Knitting for a crowd

Samples sell yarn.

This is the first lesson in yarn retail (or any kind of needlework or craft). If you are a shop owner, scheduling your sample knitting for the upcoming season should be a part of your quarterly schedule. In this installment of our Business Sense series, we're going to go in depth on sample knitting, working with designers, choosing the right projects for your customers, and picking the best colors (hint: it's going to be different from your favorite color).


When you are ordering your inventory in advance of the upcoming season, and you know which yarns you're going to focusing on, choosing which yarn to sample comes easy. As a shop owner, you should know what yarn is going to be your big "push." Is there a new yarn coming out from one of your best selling companies? Can you get sample knitting quantities in advance? If you can answer yes to both of these, you have your first sample scheduled. 

In April, we send our regional sales reps (Pacific Northwest, Northern and Southern California, Minnesota and Chicagoland, Texas, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, New England) sample skeins, pattern previews, trunk show information, working copy patterns, and yarn availability for the upcoming fall season. For spring/summer yarns, the reps are getting product in November. Shops that see their sales reps get the yarn first, and they tend to also get trunk shows first, as their orders come in and they get put on the schedule early.

Next up is TNNA. When we go to the TNNA show we are showing shop owners, publishers, and designers a preview of our new yarn. You can see everything the sales reps have in person, and talk to us about the products in depth. We bring sample quantities of yarn that can be purchased, so that shops can have samples of the upcoming collections in the shop when the yarn launches months later, and so designers can have things ready to publish at launch time. This means that for the sales reps and June TNNA show, we've already knit our fall designs and have sampling quantities, usually 5-10 kgs (about 50 - 100 100g skeins), of each color. We know what our next fall season will look like nearly a year ahead of time.

So, what does that mean to a shop owner? If you're not seeing your reps and you're not going to TNNA, you are missing a huge opportunity to get a head start on your marketing (and I'm not just saying that because I'm on the TNNA board - I'm saying it because I see it happen every year to really good shops who missed out on an opportunity). If you're finding out about the hot, new thing for fall in mid-September, you may be too late. Your competition down the street may have known about it since April or May, because they see their sales rep. The shop with the slick website in your region may have been planning since the June TNNA show. You may not get the yarn you want when you want it, and you won't have that yarn and sample to display when the product is being shared all over social media. 

So, now that you know all of that, how do you decide where to start?


Some of this is part mystery, and some part data. Projections are my weak spot. I like knowing, not guessing, and when I learned that a large part of making sales projections was simply gut feeling and conjecture I refused to believe that something that seemed so scientific, so data driven, and so darned important was no more than a feeling you get. I know now that a lot of what gets chalked up to a "guess" isn't really a guess at all. It's based on what you see around you:

What are the trends? What's getting a lot of attention online? What are fashion houses showing in knits? And, don't forget these indicators: How is the economy? How are people doing financially? Is my community doing well, or are a lot of customers saying they're not going on vacation or have put off a home project this year?

Listen to what your customers are saying at knit night, and read between the lines. Now, look at your data. Where are the bulk of your sales? What yarns can you just not keep on the shelf? What sort of patterns are selling best? What are people knitting? What do you want people to make? Do you have a shop full of scarf and shawl knitters that you wish would make a sweater? Are you planning classes and sales to support your goals? Put these two things together in your mind, and make a determination about what you think will inspire people.

IN PRACTICE (based on a true story)
Let's say you look at all your data and you see that you've sold a whole heck lot of The Fibre Co. yarns. (Yay!) You carry Acadia and Road to China Light, because, let's face it, I know as well as you do that these are the two yarns that sell like crazy. You look at your pattern sales, both hard copy and Ravelry In-Store sales. You sold a ton of the Churchmouse Easy Folded Poncho online, and you sold a lot of Kelbourne Woolens' Beech Hill in hard copy form. 

Your customers like easy-to-knit garments that are just a bit more complex than a scarf. They are getting used to following pattern instructions, and want something flattering and easy to wear. Perhaps they are ready to try a first sweater. It's your job to find them easy, flattering sweaters to make in beautiful yarn - because they have basically told you that this is what they want, and the internet knitting community is about to back up your theory. 

Last April, just after we sent our reps out to show Arranmore to shops for the first time, Fringe Association posted Make Your Own Basics: The Pullover. In that post, Karen lists a number of excellent "first sweater" patterns that are flattering on many, many ages, sizes, and shapes.

Top: Echo Lake by Courtney Kelley / middle left: Tide Chart by Amy Miller / middle right: Polwarth by Ysolda Teague / bottom: Classic Hemmed Crewneck by Purl Soho Image courtesy of Fringe Association.

Top: Echo Lake by Courtney Kelley / middle left: Tide Chart by Amy Miller / middle right: Polwarth by Ysolda Teague / bottom: Classic Hemmed Crewneck by Purl Soho
Image courtesy of Fringe Association.

Hmmm... This seems like a promising direction. Is it a coincidence that a number of designers published simple wardrobe basics? Surely not. This is a trend, and your knitters are poised to follow it as long as you give them a little push and a little incentive. Start formulating your plan. Pick a yarn and plan to knit a very basic and beautiful sweater. Be prepared to plan a class and a knit along and do some hand holding for those of your customers who have never made a garment before. This may be the first time some of them have ever thought about making a gauge swatch. There's an evening's event right there!

Take a look at the collection previews that companies are putting out. Maybe you notice that The Fibre Co.'s new yarn, Arranmore, has some very simple sweaters in the collection. As a bonus, the yarn has cashmere and silk, as does another great Fibre Co. yarn you carry - Road to China Light. The yarn has some interesting texture, too, as does Acadia. Your customers have already told you, essentially, that this is a yarn they will understand and has branding and an image that appeals to them. As an added bonus, Arranmore is an aran weight yarn so the sweaters will go quickly! That's encouraging for a first sweater.

Choosing The Right Color

There is nothing that says you have to use the colors in the pattern. In fact, we recommend that you don't! You know what colors sell in your shop, and you know what sort of knitters you have. Do your customers tend to gravitate towards "classics" such as neutrals and navy? Are they more adventurous and tend to buy up purples, oranges, and pinks? Do you have a clientele who look great in and wear brighter colors or do you sell out of the paler colors first? Let your customer base dictate what color you use - NOT THE PATTERN.

We re-knit a second trunk show of the Arranmore Collection and opted to use a different color palette. It's important to show multiple options, because it helps to broaden your customer's imagination and helps them think outside the box. One of our jobs, and yours as a shop owner, is fostering creativity, and this is a great place to start. Choose a color that works for your clientele, and don't fill your shop with green samples because it's your favorite color. It may be your favorite color, but it may turn some people off. Keep a balance, and try to choose colors that are both appealing to a wide range of knitters, and also some that are unexpected - you'll be surprised how quickly your yellow sells out with an excellent sample supporting it!

supporting your samples

Once you've chosen your yarn, your sample, and color you'll want to think about how you'll encourage your knitters to jump on the bandwagon. Plan a launch party for the yarn and showcasing the sample and consider offering a small discount on the yarn and pattern bundle, or with a class sign up. Host a class series, and schedule a series of drop-in sessions. Why not plan a few little prizes for those who finish their sweaters and post them on Instagram? All of these little things make great social media fodder, and encourages customers to buy the project from you - even if they aren't local. You'll have knit the sweater yourself over the summer, so you'll know how long (realistically) it will take to complete. That way you can be planning what to promote next! (Hint: If you've just promoted a sweater, follow up with an accessory and vice versa).

So are you ready to think about spring? We are! Our sales reps will be getting their spring previews next week, so get your needles ready. Share what you're knitting for fall and winter in the comments. We love to know what you're making. 

Innisfree from The Fibre Co. and Maggi Toner-Edgar

On Friday, The Fibre Co. released Innisfree, a 6 piece collection featuring Arranmore inspired by The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats.

Featuring two sweaters, a tunic, a scarf, a poncho, and a convertible vest, the collection is designed to provide comfort and warmth throughout the cold winter months. 

The patterns are available from The Fibre Co. as individual PDF downloads or as an eBook. You can view the full collection on Ravelry here, or read The Fibre Co. blog post about it here.

Rhinebeck Round-Up

I made a quick jaunt to the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY last weekend! It's always such a highlight of the fall, getting to see and experience all the sheep, the alpacas, the yarn, the fiber, the apple cider donuts, and the best sweater watching all year. 


I brought along a friend who, gasp! is not a knitter or crocheter but a lover of craft none-the-less and a fine artist herself. It was really a cool experience to show her our world of fiber, yarn, and wool, and the beautiful textiles created from them.

And of course, running into friends is always one of the best "surprises" of going to Rhinebeck! There are so many people about, you never know who you'll run into! I was thrilled to find Bristol Ivy on Saturday. In a total moment of Serendipity, we discovered that I was wearing her design Lita in Cumbria Fingering, and she was wearing her new, as yet un-named, colorwork pullover in Cumbria worsted weight. It was a photo-worthy occasion! 

This year's goal was not to go crazy on yarn but instead, do one big purchase: a sheepskin. One each for my friend Sarah and myself. We succeeded in our goal and after some wine, we had a bit of fun posing on our new sheepskins!  

Another major highlight was going to see Mary at The Perfect Blend in Saugerties, NY. Mary has a super cute shop filled to the brim with soft yarn in beautiful colors and delicious teas. She has a great community of knitters and a lovely staff. Recently, they knit a shawl called A River Runs Through It by Theresa Gilbert in four shades of The Fibre Co Meadow. If you are up in that area, her shop is a must-see.

Overall, it was a great weekend full of friends, good food, and, of course, wool! I already can't wait for next year!  Did you go to Rhinebeck this year?  What was your favorite moment? -MK

All photo credit goes to my friend Sarah

KW Swatch Experiment Data: Acadia

It's time for our first data post in the #kwswatchexperiment: Acadia!

#kwswatchexperiment: The Fibre Co. Acadia

For the Acadia swatch, we asked knitters to cast on 25 stitches using US 6 (4 mm) needles and work for 28 rows with a 2 stitch garter edge on either side. The needle size was pulled from Courtney's design, Echo Lake.

For every yarn, measurements were taken pre-and post blocking. For the wet blocking process, I soaked the swatches in water and wool wash, and laid them flat to dry. I wanted the swatches to behave they way they wanted to behave without any manipulation, so I did not pin them or pay attention to the measurements when laying them flat. This way, the blocked swatches most accurately reflect the gauge the yarn was most comfortable at . This is how I treat all gauge swatches, but I do pin the actual finished pieces to the calculated measurements based off of the swatch gauge.

#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia Unblocked Swatches
#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia Blocked Swatches

acadia stitch gauges

acadia row gauges

As you can see above, there was a nice variety between the five* swatches we received from knitters.


For all swatches, after blocking the stitch gauge either stayed the same or loosened up, and all of the row gauges either stayed the same or became tighter.

• The loosest gauge (fewest sts and rows per inch) was Swatch 5 at 20 sts and 26 rows / 4".
• The tightest gauge (most sts and rows per inch) was Swatch 1 at 24 sts and 33.33 rows / 4".

The loosest versus tightest swatches did not differ between pre- and post-blocking, although the gauges themselves changed slightly:
• The loosest gauge was swatch 5 at 20 sts and 26.66 rows / 4".
• The tightest gauge was swatch 1 at 22.66 sts and 33.33 rows / 4".

Stitch Gauge
• Swatch 1 had the greatest change in stitch gauge: unblocked, the gauge was 24 sts over 4", but after blocking it loosened up to 22.66. 
Row Gauge:
• Swatch 2 had the greatest change in row gauge: unblocked, the gauge was 30.66 rows over 4", but after blocking, it compressed to 32.

#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia Rowing Out

Of the 5 Acadia swatches we received, for the most part, all were quite uniform and lovely, even pre-blocking. Swatch 4 was the only one with a slight issue, as it demonstrated some "rowing out" (if you're unfamiliar with the term, I touched on it at the very bottom of this post under Swatching in the Round Versus Flat)


As mentioned, the needle size given in the swatch instructions was taken from Courtney's design, Echo Lake. This needle size is based on what the average knitter would need to use in order to achieve the recommended gauge given in the pattern.  But what would happen if our swatch knitters were knitting Echo Lake and did not block their swatch, or, (gasp!), used the recommended needle size as a "given", and knit the sweater using a US 6 (4 mm) needle without swatching at all?

GAUGE: 20 sts and 28 rows = 4” (10 cm) in St st, after blocking. NEEDLE: 1 pair - US 6 (4 mm) straights.

#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia results

For Echo Lake, I've included 4 key measurements in the pattern that best illustrate some of the differences a knitter would experience if proper swatching did not occur.

Let's break down the expected versus actual projected measurements by swatch for the sample size (2nd size) in the pattern for the upper arm circumference and body circumference:

#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia results

As you can see, only the Swatch 4 and Swatch 5 knitters had the correct stitch gauge both pre and post-blocking on US 6 needles. Swatches 1, 2, and 3 are all off considerably. Had they knit the garment without swatching ahead of time, their sweaters would be between 4.5-1.75" smaller in circumference. They all need to go up 1 or 2 needle sizes and reswatch.  


An additional item worth noting is pre- vs. post-blocked row gauge. Let's break down the expected versus actual projected measurements by swatch for the sample size (2nd size) in the pattern for the body and sleeve length if the knitter does not take blocked row gauge into account when measuring length:

#KWswatchexperiment The Fibre Co. Acadia results

As you can see, difference in row gauge between pre- and post-blocking on Swatches 2, 3, 4, and 5 indicate that more rows need to be worked in order to achieve proper length after blocking. This means that for most of the knitters, measuring their unblocked piece(s) as they work will result in sweaters that are incorrect lengths once blocked. Additionally, when they go to block their pieces, they will have to stretch the knitting out to get it to be the measurement as given in the schematic, which in turn will make the stitches longer and thinner, potentially reducing the circumference even further.

Additionally, while Swatches 4 and 5 were knit at the designated stitch gauge, none of the 5 achieved the row gauge as given in the pattern. Ideally, obtaining both given stitch and row gauge is best, but it is universally understood that this is very difficult to do. One way to avoid the issue of mismatched row gauge is to work to a specified length, rather than a given number of rows. As a result, all of our patterns have lengths given in inches/centimeters whenever possible. This means it is important to use your row gauge to calculate how many rows to work to the correct length. This has the additional bonus of guaranteeing pairs of sweater pieces, such as a front and a back, or both sleeves, are the exact same length, which makes seaming and finishing exponentially easier. You can read more about counting rows here

* As we've said before, we sent 7 skeins out to volunteers, but for Acadia - and a few others - fewer swatches came back than were sent out. If you're a volunteer and are still holding onto your swatch, we still want it back!

Stay tuned next week for the next installment in the series. And if there was something we didn't cover in this post, feel free to leave a question in the comments and we'll be happy to help you out!