Changes in the Knitting World

Filed in Industry Insight by on January 15, 2015 5 Comments

“The only constant is change” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It is a statement that is difficult to argue.

Last month in our newsletter (if you missed it you can sign up here), I shared a significant change in our industry. At the conclusion I asked our readers who have been knitting 10 years or more what changes  in the knitting industry they have encountered.

The number of responses was incredible and I sensed I had hit a nerve. As I read through the emails I realized that every change had both positive and negative aspects. It doesn’t make the changes “good” or “bad;” the changes are what they are. But it does mean they have a variety of impacts within our industry, some of which may not be immediately apparent.

After finishing my 3-day board meeting for our industry association (TNNA) I thought I would share a summary of the newsletter responses and my observations.


No surprise, Ravelry was on the list for almost everyone. Founded in 2007, now with over 4 million members from all over the world, Ravelry has created a global knitting community. As someone who has been associated with the industry for several decades, I am confident that the creation of Ravelry helped minimize the hobby’s decline after the giant knitting boom during the first few years of the new millennium. With unprecedented access to patterns, indie dyers, and like-minded knitters, Ravelry seems to have only upside.

However broad, easy access to consumers increases competition among each small independent business owner. It also can make it difficult for buyers to be able to distinguish between companies who are dedicated to creating a quality product (whether pattern or yarn) and those just “doing it for fun.” And although not a “problem” in a serious sense of the word, many folks now spend hours on Ravelry that they would have otherwise spent knitting.

Ravelry forum header

Online Patterns

Access to online patterns was another “biggie” on the list of responses, particularly access to free patterns. This, of course has been a huge game changer for designers. Less than a decade ago, to be an independent designer you had to invest in relatively expensive software and/or hire experienced professionals, pay (in one form or another) to have patterns printed and get those patterns shipped. Even if you were designing for magazines, all submissions had to be mailed, adding both time and expense to the process.

Today, the software needed can be found for low cost or no cost. With services like PayPal and Raverly handling the transactions, creating and selling a pattern is practically effortless by comparison. This has increased the variety and choice multi-fold (that could be good or bad). And purchasing a pattern is instant gratification. Buy it, and you have access almost instantly.

However, this also means that lots of designers don’t treat designing like a business. The result is that in some cases, patterns are are not well written or even accurate. In others it devalues the work of those designers trying to eek out a living.

Free Patterns

Until the world of electronic downloads became much more prevalent, free patterns were much less common. Printing, shipping and distribution is surprisingly expensive and rarely made sense if there was no money to be made on the pattern. However when PDF patterns became commonplace, the landscape of free patterns completely changed.

Of course, not all free patterns are created equal. Knitty was one of the first (if not THE first) online knitting magazine. Access to the magazine and the associated patterns has always been free, but designers are compensated; it is just done through advertising dollars. So although you don’t pay, the designer isn’t working for free and important things like tech editing happen with every issue.

Other free patterns are offered by yarn companies as a way to promote purchasing their yarn. Once again, in almost all cases, designers were compensated for their efforts and other back-end processes like tech editing, layout and professional photography took place. The yarn companies are just hoping that by giving the pattern for free, you will buy their yarn which is really the business they are in.

Designers will also offer free patterns as a form of advertising or as a means to showcase their skills. But these days distinguishing between “legitimate marketing,” “I don’t have to earn a living” and “I don’t actually know much, but this seems cool” is much more difficult. Too often I hear stories of free patterns costing much in wasted time and frustration.

Craftsy free patterns

Inspiration and Knowledge

Not too long ago, fresh inspiration  and quality knowledge was only found in local yarn shops, books, magazines and in-person events. But now, like most things, you can find inspiration and information all over the internet. This comes in all sorts of forms including social media, podcasts, online education, Ravelry, etc. No longer do we just see the finished garment on the model, we can see it in different sizes, colors and even yarns.

For those of us living a significant distance from an LYS or guild, this has been a boon for learning about our hobby. Got a question in the middle of the night? No problem, there are answers on the internet. Whether you are looking for a quick, free tip or a more formalize learning experience, in-person learning is no longer the only option. However, it can be challenging to ensure the information is actually accurate. Just because someone knows how to create a YouTube video doesn’t mean they really understand how to teach a particular technique.

Ravelry community eye candy

Shopping Online

No longer are knitters limited to what is available at their local yarn shop or “big-box” hobby chain. Whatever you are looking to purchase, undoubtedly it is available somewhere on the internet, delivered to your doorstep in just a few days. In addition, bargain hunting and price comparison shopping is rather easy.

The downside, of course, is when we stop buying local, soon there will be no place local to buy from. While this might be acceptable on items that are knowable and consistent (like needles for example), yarn is such a tactile experience in both feel and color that losing the ability to buy in person will be a great loss indeed.

Other Changes

Of course the above list is nowhere near complete. But because change is constant, it never really can be — can it?!? Events that used to be the only game in town no longer take place due to lack of attendance. Small companies have been purchased and merged into large corporations. Key industry players move between companies taking on new roles and responsibilities along the way. New companies appear out of nowhere while long standing ones fade into the sunset.

So what changes in the knitting industry have you experienced or predict will come to pass in short order?

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