Monday, May 09, 2005

Lisa reports from Maryland:

The crowds are getting crazier every year. More and more knitters come on Saturday to get the best selection of yarn, which means that now you almost have to go on Saturday, or you get no selection of yarn. (That's a bit of an exaggeration; I went back on Sunday with my kids and there was still a lot of very nice yarn.) Almost none of the vendors had brought enough inventory to last through the whole weekend; I don't know whether this was failure to anticipate the hordes, or inability to fit any more in the truck. Either way, there wasn't a skein of yarn left at the Koigu booth by noon on Saturday. Footnote: any rumor you may have heard that the Landras are selling the business is utter nonsense. It probably got started by people saying to each other, "Did you hear that the Koigu ladies are selling out?"

Trends: I can't help wondering whether the non-knitting people--people who raise meat sheep, people who spin, weave, or hook rugs--are beginning to resent us. The festival is larger and more crowded every year, and the growth is clearly from the increase in the knitting population. The growth is good if you're a vendor (any kind of vendor) but maybe not so good if you're a shopper trying to pick up some dyestuffs and a new tapestry loom.

Trends for knitters: one of the great things about having cool weather for the festival is getting to see everyone's handknitted sweaters. When I first started going to these things, in the late '80's, the thing you most wanted to show off (if you had one) was your Kaffe Fassett sweater. Then, for awhile in the '90's, you wore your Alice Starmore fairisle. The big thing last year and the year before was mitered and modular designs, a la Horst Schultz. Not so many people had them ready to wear, but there were plenty of kits for sale.

This year . . . well, it was the year of the poncho,

but not so overwhelmingly as I expected.

This was the only Fassett I saw (a nice one, though).

There were lots of garments I recognized (the Elsebeth Lavold vest from Knitters last year, the jacket from Shadow Knitting), but also lots I didn't, which was nice: I had the feeling that I was seeing things people had designed or modified for themselves.

As for what was for sale, felting is a boon for a lot of the hand-dyers and handspinners who exhibit at Maryland, because it gives knitters a way to use unspun fiber (short of actually learning to spin). So there were lots of bushels of brightly-colored mohair locks that could be needle-felted onto bags or hats, or knit in with the running yarn before felting. There were a lot of cute felt bags, made from the current crop of books--Bags: A Knitter's Dozen, Pursenalities, Felted Knits--or from original patterns.

Felting provides a strange area of overlap between the vendors of ultra-natural, rustic, just-off-the-sheep yarns and the vendors of crazy high-end novelty yarns, because so many people are making felt bags trimmed with frou-frou stuff.

What does a yarn shop owner buy at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, you ask? Well, I'm happy to report that, after more than 15 years of attending the event (and I think I've only missed one or two since 1989), I'm over the whole huge-hank-of-brushed-mohair thing. Yes, they're beautiful as they hang in the booth, but I know now that I'm not actually going to make myself a mohair sweater. Possibly because I know that I'm not actually going to wear a mohair sweater. I still find many, many hand-dyed yarns tremendously appealing, but I've developed a healthy suspicion about how they'll look in garments. An exception would be everything from Linda MacMillan at Oak Grove Yarns, whose wool/mohair blend is luscious and whose designs for it avoid all the usual pitfalls--but Suzanne is making me a sweater from a kit we bought from Linda last year, so I didn't need more of that.

What did I buy? I'll try to get some photos up tomorrow.

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