10 years ago ten years later

A Decade of Knitting:
Knitter's Review Turns 10

good thing wool is fireproof
Knitter's Review turns 10 this week. It's a milepost along a journey still in progress, but it's also an extraordinary journey in itself. Strolling through the archives I was struck by what we knitters have seen and done since I hit "send" on the first issue of Knitter's Review that fateful September in 2000. Blogs were in their very infancy, Knitty wouldn't arrive for two more years—Facebook four, Twitter six, and Ravelry seven.

The notion of connecting through a newsletter wasn't new—Elizabeth Zimmermann paved the way with her very first newsletter in 1958, a tradition carried on today by her daughter Meg Swansen. The medium of communication kept changing, and knitters craved more frequent contact. I started Knitter's Review as a way to forge and maintain those knitterly connections on a weekly basis, using email and the Web as the medium.

The Need for More
Back in the dark ages of 2000, online yarn stores were just starting to thrive—and for the first time we were buying yarns and tools without ever touching them. I saw a need for insightful and honest information about those things we were seeing on the screen, especially yarn. I'd studied art history and been a travel writer, I'd edited magazines, published email newsletters, and coordinated product reviews—and it made total sense to apply all that experience to something I loved dearly.

You responded, and by our first birthday Knitter's Review had 5,000 subscribers. Today you are in the company of 35,000 other newsletter and RSS subscribers who are all as curious and passionate about yarn as you are. Yours is an impressive and inspiring group, and I'm honored to be part of it.

In the Beginning

handspun angora on a niddy noddy
The first years of Knitter's Review were all about the basics. I gave a lot of foundation overviews on everything from needles (including separate pieces on straights, circs, and DPNs), dyeing with Kool Aid, knitting lace, felting, knitting socks, and even making headache-free yarn substitutions. In November 2001, the Knitter's Review Forums launched, putting readers in touch with one another. By 2002 I was spotting a backlash against all the bulky quick-knitting yarns that had begun to clog our stashes.

Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles cover
That same year I reviewed a small booklet about knitting socks on two circular needles, and your response was so great that the book spent a whole weekend among the top 50 bestselling books on Amazon, besting even the latest John Grisham thriller. The power of knitters was beginning to show.

Then in 2003, I wrote about a new book packed with fresh faces, voices, and designs, called Stitch 'n Bitch, and two years later I told you about a Canadian blogger who'd just written a clever little book of daily meditations for women who knit too much. Debbie Stoller and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, respectively, went on to become New York Times bestsellers. Knitters were starting to claim our rightful place in literary history.

From Virtual Reality to Real Reality

the gang's all here
Meanwhile, in 2002 I'd posted a series of questions to gauge whether or not Knitter's Review members would like to gather. Later that year, the first Knitter's Review Retreat took place in Syria, Virginia, with 50 people. In 2010, the retreat will be attended by a jolly group of no fewer than 120 knitters. As much as we enjoy connecting virtually, we still see the value in gathering face to face.

The Knitter's Book of Yarn The Knitter's Book of Wool
The Books
The journey has also brought two books into the Knitter's Review fold, with a third one just weeks shy of its deadline. You can see the very first hints of what would become my first book, The Knitter's Book of Yarn, in a simple July 2003 piece about spin and ply (aptly named "Ply Me a River"). And I confess that even I get a little teary when I re-read the story of how that book came to be.

Telling Stories
Over the last decade my focus has shifted from describing things toward telling the stories behind those things. I enjoy telling stories about people who are producing notable and worthwhile products—like Melinda Kjarum and her flock of Icelandic sheep in Minnesota, Eugene Wyatt and his Saxon Merinos just up from New York City, or Leena Riihelä and her bubbling dyepots of plants and mushrooms giving color to lively Finnsheep wool yarn.

Beyond yarn, the stories are about people like Jennifer Lippman-Bruno, who has created an entire business out of her infinitely useful and domestically produced GoKnit pouches; or Cathryn Bothe, who retooled part of her high-precision custom metal component manufacturing business so it could produce knitting needles; or Sam Bolton, who has been happily turning hundreds of wooden knitting needles from his workshop in Montana.

Greater Consequences
Time can take the bloom off almost any rose, and I confess that I definitely have developed a far greater awareness of those who may be affected by what I say. Over the years I've received a few impassioned emails from advertisers, yarn companies, and readers criticizing me for promoting companies they believe did not serve the knitting ecosystem well—even if the products themselves were serviceable. At the same time, I've received emails from readers thanking me for talking about these products. But time has definitely given me a greater respect for the nuance of our delicate ecosystem.

Having Fun

Purrfect yarn
We've had our lighthearted moments, too. In fact, my favorite three articles fall in this category. In 2004 I shared creative techniques for concealing your yarns. (I'm particularly fond of wrapping a few skeins in white butcher's paper, labeling it "liver," and stuffing it in the back of your freezer. Has anybody tried this yet?)

Then in 2008 I told you about a new company that had just launched a line of yarns made with recycled kitty litter. The following year I found an even more extraordinary yarn made from duck feathers discovered by an ex-reindeer herder in the Evenk Autonomous Banner of Inner Mongolia. I can only wonder what next April's discovery may be?

Going Global

the Wool Festival at Taos
Travel has played a part in Knitter's Review since the very beginning. Over the last decade I've brought you to events in Maryland, New York, Vermont, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, California, and Oregon. And in 2010, I finally crossed the pond to tell you all about the first-ever Knit Nation in London. As much as ever, we are a global community that's inexorably connected by the fact that mere yarn and needles will make us happy.

Yarn, Yarn, and More Yarn

swatching Elsa
But more than anything else, yarn has been the major theme throughout our journey, with more than 200 reviews published to date. While some of the yarns reviewed are no longer available (let's have a moment of silence for Jaeger and its legendary Cashair and Chamonix, not to mention Jaeger itself), many others still are—including the very first yarn I ever reviewed, Classic Elite LaGran.

Life as a yarn reviewer has made me a bit of a serial swatcher. Among my most memorable and ecstatic swatching experiences, Elsa Wool stands out, as does Filatura di Crosa Superior and Swiss Mountain Cashmere Silk, a swatch of which I continue to keep in my bag, like smelling salts, in case of emergencies.

A New Intersection
Still, things are changing. Just as I had no inkling where we'd be today, or if Knitter's Review would survive a decade, I have no idea what the knitting world will look like 10 years from today. The pace with which information now spreads is getting faster and faster, the network is wider than ever, and the potential impact of this information is broader and more deeply felt than ever.

Technology is making helpful inroads too. Just this week, in fact, Interweave launched its very first digital knitting magazine (or "eMag") called Sockupied (and dedicated, as you probably guessed, to sock knitting). Conceived from the very beginning as a digital magazine and not simply a digital version of a print magazine, Sockupied features an interactive collection of patterns, articles, and video tutorials. It costs $14.97 and runs on Adobe Air. Ideally it takes between six and 15 minutes to download, but mine topped out at an hour and 20 minutes. (Nobody said life in Maine was for the rushed.) This is the next step in our inexorable move toward a digital reality.

Knitters increasingly thrive in this super-fast electronic world while simultaneously continuing to cherish the tradition of making fabric by hand. Perhaps as the world speeds up and the dissonance around us gets louder, we'll find increased solace in slow knitting.

Barbara Walker leaving the 2009 Sock Summit
As long as our cells continue to carry memories from generation to generation, the deep pleasure and familiarity of manipulating yarn and needles will always remain. I see Knitter's Review as a momentary pause from the hubbub, a weekly meditation of sorts, that focuses on the pleasures of knitting. As long as you find it helpful, I have something useful to say, and the economics allow me to keep saying it, I'll be right here by your side.

Thank you for reading.


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