Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stitches West: Joining in the conversation

I am the husband of a knitter.  My wife loves to knit ~ she's been a yarn and fiber enthusiast for the past decade ~ and her project bag is always ready to travel.

Jess Forbes /
Last weekend, the annual Stitches West showcase returned to the Bay Area, and the Santa Clara Convention Center was abuzz with knitters and knitting celebrities.  They included: Jess and Casey Forbes, the founders of, a social networking community for knitters and crocheters, and actress Ali MacGraw, who autographed copies of the Marion Foale-designed pattern "Ali's Cap" (the iconic fashion item the actress wore in the motion picture Love Story) to benefit the Wildlife Emergency Response Fund.

Malabrigo /
Beautiful Uruguayan yarn
Upon entering the Marketplace Hall at Stitches West, knitters and their enablers were easily tempted by row upon row of booths filled with colorful, luscious yarn and gorgeous fiber that was not only attractive to look at, but also lovely to touch.  I especially loved the incredible softness and beautiful colors of the Malabrigo Worsted Merino yarns from Uruguay. Also, there was a plethora of knitting and weaving accessories on display, which included knitting needles of every imaginable size, yarn winders, and sock blockers. This year, I noticed a new trend: Handmade, hip and colorful project bags and totes were the attention-getters.

I am my wife's regular companion at Stitches West; we enjoy making a weekend of it.  Although husbands and boyfriends make up a very small percentage of the ever-growing yarn and fiber crowd at Stitches West, I attend willingly and feel uninhibited, totally at ease.

Blue Moon Fiber Arts /
Organically-dyed fiber
You see, I am my one of my wife's yarn enablers ~ she seeks my advice and trusts my judgement when it comes to buying yarn.  The payoff has been handsome; I have many beautiful pairs of colorful hand-knit socks and several very handsome and stylish scarves.  Each year, I make a point of wearing the newest scarf while walking through the bustling marketplace.  Sometimes, someone will stop and compliment me on my taste in scarves, and I make sure to give proper credit to my wife.

Many people are surprised to learn that I can converse decently in the language of knitters.  I know what a "skein" is; know the difference between tweed and alpaca yarn; and understand the importance of matching "dye lots".  I try to stay current by reading a variety of knitting blogs and perusing my wife's knitting magazines. Photographing all of her finished projects for Ravelry has given me great street cred with knitters, too.

Cheryl Oberle /
A colorful, knitter-friendly

Over time, I have made many acquaintances among the yarn and fiber vendors and artisans at Stitches West. It's nice to be recognized like an old friend by them.  Among my Stitches friends are Colorado-based Cheryl Oberle, who designs knitter-friendly kits for creating shawls and vests that showcase her hand-dyed artisan yarns.

Also, there's my friends from A Verb For Keeping Warm ~ Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez ~ who've grown their naturally dyed fiber and yarn website into a warm and spacious brick-and-mortar, which has become a haven for knitters and fiber artists close to home in Oakland. Then there's Michael Wade, part of the AVFKW family, who is creator and host of "Fiber Beat," a podcast about knitting.

Sacred Laughter /
Original glasswork art
by Robin Senour
Finally, there's Robin Senour, a glasswork artist from Berkeley, whose witty Sacred Laughter artwork and philosophy ("Bring More Art Into Your Life") has struck a friendly chord with me.  On Saturday, I bought my latest piece of Sacred Laughter: "The more you watch the less you know," which certainly is a pretty profound statement about TV, complete with the body of a TV set whose picture tube shows a smiling cat, a flying saucer, and a full moon.  It's whimsical and artful ~ and it's designed to draw laughter.

Michael Wade /
"Fiber Beat" podcast
creator and host
Although I do not knit, I am learning drop spindle spinning and have received a lot of encouragement. Meanwhile, I appreciate the fiber arts and I enjoy exploring the creative process and discussing what inspires various fiber artists.  And, I've found that many vendors, such as Cheryl Oberle, are very appreciative of being asked about the background and detail that goes into creating their products such as hand-dyed yarn and scarf patterns. And this year, I drew lots of curiosity by wearing a "Fiber Beat" button that Michael Wade handed me at the Verb booth promoting his podcast.

While looking at some beautifully designed Jean Frost sweaters adorning the Knitter's Magazine booth near the front entrance to the Marketplace Hall, I recognized Rick Mondragon, the magazine's editor.  I asked him about the future of Stitches West and he smiled excitedly, telling me that it's become the biggest of the four regional Stitches (the others are Stitches South in Atlanta; Stitches Midwest in Schaumburg, Ill.; and Stitches East in Hartford).

"We sold out the floor this year," Mondragon told me, adding that Santa Clara is signed to be host site for Stitches West through at least 2014.

We look forward to returning to Stitches West next year and the year after that ~ and the year after that.

Here are some of the visual highlights from my visit to Stitches West 2011:

Jean Frost-designed sweater as featured in
Knitter's Magazine.

Socks with style / Colorful socks designed by Cookie A.

My brush with greatness / Michael and Ali MacGraw.

Mary-Heather Cogar / designer, models her
Xeriscape scarf from Rainy Day Goods at the meet up in the Marketplace.

Kira K Designs / Original hats, scarves and gloves
by Kira Dulaney, Oakland, Calif.

Yarn Pop / Bright Flowers project tote.

Visiting the A Verb For Keeping Warm booth,
which enjoyed great foot traffic and featured
colorful naturally dyed fiber and yarn created by
Kristine Vejar.

Colorful, hand-painted yarn sweaters from
The Sanguine Gryphon.

"Fiber Beat" podcast creator and host Michael Wade greets visitors
at the A Verb For Keeping Warm booth.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2011.  All rights reserved.


  1. Beautiful designs and color combination. Are they all just knitted or involves some crochet work as well? But seriously, the designs are really creative.

  2. Hey Michael! Thanks for the lovely post-Stitches recap and all the wonderful mentions of Verb and Fiber Beat. It's always fantastic to see you and Jodi @ these events and I hope we get to do it for many years to come. Take care!

  3. @Scarf With Hood: Thank you for your comment and taking the time to read my blog post about Stitches West 2011. There were a variety of fiber vendors at Stitches this year, including yarn and knitting, weaving and crocheting ~ so there was something for everyone. Because my wife knits and I am learning drop spindle spinning, much of my focus is on yarn and fiber and my photographs reflect this. Again, thank you for your interest. Cheers.

  4. @WonderMike: You're very welcome ~ Verb and Fiber Beat are my faves and I'm so lucky to be able to be a part of a great local yarn and fiber community. It was great to see you at Stitches. You are a great yarn and fiber enthusiast and ambassador! Looking forward to seeing you at Verb throughout the year and at Stitches 2012. Cheers!

  5. Were there mushroom dyed yarns there? I really need a new winter hat, but only want one made of mushroom dyed yarn (& one big enough to fit over my big hair and head without a squeeze). One December I need to send you and Ms. Jodi to the Oakland Museum's mushroom fair to pick some up! --M in NYC

  6. @ Anonymous/M in NYC: Yes, in fact, our good friends (Kristine and Adrienne) at A Verb For Keeping Warm, whose brick-and-mortar is located in Oakland (on San Pablo Ave., corner Alcatraz) carries mushroom dyed yarns. Their website is: Cheers!

  7. Hey Micheal! I hope the Stitches was an enthralling experience for you. And my wishes be with you for Stitches 2012. God bless

  8. @scrarf hoodie: Thank you for your kind reply. Stitches West is always a delightful experience each year, a great vibe and atmosphere ~ I've been going to to it since the days it used to be in Oakland. It's always nice to talk to knitters and other fiber artists and get a feel for their creative process. I look forward to being at Stitches 2012. Cheers!