the Columbus Convention Center

Report from the 2008 National NeedleArts Association Summer Trade Show
Columbus, OH
June 7-9, 2008

You may think that 90-degree temperatures and stifling humidity would keep knitters from practicing their craft, but we were not deterred last weekend as we assembled in Columbus, Ohio, for the summer TNNA trade show. This is where your LYS owners go to play, get ideas, and stock up on goodies for the coming season.

It's also where I go to scope out trends, talk with people behind the scenes, and try to get a clear pulse on the state of our knitting industry as a whole. In addition to the marketplace, TNNA hosts a full roster of business- and craft-related classes and special events. Summing up TNNA is like riding through the Louvre on roller skates, but I'll do my best.

The One-Paragraph Wrap-Up
For the last two or so years things have been shaky in our little market. At this show, some vendors said they were so busy they had to make emergency trips to Staples to get more order books. Others were still working to cover the costs of the booth rental and airfare. And there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason in terms of who was doing well and who wasn't. So the giant question mark about the financial state of our industry may still linger above our heads for a while longer.

Eco and "green" products were more prominent than ever, finding their way to the larger and more established yarn companies such as Tahki Stacy Charles, Rowan, and Plymouth. The number of booths offering trendy accessories and hand-dyed yarns seemed to have stabilized since the last few shows, although I found one exciting new hand-dyer that I'll tell you about in a minute. The fiber du jour would have to be bamboo, although organic merino gave it a solid run for its money.

But a major story at this show had to do less with the establishment and more with independent upstarts taking matters into their own hands—sometimes spreading the word without needing any formal booth space at all. Two groups created the biggest buzz here.

First, we had the launch of an exciting new online knitting magazine called Twist Collective. Catering to "fashion-conscious knitters with high ambitions for their craft and their wardrobe," the quarterly magazine and Web site is headed by Kate Gilbert (of Clapotis fame), Julia Farwell-Clay, Mary Jackson, and Irene Vandervoort. The first issue will feature designs from Pam Allen, Veronik Avery, Anne Hanson, Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, and Fiona Ellis, to name a few.

And second, we learned about Patternfish, a massive new online repository of downloadable knitting patterns that has just launched. The goal, as Patternfish Prime Minister Julia Grunau told me (they all have marvelous job titles including Chancellor and Minister of Technology), is to be the Smithsonian of knitting and crochet patterns. They had 811 patterns at launch, including exclusive designs from Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton, Sally Melville, and Robin Melanson.

Many yarn companies are also offering their patterns through Patternfish as well, including some of the fantastic Classic Elite Yarns' designs from the 1980s. Nothing is free, everything is of high quality, payment is through PayPal, and best of all, the patterns you've purchased remain in your own personal online library—if you're on the road and forget your pattern, you can log into the site and download another copy. Several layers of security and watermarking are in place to help against piracy and theft.

Cat Bordhi, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, and Franklin Habit discover the wonders of the iPhone
Blogggers and Books
Perhaps I paid closer attention to this because I, too, am a writer. But I couldn't help marveling at the number of books and "book people" at the show. Tons and tons of books, accompanied by tons of authors everywhere you looked. Turn around and you'd bump into Amy Singer and Jillian Moreno, Gina Wilde, Robin Melanson, Nicky Epstein, Melissa Leapman, Lily Chin, Veronik Avery, Nancy Thomas, Hannah Fetig, Kristin Nicholas, and others. Chance encounters waited at every turn. Here Cat Bordhi is showing Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Franklin Habit the wonders of her iPhone.

Among those books launched at the show, several were self-published and most of had deep roots online. Janel Laidman, the founder and former owner of Chameleon Colorworks, proudly paraded freshly minted copies of her exceptional new self-published sock book The Eclectic Sole. Every single pattern in this book called to me, and you will hear more about it in the coming weeks.

Designer, writer, and teacher Annie Modesitt gave me a review copy of her new memoir, Knit with Courage, Live with Hope. Drawing heavily from her 2007 blog posts the book chronicles with unblinking honesty a year in which year she moved her family from New Jersey to Minnesota and her husband Gerry was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.

But the major publishers were well represented too. Franklin Habit was signing preview copies of his marvelous new little book, It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons, which is being published by Interweave Press. It's a delightful distillation of all the knitting wit and cultural insight he has shared with us for years in his blog, The Panopticon.

And fans of the Mason-Dixon blog will be happy to know that the wait for Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's next book is almost over. It's called Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines: Patterns, Stories, Pictures, True Confessions, Tricky Bits, Whole New Worlds, and Familiar Ones Too. Not only does it win the award for the longest knitting book title, but the book itself—I read the uncorrected proof every night before bedtime—is even funnier, friendlier, and more inspiring than the first. It's due to hit the shelves this September.

playing with a baby
You can't mention knitting bloggers without mentioning the Prime Minister of knitting blogs, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. This was only her second TNNA appearance, and she spoke to a packed room of retailers during a luncheon and then signed copies of her latest book, Things I Learned from Knitting. But before she could get on stage, she was transfixed by a young fan. She really does have a way with babies.

the sock
Like a good doctor delivering a shot to an unsuspecting patient, Stephanie also has a knack for snapping pictures before you realize what has happened. Here she is snapping her signature sock-with-crowd pictures before beginning her talk. It was witty, intelligent, thoughtful, and truly an inspirational hour.

Personal Picks

Samples of each Yarn Daze yarn
That hand-dyed yarn company I mentioned earlier is called Yarn Daze, and it was my personal pick of new vendors at the show. Pat Hale-Dorrell recently retired from teaching after more than 30 years. She has begun the second phase of her life as a hand-dyer—something she's known how to do since the early 1980s when she studied natural dyeing. Out of her new 1,000-square-foot studio in Loogootee, Indiana, she offers five different yarn types, in varying weights, all dyed in colors that are the perfect blend of ripe, natural, and happy.

She told me her goal was to create a yarn that embodied a feeling of special and unique, the kind of yarn you'd be excited to discover while on a trip and visiting a new LYS. The yarns include an organic merino, a superwash wool/cashmere blend, a merino/tencel blend, a mohair/wool blend, and a merino/SeaCell blend that positively glows. Expect to see more of this yarn in your LYS.

Koigu Mori
Speaking of glowing colors, if you thought Koigu was already striking in its 100% merino form, wait until you see Mori, their new 50% merino/50% mulberry silk offering. It knits up at the same fingering-weight gauge as the classic Koigu merino, but with the fluid drape and near electric glow of silk. I have one sample and it will stay in my carry-on bag for the flight home.

Louet Niji
The other yarn I'm not letting out of my hands is Mooi, a breathtakingly exquisite 70% bamboo, 15% cashmere, 15% bison blend that Louet will be offering in the fall. Imagine a halo of cashmere and bison fibers rising above a glassy bamboo rather like morning mist on a pond. Start saving now so you'll be ready when this yarn reaches your LYS in a few weeks. (You can actually find it here now. Shhhhh.)

the Alchemy mill-dyed colors
Sometimes it takes me a while to grasp a concept, which was the case in the Alchemy booth. The company is known for its striking hand-painted yarns, all of which have been specially milled just for them. One year ago they began offering mill-dyed versions of their Synchronicity, Sanctuary, and Wabi Sabi yarns. I've long been a fan of Gina Wilde's hand-painted colors so I didn't quite understand why they'd move to mill-dyeds, but now I do. The hand-painting process takes an extraordinary amount of time that reflects in a higher price—which meant that Alchemy Yarns were often considered out of reach for knitters on a very tight budget. Now they can enjoy the tactile pleasure of working with well-crafted yarns, and if they like, they can add one or two special skeins of the hand-paints for accent in their projects.

Classic Elite Fresco
Another well-crafted mill-spun and mill-dyed yarn I was happy to see launch at the show was Classic Elite Fresco, a soft fuzzy blend of wool, angora, and baby alpaca designed for finer colorwork but also beautiful in lightly textured projects. I can't wait to see how Fresco performs in a Bohus design.

Polar Fleece yarn
In the "what'll they think of next?" category, I discovered a new yarn made from Polartec Wind Pro fleece. PolarKnit knits up at a very chunky gauge and, while it may be a bit too much for some full-sized garments, it is the perfect solution for those friends and family members who are more comfortable with fleece than handknits. They won't be able to refuse the gift of a knitted hat, which will take no time to knit and will keep them toasty warm all winter.

Lucy Neatby
Lucy Neatby has been busy producing three new DVDs for her A Knitter's Companion DVD series: Intarsia Untangled 1 and 2 (she laughed at herself for thinking she could fit the entire intarsia universe into one DVD) and the second of her Finesse Your Knitting series on finishing details. Lucy, or the One-Woman Rainbow as I like to think of her, is currently obsessed with the notion of holes in knitted fabric. This shawl was a gasp-worthy example of where she's taking this design concept.

Jeni's Ice Creams
Scoops Across America
Speaking of rainbows, no mention of a TNNA in Columbus would be complete without discussing Jeni's Ice Creams, which I discovered last year and have been proselytizing ever since. While some convention centers plunk you into the middle of strange territory with nothing but hotel restaurants and sports bars, the Columbus Convention Center is smack dab at the foot of the Short North Arts District. Which means that you can exit the show floor and be in the middle of a thriving indoor public market in less than five minutes—the anchor of which would have to be Jeni's Ice Creams.

ice cream, ice cream, who wants some ice cream?
Her flavors bring surprise and sheer delight to the tongue, things like lime and cardamom, condensed milk chocolate with cayenne, cucumber and piesporter wine, and the winner of my heart, cherries and lambic beer. The ice cream became a common thread of discussions that began among professional grown-ups and ended among excited children asking one another, "Which flavors have you tried?" Forget the seminars and self-help books, sometimes all it really takes to unify the world is a simple bowl of ice cream.


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