The San Diego Convention Center

Report from the Winter 2009 TNNA Trade Show
San Diego Convention Center
January 17-19, 2009

During these financially tight and somewhat uncertain times, we've all pulled back into our shells a bit. But in business, the show must always go on. And in the knitting business world, that show was the winter National NeedleArts Association (TNNA) trade show in San Diego last weekend.

This was my fifth year of TNNA shows, and I'll admit that I—along with nearly everyone there—had very low expectations for this season's show. Pleasantly surprised, I offer five gotchas about the show and our industry in general.

1. Yes, Times Are Tight
OK, this is pretty obvious one. Gone were the lavish cocktail parties and product giveaways and buzz-generating events of years past. Receptions were smaller and took place in booths on the show floor rather than in posh restaurants and reception halls. The mood overall was much quieter—but in an active and focused way. Yarn store owners knew what they had to spend, and they were spending it very carefully.

The key thing to note is that they were spending. Nearly every exhibitor told me, in a fairly astonished tone, "Things aren't nearly as bad as we thought they'd be." When vendors tell you they're feeling reassured and cautiously hopeful, this is the first sign that our knitting ecosystem is getting healthy again.

More than simply doing business, people were also meeting and brainstorming, exchanging ideas, discussing possible collaborations, and making plans for the future. Which led me to conclude that...

2. We'll Be OK
We're going to make it.

Craft is traditionally considered a recession-proof market. The decade of crazy growth is over, but the knitting industry is still growing—a claim not every market segment can make right now. In fact...

3. New Folks Keep Coming
That's right, optimistic newcomers continue to take off their shoes, roll up their pants, and jump into our waters. Only, perhaps, with a little more due diligence than in previous years.

Hand-dyer Madelinetosh made her TNNA debut with a glorious display of what she calls her "glazed solid" colorway—rich and flickering semisolids that make you want to reach into the skein and start knitting.

Another new exhibitor was a company called Select Yarn, which imports Japanese yarns and knitting books. Japan was also represented just a few booths away at Sunrise Yarns, the exclusive distributor of Diakeito Yarns and patterns from Japan.

We also got to see the first issue of Handknit Heroes, a graphic novel written for knitters. We saw teenaged superheroes fight crime—"Blam!" "Wham!" "Krakk!"—and try to invent bulletproof nanofiber yarn at the same time.

Folks were also intrigued by a new gadget called The Knit Kit which claimed to be the Swiss Army Knife of knitting tools. It incorporates a thread cutter, stitch counter, crochet hook, tape measure, scissors, stitch markers and even point protectors into a flat, smooth, oval-shaped white plastic case that was reminiscent, whispered many knitters, of a case for birth control pills. The booth was swamped and you should expect to see these handy devices in your LYS soon.

Louet Signature Series Paco Vicunas lace yarn

4. Natural is the New Novelty
The whole notion of "novelty yarn" continues to be redefined as we saw more focus on the fibers bringing novelty to our yarns—specifically, natural fibers. More people were asking where the fibers came from and studying how they were twisted, plied, dyed, and transformed into yarn.

Louet led the way, kicking off a new Signature Series with an extraordinary yarn called Paco Vicunas (pictured above). It blends 15% Paco Vicunas fiber (a superfine variety of Alpaca raised by Switzerland Farm in Colorado), 15% Sea Cell (a fiber derived from seaweed and Tencel), and 70% Optim (fine Merino that has been stretched to become even finer, softer, and slinkier). It was developed under the watchful eye of Trudy Van Stralen, Louet North America's founder, along with the consultation of Abby Franquemont. I brought a skein home in my carry-on bag and will give a full-length review soon.

Bijou Basin White cormo/yak blend

The folks at Bijou Basin Ranch astonished me with a pure white and entirely undyed skein of yak down blended with equal parts Cormo wool. Yak fiber dislikes bleach immensely, so it tends to be overdyed in darker colors for commercial yarns. But the animal often grows a variegated coat with some white areas. By collecting those white fibers and processing them separately, the Bijou Basin folks were able to obtain quite a beautiful, lively and soft white yarn that you'd never, ever suspect had yak in it. While their 100% yak yarns are sourced in China, the white yak/cormo blend is sourced and spun in the U.S.A.

a skein of Buffalo Gold Lux
Meanwhile the folks at Buffalo Gold continue to experiment with their American bison down. This time they stopped traffic with their new yarn called Lux, a laceweight blend of 45% American bison down, 20% cashmere, 20% silk, and 15% Tencel. The bison and cashmere give the ethereal warmth and hint of halo, while the silk and Tencel add shimmer and drape. This yarn positively begs for lace.

A blend of possum, cotton, and Merino

I also saw several intriguing possum/Merino blends from Zealana, including their Kia Ora (shown here), slightly more unusual because it combines 40% cotton with the notoriously warm and lightweight possum and Merino fibers.

Lace-weight naturally colored cotton from Pakucho

One of my favorite organic cotton yarns, Pakucho naturally colored cotton, was picked up by Ecobutterfly Organics and showcased in its very own booth this year. The Pakucho line now includes an astonishingly ethereal cotton lace (shown here) that, when knit up, could easily be mistaken for a cashmere/qiviut blend. Classic Elite Yarns also launched a Verde Collection featuring three yarns, all of which contain organic cotton.

I also saw some great plays in the old-fashioned pure wool market—from Cestari, Imperial Stock Ranch, and an exciting newcomer from Wyoming, Mountain Meadow Wool Mill.

5. Designers are on the Rise
And finally, I saw more signs that designers—who often used to stay hidden behind books, magazines, and pattern leaflets—are continuing to claim a more public and independent position on the knitting stage. The show was packed with designers, some in solo booths, others in cooperative booths, and some simply wandering the aisles, chatting with folks, handing out their cards, and talking with yarn companies and magazine publishers. Designers have more choices about how they can do business, including selling patterns to magazines, selling them online either by themselves or through a third-party service, or pooling together and offering them as part of a design cooperative such as the Stitch Cooperative. The world would appear to be their oyster. Even Cat Bordhi's TNNA workshop on writing knitwear patterns was completely full.

Bottom line: Things may be quieter now than they were five years ago. Yarn stores may no longer be acquiring with reckless abandon—just as knitters may be slowing their own pace of yarn acquisition. But the industry is adjusting and getting smarter about how it does business, and our foundation remains secure. And bright, creative people continue to enter the market, bringing fresh new ideas about how we can enjoy yarn and new yarns with which we can enjoy knitting.

arrow Agree? Disagree? Share your perspectives on the 2009 knitting market.