Report from the 2006 National NeedleArts Association Trade Show
San Diego, California
January 21-23, 2006
Twice a year, needlearts manufacturers, distributors, designers, and retailers gather to network and do business. It's a tightly controlled event—you need several credentials to get in, and any photography on the show floor is strictly forbidden.
I attended the winter show last weekend in San Diego. As always, the winter TNNA show highlights products for the summer season. While there was no shortage of multicolored novelty yarn shawls, scarves, ponchos, and tanks, that was just one element of the show.
I spent three days strolling the show floor and gleaning some exceptional highlights, which I present here. All product photographs were taken away from the show floor and with express permission from the designers and/or manufacturers.
Puff and Fluff
Novelty yarn was everywhere, but the designs definitely were moving beyond scarves into more intricately shaped tank tops and even cardigans and pullovers.
The yarn tended to be brightly colored fluff, lumpy bobbles, thin flat knitted tube ribbons, or slender single flags, with intense multicolor combinations and quite frequently a metallic thread element to add some jazz.
It's hard to say if the scarf craze is subsiding. While one prominent company told me their scarf kits were still selling through the roof, another told me her scarf kit sales were slowing in favor of felted bag kits, which were selling like hotcakes.
All the big vendors were present as well as several lesser-known names with nearly identical goods. I'll confess that after a while they all started to blur.
I saw several marvelous examples of what I'll call "nouveau felt" at the show. Maine-based Bully Woolies made its debut this year, drawing crowds not just for the colorful kits but for the large photos of cats playing with the felted cat toys (kit photographed here after nine hours of cross-country air travel in a suitcase). She also had stocking kits, throw pillows, and felted handbags.
Meanwhile, the Oakland-based Pick Up Sticks booth was bursting in full bloom with ingenious knitted and felted flowers. There were tiger lilies, tulips, cala lilies, daffodils, Gerbera daisies, and more poking out of terra cotta pots.
Also on display were colorful funky-shaped felted totes and a new felted bag kit with a sushi motif, photographed here. I was surprised to discover that owner/designer Maggie Pace and I had worked for the same high-tech publishing company—and we'd left it for similar reasons to pursue a life in knitting.
If you thought there was no more room for innovation in the knitting needle market, think again.
I was so astonished by these needles that I was unable to speak in complete sentences for several minutes. Imagine a knitting needle that's...square. These 11-inch needles are made in Vietnam and distributed by Kollage Yarns. Right now they're only available in US 10, 11, 13, and 15, but they plan to have more sizes out later this year.
After several minutes of pondering, and then trying the needles for myself, I decided they weren't just a funky novelty idea. The square shape gives your hands something to hold onto—and I was unable to see any difference in the finished result.
And if you thought square knitting needles were unusual, how does the notion of glass needles sound?
My thought exactly. But I'd seen them in the magazines and was curious to see a pair up close. I could hardly miss the Namaste Needles booth—the perpetually crowded little space was so filled with bright lights and intense colors that it was like looking into a candy jar.
Namaste Needles is about the full picture, not just glass needles. This means they also offer four different types of cases in which to store them (three of which are covered in wild, brightly colored fabrics), plus two stylish knitting totes and even scented candles to burn while you relax with your knitting.
They sent me home with a pair of beautiful needles to try, and I'll report more soon.
Socially Conscious Knitting
Several businesses were showcasing what I'd call "products with a conscience." The predominant countries of production were South America and Asia.
On the South America front, we had the well-established Manos del Uruguay showcasing its kettle-dyed summer Cotton Stria, while Malabrigo Yarn (also from Uruguay) displayed its kettle-dyed merino in another corner.
Mango Moon had recycled silk from Nepal, while Be Sweet displayed its yarns that are hand-spun and hand-dyed by women in South Africa through job-creation programs. I kept coming back to fondle their Magic Ball yarn, a wild and unpredictable mass of hand-dyed and handspun yarns with bits of ribbon and novelty yarns throughout.
Lantern Moon had four booths showcasing all its new baskets as well as the long-awaited circular knitting needles—I'm playing with a pair right now and will tell you more soon.
Speaking of needles, Asciano Fiberarts Tools had a beautiful display of lathe-turned cocobolo rosewood knitting needles made in a small workshop in central Mexico. These are the real deal, not just dowels with a pretty finial glued on top. I haven't tested them yet, but they looked beautiful.
Yarn, Yarn, Yarn
And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. The yarn!
The good news is that no matter how you dice it, there are some fantastic yarns headed to your LYS this summer. It's physically impossible for me to tell you about each skein I saw at the show, but here are the ones that left an indelible mark on my mind.
At the top of the list would be Tilli Tomas, a new company from Massachusetts. Picture this: a luxurious single ply of silk that's lightly twisted with a fine binder cord strung with seed beads, fine sequins, semi-precious crystal stones, or... and I'm not kidding here... Swarovski crystals.
They also had unadorned single- and two-ply silk in corresponding colors. An Icelandic-style sweater showed how you could use the two-ply silk for the body and then add the adorned yarns for the color detail around the yoke. The impact was stunning.
Bypassing the bling, we head straight to The Fibre Co. This artisanal spinnery based in Portland, Maine, had by far the most delicate, complex, and intriguing blends of the show. Picture baby alpaca, cashmere, yak, camel, and soy blended, spun, and kettle-dyed in small lots.
This company is still in its infancy and I look forward to watching it grow—especially in terms of pattern support.
Speaking of watching companies grow, this was the first time I got to revisit the folks at Alchemy Yarns since I wrote about them in 2004, soon after they'd launched their company.
It was impossible to miss their booth. If the Namaste Needles booth was like the inside of a cookie jar, the Alchemy Yarns booth felt like the inside of a silken-textured, intensely colored, and perfectly ripe nectarine.
Where previously there was very little pattern support, they now had sweaters, shawls, scarves, and other garments hanging from every available bit of wall. A freeform shawl by Prudence Mapstone left me breathless.
And the yarns? Still as beautiful as ever. I was especially intrigued by Monarch (shown here in the color Grass Harp), which looks for all the world like a mercerized cotton embroidery thread but it's actually 70% cashmere and 30% silk. It feels like heaven.
But even more heavenly than Monarch was Allure, a new 25% cashmere, 25% angora, 50% very fine merino blend from Classic Elite Yarns' Luxury Fiber Division. When they change the laws in my state, Allure and I will marry.
Last but not least, books—of which there were many. The biggest book news at this show would have to be the launch of Potter Craft, a new imprint from Clarkson Potter.
Their first release of titles features authors including Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne (Mason-Dixon Knitting), Jillian Moreno and Amy Singer (Big Girl Knits), Margrit Lohrer (Morehouse Farm Merino Knits), Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs (The Yarn Girls' Guide to Beyond the Basics), and Fiona Ellis (Inspired Cable Knits) all of whom were flown in for a steady stream of book signings throughout the show.
Of course all these are just the tip of the iceberg. If this show is any indication, trends and fads may come and go, but there's never been a better time to be a knitter.
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