Knit Nation

Report from the
2010 Knit Nation
Imperial College
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 Imperial College campus

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.

Getting There
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.)

our dorm rooms

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.

a leafy view
The rooms overlooked a lush green square dotted with enormous ancient trees and crisscrossing paths. Our dorms were teeming with young exchange students who gathered in the park each evening. (Ah, youth.)

Victoria and Albert Museum tour
We all arrived a few days early so that we could overcome jetlag before teaching our classes. While we were getting acclimated, Alice arranged for us to have a private tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection.

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.)

tea before it all began

We were also treated to a traditional high tea in a hotel overlooking Kensington Gardens.

a proud Alice

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.

the registration desk
The Classes
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.

sitting outside with our yarns
I taught several three-hour workshops about yarn, wool, and British wool in particular. Our classroom was in the photonics division of the physics department, but during one class we were forced to evacuate the building because of a fire alarm.

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.

A wool view of the British countryside

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.

more swatches more swatches

more swatches more swatches

more swatches more swatches

more swatches more swatches

one of the prettiest marketplaces I've seen
The Marketplace
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.

the Wollmeise scrum
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 Wollmeise scrum
Considering the nature of the scrum, people were remarkably well-behaved, even handing skeins back for those who couldn't reach the front. While many people made it off with two or three well-chosen skeins, others packed their bags with multiple skeins. One woman was rumored to have bought $950 worth of Wollmeise—and in cash, no less.

John Arbon textiles
John Arbon Textiles
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.

more John Arbon textiles
His undyed yarns included a quite unusual and delicious blend of 70% alpaca and 30% Bluefaced Leicester wool (all sourced, scoured, and spun in the UK), as well as an even more unusual wool called Bluefaced Exmoor. It came from sheep that were the result of crossing Exmoor Horn (a hearty hill breed) and Bluefaced Leicester (one of the softest, finest of the UK breeds).

KnitWitches cashmere heaven
KnitWitches Yarns
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.

the Natural Dye Studio

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.

a heap of happy wool books
They invited me to sign books on Friday afternoon at their booth. I met loads of lovely people (including the UK designer Woolly Wormhead, who gave me a copy of her book) and thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend more time with the yarns.

the lace-weight Renaissance yarns

Renaissance Dyeing
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.

Linda Krag of Denise Interchangeables
Tools of the Trade
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 Ravelry party
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.

until next year
And then, as with all such events, Knit Nation ended far too quickly. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and went off to our various corners of the world, tired but inspired, our bags a little fuller than when we left, crossing our fingers that Alice and Cookie will treat us to another Knit Nation next year.

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