Letter from Paris: Oooh de Cologne
Last month, my Letter from Paris wasn’t from Paris. This month, my Letter from Paris isn’t even from France. Will you forgive me when I tell you it’s absolutely crammed full of yarn?
I took the high-speed choochoo to Germany for a quick visit to Cologne, to see the international trade fair for “creative handicrafts” known as h+h. That’s how the organizers insist upon writing it, in lowercase with a plus sign.
The first h stands for handicrafts (handarbeit, in German), the second for hobby (hobby, in German). What that really means, for the most part, is yarn + fabric + all the stuff you need to play with them.
As a trade fair, h+h is meant to bring together manufacturers and retailers. It’s where a yarn shop owner can go in order to get both a broad view of industry trends, and a close-up look at new products they might wish to offer their customers.
In theory, anyone can buy a ticket. In reality, if you’re a hobbyist hoping for a shopping spree, you’ll come away disappointed. There are no retail sales, only wholesale orders. And if you’re not in a position to buy wholesale, the hard-working salespeople are unlikely to give you much of their time–nor, of course, should you expect them to.
Me, I occupy a weird space in between the amateurs and the retailers. I’m part of the industry, but I don’t own a shop. And while I do occasionally turn out patterns, mostly for my Patreon patrons, I’m not the sort of designer who will make the rounds with a portfolio hoping to snag a contract with a yarn company.
I probably wouldn’t have gone unless the owner of my neighborhood’s yarn shop, Les Tricoteurs Volants, hadn’t mentioned that he had an invitation available and was looking to split a hotel room. Cologne is an easy three-hour ride from Paris, and I was curious to finally see the famous show for myself. Plus, I was promised currywurst. So why not?
In a word, h+h was enormous–dwarfing even the most elaborate fiber shows I’ve ever attended. It took up three entire floors of the Cologne Exhibition Center.
The pipe-and-drape booths we’re accustomed to seeing in spaces like this are actually forbidden at h+h. This is the Big Time. Exhibitors are required to furnish their spaces with solid walls, and indeed they do. The largest companies splash out on full-on temporary showrooms, complete with stylish lounges and private offices for client meetings.
You could easily think you’ve wandered into an upscale megamall catering exclusively to yarn and fabric nuts.
Lounging at Filati
Describing even half of what I saw would take a whole series of letters. Better I should confine myself to highlighting a few major trends I noticed, trends that may well be coming to a yarn shop or show near you. Please note: I’ve given as much information as I could gather (and that am allowed to share) about the things I photographed.
Crochet Has Arrived
No, crochet itself is not a mere “trend.” But the amount of crochet was encouraging for those of us (including me) who love it. If it wasn’t (yet) quite on a fifty-fifty footing with knitting, it was awfully close.
from Sirdar (left) and Langyarn (right)
Mainstream fashion’s embrace of the granny square has certainly helped, but the diversity of crochet techniques on display went far beyond the basics. You’ll see more in the photos that follow.
Clearly, the guiding principle of the moment is large, beginning with the yarns themselves. Bulky and chunky weights were featured everywhere …
… along with quite a few yarns that can only be described as gigantic.
Alize’s “Puffy More”(clue in the name) was notable among the superhuge novelties for being engineered to create double-knit fabrics using only the fingers–no needles!
This will not be everybody’s cup of tea, and I can’t imagine how on earth you fit balls of yarn two feet wide on a yarn shop shelf, but I noticed that there was always a queue of retailers waiting to try it for themselves.
Big Textures and Patterns
Textures from Lana Grossa, Lana Gatto, Mirasol, Tropical Lane
Quite a few of the bulky weights were designed to produce striking textures even when knit into simple fabrics.
Jackets in Acrowools “Ganga” (left) and La Mia “Big Bang” (right)
And regardless of yarn weight, both color and texture motifs were unashamedly oversized.
Color work and lace from Marianne Isager
Given this growing demand for bold effects, it was no surprise to see color blocking absolutely everywhere—spotted above from Lotus Yarns, Rowan, and Kamgarn.
Bright blocks from Schachenmayr.
And at La Mia, a texture and color smash-up.
Kidwear! Brights from Sirdar and kitties from Himalaya bode well for intarsia, which has been in a fitful eclipse since the early 1990s, to make a comeback.
And finally, the color palette of the moment is also swinging to the vivid end of the scale. If you’re of an age to have dressed yourself in the heyday of Flashdance and MTV, a few of the pieces above may have stirred memories (for good or ill) in the deep recesses of your brain.
Because the colors of the 1980s are back from Filati Moda, Katia, Kamgarn, and Lang.
You may well have noticed by now the oversized fit, complete with drop shoulders.
Loose at Lotus Yarns
So What Does This Mean?
Now, listen. Maybe this has you all excited and you don’t know how you’re going to wait the three to six months it will take for these things to reach shop shelves.
On the other hand, maybe you spent the 1980s looking like a candy-colored oven mitt,* and you will eat your own knitting bag before you will ever wear drop shoulders again.
Keep in mind that trends are only trends, not rules. You take from them what you like, you leave the rest. For example, my days of wearing neon are over, but I’m not averse to stitching a bit of fresh intarsia into my wardrobe.
As always, the person who decides what you’ll knit and how you knit it is you. Your thoughts?
*For reference, see any portrait of me from middle school. Except you can’t, because I have burned them all.