The scourge of the heavy “student spindle”

For the third time in as many weeks, on Saturday a would-be spinner told me of her woes trying to spin on a spindle. I diagnosed her problem: a way-too-heavy spindle.

I have been delighted recently to demo spinning and learn more about how to break down the steps and condense my tutorials down to get people spinning happily as quickly as possible.

I’ve learned that giving students the right tools can make this much faster and easier. I also do think the beauty of a spindle is part of the joy of the craft. I’m delighted to share handmade tools with beginners. I don’t think they should be relegated to using something brutally plain.

So why, please tell me, is the first spinning experience most people have (including me!) with ugly, heavy, lumbering spindles that take two twirls before they conk out?

Why so HEAVY?

I remember teaching someone spindle spinning at a show, and an hour later she came back with the dreaded Student Spindle. That brute is 85 grams? Apparently it’s not just Ashford, because Kromski also makes a heavy student spindle at 80 grams. It spins reluctantly, and the weight means it’s physically limited in the size of yarn it can spin.

Can someone explain this to me?? Great for plying, I guess? Yes, I wish they sold it as a plying spindle. Does anyone actually use this beast of a student spindle?  Even the “Maxi”plying  spindles sold by Bosworth top out at 56g. I assume it’s for making bulky yarns?

I think it’s a terrible shame to give learners such as HEAVY spindle. These heavy spindles seem to be the only spindle on offer when someone is looking for an inexpensive spindle to learn on. If a vendor is going to only carry a few spindles to help people get started, they will tend to veer towards the only “student spindle” option out there.

In fact it is the one that was sold to me on the first spinning workshop I went on.  I tried to spin when I got home without a teacher’s help, and I created some horribly over spun heavy yarn. It was awful and I didn’t touch spinning again until years later.

This great article on Knitty.com about selecting spindles gives a helpful table. They recommend you would spin a worsted weight yarn on a 70 gram spindle.  Making a worsted weight single is a challenge on its own. Mechanically this means you need to draft out more fibre to make your yarn. You need a thicker fibre supply. If you have a compacted hand-dyed fibre, then you can’t do much pre-drafting. From my experience a lighter weight spindle will mean you have to draft less fibre and you can use a looser fibre supply, and even do some pre-drafting.

I would say you want to stay in the range of 28-50 grams for a beginner spindle. This will be in the range of spinning fingering, sport and DK weight yarns.

Trying to save money?

OK I can understand if people want to give learners a chance to learning spinning without having to make a major investment. Paying £10 or so for a spindle *seems* better than buying a handmade spindle for £30. But to me, that is money wasted.

If the cost is the main issue, I think a much better student spindle is one made of materials lying about the house. Handmade and simple.

Don’t have a spindle but you have a pencil handy? Yes you can spin wool with a pencil. Abby Franquemont has proven you can pretty much spin wool with anything. But the mechanics of a spindle with a whorl makes spinning much faster and more efficient.

There are some great tutorials about making spindles. Such as with CD and a dowel or toy-wheel spindles in this Spin Off free guide on DIY spinning equipment. Though even these requires a trip to the hardware store.  (oh! here you can make a CD spindle without the grommets if you have some blu-tac!)

How about making one out of a door knob and a chopstick! Or just whip a turkish spindle together with some twigs! These homemade spindles show that you can spin with anything, and if someone is inspired they can see this can be done with a low-cost and easily with what they have lying around.

Affordable spindles

I’m so keen on getting people to spin, I’ve given away some of my spindles in the past. Now I need to get new ones specifically for teaching and demoing spindle spinning, and I want something affordable but still really beautiful.

You don’t have to get a gem-studded Golding spindle for over $150 USD. (Though if you’re trying to figure out what to get my for me birthday, the  “BLACK EYED SUSAN” would be lovely, thanks!) There are lots of really nice affordable spindles.

My search is focused on spindles in the UK. Woodland Turnery has hand-turned bottom (approx 45-60grms) and top whorl spindles (approx 30-50grms) for £13.95. Kevin Rhodes has a beginner spindle at 35-40g and it’s only £13.95. Most of Adelaide Walker’s spindles are under £20.

Luckily, the UK Spinners for sale board on Ravelry  has come through.  Buying secondhand equipment can save you about 10-25%. The nice thing is, if you keep your equipment in good condition it holds its value better than most things you buy!

I got a great deal on two Kerry spindles. Even still, brand new, they are great value. Look at this one, a beautiful wood, and a cool 30g for £20. I think that is a great spindle.

In a search on Etsy for sellers in the UK with spindles £25 and under I found several vendors. ThomasWoodandWool has a 40g hand turned beeswax finished spindle for £8.50.

You can also check out the UK Spindlers group on Ravelry for some good deals.

Find a special spindle

The best place to choose a special spindle would be at a fibre festival. Ideally you could hold the spindle in your hands to choose it.

Pro-tip: Make sure to check the vendors at the shows you’re thinking about attending. I was disappointed after trawling all over Edinburgh Yarn Fest that few vendors were selling spindles, and of course there were no specialist spindle makers. The spindles available were too heavy, poorly made or uninspiring mass produced spindles. (Nothing wrong with mass-produced, but I’m talking about finding that beautiful spindle.)  But EYF aren’t claiming to be a fibre fest per se, it’s more of a knitting fest with a few bits of other things.

So check and make sure you’re headed to a fibre fest!

I had the best experience at Fibre East with all the spindle vendors. I remember seeing these crafts people’s hands all gnarly from woodwork. They also let you have a go! I felt a bit shy about trying them, but Ian of IST encouraged me to give a tiny Turkish spindle a try. It went on spinning and spinning and spinning. And I fell in love. SOLD!

The Interweave Guide to choosing a drop spindle mentions the option of getting either a low or high whorl spindle. I’ve noticed some actually have both possibilities. With hooks to spin high-whorl and notches to spend low-whorl on the other end. To me that seems like the best option, since you won’t know until you try which suits you best. I really liked a high-whorl spindle when started, but now that I have the half-hitch down, I find it’s easier to slide my hand along the thread, and flick the top of the spindle.

However if you can’t try it in person stick to some tried and true highly recommended spindle makers:

Conclusion: Stop the spread of The Student Spindle

OK my rant is OVER. If you can explain to me why student spindles are so heavy, please enlighten me.

If you know of some great, affordable spindles, I’d also love to hear!

Crafts in the UK will be disproportionately affected by Brexit

The first time I realised craft related businesses were going to be disproportionately affected by Brexit was on Hilltop Cloud’s recent newsletter, Katie assured customers that they shouldn’t feel “guilty” about the sudden discount they were going to receive due to the pound crashing. Afterall, she is getting paid the same…

Problem is, soon her suppliers, and her supplier’s suppliers are going to make increases, and soon small business margins will be further squeezed. This will happen across the entire market.

The next sign, Artesano today announced on facebook they are ceasing trading.

“We have made our best efforts to get stock moving and to fulfil all orders, but once the Brexit was announced last week, our main suppliers took the view not to continue delivering to us.”

We’re not even OUT of the EU yet technically, and it’s starting already.

Small businesses struggle, that is a given. I don’t think this supplier issue was the only factor in their closing up today. Artesano was working on changing their business model, they were trying something new with online sales and new distribution.

Small businesses have to be nimble and take chances to adapt. They have to deal with smaller margins, and smaller scales. There isn’t a lot of “wiggle room.” Running a small business is a risky business on the best days…. but this is going to be like nothing else.

All the businesses we love are at risk right now. Small businesses are often labours of love, and sweat equity, and don’t benefit from big investment. They don’t have the wherewithal to weather this crisis.

As crafters we’re going to notice this most quickly. These businesses rely on other small businesses, they have smaller, niche markets, and they rely on international supply chains.

 

Vultures may delight in picking among the discounted detritus of crashed businesses. I just feel like saying, I hope you’re happy now. It’s positively infuriating.

I’m going to a local meeting tonight to see what is being planned, how we can advocate for our communities, and work towards solutions. I have to do something, because it’s all looking a bit hopeless right now.

 

 

Review of Fenella – a lovely yarn by Susan Crawford Vintage

I took a class at Edinburgh Yarn Festival with Hazel Tindall to learn fair-isle colour work. I liked my little cuff I created that day, but I sensed that I wasn’t quite ready to dive into making my dream fair isle vest. I mention this, because I still have a fantasy that one day I’ll knit a fair isle vest. When I heard about Susan Crawford’s Vintage Shetland publishing project, I knew instantly I wanted to support it.

So I was delighted when I was offered a sample of Fenella yarn to try out! Susan launched the yarn in March 2014. She developed the yarn specifically for the Vintage Shetland project.

“Whilst working on the Vintage Shetland Project I have hit a snag with some of the garments that I wish to recreate. As most of the garments are from the 1930s to the 1950s, the most commonly used yarn weight in their construction is that all too elusive 3 ply. Added to this was the lack of appropriate colours available in any yarn that did happen to fit the weight I needed. I realised that the only way I was going to be able to successfully recreate these garments was to have yarn produced specifically for them.” – by Susan about Fenella yarn

The Feel of the Yarn

I hand-wound the balls on a long drive so I had some time to feel the yarn and ponder it before knitting. It feels so light and airy! And the colours really did seem to glow. This might be due to the airyness, with light passing through, as well as the natural transparency of wool. But the dye seems to be through the fibres and not just on the surface, if you know what I mean. Here’s a pic of “Baked Cherry.”

Now that I’m more familiar with spinning, I can see that Fenella is loosely plied. The fibers themselves are well spun in each strand, but the plying is loose and open. For comparison, I put it next to the shetland wool to show you the difference. This is Jamieson & Smith 2 ply jumper weight on the left. It’s dyed in the wool, and woolen spun. With the Fenella on the right, you can see there’s a definite lustre to the yarn. The label doesn’t specify the breed, but it looks like a long wool, and it looks worsted spun. (I wonder if I’m on the mark?) It actually reminds me a bit of John Arbon’s Exmoor Sock yarn just in the way it is plied (not the hairy texture).

In the Fair Isle class, Hazel Tindall responded to a question about using superwash for fair isle. Hazel said that superwash treated fibers tended to be “too stand-offish from each other,” the thought of which made me laugh. But it does make sense. The fibers need to grab on to each other. When you steek fair isle, you cut the strands. They fibers will have bonded well enough with friction that they hug each other affectionately. Meaning, they don’t unravel. Because Fenella is a light airy yarn, it would be perfect for colour work. I think this yarn would actually also work well for lace, and if I can think of a project I’d like to see what I can make with these yarns.

There’s also the added bonus that the colours really pop with brightness. Look at this funky Pthalo green!

Working with Fenella

I was given four colours: two light, two dark.

fenella

  • Myrtle (dark green)
  • Pthalo (bright green)
  • Delicot (peach)
  • Baked Cherry (red)

I took a picture of them in black and white and the lighter colours really looked to be the same tone. For the design, I opted to put the contrasting the colours together light v dark. I decided to refer to the awesome Knitsonik Colourwork book to create a new cuff. And I began doodling!

Making some progress! Now i have a border and a design for my cuffs. #knitsonik #susancrawfordvintage #colourwork

A post shared by Heather McNamee (@nearlythere) on

I started by drawing a grid to fit the number of stitches I needed in the round. I came up with the idea of writing “WOW” around the cuff. I used 3mm needles to knit with. If I were to do this again, I would probably go down to 2.75mm for colourwork, but I’m a loose knitter.

Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t find the yarn splitty. I struggle with that when I purl usually, but of course this was in the round and I only purled for the ribbing.

When I finished knitting I thought my stitches looked pretty wonky. I don’t have much experience with double pointed needles, so I was getting some gaps especially when starting new rounds.

I washed it and squeezed it a bit roughly. After squeezing out the water, I noticed my stitches looked more even and the colours blended better. I literally said “WOW” outloud, and then laughed, DUH. I had to explain this to my husband who did a good job of pretending to be impressed! Here you can see my little cuff swatch drying.

Buy Fenella Yarn

You can buy Fenella Yarn right from Susan Crawford’s shop, Deramore’s and Love KnittingOh! And ALERT! There’s a sale on Baa Baa Brighouse right now

Support the Vintage Shetland Project

At the time I’m writing, the project is 253% funded(!) This is a great chance to not only support her publishing project, but you can get a few little extras too. The Pubslush campaign is on for just a few more hours!

If you’d like to see more of the projects and inspiration – you can check out the blog tour.

An Irish yarn for St Patrick’s Day

With the Euro having reached parity with the USD and today being St Patrick’s Day, I’m hoping some knitters are considering a trip to Ireland.

One of the most active threads on the Ireland Ravelry group is regarding info for visiting knitters. People also want to know where they can get their hands on an authentic Irish yarn. Visiting knitters are seeking some wooly experience based on images of sheep grazing in the hills of some Craggy Island, with hearty sailors wearing wool jumpers bobbing on the sea nearby. Even if the origins of the Aran jumper are clouded in the mists of marketing mythology dating back to the 1930s. (This can be a touchy subject for Irish knitters, since visiting North Americans, obsessed with authenticity, are known to comment “why did you let this tradition die out?” when actually it was entirely manufactured and not that long ago.)

All of those visions aside, visiting knitters want a proper squish of the good stuff as a take-home souvenir of memories of hillsides dotted with lovely sheep. What they may find is that, yes, there are some great Ireland-based indie dyers, but they use bases from abroad which are, of course, popular and easy to dye. And yes, there is yarn spun here, but much of Ireland’s wool clip goes to Bradford, England for processing, or the mills use fibres from Australia. The Irish wool you see on the sheep in the field, gets clipped and thrown into the melée with any wool of a similar micron count and staple length, mostly over in England. And what mills get back is a mix.

Animal-Range-and-Farm-Illustration-Sheep-with-lambIf visitors do any digging at all for the history, they’ll discover a sad economic tale of systematic market manipulation and deprivation dating back to the 1600s which consistently stifled any economic growth around the wool industry in Ireland. It’s enough to “bring out the Fenian in ye,” as my niece might say.

Is this a rallying cry to “Knit Irish”? No.

As I write this point, I’m worried that this might be seen as some Republican rally cry to “not knit with that English yarn” because of something that happened centuries ago. Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t eschew knitting foreign yarn as Louise Scollay from KnitBritish has been doing for a couple of years. Making that statement might raise an eyebrow or two, but isn’t that what it amounts to? The KnitBritish efforts are honourable in that KnitBritish is raising awareness of British breeds and her local industry, which I do think is great!

However, it reminds me of some efforts to ‘buy local’ that misdirect well meaning passion away from supporting sustainable industries in other countries which could increase the quality of life all around with fair trade.  Instead, I think it’s important to emphasize we “#KnitLocal” as Louise mentioned on the KnitBritish podcast recently. This ideal in practice connects you materially to where you are and gives you an understanding of what the world around you is made of. Or “KnitLocal” could mean to buy items produced at a smaller scale and where the value chain is shorter and more value is transferred to the source.

So! I wanted to point out there are authentic Irish yarns available but on a much smaller scale. Argue with me if you like! I’m no economist. However, I know that even a single purchase can make a huge impact to these producers and makers, I hope you’ll support them.

Where are all the Irish spinning mills?

From fleece to yarn, there is minimal capability for wool scouring and processing in Ireland. There are a few remaining mills, and the focus from a farmer’s point of view is meat. So from end to end there are challenges if you’re looking for a single-source yarn. Carol Feller’s Contemporary Irish Knits has a great section on Irish yarns and the remaining mills. Carol also wrote an article for Twist Collective “The Last Mills Standing,” highlighting three mills:

Carol focuses on the modern fact that farmers are selecting breeds for meat, and not fleece. And now, people are more selective and prefer softer and softer wools, and Irish farmers aren’t offering a soft enough or clean enough product for use in artisan yarns that people want to knit with. From a manufacturing point of view, Donegal Yarns could argue they need to offer finished designs in Australian merino to fulfill market demands.

I used to assume the limitations were purely environmental in terms of what kind of fleece could be grown here, but there are great sheep breeds that can do well in these climates. I’m highly sympathetic to farmers, and I think opportunities are increasing for farmers to get more value out of their livestock and business, even when market pressures are driving food prices down and threatening food security and sustainability. I think Irish farmers would diversify their flocks if they thought they could get additional value out of them.

Ireland used to produce finer wools and had a burgeoning woolen trade. So much so that the English royalty successfully sought to destroy the competition from the Irish industry.

The_History_of_the_County_and_City_of_Cork_-_Google_Play

In the 1600s, England squashed competition from Ireland by putting in laws to limit both the woolen industry and industry in general in Ireland. By the 1660s, Acts were introduced to prohibit the export of Irish wool, cattle, etc. to England or her colonies, and prohibiting the direct importation of several colonial products into Ireland. So Ireland directed trade to France and Spain and prospered until yet again, the industry was systematically destroyed to improve business in England. Instead the linen industry was encouraged in Ireland, a more labour intensive, much dirtier and more dangerous industry overall.

If you want to know more, a detailed history is outlined on Ferguson’s Linen Mill website, and a threepart article on the the The Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers site gives some more context to the somewhat infuriating History of Spinning in Ireland. The lack of woolen mills in Ireland or Irish yarn did not happen by chance and is not because we currently don’t have fine fleece here.

Authentic Irish Yarns

At the risk of excluding all the of the great indie dyers in Ireland (saving that for another post!),  I wanted to focus on yarn where the fibre actually comes from animals and farms here in Ireland.

S-Twist Wool The fleece is hand-selected, and hand-scoured using an ecologically friendly scouring method with minimal waste of energy and water. Diarmuid runs his own spinnery producing yarn on a small scale. Here’s a nice in-depth review of the yarn. This fella actually gave me my very first spinning lesson!

Cushendale / Zwartbles sell finished products and yarn from this lovely chocolate fleeced sheep. There are two mills in Ireland that handle raw wool and they won’t process less than an half a ton of wool. So collectively, participating farmers’ clip is combined with other Zwartbles fleece from around the country and sold through Cushendale Mills. See pics of the wool being collected and the wool getting processed at Cushedale Mills on the ZwartblesIreland.com website.

Dupre Knitwear produce made-to-measure handknits for clients. Literally, you give them your measurements, and knitters from their local area knit the finished goods. You can also buy the yarn in kits. Siobhan and her family keep a flock of Leicester Longwool sheep. The fleece from these elegant looking sheep is long, lustrous and in a range of true greys and warm greys. They send it to The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall who will process and spin the yarn in small batches. I’ve heard the more recent yarn is worsted spun, and even lovelier than a previous year’s yarn.

Updated to add: (Thank you to An Irish Knit Odyssey!)

Know of any more?

I’m hoping my list isn’t exhaustive and someone is going to see this point and say “Hey you forgot about this one!” If you know of more Irish Yarns, please comment below!

FYI, if you’ve made it THIS far, you might be interested in this upcoming book: These Islands: Knits from Ireland, Scotland, and Britain

UK Fibre events: Spoilt for choice?

There’s a thread on Ravelry which asks: have we reached a saturation point for fibre events in the UK?

Currently there are 6 events with dates confirmed in the UK and Fibre events group on Ravelry. I am having trouble finding a record, but it looks like there was double that in 2014. Correction! @TravelKnitter lists 22 events on her site! So more events are likely confirming plans and haven’t announced dates yet.

Shouldn’t this be a good thing?

On the one hand, the community has been craving access to more events, and local events. I’d love similar events in Ireland, and it seems there are plans-a-foot. I am jealous of people in England, Wales and Scotland who have such great options and not far away.

On the other hand, it puts a strain on the organizers and stall holders who need a certain SCALE to make it economical. Most of the events are labours of love, done with minimum budgets and lots of elbow grease and volunteer effort. The stall holders output an enormous expense. The booth rental being one part, but moving the inventory, set up, staffing, lost work time, etc. Holding an event is costly.

I think it was insightful on the thread that newer stall holders said it was great to see more events. It meant that they didn’t have to wait on loooong waiting lists to get into exclusive shows. It improved access to new vendors as well. It makes it more interesting then, for people to visit multiple events. Which hopefully people are doing!

I think the greater risks are for the brave souls who put on the events. So it’s bears some thought: could they be more mindful of when they schedule their events?

By Martin Thomas.  Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_thomas/4629008579

By Martin Thomas.
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin_thomas/4629008579

An equal share of the yarn cake

I went to my first two fibre events last year, in the UK. I was able to swing two events in a short space of time thanks to first of all planning to go to Fibre East, and then a work trip not long after which meant I could justify Unwind Brighton. So really I have nothing whatsoever to compare my experience too.

Both seemed to me, busy and chock full of great stalls. I found Fibre East a bit more absorbing since I’m interested in spinning and knitting. Also, I found the Unwind Brighton venue really too hot and stuffy. But what can you say? It was a hot summer. I saw very different stall holders at each. And there were many stall holders who didn’t even sell online so that was eye opening. There are many things you actually CAN’T get online. I would say it was very much worth going to the events. Given different circumstances though, would I have attended two in that short a time? No.

This blog post From the Millamia Blog sort of summed up some conversations I had heard people having:

“I wondered to myself on the way home if we are now experiencing too much of a good thing. It feels like the knitting/crafting community has been craving some really good quality shows for a good long time, and now we almost have a glut! Perhaps a shuffle of the calendar for 2015 will help to ensure that all the shows receive an equal share of the (yarn) cake.”

This would mean organizers could be more considerate of what is going on regionally, what has been established, and then try fit with that is happening in their community already. It could be their catchment areas overlap or are larger than they think.

Someone on the Ravelry thread mentions there were organizers struggling last year to get enough stall holders. This meant they couldn’t publish their market lists until later… which meant less time in promotion which put further challenges to a larger attendance.

It depends on the capacity within the population for fibre events. Everything will sort itself out in the market… but I hate to think of the individuals involved. I think the Fibre community has good will, enthusiasm and optimism. But this should be tempered somewhat before these creative souls get burnout and stop.

Otherwise, there’s a risk. It could be that a few large highly commercial events will dominate and we will miss out on the regionality of the current schedule of events.

However with people coming from all over Europe… are we thinking too small? The UK and Irish knitting and Fibre scene, and in turn the wool industry, is well organized.

Anyway…

I’m likely going to make it over to England for a show for sure this summer. And I hope to attend one in Ireland. Just waiting to see more schedules pop up!

 

Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in CT

I went with my sister and mother to a sheep farm: Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in CT (Connecticut), near my brother’s house. My sister was able to chat to Sue about the various trials and tribulations of sheep farming, and I dug into the piles of fleece and yarn.

Sue was very lovely and answered loads of questions. She used to show her sheep, but last did that in 1995 or so. Now the farm processes their own wool and food products for sale in markets around CT. The farm produces hundreds of pounds of sheep’s cheese, prepared foods, yoghurts and milk each week. Here’s a quick interview with Sue about cheese names!

Farming is hard. You’re dealing constantly with birth and death and body fluids and ailments. Imagine your own family’s bodies and all their ailments, then imagine you have hundreds of bodies and spirits to mind. It’s hard, it’s sometimes sad and exhausting. But you just have to see how lovely they are! This cheeky lamb was in the feeding spot.

cheeky lamb

The CT government seems to make it difficult to actually make a living in farming. The wool remainders with any dung are considered “hazardous waste”. And in some places in CT, like if you have a horse you need to have a dumpster to truck out the waste which you can’t compost…. because it would “stink”. When I was growing up, the towns near mine were full of farms. Over my lifetime they were sold and turned into posh housing developments with roads with names like Jennifer Road. Over time, the character of New England’s landscape has changed. Sue is holding out with her farm, but it sure isn’t easy.

Photos from our visit

You can see me standing here with Sue and my clutch of fleecy bits in front of a lovely New England red barn.

With Sue Sanjow on the farm

A shop sign! How cute!

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Totes adorbs. My sister called these “teddy bear sheep” but this lamb is actually South Down.

 

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This is a Tunis lamb. Lovely colour. Sorry it’s blurry!

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Here you can see Sue showed me some issues with this fleece which was dry. This is the grading table. It gets bagged and sent down south to North Carolina. Then up to Vermont to be spun. They can’t clean it in CT simply because the waste of soapy water would not be allowed.

grading wool

Here’s some finished marled yarn hanks hanging.

Hanks of Marled yarn

It was a lovely visit and I learned loads. Mainly: sheep farming is really hard. Which is something I knew already~! But I appreciate all the work that goes into wool processing.

 

 

Is Knitting popularity declining in the US/Canada and rising in the UK/Ireland? A look at the data

Is knitting actually getting more popular?

In 2011, The Guardian wrote about the apparent rise in the popularity of knitting. “It’s no longer something owned by the east London hipsters who knit in pubs or on the tube. Rather, it’s something that normal, everyday people are willing to try their hand at.” The Dailymail said Pastime soars in popularity thanks to bad weather and celebrity fans “The boom in the traditional craft has been fuelled by celebrity knitters like Kate Moss, Julia Roberts  and Mad Men star Christina Hendricks.”

Isn’t it infuriating or frustrating is to hear that knitting is merely a “trend” people pick up because they say some celeb knitting? Something traditional and essential, and the livelihood of so many people… I hope people don’t see this as a passing fad.

But the data does shows that at least people are searching for knitting more in the UK and Ireland in the past few years.

What does Google trends say?

I blog in my day job and my colleague showed me Google Trends recently to see the relative popularity of search terms showing peaks (100) and troughs (0) over your specified time period.  This shows you “how many searches have been done for the terms you’ve entered compared to the total number of Google searches done during that time… For example, if you search for tea in Scotland in March of 2007, Trends analyzes a percentage of all searches for tea within the same time and location parameters.” (google help docs)

I chose “knitting” because it is more associated with the action, and less likely to be conflated with “knit garments”. I also compared crochet, but the word is used as both an adjective and verb.

Looking at Google trends in the US, you can see the interest in the search term “knitting” has gone down. Are people trying out spinning or weaving more in the US? Surely all that fibre-y love isn’t going away.

Google trends for US searches for "knitting"

Google trends for US searches for “knitting”

In Canada, people are searching for “knitting” as frequently as they were a few years ago. There was only a slight dip 2010-2011.

trends-canada-knitting-popularity-2

 

But just in the UK, you can see the trend has been rising, with a sharper rise after 2010, and a steady increase after that.

In Ireland you can see the same pattern of the rise, but more after 2011. This includes deep troughs in the summer, when basically no one wants to knit! In 2013 we had the best summer in ages, so I can understand why people weren’t pulling out their pins.

Google Trends in Ireland for the search term "knitting"

Google Trends in Ireland for the search term “knitting”

 

UK handknitting Association used the same stats and compiled Knitting Statistics for National Knitting Week: 14-20 October 2013. They estimate:

  • 7.2 million knitters in the UK
  • 12% increase in people participating in crafts year on year

Anyway, I couldn’t say that knitting is on the decline in the US based on this ONE data point. But it’s interesting to see how the popularity peaks and troughs according to the time of year. And maybe there is something to the buzz around knitting/crochet/spinning and fibre arts.

For me it’s been mind-opening experience. I originally just wanted something to help me “calm down”, but hadn’t expected the shift in my own thinking. It has made me think about everything I’m buying and how I spend my free time and money.

In terms of a forecast for these four regions… it looks like the US is the outlier. Perhaps it means we’re going to see more marketing and sales from US hand knitting companies into these other regions. But still the US market is huge anyway. Anyway, interesting to compare!

comparison-forecast-2