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Think Out Loud

The Joy of Knitting

Pete Springer/OPB

The first ever Sock Summit is coming to the Oregon Convention Center: four days, dozens of classes, an extensive marketplace, and an attempt to break a world record. It’s all focused on knitting, especially socks. I asked summit co-organizer Tina Newton what she loves so much about socks. She laughed.

Everything. First of all, it’s small, so you can take it with you. You don’t have to carry a blanket or a sweater. There’s the cuff, so you rib. There’s the leg of the sock. So you can do any kind of pattern on it you want. All kinds of stitch combinations. And then the heel is different, the toe is different, there’s a gusset. There’s  a lot you can play with. There’s a lot of design opportunities. You do not get bored.

Newton is way into socks. She runs a sock club and sock camp every year. Creating yarn specifically for socks carries the rest of her dyeing business. Her partner in sock summitry is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, author of a half a dozen books on knitting. Pearl-McPhee can turn out a pair of socks in less than a day and is sweeping in her praise of the craft.

Sock knitting is really an outstanding little microcosm that stands up for all that knitting is. No matter what technique you want to talk about in knitting, it exists in a pair of socks. So while it seems like it’s a really niche topic, a really tiny area of knitting to talk about, it isn’t. Every trend that there’s ever been in fashion or in kitting or in humanity in general is reflected in socks.

Socks tell history, Pearl-McPhee says. Short socks reflect major wool shortages. Long knit stockings disappeared after central heating was invented. Napoleon’s socks make Canada proud. The original Luddite was supposedly a knitter of socks.

Before stocking frames, of course, all socks were hand made. Now, even Pearl-McPhee says the cost and time make it a “ridiculous” way to obtain clothing, if the primary goal is just to stay dry and warm. But she says the sold-out sock summit is one indication that the knitting business is going strong.

Knitting seems to be an interesting little bubble that is almost protected from the current global recession. I mean times are tough all over and we’re filling a convention center. It’s not like they’re learning how to do CPR or something. I’ll probably be struck by lighting for saying it, but I mean it’s really only sock knitting.

Four years ago, a Craft Yarn Council of America survey found one in three American women knows how to knit or crochet. Executive director Mary Colucci says it’s hard to put a figure on the size of the industry because many companies are privately held, but she estimates retail sales of yarn, needles and the like approach a billion dollars a year.

On this show we’ll get into history, geometry, color and curves as well as how your local yarn store and your internet yarn retailer are changing as passion for knitting grows. Do you knit? Do you knit socks? What’s your favorite part? How much do you spend on it? Where do you buy patterns, needles and yarn?


  • Cat Bordhi: Knitting teacher, author and speaker. Tina Newton calls her “the one person who has added something different to sock knitting”
  • Jo Hartman: Owner of Yarn Garden, a Portland yarn store
  • Bob Petkun: President and CEO of Crafts American Group, which includes the internet retailer Knit Picks

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