Writing about the Garnstudio Spring/Summer 2020 collection a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about trends in general. How are trends made? What does it look like when something is trendy? Can you pinpoint the moment in time — and perhaps even the reason why — something becomes trendy?
For this blog post I examined three phenomena that have been big in knitting in the past few years: brioche knitting, knitting with two yarns held together, and colorwork yokes.
The number of patterns released in each category in the years between 2010 and 2019 was extracted from the Ravelry database. The number of annual knitting pattern releases has stayed at a steady level of around 43K throughout the decade. This means all the growth in pattern numbers can be attributed to the growing popularity of the trend itself rather than an expanding market. Ten years is a long enough period to see some changes in patterns, pun not intended.
Brioche knitting has been the biggest thing in knitting over the past several years. I've noticed it especially in the form of two-color brioche shawls but increasingly it's been trickling to garments as well. The number of brioche patterns released each year was at a steady level of around 100 up until the year 2014.
What happened in 2014? Two things. Nancy Marchant's book Knitting Fresh Brioche came out in December 2014, leading to a 155% increase in patterns in 2015 and practically exploding the brioche pattern supply for the rest of the decade.
For the first half of the decade, brioche knitting was more popular in sweaters than in shawls. The second thing that happened in 2014? In October that year, Stephen West's shawl pattern Exploration Station was released as a mystery knitalong. This brought brioche knitting to shawl knitters and it hasn't stopped since. Just two years later in 2016, the number of brioche shawl patterns surpassed that of sweaters.
I predicted a year ago that the number of brioche patterns released in 2019 would be more than 1,000 and I was right. But the growth seems to have plateaued. Is brioche on the way out? Only time will tell.
The second hottest thing in knitting has been the resurgence of Lopapeysa-style stranded colorwork yokes, thanks to names like Jennifer Steingass, Caitlin Hunter, and Védís Jónsdóttir of Riddari fame.
For this trend it was harder to find the exact reason why colorwork yokes became uber popular. Instead, there seems to have been a steady growth since 2016. What's interesting is that it looks like there's two trends working in combination here: the popularity of the colorwork sweater in general in conjunction with the popularity of the circular yoke construction, with or without colorwork. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That's difficult to tell.
Knitting with Two Yarns Held Together
Double-stranded knitting is nothing new but what's become increasingly popular in the past year or so is to combine a fluffy yarn, usually mohair or silk/mohair, with something else. It's become so popular, in fact, that Ravelry introduced "yarn held together" as a search option just three months ago.
To tease out the cause for the changes in double-stranded knitting, I also looked at the number of patterns using the marling technique, knitting with two strands of different-colored yarns to create a marled or heathered effect. While that has also been increasing in popularity since 2016, it's clear that the deluge of knitting patterns combining two yarns can mostly be attributed to the fluffy stuff.
And the point of origin for this trend is pretty clear, too. PetiteKnit's No Frills Cardigan came out in September 2017, leading to a 50% increase in patterns in 2018. In 2019 the growth has been even faster (105%) thanks to designers jumping on the bandwagon left, right, and center.
Looking at the three trends together it's clear the brioche has had the longest sustained popularity since 2014 that's only just now starting to wane. Colorwork yokes, on the other hand, have had a steady, slow burn for the entire decade. Knitting two-stranded with a fluffy yarn is a new phenomenon but it's skyrocketing fast.
Is brioche now passé? My prediction is that the fluffy stuff will surpass it in volume in the next year or two. What comes after that? I can't wait to find out!
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