a sign by the Oregon Convention Center reads Honk if you Knit Socks

Report from the
2011 Sock Summit
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, OR
July 28-31, 2011

About 6,000 people—roughly the population of Harvard, Massachusetts—knitters all, attended this year's Sock Summit.

When you create an atmosphere of glee, and people feel sheer excitement at being present, amazing things can happen.

a still shot of the flashmob

You can raise more than $5,000 for Médecins Sans Frontières, collect hundreds of knitted items for charity, inspire someone to knit 171 stitches in just three minutes (congratulations Deb Barnhill!), spin and knit a sock while the freshly shorn sheep stands there watching, and—with 600 or so others—break into spontaneous dance.

funny hats

The event drew people from all corners of the knitting world and all facets of our ecosystem. We had designers and authors, test knitters and tech editors, magazine editors, yarn makers and dyers and sellers...but more than that, we had knitters. Thousands of knitters, all there to learn and meet and acquire, to escape from their daily lives and to celebrate something they truly love.

all the teachers signed several posters, which were sold at silent auction to benefit Medecins Sans Frontieres

This was the second time we'd been treated to a Sock Summit, the first one taking place in 2009. It would have been impossible to repeat the exact spirit of that first event, and organizers Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Tina Newton didn't even try.

Stephanie and Anna

Instead, they built upon it, bringing in countless new classes and new teachers. The 60 teachers included everyone from Ann Budd and Judith MacKenzie to Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Sivia Harding, Anne Hanson, Amy Singer, Franklin Habit, Nancy Bush, JC Briar, Mary Scott Huff, Anna Zilboorg, and yours truly, as well as many, many, many more. (Here Stephanie chats with Anna Zilboorg during the teacher's dinner on Wednesday night.)

The 130 classes covered an astonishing scope of sock territory, everything from textured colorwork and arch shaping for toe-up socks to Lithuanian heels and toes, photographing your fiber, and making the most of handpainted yarns.

The organizers also added fresh new challenges to the agenda—a Fleece to Foot challenge, a Fastest Sock Knitter competition, an '80s sock hop, and even a yarn-themed flash mob. Aided by an equally capable and tireless staff, they proved that it is possible to create magic in the same place twice.

Alice at the door

To Market We Go
A major attraction for many was the marketplace, whose doorway was often expertly guarded by Alice (shown here). While the marketplace offered a variety of commercial yarns, accessories, and spinning fibers, it primarily represented a who's-who of the hand-dyed sock yarn world.

Goth Socks Yarn

Within that hand-dyed sock yarn world, a new darling captures the public's attention every year. This time it was Goth Socks by Rainy Days & Wooly Dogs. Swarmed by vendors before the market even opened, they were still re-stocking when the public literally sprinted to their booth. Thus began what can only be described as a yarn frenzy.

At one point they were throwing skeins of yarn over the heads of people inside the booth so that others could see it—only to have people exclaim, "Yaay, free yarn!" and walk away with it. Here you see the Goth Socks team in their post-scrum booth devoid of yarn but still stocked with cute knitting bags.

Hazel Knits Hazel Knits

The Hazel Knits booth was fairly well picked clean by the end of the weekend. Of particular interest was her Piquant Lite yarn. Made from 90% superwash Merino and 10% nylon, the yarn is composed of nine tightly twisted plies. Not only does this give great durability to socks, but it's also quite similar to—yet softer and plumper than—the ever-popular Wollmeise yarn.

The Plucky Knitter the Plucky Knitter

Another Etsy favorite is dye darling Sarah Dimond, better known as The Plucky Knitter. She did a swift business with her rainbow of mostly solid, richly saturated jewel tones in varying bases.

Brooke Sinnes of the Sincere Sheep The Sincere Sheep

With so many hand-dyers expressing their color palettes on similar yarn bases, it was particularly refreshing to discover natural dyer Sincere Sheep. Brought to you by Brooke Sinnes (above), formerly half of Tactile Fiber Arts, the Sincere Sheep focuses on naturally dyed yarns and fibers. Some of the yarn bases are familiar, but others feature surprise treats, such as Polwarth and silk, as well as a most extraordinarily plush Cormo.

A Verb for Keeping Warm

Once again, Oakland-based natural dyer A Verb for Keeping Warm won my heart with the astonishing array of colors she manages to coax from organic plants and dye extracts. Here I also saw a high-twist offering called, fittingly, High Twist. Made from 70% superfine Merino and 30% Tussah silk, this lace-weight yarn is composed of two two-ply strands that are twisted together at a highly perpendicular angle. The result is a springy yet luminous yarn that begs for lace.

Bacon? Bacon colorway from Holiday Yarns

And then there was the moment when, in the Holiday Yarns booth, someone came in and asked, "Do you still have bacon?" Imagine my confusion when Jennifer (the owner of Holiday Yarns) said, "Yup, right over here."

Turns out she was talking about a colorway (shown above). When knit up into socks, it replicates the coloring of bacon with uncanny accuracy. Who knew?

Bagging It
Yarnpop Yarnpop

Yarn wasn't the only game in town. People have finally caught on that knitters like to store their projects in bags, and that they have lots of projects—hence the demand for lots of bags too. Hand-sewn knitting bags were everywhere, and the assortment of charming shapes and fabrics was at times overwhelming.

Yarn Pop, shown above, drew my eye for its unusual construction. A large plastic zipper runs across the top of a rectangular bag that, depending on the size, has either one or two grommets through which you can run your working yarn.

The only drawback to this grommet construction is that you'll be married to the bag until that skein is done, since the only way to separate project from bag would be to cut the yarn. Then again, socks go quickly enough that this shouldn't be a problem—and most projects never stray too far from their bags.

Splityarn (left) and Stitchy McYarnpants (right)

I was also happy to see Splityarn (far left) and Stitchy McYarnpants (right) sharing a booth. The two offered complementary shapes and styles, with Splityarn's boxbags (below left) and Stitchy's drawstring bags (below right) both made from equally charming fabrics.

Splityarn's boxbags Stitchy McYarnpants's bags
Kathryn Bothe demonstrates her Signature Needle Arts

This being the Sock Summit, DPNs and circular needles at fine, sockworthy gauges were in high demand. The Signature Needle Arts booth had a steady stream of customers all weekend long. For many, it was their first chance to try out these Cadillac needles.

Book Signings

the book signing schedule

With so many authors among the 50+ teachers, the Unicorn Books booth was kept busy with book signings throughout the weekend.

Book signings

Here the two C's—Cookie A and Cat Bordhi—greet a steady stream of admirers.


Three sheep

Meanwhile, something was most definitely afoot on Sunday morning at a far end of the marketplace. Three sheep, to be exact, named Heel Flap, Instep, and Gusset.


They were there to offer their fleeces for the Fleece to Foot challenge. At 9:30am the shearing began.

one team hard at work

Six teams competed to card, spin, ply, and knit two pairs of socks from the freshly shorn wool—and all before 3:30pm that afternoon.

Alice cards wool for another team

Alice (on a break from door duty) carded wool for her team, called World Wide Mash-Up, while singing a rousing round of "Ninety nine locks of wool on the wall" to keep everyone entertained.

While nobody actually succeeded in completing a full pair of socks, World Wide Mash-Up completed the most knitting and was declared the winner. The prize was a $300 donation in the team's name to Médecins Sans Frontières. Each other team received a $50 donation to the charity of their choice.

Getting Goofy

Cat shoes us her soles

Outside the marketplace, goofiness abounded. Here Cat Bordhi was trying to show me the unusual pattern on the bottom of her shoes, which she insisted would make a fantastic knitting motif...

Franklin shows off his donut

As Carson Demers looked on, Franklin Habit showed off a gift from a student: one very special, anatomically correct donut from the Portland landmark Voodoo Doughnut.

Stephen shows off his donut

The Voodoo Doughnut fairies also brought plentiful donuts to the team that made Sock Summit run. Here Stephen Houghton and Natalie Selles show what remained after a busy day behind the registration desk.

Leaping through the Sockgate

People took turns posing with the giant "Sockgate," a surprise from Tina to Stephanie. (During opening ceremonies Stephanie pointed out that Tina has a habit of surprising her with gifts. "Last time, she rented me a convention center.")

Stephen and his mullet

On Friday night we all got a little goofy for the '80s-themed Sock Hop. Here the much-transformed Stormy Autumn and Stephen Houghton show off their finest.

A knitter was here

Even the Mayor of Portland declared July 25th through July 31 to be Sock Knitting Week. And the statue outside the Oregon Convention Center got into the knitting spirit, too. Just steps from where the flash mob took place, this little bird was given a blue and white cowl.

A knitter was here

When the cowl disappeared overnight on Saturday, a new, even more colorful cowl took its place on Sunday.

Nobody knows for sure if or when another Sock Summit will take place, or if this was perhaps the last one. We can of course hope. Regardless, Sock Summit leaves behind a sea of memories and sets the bar high for all future knitting events.

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