2011 in review

2011: A Retrospective

Once in a while—say, every 12 months—I like to pause and get my bearings. Studying our footprints helps us get an idea of where we've been and where we may be headed.

In this same spirit of reflection, I look at 2011 through the eyes of a knitter. What happened? Where are we now? What's next?

An Eventful Year
This year saw an explosion in knitting events—not just smaller retreats and tours but full-scale conferences sponsored by the biggest names in the industry.

Vogue Knitting Live registration
Vogue Knitting kicked off the year with its inaugural Vogue Knitting Live at the Hilton New York January 21-23. In one corner of the hotel, flash bulbs were popping at the Baseball Writers Association of America's annual awards dinner. In another, we knitters were making oogly eyes at our own royalty, from Meg Swansen to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Debbie Bliss and Nicky Epstein.

Just eight months later, Vogue Knitting continued the glitz and glamor with its second Vogue Knitting Live, this time at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The hotel's main entrance was adorned with a row of fire-engine red Ferraris. It was perhaps the first time that the likes of Rolex and Louis Vuitton took the back seat to Kaffe Fasset, Rowan, and Classic Elite.

Knitting Lab

Not one to be eclipsed by the competition, Interweave fired back by announcing its very first Interweave Knitting Lab in San Mateo, California, November 3-6. The Interweave team—all sporting crisp white lab coats—facilitated a full weekend of workshops punctuated by a marketplace, lecture, panel, and even tea with Alice Starmore.

Stephen Houghton leads the Sock Summit flash mob
This was also a year of seconds. In July, the second Sock Summit—two years in the making—took place in Portland, Oregon. The event was punctuated by even more classes than the first Sock Summit, plus an '80s sock hop, a fleece-to-foot competition, and a flash mob 500 strong.

The Knit Nation team at the registration desk

Meanwhile, the second-annual Knit Nation unfolded in London. When not sipping tea, playing bingo for charity, or dodging puddles, we took (and taught) classes and perused a marketplace that showcased some of the brightest stars in the UK yarn sky.

Seeking the Source
At the same time as we traveled the globe to enrich our knitting skills, we also became more curious about what's in our yarn—where it came from, who made it, and how it behaves on our needles.

For 12 straight months, the Knitter's Book of Wool woolalong plowed its way through 12 different sheep breeds, sourcing and swatching (and, for handspinners, spinning) and comparing notes about the qualities of each fiber. Along the way, we compiled quite a global list of resources great and small.

In "This Week in Ravelry," the newsletter written by members of the community, a new column appeared called Baa Baa What Sheep. And Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius's long-awaited Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook premiered just in time for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Breed-specific yarn vendors did swift business all year long, including Solitude Wool, Stitchuary, Toots LeBlanc, and Blacker Designs.

What's the Madder?
The same degree of curiosity about fiber characteristics extended to color, too. While natural dyers have been thriving for years, they reached a critical mass this year. In the process we lost longtime natural dyer Hand Jive Knits. Owner Darlene Hayes traded the dyepot for the mixing bowl this year, launching her knitwear design/food site Knit Cook.

Many others were in line to take Darlene's place. Alpenglow (shown in the previous paragraph), Sincere Sheep, A Verb for Keeping Warm, Tactile Fiber Arts, Solitude, Catskill Merino, Renaissance Dyeing, The Natural Dye Studio, all extended their palettes of naturally dyed colorways.

Further proof of our growing interest in what's in our yarn? All of the natural dyers I've just mentioned offer some breed-specific wools as part of their fiber palette.

Spirit Trail yarns
Color Crazy
Whether natural or synthetic, dye itself was a source of great attention this year. I always view fiber festivals as helpful barometers of broader consumer interest. Who had the biggest crowds and longest lines at the big shows this year? Spirit Trail Fiberworks, Briar Rose, and the Sanguine Gryphon, as well as String Theory Yarn and Miss Babs.

With so many small businesses in play, change did not come as a surprise. Immediately after the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, Sanguine Gryphon announced that its partnership was dissolving and each member would go her separate way in 2012, forming the companies Cephalopod Yarns and The Verdant Gryphon. Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark shuttered her hand-dyed yarn business, Kitchen Sink Dyeworks, so she, too, could devote more time to her knitwear design career.

Yarn clubs
Going Clubbing
Speaking of designers, this year hand-dyers and indie designers furthered their symbiotic relationship with new kinds of partnerships. Designer Anne Hanson, for example, teamed up with indie dyers including Spirit Trail Fiberworks, Briar Rose, String Theory, and Shalimar Yarns, for her Knitspot Fall in Color club. And in 2012? More evidence of that deeper interest in what's inside our yarns: Anne has announced a Bare Naked Knitspot Club that will feature more of her signature designs accompanied by a variety of fibers in their totally natural, undyed state.

Another popular subscription option for both dyed and undyed fibers was the Sheep Shares CSA from Foxfire Fiber. Tell me, what could be better than getting your yarns and fibers straight from the farm? FYI, Barb Parry has announced Sheep Shares details for 2012.

Clubs in general continued to thrive. Cookie A's Sock Club featured not only two original Cookie A designs but also some hand-dyed yarn and two cookie recipes. The Rockin' Sock Club came with not one but two patterns.

Socks weren't the only game in town. In 2011, the Portland, Oregon, yarn shop Twisted launched its Shawlette club—which is now taking sign-ups for 2012. Sweet Georgia had not one, not two, but three different clubs you could join: a club for sock yarn, one for lace yarn, and one for fiber—all three of which are now open for 2012 as well.

the colorful Knitter's Pride interchangeable needle tips
Splashy Startups
Unlike during the early 2000s boom years, we had very few big-scale players enter the market this year, with two exceptions. In September, Indian knitting needle manufacturer Knitter's Pride made a grand entry into the U.S knitting market with its colorful DPNs, single-pointed straights, and interchangeable needles—all available at your local yarn shop at very reasonable prices.

The other arrival was so inevitable that many people thought it'd already happened years ago. I'm talking about the new Martha Stewart Crafts yarn collection that she released with Lion Brand Yarn. The line features eight yarns total, from worsted to chunky to super-chunky, made from affordable blends of synthetic fibers and natural materials like wool, alpaca, and even hemp. The only head-scratcher was Glitter Eyelash, which is exactly what it sounds like. Many of us, myself included, groaned at this yarn in the same way we groaned when Vogue Knitting magazine told us (earlier this year) that the poncho was making a comeback.

From Ink to Link
In the world of books, 2011 was the year for going digital. In June, Ysolda Teague furthered the ink-to-link trend she and Stephen West had helped fuel in 2010 when she published her Little Red in the City. Each copy of the printed book included a special link to an electronic version of that book, which its new owner could download and store in his or her Ravelry library.

Meanwhile, mainstream publishers released electronic versions of many previously published books. My yarn and wool books got digitized early in the year, and in the fall Melanie Falick unveiled digital versions of many of her best titles.

The Big Picture
Underlying much of what we did in 2011 was a greater awareness of the geography and impact of our stashes—how far the fibers traveled before reaching our hands, who made our tools, who wrote our books.

In the fall, Tanis Gray published her ode to knitting local—fittingly called Knit Local. The book profiles a host of yarn providers who do business in the U.S., whether raising the animals themselves or spinning or dyeing the yarns domestically.

A skein of Loft
In the world of domestic yarn, Portland, Maine-based Quince & Co. continued to thrive, adding three new yarns to its repertoire—bringing the total to six of its seven yarns spun in the U.S. Likewise, Brooklyn Tweed added a new fingering-weight yarn to its line-up (shown here). Both Brooklyn Tweed yarns, Shelter and Loft, are made from start to finish entirely in the U.S. as well.

From where I sit, what I see, and what I overhear, I'd say we are more inquisitive—and sophisticated in our curiosity—than ever before. We're putting more faces to our yarns, and we're putting in more face time at our local yarn stores. All in all, it bodes well for an even greater adventure in 2012. I hope you'll join me.

Happy New Year,


What were your high knitting points of 2011, and where do you hope to take them in 2012? Please share your thoughts.