beautiful yarn

2008 in Review

I'd venture to guess that most folks will heave a collective sigh of relief as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st and 2008 officially draws to a close.

But the last 12 months have held some beautiful moments—especially in our knitting world—that deserve one last appreciative glance before we close the books and move forward into the New Year. We have much for which to be thankful.

Creatively Connecting
If I had to choose one verb to describe the collective actions of 2008, it would be "connect." Through blogs and online communities, fiber festivals, knitting groups, retreats, and meet-ups alike, we continued to seek more meaningful and instantaneous connections with one another.

Stephanie's Book
One way that we continued to connect was through laughter. Specifically, laughing at ourselves (for we are a rather peculiar bunch, no?) as we embraced the witty and insightful observations of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and the two, count 'em two books that she produced this year. Stephanie was joined by an equally witty partner in crime, Franklin Habit, whose collection of cartoons and essays combines New Yorker-esque cartoons with essays that celebrate our knitterly foibles through his own distinct yet equally witty and cutting gaze.

We also welcomed the much-awaited sequel from Mason-Dixon Knitting duo Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner. Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines picks up where their previous book left off, presenting more exceptionally written stories of people, places, and things, as well as a whole new collection of well-conceived patterns. They also released what was unquestionably the funniest knitting YouTube video of the year.

Our collective spirit was celebrated a little more earnestly in Knitalong: Celebrating the Tradition of Knitting Together, which explored how we knit together for a common purpose or goal. In Knitting for Good, Betsy Greer further explores how we can effect personal, social, and political change through our stitches.

Now Hiring: Chief Reputation Management Officer
An interesting twist in all this connectivity has been the rise in the amount of time business owners must now spend to manage their online reputations, identifying and addressing publicly stated customer concerns as quickly as possible before the public has time to respond with a negative ricochet of feedback. Several outbursts went unchecked this year, and their repercussions continue to be felt across the knitting community.

a skein of Louet Mooi
Socially Conscious Stashing
We also sought deeper connections with the materials we use, asking more questions about where they come from, how are they made, and by whom. While imported goods still make up the vast majority of yarns and tools on the market, we made more room in our stashes for those special products with a deeper back story—whether from the once-discarded hides of the American bison or spun at a small mill in Prince Edward Island (shown above ) or handspun by nomads in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.

Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds yarn

At a time when many mainstream knitters still balk at any wool that isn't a super-soft Merino, Rowan deserves a special award for taking such a bold step with its Purelife British Sheep Breeds Collection. The yarns are sourced entirely in Great Britain and showcase the fibers of such British staple breeds as the Bluefaced Leicester, Jacob, and Suffolk sheep.

Across the pond here in the United States we finally saw our first yarn CSA (community supported agriculture) from Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm. The project was so successful that Martha's Spring 2009 yarn harvest is already sold out, but you can still purchase shares in the Hudson Valley CSA through her site. In Michigan Videnovich Farms is offering is own yarn CSA, while the Grand View Farm yarn CSA operates out of Vermont. It's an ingenious way to support our fiber sources, and I look forward to watching other fiber farms embrace the concept.

a skein of Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk
Meanwhile, my vote for Propaganda Yarn of the Year (aka Yarn Most Likely to Make Even The Most Ardent Non-Knitter Take Up Knitting) would have to go to Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk from Handmaiden. The sumptuously soft yarn is spun at a water-powered mill in Switzerland and then hand-dyed in Vancouver by the equally gifted daughter of Fleece Artist's Kathryn Thomas. I carry a swatch in my bag at all times.

Needlesizer Pendant from Debra's Garden
Great Gadgets
Yarn wasn't the only innovation this year. Two products vied for top billing in the Great Idea department: the exceptionally simple and useful Needle Gauge Pendant from Debra's Garden, and the equally simple why-didn't-I-think-of-it-myself Pattern Tamers. Both have made my own knitting life a lot easier.

the Denise Organizer
Another product that has made a huge difference in my own knitting life is the tough yet oh-so-flexible Denise Organizer. Sure, mine contains a full set of the Denise needles—but it also holds a bunch of DPNs, circs, and even a set of the new Addi Click interchangeables.

A Return to the Local
Our knitting ecosystem has already experienced a market correction following on the heels of the meteoric growth in the late 90s and early 2000s. The continued rise in indie hand-dyers, etsy shops, online-only discount retailers, other yarn stores, and even fellow knitters selling their stashes on eBay and Ravelry has challenged LYSses to remain both relevant and economically viable.

Where once the LYS was our only source of yarn, we now have access to a truly global yarn supply. Yet our need for a physical space where we can go for support, encouragement, and community remains as great as ever—and only the LYS can fill that need. Our challenge for 2009 is to remember the importance of a healthy LYS ecosystem. An LYS movement is afoot to help promote this cause. Another positive turn of events for the LYS is the steady USPS rate increases (including another rate hike on January 18th) that have begun to erode the potential bargains to be had from many online shops.

The Designer Revolution
While the LYS faced challenges, we saw two exciting innovations for knitwear designers this year—both of which happened online. First, the launch of Twist Collective, a new quarterly online knitting magazine that features articles, columns, and patterns. The difference? All patterns are sold individually for immediate download. This performance-based model allows designers to be compensated in a much more fair and equitable manner—and it's a great motivator for them to create really good patterns.

The second innovation came from Patternfish, a large new online resource of downloadable knitting patterns. Yarn companies and independent designers have already uploaded more than 2,000 patterns for resale, with more designers signing up every week. Patternfish pays designers 60% of the retail price, which designers set themselves. My favorite feature for the consumer? Patternfish remembers what you bought and contacts you any time an errata is published for one of your patterns.

Where Next?
I've met many wonderful knitters throughout my travels this year. While many of us had already met online, many more confessed that they spent very little time online at all. For me, this was a gentle reminder that the online world is just one microcosm of a far larger and more enduring knitting community.

Please know how much I value your readership and trust. Ours is a weekly adventure I look forward to continuing in the New Year.

All my best to you,