare of the border, beginning to examine it for technique (I was thinking short rows), Sally pointed out that she had merely worked a simple edge with enough extra breadth that it coaxed the entire border into shape. Again and again Sally applies utterly simple techniques that allow any knitter to create graceful, stylish, and now, colorful garments. In my opinion, the new Color book actually outdoes everything that she has done before, a minor miracle.

And it is Sally's love of technique and design and commitment to empowering knitters that is inspiring what will be her fifth book: The Mechanics of Design. Even before Sally wrote her first book (Styles), Elaine Rowley (editor, XRX Books), had once asked Sally how many books she thought she had in her. Sally said seven (just like J.K. Rowling, I might point out). The first four are Styles, Knit, Purl, and Color. The sixth will be Texture, and the seventh will be The Artistry of Design.

Both design books will teach knitters how to choose different elements, from techniques to asymmetry to color to closures, then balance and apply them in innovative, personalized ways. Adapting design to body type will be included, and some new Sally Melville pieces will illustrate the branching choices possible during the evolution of a fresh design. So reserve a seven-volume space on your knitter's bookshelf for Sally.

Knitting Well Beyond the Edge
Nicky Epstein and her beautiful swatchesAnother knitting designer who empowers knitters of all levels is Nicky Epstein. You may already know that she has a new book (available at the end of July), titled Knitting Over the Edge, which follows her first edging collection, Knitting on the Edge.

Well, there's a third one coming too—Knitting Beyond the Edge, which will focus on how to shape and handle edges, such as sleeves. I had a chance to skim the pages of Knitting Over the Edge (which is full of original, inventive, playful, elegant, classic, and over-the-edge edgings) and was exclaiming over a particularly delicious border, two cables separated by a lively hedgerow of bobbles, when to my surprise Nicky, who is one of my heroes, appeared by my side to say hello!

She showed me an assortment of the knitted pieces that are in the second book and kindly allowed me to take her photo with some of the display. One of the things I admire most about Nicky is that she has created so very many original edgings—her collections significantly expand upon the number of published stitches available to all knitters. I thanked her profusely for her contribution to those of us who love to design.

Interweave Knits Has a Party
On Saturday night Interweave Knits hosted a party attended by several hundred people. You would've loved to be there. After choosing a plate full of goodies from the buffet you could sit companionably with other knitters at one of many round tables where the centerpiece just happened to be a few of the pieces from Vicki Square's new Folk Hats book, or maybe one of the striking capes from Pam Allen and Ann Budd's new Wrap Style (September release) was already draped over the back of your chair.

One wrap in particular was constantly in someone's hands or around their shoulders—a persimmon-colored stream of wide ribs that closed with a four-fold whirlpool look. I predict that both of these new books, as well as Nancy Bush's new Knitting Vintage Socks: New Twists on Classic Patterns (October release), are likely to be best-sellers because of the sheer wonder of their patterns.

An announcement was made that Interweave has been sold to another company, one hand-picked by Interweave, and that this change will enable them to bring us more of the Interweave style we love. (In case this worries you, as it did me, know that later I inquired privately of one or two Interweave staffers I know, if this is honestly a good move—and if I can rest assured the Interweave look and quality I love will continue. They both enthusiastically said yes.)

One new product will be a magazine called Knitscapes, which will debut in October as a single special issue like Interweave Crochet did (a second issue of this fine cross-over magazine will appear in September). With knitting as the "mother language," Knitscapes will become multilingual by incorporating other fiber techniques like crocheting, felting, and stitching into designs "for the spirited knitter."

Cocktail Party Chatter
Sunday evening I attended a cocktail party celebrating Stewart, Tabori & Chang's new imprint, STC Crafts / Melanie Falick Books. Melanie is the former editor of Interweave Knits, author of Knitting in America, Kids Knitting, Weekend Knitting, among others, and seems to have a gift for eliciting and protecting the authentic voice and talents of the authors she edits.

She "discovered" Teva Durham, encouraged her, and edited her pioneering book, Loop-d-Loop, shepherding Teva's tour de force of knitting through the publishing process without disturbing its enormous vitality and eloquence. At the cocktail party Teva and I both got to page through the galleys of Leigh Radford's Alterknits: Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises, with Leigh nearby answering our questions.

This book, which will be released in October, thrills me. First off, Leigh wrote the following definition of "alter" on cards and placed them around her home, leaving them there for a year: "Alter: to make different without changing into something else."

This was her prompt for the delightfully fresh applications of knitting that fill her book. There's a knitted screen door, so wonderfully elastic and springy that it need not be knitted to absolutely precise measurements; a knitted home for your PDA, even a crown-inspired headpiece knit of crepe paper (which Leigh discovered is more amenable to knitting than most paper).

While we were talking with Leigh, I kept admiring her elegant silver necklace of solid silver pieces alternating with something finer. And then I turned a page and there it was—her knitted sterling silver necklace that I had thought an expensive art piece. The book also includes 10 Alter exercises to fertilize your own creative juices.

In other words, Leigh is empowering you to spring from the known into the unknown with your knitting, with her tools and techniques as well as those you already have and will acquire. I suspect her book will inspire many to apply their new creative skills to parts of life that actually have no knitting in them at all...with equally liberating results.

Melanie is also working on a new book of her own, due out in October and titled Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice. I saw some dozen pages of a mock-up copy, and what I saw made me fall as silent as freshly falling snow, absorbing the peaceful mood and grace of the few designs and longing to see the rest. Fall is going to be a busy season for great new knitting books, so save your money.

Finer Chibi Needles for Sock Knitters!
Last but not least, I have to report that Clover—maker of the popular bent-tip Chibi needles that somehow enable knitters to graft stitches when they cannot with a straight-tip needle—has done something absolutely wonderful.

At the January TNNA I visited the Clover booth to suggest that they make a finer gauge Chibi needle for sock knitters, who mostly knit in fingering weight, and do a lot more grafting than just about any other knitters. The busy Clover guy handed me his card and suggested I email him to remind him of the suggestion.

Well, I never got around to emailing him. So I went to the Clover booth again and began telling them the same thing, assuming the idea had been lost and it was all my fault. To my delight, the man held up a transparent Chibi container holding two smaller bent tip needles, exactly what I had asked for, only two, in two smaller sizes.

But wait, it gets better. This was a sample, and they are actually making three smaller sizes, sold as a set. I don't know if this makes you as happy as it does me, but I think that sock knitters and other fine gauge knitters all over the world will be happy to have a bent-tip tapestry needle that matches their finer yarns, whether they are grafting or just darning in ends. So make sure your local yarn shop orders them!

I feel incredibly fortunate to be one of the knitters who gets to experience both worlds—the "civilian" and the professional knitting worlds. I hope I've succeeded in bringing you with me so that you could experience it too.

About the Author
Cat Bordhi is the author of A Treasury of Magical Knitting, A Second Treasury of Magical Knitting, Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles, and a novel, Treasure Forest, which won the Nautilus Award, includes quite a bit of knitting and spinning, and has been published in India in English, and will soon come out in Russia in Russian. Socks Soar on two Circular Needles has been translated into German and will soon be published in Europe. At TNNA, Cat taught three Magical Knitting workshops to retailers from all over the continent. Visit her Website for more information on her work.

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