What a year! We slipped in on the tail end of a tremendous growth wave before the much-anticipated market correction finally hit. Adding insult to injury, the winter season—the crucial season for most vendors—came late.
Yet as of this week the knitting industry has emerged stronger and smarter, more agile and diverse, and by far more customer-centric than ever before. Which means it has never been a better time to be a knitter.
To the Mill We Go!
This year more stores followed KnitPicks' lead and offered their own house brands of direct-from-the-mill yarns. Unlike KnitPicks, however, they continued to offer yarns from other vendors as well. Online retailer Elann grew its popular line of millspun yarns, currently at 29 different yarns; while retail veteran Webs did the same with its Valley Yarns line, also at 29 yarns including closeouts.
This year saw more migration away from flashy synthetic novelties and toward smoother natural fiber-based yarns. A common theme was the multiple-ply yarn, which consists of superfine strands of fiber plied together, and then those multiple-ply strands plied together yet again.
While the yarns themselves may have trended toward the classic this year, their fiber content still showed signs of innovation. My favorite fiber blender would have to be Portland, Maine-based The Fibre Company. While their Road to China wins the "blend bonanza" award for containing five disparate fibers (baby alpaca, camel, cashmere, soy, and yak), my personal favorite is the enigmatic Eden yarn you see here. It blends 20% French angora, 48% Tussah silk, and 32% fine wool into a plush, visually intriguing yet fast-knitting and special yarn.
I should make special note of two yarns that use fibers from animals that...how do I put this lightly...are no more. For the most honorable use of an animal already slated to expire, we have the Texas-based company Buffalo Gold. They take the hides of American bison that have been raised for the meat market and carefully remove the fibers, dehair them, and spin the remaining lofty lightweight down into yarn. I recently judged a contest for Buffalo Gold and was astounded with the beauty of the items made with this fiber. But yes, it does come from an animal that is no more.
This year also saw a dramatic influx of new yarns from other countries. South America is a popular resource because of its abundant fiber stock and inexpensive production costs. We saw Sheep Shop Yarn Company enter the market this year with colorful hand-dyed yarns from Uruguay, while another hand-dyed Uruguay yarn Malabrigo continued to get picked up by stores around the country. We also have some exciting newcomers from New Zealand and Russia, which I'll tell you more about this spring.
I'd like to call 2006 the Year of the Sock, but that might suggest that the trend is over—which it isn't. We started the year in a tizzy over Pomatomus from the Winter 2005 issue of Knitty. Knitters across the globe tackled this one with infectious vigor, posting progress and pictures in their blogs. If all goes well, this April the tizzy will return when Cat Bordhi publishes her much-awaited new sock books. I got a glimpse of some patterns at the Knitter's Review Retreat in November and was so amazed I could barely speak. Sock knitters, get ready.
From a yarn perspective, the real sock story this year was color and lots of it. Knitters flocked to Blue Moon Fiber Arts' Socks That Rock yarns like sheep to feed. At the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May I watched as 800 skeins were snatched up in a matter of just a few hours.
Another delightful source of color is in Mama-E's C*EYE*BER Fiber sock yarns, which share both subtlety and softness.
If you like knitting books, this was your year. It seemed like every day my UPS driver was dropping off another new book to review. Cable lovers had a particularly good time of it in 2006, with Fiona Ellis's Inspired Cable Knits, Melissa Leapman's Cables Untangled, and my favorite of the year, Knitting Nature from Norah Gaughan, the Queen of Cables.
This was also the year for battling stodgy stereotypes and proving (or trying to) that knitters can be hip and downright nasty. Toward this end we had several new knitting books packed with saucy, sexual innuendos ranging from subtle to handcuff-me-to-a-chair blatant. Nikol Lohr's Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond shared the stage with Ashley Paige and her Sexy Little Knits. Meanwhile San Francisco-based Jennifer Stafford, aka the Domiknitrix, released her no-holds-barred Domiknitrix: Whip Your Knitting into Shape. And Michael Del Vecchio released his helpful opus for men who knit, aptly titled Knitting with Balls.
All those knitted bikinis and beer can cozies are only as fun as the needles with which you knit them—and we had no shortage of news there as well.
KnitPicks shook up the market with the release of its low-priced smooth nickle-plated brass Options interchangeable circular needle set. Lantern Moon softened the scene with its more earthy Destiny circulars in ebony and rosewood. And then Denise cast a rosy glow on the market with the Pink Denise Interchangeables, the purchase of which includes a $5 donation to breast cancer research.
Knitters Helping Knitters
Speaking of donations, this has been a stellar year for creative fundraising campaigns. Earlier in the year one blogger raised $18,936 for Heifer International, picking random contributors to win an astonishing array of prizes donated by almost 50 vendors. Last week Stephanie Pearl-McPhee nudged the bar even higher when she announced a new fundraising push for Doctors without Borders. In one week alone, knitters responded with more than $80,000 in contributions. McPhee will also have a random prize drawing for contributors. Way to go, everybody! More proof that knitters should rule the world.
Hooray for Julia
Besides the occasional granny joke or mis-held needles by non-knitters, we rarely get to glimpse real knitting on the silver screen. One exception is Julia Roberts, who has managed to sneak brief knitting moments into her stage and screen works. Last month she took things to an entirely new level when she announced she'd acquired the rights to produce Kate Jacob's upcoming novel The Friday Night Knitting Club. The plot centers around the women who bond at a yarn shop on New York's Upper West Side, with Roberts set to play the shop owner Georgia Walker. I look forward to watching this project unfold in the New Year.
Speaking of the New Year, I'd like to end by sharing my hopes for 2007:
- May you stay challenged, engaged, and rewarded by your knitting.
- May you connect with other knitters and enjoy creating in their company.
- May you share your knowledge with others, and may you learn from them as well.
And finally, may you know what pleasure your readership gives me, how grateful I am for your support, and how much I look forward to continuing our journey in the New Year.
All my best to you,