Report from Stitches West 2003
Oakland, California
February 20-23, 2003

by Kelley Dean-Crowley

Great Expectations
When I thought about Stitches West, I expected no less than the fiber Mecca of the West Coast. I envisioned lines of knitters and spinners coming from miles around to pray at the altar of unspun fiber and fleece, millions of yards of yarn of all flavors, books, spinning wheels, niddy-noddies, spindles, knitting needles, and crochet hooks.

I learned to knit less than a year ago, and more recently I became hooked on spinning with a drop spindle. I'm ready to advance to the next level -- a spinning wheel -- and hoped to find one at Stitches West.

I was also looking for just about everything at the show, especially the stuff I can't readily get locally. This includes: a niddy-noddy, a nostepinne, spindles, spinning and knitting books, a top-down raglan sweater pattern by Ann Norling, knitting needles (particularly smooth nickel-plated ones), and lots of back issues of Knitters, Spin-Off, Interweave Knits, and possibly Vogue Knitting.

But let's not forget fiber and yarn! I hoped to find roving, especially hand-painted, but also sought some inexpensive yarn for that top-down raglan for my toddler.

The Market
I was able to leave work early enough to make the pilgrimage to Stitches for a little while on Friday night. I was greeted by some 98 booths overflowing with mouth-watering textures, colors, designs, and friendly faces.

I promised myself that I would methodically walk up and down each aisle to survey the possibilities and come back for the items of interest. My resolve lasted approximately three aisles until I saw some Laser FX that I had to have.

Most of the booths were occupied by shops that had relocated their business for the weekend. Uncommon Threads of Los Altos, CA had a fun and seemingly upscale booth with metal shelving units and a distinct traffic pattern.the Uncommon Threads booth

Great Yarns set out boxed kits of delicious yarns under samples that were mouth-watering confections of novelty yarns. In these booths, you could find almost every designer yarn of your dreams.

Some San Francisco shops were conspicuously absent, including ImagiKnit and Artfibers. I would have liked to see them there.
the kits at Great Yarns

The best yarn deals were in the Yarn Lady's playpen. Each differently priced bag contained several skeins of one yarn. From what I saw, prices were very reasonable and the bags contained such names as Noro, Filatura di Crosa, and others. The Noro that I briefly considered would've been about $49 for 10 skeins. At one point, a fatigued worker was lounging in the playpen to rest.

the Yarn Lady's yarn playpen

The other great deal was Newton's Yarn Country of Anaheim, CA. He had cones at various prices, including metallic or novelty yarns on the cone for $20 a pound, marked down to $15 a pound. Most of these cones were about 2.5 pounds. I purchased a 2.5-pound cone of eyelash wrapped around an acrylic for $10.
the Newton's Yarn Country booth

Our next stop was the Hanging Babylons of the Yarn World. Hand-dyed loose skeins flowed down the sides of the booth, or were piled high on tables and thronged with people. The best booth of this type was Tess' Designer Yarns.

La Lana Wools had an open booth with more hand-dyed fibers and a chair with an invitation to knit a row or two for peace. One booth, Oak Grove Yarns from Vermont, revealed its secrets only upon entering -- soft wools handpainted in beautiful colors.


beautiful skeins

Many of these booths also sold fibers for spinning, including Chasing Rainbows Dye Works and Paradise Fibers with rovings sporting such names as Nantucket and Monet's Garden. Paradise Fibers also had very soft downy yak roving and a variety of tencel blends. The booth had a strong scent of lavender, which I thought was the roving but turned out to be small sachets in the corner. (The owner just chuckled when she saw me smelling all of the rovings.)


the Paradise Fibers booth
Then we come to the various farms and fiber cooperatives that were also represented at the market. Nebo-Rock Textiles had a large variety of both natural and hand-dyed fibers including angora and other exotic breeds. Cashmere was well represented by Belisa Cashmere and the Cashmere America Cooperative. I fondled freely in these booths but did not purchase.

I am not a natural color fan, simply due to the idiosyncracies of my coloring. But I was still drawn to the softness of the natural-colored alpaca fibers and yarns. In fact it seemed almost sacrilegious to dye this fiber.

Rich Nes Alpaca had raw alpaca fleece, roving, yarn, and photos of his animals on his Minnesota ranch. The other alpaca booth was the relatively local West Valley Alpacas.
the West Valley Alpacas Booth
VIP Fibers had a display about spinning yarn from pet hair. I understand that this process faces some legal challenges because of the Pet Protection Act, which prohibits the sale of fur from domestic pets such as dogs and cats. VIP Fibers focused on selling a spinning service and bringing attention to this aspect of spinning and knitting.

Note: On May 8, 2003, I received the following message from VIP Fibers. I believe that Kelley's intention was to highlight the problems domestic pet spinneries face from those who don't understand how the process works. However, it is clear that her comments have upset the very same people they were intended to assist. I deeply apologize for the misunderstanding.

"In reference to Report from Stitches West 2003 Oakland, California
February 20-23, 2003 by Kelley Dean-Crowley
VIP FIBERS paragraph: To the best of my knowledge, the Pet Protection Act referred to is: 1. Only in effect in the state of New Jersey and.. 2. Refers to the sale of pet "pelts" with skin attached, and does not include the fur that they shed during the normal course of their healthy lives.

The comment regarding our service was very disturbing and implies that pets are, in some way, harmed in the process, when in fact the process increases their health, both mentally and physically as it encourages owners to brush & groom their pets more frequently creating healthier skin and fur as it promotes "quality time" with their pet.

VIP FIBERS was created out of love and devotion for all pets and donates hundres of dollars every year to animal rescue foundations across America. We would greatly appreciate a recantation of your implied derogatory comment."

At this point I found myself facing another wonder of the world, Habu Textiles. The booth had many varieties of yarns and rovings that were mind-boggling.

The New York City-based company specializes in Japanese fibers ranging from paper yarn to hand-reeled silk blended with such things as fern or bamboo, a cellulose yarn made from bamboo using a similar process as rayon or tencel, and fine-gauge knitting wire. In the photo here, each hank of yarn is made up of different materials.


the Habu Textiles display
Another unusual fiber came from Lanaknits Designs, which displayed many hemp-based yarns. Think cotton with a heavier hand, but more drape. No you can't smoke this hemp, unless you knit really fast, but this stuff will stand up to almost anything else.

Hemp for Knitting was displaying a Fair Isle sweater made with only two yarns. The second yarn was variegated and gave the design a shimmering effect -- a subtle but very effective look.

Royale Hare had silk cocoons for purchase, either natural or dyed for those hand-reelers out there. And for those of you so inclined, the cocoons could be purchased as either a pendant or earrings encased in a spiral wire cage.

I can't discuss the market without mentioning the women and men sitting everywhere knitting and crocheting. Periodically the loudspeaker chirped with announcements that someone left a receipt or purchase at a particular booth, with offers to have yarn wound into balls by the yarn winding service.

Although I associate Louet with spinning wheels, Louet Sales brought only yarn to market. They didn't bring any wheels or accessories at all, and I didn't see any trace of unspun fiber.
the Louet Sales booth
Lion Brand also missed the mark, with lots of patterns but only a very small display of yarns on tables. I was hoping to find a larger selection for a sweater for my two-and-a-half-year-old. Lion Brand would've been fine for the purpose, but they had nothing to interest me at the show.

I took a class called Microwave Dyeing: Skeins and Roving, which got me free admission to the market. Merike Saarnit demonstrated and then turned us loose to dye our own skein or roving for those of us who knew how to spin.
some examples from the dye workshop
Imagine painting the yarn with dyes, wrapping it in plastic, and nuking it in the microwave, rinsing, drying, and then using it! It really was that easy.

I came home with a small skein of yarn samples and about an ounce of dyed superwash merino top that I'm going to spin on my spindles.

By Sunday afternoon I could do no more, and it was time to leave. I just needed a set of needles to swatch with on the train home. Thus I found myself at Acorn St. Shop looking for needles.

A Tahki spindle caught my eye because it was prominently displayed in a Boys Who Knit mug from Knitter's Review.

After watching this spindle spin forever, it all but jumped into my bag with a set of Addis for the ride home.
Boys Who Knit

Next: Going for a Spin (testing wheels)
Next: A Visual Journey (yet more pictures!)