2013 in review

2013: A Year in Review

What a remarkable year for anyone who loves yarn. While yarn store average sales dipped by 6 percent, and the actual number of needlearts retailers out there dropped by 12 percent*, those numbers tell only part of a much greater narrative.

The biggest shift this year was in how we funded our new ideas. The economic crisis has birthed a new economy in which we're bypassing the large institutions that ignore us and taking our pitches straight to the people. This year, facilitated by Indiegogo and the Amazon-owned Kickstarter, we did just that. After all, who better to judge a project's feasibility than the target customers for that very same project?

And it's working. We saw the rebirth of a dyehouse in Biddeford, Maine, which sought $25,000 for new equipment and ended up taking away more than $41,000. The investments weren't only in infrastructure. Kristen TenDyke's Knitting Maine booklet met its goal, as did Sean Riley's Knitting Untangled learn-to-knit e-book. We even funded a man who knit his way out of homelessness and is writing a book about it.

Fundraising goals range from a modest few hundred bucks to tens of thousands and beyond, which is exactly what happened when Meredith Ramirez and her Ricefield Collective project passed its goal of $24,600 and finally capped out at a whopping $73,045.

New campaigns keep coming. This is the final week for a new proposed book that will feature one knitting or sewing project and baking recipe for each month of the year. A mere $1 gets you exclusive donor updates plus a promise from project owner Evin Bail O'Keeffe that she'll smile at a stranger for you.

Patterns Aplenty
The democratization of the knitwear design world continues at full speed. Having eliminated prior obstacles to getting your own knitwear design published, we've opened the door to everyone. Which is creating a new kind of problem: glut.

A mere search of the term "hat" on Ravelry produced 51,128 matches—and I'm sure that number will have grown by the time you read this. Even if you use Ravelry's "popular" search feature to whittle that number down to 100, it's still a lot. Ravelry has built, and continues to refine, an extremely powerful and intelligent search mechanism. It works best when you have a general idea what you want—garment type, yarn weight, project attributes, etc.

The abundance of patterns and self-published booklets and e-collections has given rise to a new challenge and opportunity. Every week, the Ravelry team highlights patterns on a theme and writes about them in its Weekly Eye Candy feature. (Mary-Heather's collection this week, "Now It Belongs to the Cat," was particularly genius.) But there's only so much they can or should do. There's room for an independent person with a keen eye who can jump in and point us to the good stuff. Not "good" based solely on what has received the most clicks but on originality, attractiveness, and execution too.

You could say this used to be the role of magazine editor, and to a certain degree you'd be right. But today, the designs are already done and out there. I often wonder if there's such a thing as too much choice? (The New York Times says yes, and I'm sure a designer whose hat is on page 209 of my search results might agree.) Even if I narrowed my hat search down by weight, to, say, worsted-weight yarn, I'm still left with 15,847 hat patterns to peruse. That's fifteen thousand hat patterns. (In just the time I wrote the above paragraph, two more hat patterns were added.)

Toward this end, knitwear designer Bristol Ivy has been doing something pretty interesting in her Stock(inette) Market reports, which she publishes every month on her blog. By analyzing data from Ravelry, she's able to provide a fairly fascinating high-level glimpse of what's happening in the knitting world: what we're knitting, what the popular garment and fabric types are, and in what kinds of colors. We need Bristol to clone herself and do more of this.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the role Pinterest is beginning to play—at least for photography-based project curation.

From Cowl to Cardigan
The cowl had already been gaining momentum in 2012, and that momentum only increased this year. The Madelinetosh Honey Cowl continued to be a major attraction, and I counted no fewer than 12 cowl patterns on Ravelry that were inspired by the one Katniss wore in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

But it's important to note that sweaters, too, made a decisive comeback. A good part of this stems from the continued success of Amy Herzog's book Knit to Flatter. This fall, Herzog took things one step further when she launched her custom sweater pattern system, Customfit. Ysolda Teague's The Rhinebeck Sweater, released late in the year, furthered the trend.

Elizabeth Speaks

Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop

Watching from her cloud is Elizabeth Zimmermann, whose classic how-to-knit book Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop has shepherded countless new knitters into the flock. This fall, the book was reissued with full-color photography, expanded directions and sizing, new techniques, and even some never-before-published words from EZ herself.


An Event-ful Year
As our virtual world continues to grow, so has our need to gather in person and experience the real world. In 2007, the Knitter's Review calendar of events had just 133 listings. This year, it capped out at 410, including 16 cruises, 98 festivals, 19 tours, and more than 60 retreats. The biggest news was the shuttering of Interweave's venerable Spin-Off Autumn Retreat after more than 30 years.

Skacel American Brand yarn

In Wool We Trust
The wool movement shows no signs of slowing, nor does our desire to know more about what's in our yarn. Much like that cut of beef we're eyeing in the supermarket, we're asking questions about our yarns. What fibers were used, where they came from, and how they were processed. We're seeing more breeds on our labels than ever before, and more "Made in the US" labels than I've seen in years.

In the small-batch, breed-specific artisan yarn world, Anne Hanson has been doing great things with her Bare Naked yarns, as has Jill Draper Makes Stuff. Higher up on the food chain, Skacel launched a new HiKoo American B.R.A.N.D. yarn, a naturally dyed yarn sourced entirely in the U.S.

Speaking of naturally dyed yarns, Denver retailer Fancy Tiger Crafts introduced Heirloom, a 100% Romney wool yarn; and Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm launched Pioneer, an organic Merino—both yarns featuring fibers raised, milled, and naturally dyed in the United States.

The Great White Bale was my own attempt to better understand the challenges we face when trying to make yarn in this country. What was originally envisioned as a speedy six-month romp ended up relaxing into a year-long journey that took us from sheep to scourer to mills, hand-dyers, and dyehouses. We watched impeccably maintained antique equipment, heard stories, made friends, and even accompanied Meg Swansen to her first Panera. The Bale is over, but I'm determined to keep going.

What about you? What were your high points of the year? Did you have any particular knitting triumphs and/or disasters? And where do you see the industry going? Let me rephrase that: Where would you like to see it go? Together, collectively, we might just be able to make it happen.

Wishing you all the very best,


I'd love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts.

* Numbers from TNNA's State of the Specialty NeedleArts market summary for 2013.