Report from the
2011 Knit Nation
July 15-17, 2011
Imperial College London is a hub for science, engineering, management, and medical studies. Just this year, teams from the college helped decode the potato genome and solve the 3D structure of the human H1 histamine protein—which is important if you happen to suffer from allergies.
But last last week, the college classrooms hosted studies of a different sort as the second-annual Knit Nation took place.
Knit Nation is the brainchild of Alice Yu, the UK sock designer and dyer behind Socktopus, and Cookie A., sock-designer extraordinnaire.
This year, Alice and Cookie assembled 15 teachers from around the globe, including Judith MacKenzie, Merike Saarniit, Marjan Hammink, Susanna Hansson, Anne Hanson, Franklin Habit, Cookie A, Carol Feller, and yours truly.
Together, we taught classes on topics ranging from Bohus and sweater fitness to lace knitting, steeks, cashmere, spinning socks, and photographing your fiber.
During off hours, we watched a fabulous movie about the Bohus knitting tradition and we played bingo, with all proceeds from the packed house going to the domestic abuse charity Refuge.
We dodged the occasional downpour...
And relaxed and chatted with one another in the Knit-Tea salon, where skeins were wound and tea and scones served.
Between classes and after-hours activities, most of us kept going back to the marketplace. It was an impressive consortium of the UK's finest hand-dyers, yarn shops, mills, and makers of accessories—with vendors joining from France and the United States too.
The special marketplace preview on Friday evening had a packed crowd. Minutes before opening, the line snaked around the corner, out the building, and halfway to the parking area.
Many of those in line had one destination: Loop, the London vendor who brought an exclusive stash of the ever-popular Wollmeise yarn. Within minutes it had all been snatched up, and sated shoppers were standing in line with their prey.
Next came a most splendid surprise: Well Manor Farm, a small family farm in the Surrey Hampshire borders. They raise Shetland and Gotland sheep.
They offered several weights and ply combinations of each breed, some au naturel and others in a moody array of naturally dyed colors. Both yarns represent their respective breeds beautifully.
But that's not all. Hand-dyer Nimu Yarns had this silky, succulent, and unusually plied silk/brushed mohair/nylon blend. It's called Sizergh and comes in 100g hanks, each of which holds 350m.
Meanwhile, the Artisan Yarns booth was heaped with warm, bright hand-dyed colors applied to an unusual arrange of bases including a surprising silk/linen blend.
Ironically, the yarn that stole my heart had no dye whatsoever: it was a naturally colored lace-weight 100% angora.
Just up the aisle was Renaissance Dyeing, with a rainbow of plant-dyed yarns. The specialty here is a plump and lively organic Poll Dorset yarn sourced from sheep raised in France. The fibers are combed and spun over the border in Italy before returning to Andie Luijk in France, who hand-dyes them all. Although this yarn has no nylon, the multiple plies and combed preparation does make it ideal for socks.
Old Maiden Aunt had a steady stream of knitters snatching up its hand-painted yarns in such delicious bases as baby alpaca, silk, and cashmere in both lace and sock weights. Purely delicious.
Jeanette Sloan Design had brightly colored hand-dyed yarns, but what drew my eye was a very special stash of undyed worsted-spun multiple-ply cashmere. It came in 100g hanks of 224 meters and showed remarkable durability promise.
As always, The Natural Dye Studio was aglow in vitamin C colors and soft textures. The yarn generating most buzz was Sheherazade, a decadent blend of 65% silk and 35% baby camel. The silk offers a perfect palette for the juicy Natural Dye Studio colors, while the baby camel gave a most alluring halo to the mix. I regret not bringing a skein of this one home with me.
One yarn that did find its way into my suitcase was from Blacker Yarns. The retail yarn branch of a mill called The Natural Fibre Company, Blacker Yarns offers a broad selection of breed-specific yarns and blends milled and spun in the UK.
Blogger, designer, and knitting scholar Kate Davies used the Corriedale 4 Ply for her Deco, but until now I'd avoided ordering the yarn online because the international shipping charges are so high. Sue Blacker explained that people should email her for less-expensive (though possibly less reliable) shipping options.
Meanwhile on the other side of the market, John Arbon Textiles—my favorite discovery last year—was once again doing swift business. In addition to fiber and fabulous machine-made socks, he also had two dyed yarn lines.
The first, Knit By Numbers (shown at left), is a DK-weight 100% Merino spun in the UK of imported fibers. Juliet explained that each colorway was built upon six strands of prepared fiber, or sliver. The most intense color uses six strands of dyed sliver. Each lighter shade has increasing amounts of white sliver fed into the mix, until the color you see in the bottom of the picture has five strands of white and only one of the dyed fiber. This approach allows for greater harmony in colorwork since all hues are based on one parent color.
John Arbon also had another, pure UK yarn for sale. Called Excelana, it is sourced and spun in the UK from sheep that are a cross between Exmoor Horn and Bluefaced Leicester—they're calling it "Exmoor Blueface." The marketing on Excelana is charmingly retro, which is fitting since the yarn was designed by Susan Crawford to replicate the classic wools of the 1930s-1950s.
And who is Susan Crawford? For that, we walk to the adjoining booth where Crawford was displaying her Susan Crawford Vintage designs and previewing pieces from her forthcoming collection—knit from Excelana yarn.
No visit to Knit Nation would have been complete without stopping at the Socktopus booth to see what Alice Yu has been doing in her not-so-abundant spare time.
She offered a sneak peek at the gorgeous socks from her forthcoming book Socktopus: 17 Pairs of Socks to Knit and Show Off (due in October 2011 from Taunton Press). She also had a colorful wall of her custom-spun sock called Sokkusu, which she hand-dyes herself.
All Good Things...
Sunday afternoon came far too quickly, and then Knit Nation was over. Vendors dismantled their booths, teachers tidied their classrooms, and attendees went back out into the world—stashes enhanced, spirits lifted.
Because London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Knit Nation will take a hiatus in 2012. But whenever and wherever it returns, the wait will have been worth it.
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