Knitwear designer Albina McLaughlin looks back on the recent Knitting and Stitching Show in Dublin. She looks at the event from an exhibitor’s perspective, giving us an insight into the inner workings of the show.
What can I say – I have been to a few fibre events at this stage. However, I have not been to one so crowded that I could hardly walk down the aisles! So to find myself not only attending, but exhibiting at, the Knitting and Stitching Show in Dublin, was a bit of a baptism by fire.
This year I have been working with Jenny Lienhard of Apple Oak Fibre Works, designing patterns for her beautiful hand-dyed yarns. It was in this capacity that Jenny invited me to join her at the show. It would be her first time vending there, so neither of us knew quite what to expect.
We did know in advance that the Knitting and Stitching Show was more industry trade show than fibre festival; it would not be focused on independent artisans or indie dyers. But I hadn’t realised the extent to which this was so, until I arrived – suitcase full of samples in hand – at the enormous hall at the Royal School of Design. The Apple Oak Fibre Works booth was already set up and I found it straight away, so visually different it was from the others. I then learned that we were the only indie dyer with their own dedicated booth at the show. I was also told I was the only handknits designer present among the exhibitors. Considering that the show was enormous and had the word knitting in the title, this came as a surprise.
So, who was there?
To my eye, the exhibitors were mainly merchants and manufacturers of crafting supplies. My impression was that the show was more stitching than knitting oriented, with a strong emphasis on quilting and embroidery. There were fabrics of every variety, as far as the eye could see. And every sewing machine manufacturer was present, offering ongoing product demos. For sewing enthusiasts this must have been quite a treat!
As for the knitters… While a number of booths sold yarns and knitting notions, the products were mostly from the same big-name manufacturers available in most yarn shops, with little in the way of local or special offerings.
There were a few notable exceptions. The Irish fibre guilds – including the Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers – were present, with local craftspersons demonstrating their skills. It was a pleasure to chat with UK Alpaca, manufacturers of luxury yarns using strictly Irish and British fleeces. The legendary, eco-conscious Toft delighted with their fun booth, bedecked with magical amigurumi animals. And at the festive, Dublin-based Winnie the Wool Wagon yarn shop, I did spot some skeins of Green Elephant yarns – along with the dyer Fiona herself.
And then of course, there was our booth. As I take no credit for setting up Jenny’s display or dyeing her yarns, I don’t think I am out of line dishing out praises – because honestly, she had outdone herself. With its specially assembled furniture and vibrant skeins hanging suspended from wooden displays, the Apple Oak Fibre Works booth was like a universe onto itself – colourful, cozy, and invitingly tactile. When visitors walked by, they did not just look at the yarn. They immersed themselves in it – handling and smelling the gorgeous skeins; interacting with the display.
While Jenny and her assistant Lisa talked about the dyeing process, my job was to answer questions about patterns and yarn. This could involve anything from explaining yarn weights, estimating meterage needed for projects, and describing a particular yarn’s characteristics, to walking someone step-by-step through specific techniques a pattern called for. Having worked the odd day in a friend’s yarn shop – Row by Roe – before, I felt fairly prepared for this task. But our booth at the Knitting and Stitching Show was like a yarn shop on steroids: The flow of visitors was unending! I’ll be honest: It was an intense three days. But I genuinely enjoyed it. Apparently I really can talk to people about yarn and knitting all day!
When I wasn’t spending time with customers, I did manage a few laps around the Knitting and Stitching Show as a spectator. Despite how few exhibitors I came across whose wares were relevant to my interests, I did find the show enjoyable. I also appreciated how the organisers had the food situation handled. There were so many food and coffee stalls set up at both ends of the hall, that the queues were never too long. For exhibitors this was very important, as we only had limited time to nip out of our booths.
Among the highlights of the show for me were visiting the fibre guilds, and the textile arts exhibition that was set up at the rear of the hall. But even more so, I enjoyed meeting the many remarkable people who stopped by our booth. A special ‘shout out’, if I may, to Grace of the Babbles traveling Yarns podcast, Monika of Comeragh Yarns, Helen of the Pretty Funky Knitter, and Patrick of You Got to Be Knitting Me – as well as to all the other stunning visitors who stopped for a chat and allowed me to fondle their handknits.
If asked to comment on the Dublin Knitting and Stitching Show as an event… my main feedback would be, that the ‘knitting’ part would benefit from further development. Perhaps a special effort can be made to attract more yarn and knitting-notions companies – as well as local yarn manufacturers, dyers, artisans, and designers? The popularity of the Apple Oak Fibre Works booth demonstrates there is interest.
What I learned from the experience in a more general sense, is that trade shows are extremely hard work for the exhibitors. When attending fibre events in future, I will certainly be more aware and appreciative of this… and perhaps bring my favourite exhibitor a snack, which – rather amazingly – somebody actually did for me at the show!