Report from the
2010 Knit Nation
July 29-31, 2010
Knit Nation is a brand new event created by Alice Yu, a UK knitwear designer and online luxury yarn shop owner, and Cookie A., sock-designer extraordinnaire. In its first year, Knit Nation brought together teachers, vendors, and knitters for a three-day expo in the heart of London. I was there as an avid yarn consumer and also as one of the lucky teachers.
The event took place at Imperial College London, located in South Kensington just steps from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It seemed a fitting meeting of the minds for a knitting expo to take place at a college renowned for its engineering and science program.
The vast majority of the teachers—including Nancy Bush, Judith MacKenzie, Anne Hanson, Beth Brown-Reinsel, JC Briar, Janel Laidman, Chrissy Gardiner, Shirley Paden, and Marike Saarnit—flew in from the United States. (Marjan Hammink was the only teacher lucky enough to be able to reach the event by train.)
The teachers (and many of the students as well) were housed in modern, Ikea-inspired college dorms unlike anything most of us had ever experienced in our own college years.
Even more special was to wander the halls with teachers who, at times, knew more about the textile traditions than the guide herself. At one point we were studying a piece of fabric and Judith MacKenzie gently asked the guide, "Would you like me to explain how they did it?" (Like ducklings, we all nodded eagerly.)
We were also treated to a traditional high tea in a hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens.
This is Alice, who did much of the initial legwork for the event (by virtue of being in London), and took a well-deserved spot at the head of the table.
Once our rest period was over, we got down to business. Workshops took place during all three days of the event. They spanned from three to six hours and covered everything from spinning wheel mechanics to cast-ons and bind-offs.
With "the yarn must go on" as our motto, we set up shop at a large table outside. We were a fitting advertisement for the event, pawing through heaps of colorful knitted samples and swatching unusual breeds.
In my class on British sheep breeds, we swatched our way through the British countryside. Each person was encouraged to swatch in whatever stitches they saw fit. I found the results enchanting, like personalized knitted maps of the British countryside.
We weren't just there to learn, we were there to acquire. To serve our acquisitive needs, the downstairs dining hall was transformed into one of the loveliest marketplaces I've seen in a long time. After inviting their pick of vendors to attend, Alice and Cookie opened up the remaining marketplace spots to other vendors.
The resulting blend of yarn, magazine, tool, book, and accessory vendors, large and small alike, gave the marketplace the same feeling as a lifesized Etsy shop—one that you navigated by walking instead of clicking.
Every event has its darling child, the vendor to whom everybody runs first (and about whom everybody talks later). At Knit Nation, without question the darling child was Wollmeise, the hand-dyed sock yarn from Germany that is impossible to obtain and can consequently sell on eBay for $90 a skein.
Claudia herself (the dyer behind Wollmeise) drove a truck packed with 1,000 kilos of yarn (literally one ton) to the event. Within seconds of the marketplace opening, she was completely swamped. A lucky knitter will have seen a handful of Wollmeise colors at once, but here was a chance to see hundreds upon hundreds of skeins in every hue.
The excitement surrounding Wollmeise allowed others unhindered access to the remaining vendors. A happy surprise find for me was John Arbon Textiles (that's John leaning over his yarn to chat with his partner Juliet, just out of the frame). From his shop at Coldharbour Mill in Devon, a working Edwardian mill, he spins small batches of environmentally friendly yarns that use UK-sourced fibers whenever possible.
I've made no secret of my fondness for cashmere, and for Hand Maiden's Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk in particular. (I actually carry a little swatch of it in my bag, like smelling salts, in case of emergency.) For this reason, my heart stopped when I reached KnitWitches Yarns. She sources many of her yarns from the very same Swiss mill that produces the Hand Maiden yarn, and she showed me several different blends that combine cashmere, silk, and other fibers in gaspworthy combinations.
Natural Dye Studio
Another favorite was The Natural Dye Studio, which had two full walls of soft and inviting yarns in tender fruity hues, all of which are obtained from plant dyes.
Woolly Wormhead, who gave me a copy of her book) and thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend more time with the yarns.
Speaking of natural dyes, I also discovered Renaissance Dyeing. Using plants and cochineal, Andie Luijk creates an astonishingly varied palette of 110 colors. The lace-weight yarn you see here was particularly alluring.
The ever-adorable Ysolda Teague was also on hand with knitted samples for us to try on, plus patterns and convenient small kits for us to purchase.
Needles were particularly popular, especially those not easily available in the UK or the rest of Europe. Vendors showed off a limited supply of Signature Needles, Blackthorn Needles, and all sorts of bamboo circulars and DPNs. Linda Krag also crossed the pond to show off the full array of Denise Interchangeables. The Party
The event culminated on Saturday night with a Ravelry party. Here Jess and Casey are giving away oodles of door prizes. The only requirement in accepting your prize was that you scream and everybody applaud excitedly, which, as you can imagine, made for quite a loud evening. Even Alice herself won a bottle of Soak woolwash.
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