Monday, January 03, 2011

A look back....

It's become an informal tradition here at Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat to look back at the year in knitting even as we embark upon a brand-new knitting year. And even if you listened to Kathy Elkins and me discussing some of the developments we found significant in the knitting world on this past Saturday's WEBS podcast, we didn't have time to talk about them all. So here goes: the official Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat 2010 recap.

Social media (or the Facebook effect)

It would be impossible to look back at 2010 without mentioning the continuing impact of social media on the fiber world. Ravelry, the on-line networking and project management site, welcomed its one-millionth member -- an astonishing and impressive statistic. Facebook, Plurk and Twitter continued to be full of fiberistas posting about projects, yarn, and patterns, as well as professional fiber folk staying in touch with their customer bases and networking with each other. Photo hosting sites like Flickr were an easy way to show off photographs, of fiber projects and other subjects. And on-line pattern sales continued to thrive as more designers and yarn companies made their patterns -- or at least some of their patterns -- available that way. Indeed, the stranded knitting world was abuzz when venerable Dale of Norway apparently decided to discontinue publishing pattern booklets and begin releasing patterns in PDF form only -- for free or at least free with yarn purchase. (I can't find any official statements directly from Dale of Norway elaborating on this.)

Social media is an interesting fit with knitting, spinning and other fiber-y pursuits. To some extent, these crafts are solitary: you do them on your own, or at least you can do them on your own. If you are someone like me, who has kids who need minding and driving around, then it's often difficult to get away on a weeknight for a knitting get-together. (Weekends aren't much better, either, what with ballet practice and basketball games, blah blah blah.) Or you may be someone who doesn't live close enough to a SnB to be able to attend regularly, or who travels a lot, or with a physical condition that precludes attending. For people like us, social media is a vital way to keep us in touch with fellow fiber-lovers. We see new products, new patterns, get inspired by others' projects, trade tips, commiserate, and keep each other company. For the same reasons, social media provides a crucial way for people like me, who work from home -- and who work from home in the fiber world -- to stay connected with the larger world.

During 2010, we saw the power of the internet as a tool in communicating information regarding knitting events scheduled to take place in real life. In the spring, the Hands-On Mitten retreat, scheduled to take place in Chicago was abruptly canceled. Various on-line groups provided a way for prospective participants (and vendors and teachers) to share information about the organizer, and eventually the Illinois Attorney General became involved when numerous complaints were filed. Later in the summer, the on-line grapevine again buzzed with rumors about the UK Knit Camp, a large knitting retreat scheduled to take place in Scotland. Once again, various on-line groups and other internet media kicked into overdrive, allowing participants to share information when many participants felt insufficient information was forthcoming from the camp's organizers. Much debate ensued about whether the internet's ability to share information among a group of far-flung people saved the day for many, preventing them from losing money or even being deported (!), and/or to what extent the "dogpile" effect created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How will social media play in out in the coming year? Well, at the last TNNA, designers were already able to walk around with I-pads, pulling up virtual portfolios of their work in the form of a JPEG slideshow. I'd expect to see that sort of thing continue. I suspect that social media will become an integral part of many people's lives; with so many people working and playing on computers, it's inevitable. And with a society where jobs take us all over the place, spreading out family and friends, social media is a convenient way to keep in touch. With these technologies becoming such an integral part of our lives, they likely will remain an integral part of our craft.

The staggering economy

It would also be impossible to look back at 2010 without considering the impact of the struggling economy, American and global, on the fiber world. Fiber professionals saw a marked effect on sales as thrifty knitters and crocheters worked from stash and splurged on fiber purchases less. I think that the fascination with one-skein projects may have been related, at least in part, to the economic pinch many of us faced. A one-skein project is a relatively low-cost way to treat oneself to a whole new project, or to try a new yarn without investing in sweater quantity. One-skein projects and accessory knitting in general are also ways to use up oddballs in the stash and leftovers from larger projects.

I thought I saw the struggling economy reflected in the approach that yarn companies took this past year. It seemed to me that yarn companies brought out fewer new yarns this past fall, and played it a bit more conservatively with the yarns they did introduce. We saw lots of what I think of as "sibling" yarns: a sportweight version of Cascade 220, chunky versions of Berroco's Blackstone Tweed and Vintage, Rowan's British Sheep Breeds line added a boucle, and so on. This makes sense: if you've got a successful yarn, why not build on that success by adding a similar yarn in a different weight or slightly different texture? Less risk for the yarn company (you already know your customers like the original, and you've already got name recognition) and less risk for the consumer.

We also saw yarns that took advantage of recycled fiber. Part of this is the general eco-consciousness of today's world, but I think it also plays into the mindset of a recession economy. Reusing and recycling sounds thrifty, whether or not sourcing recycled fibers is actually cheaper than using new. So we saw Rowan's Purelife Renew, made from recycled wool; Berroco's Remix, using all recycled fibers in a blend of silk, linen, cotton, nylon and acrylic; and Plymouth's Refashion (using recycled cashmere and wool), to name just a few.

My own personal suspicion is that economic factors also affected the indie markets, causing more individuals to offer items for sale, whether patterns, handdyed yarns and fibers, or even stash reduction. The end of the year seemed to reflect some improvement in the spillover effect of the shaky economy, and here's hoping that 2011 brings more prosperity for all.

New players

2011 brought us some new and exciting yarn companies. The biggest splash was Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter yarn, a luscious heavy-worsted tweed yarn, made from 100% North American wool (Targhee and Columbia), appearing in a stunning array of colors. Also making a terrific impression was Pam Allen's Quince & Company, offering carefully-sourced wools in a luscious array of colors. Quince & Company has, at this writing, four yarns ranging from fingering weight to bulky, all wool or mostly wool, with an accessible price point and lots of pattern support. What I find very interesting about both Shelter and Quince are the business models these companies adopted: selling direct to the consumer on a company website, but also offering the yarns at a handful of select yarn shops in the country. I have been wondering if the old model of yarn distribution -- wholesaler, sales reps, LYS -- will change now that there are several strong and large players in the market who sell direct to the consumer. How this newer business model plays out in the future -- particularly its effect on individual yarn shops, who are left out of the loop, except for the handful of "flagship" stores -- will be interesting to watch.


As with every year, the knitting community suffered the loss of some of its members: designer Melissa Mathay, Classic Elite former owner/CEO Pat Chew, and most recently, Fiber Trends powerhouse Bev Galeskas. They will be missed.

On a brighter note, the knitting world celebrated Elizabeth Zimmerman's 100th birthday while Knitter's Magazine celebrated its 100th issue. Knitter's Review celebrated its 10th year, and, as noted above, Ravelry welcomed its one-millionth member.

Hot -- and not-so-hot -- trends

What was the hot knitting project of the year? Well, it may have been the cowl. One-skein cowl patterns were popping up everywhere, and Cathy Carron's Cowl Girls: The Neck's Big Thing to Knit was perfectly timed for the trend. The slouchy beret was everywhere, and "shawlettes," or small shawls (or you could think of them as big scarves), often triangular and often knit in sock or other fingering weight yarns, were also very popular. Socks remained strong, although the breathlessness for all things sock seems to have cooled off quite a bit. Scarves were also a hit, particularly long loops or mobius rings, reflecting the trend in the larger fashion world. What will be the next hot trend? It's anyone's guess. Knee-highs were making a come-back (and I can't wait for Barb Brown's Knitting Knee-Highs: Sock Styles from Classic to Contemporary coming next month), and I sensed a renewed interest in mittens, especially traditionally constructed ones. Stranded knitting -- featured prominently in a lot of knee-highs and mittens -- may continue to be popular, although I think time-honored techniques like stranded knitting and cables never really go out of style. I'd love to hear your guesses as to what's going to be this year's Next Big Thing -- leave 'em in the comments.

So there you have it, folks: my admittedly-subjective review of 2010: The Knitting Year That Was. Did I miss anything? Got something to add? Please feel free to opine in the comments!


subliminalrabbit said...

*love love love* carol!

and happy new year!

Barb B. said...

I think you nailed it re: knitting and people who can't get to a LYS. I have lived in isolated places for over 35 years. 25 of those had me a 5 to 7 hour drive to the nearest store, depending on whether the road had been graded. I truly think I would go mad if I had to go back to the "send for a sample card, wait for it, send your order, wait for it".. IF you could find a mail order company... scenario.
I think the mitten interest is likely to continue and grow. I also think there will be some interest in making hats/scarves to match those mittens.
I love the new yarns (Quince, and also Veronik's new sport weight) and the fact that many use local fibre, and name the breeds used. I think this trend will grow, especially with the British wool push going on.
Thanks Carol for a well thought out post!

17th stitch said...

Great summary of the year! thank you.

I have no guesses, but I will be very happy if mittens are The Next Big Thing, since that's mostly what I knit anyway.

StephCat said...

fantastic summary!

I prefer designing mittens to socks -- but socks are actually a bit more practical for me to wear. Be nice if mittens do increase in popularity though!

I've started to see more glove patterns being released, too, fwiw.

Anonymous said...

thanks for a very thoughtful usual. mary in Cincinnati

maryskid said...

I think the slouchy hats and berets will continue to be a big trend. Lots of impact for the effort. I predict scarves and shawls in taditional lace patterns knit in heavier weight yarns (ie: dk and worsted) will be popular as well. The fingerless mitt still seems to be everywhere too. Various ways of knitting socks seems to be the focus now, toe up, two at a time, formed arches, unusual construction techniques, complex lace incorporated throughout. I recently found your blog and am catching up on past posts-you are a wonderful writer.