Entering the ballroom of the Westin Convention Center on Sunday, March 29 was like walking into a rainbow, surrounded by splashes of kaleidoscopic color from every angle.
More than 70 vendors filled the ballroom at the hotel for the 11th annual Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival the weekend of March 27 to 29.
Adorning the lobby of the Westin was the Cascading Waterfall of Yarn, a 78-foot installation. Many people in the area, from preschoolers to seniors, contributed to the panels, which utilized 10,000 strands of multicolored yarn.
The festival has grown in scope and size from its humble origins 11 years ago as a fundraiser for the Waldorf School. At the time, founder Barbara Grossman’s daughter was a student at the school; they had expected about 250 people, but more than 600 turned up, despite snowy weather for the event.
Grossman estimates that this year, at least 3,500 visitors were in attendance.
“We see so many new faces each year. The reputation of the show has spread so that I have new vendors and teachers who are interested in being at the show,” said Grossman, who is married to former Steeler Randy Grossman. She coordinates the festival with her sister, Ann Szilagyi.
For this year’s festival, vendors and fiber artists traveled from as far away as Tennessee, Georgia, Maine, New York and Ontario, though many local representatives took part, including Jenn’s Jems, Yarns by Design and Rainbow Mills. Farmers, dyers, spinners, knitters, weavers, crocheters and wood artists were in attendance.
Every part of the lifecycle of a knitted product was represented, from yarns to roving, and even raw fiber straight from the farm. Fay Steving and Jenny Lindsay, who have been vendors every year, own Highland Alpaca near Grove City, where they raise more than 60 alpacas.
“There’s been an increase in popularity with knitters using alpaca yarn,” said Steving.
“It’s like knitting with clouds,” added Lindsay. The women sell yarn in 22 different natural alpaca colors.
Some of the more unique finished products, besides many scarves, capes, socks and sweaters, were laundry balls, lavender soaps wrapped in felted wool washcloths, yarn bowls, needle and hook cases, handbags and jewelry made from recycled knitting needles.
Not only could attendees shop the myriad products, but they could participate in a number of classes in everything from core spinning, double knitting, knitting with beads, wire crochet jewelry, a boot camp in crocheting cables and even a yarn “tasting “party on Friday evening.
Some celebrities of the knitting world made an appearance, including Charles Gandy, the Sock King from the South, the “Crochet Dude” Drew Emborsky and Steven Berg of the famed StevenBe shop in Minneapolis.
Known in knitting circles as the “Glitter Knitter,” Berg met Grossman at a trade show festival in Columbus. Grossman was looking for something to make with old cassette tapes, when she spotted Berg across the room — who was decked out in a homemade vest made of tape from old cassettes.
In addition to hosting a pajama party for 250 fans on Saturday night, Berg toured Pittsburgh, where he threw a football at Heinz Field and presented a handmade scarf to Mayor Bill Peduto.
“The Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet show is an amazing example of the strength of the knit and crochet community,” said Berg. “It has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Barb Grossman has achieved an amazing feat from a grassroots approach. For me — a designer, a personality and a vendor — it has become a key venue in my event calendar.”
Knitters and crocheters speak their own language, and a spirit of camaraderie was felt throughout the weekend. One visitor jokingly called it a “cult,” adding that while you can order anything from the internet, nothing beats the tactile experience of seeing and touching the products in person.
The Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El in the South Hills has been meeting every four to six weeks for at least five years. Called the Charity Knitting Group, the women knit such items as hats, scarves and afghan squares and have donated them to charities and organizations in the area, said Debbie Goldberg, Beth El’s bookkeeper and group member.
Goldberg attended this year’s festival, helping to run the Warm Up America lounge. Warm Up America is a charity begun in 1991 by a Jewish woman, the late Evie Rosen of Wisconsin, with the idea to knit or crochet small sections of afghans for neighbors in need. Currently, the charity’s distributions reach tens of thousands of people across the country.
As the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival evolved from a school fundraiser to a festival over the years, the venue has moved around a bit to accommodate the growing crowds. In recent years it had been at the Sheraton in Mars, Pa., and this year was the first time it had been held downtown.
Grossman said that she is thrilled to announce that next March, it will be held at the Convention Center, merging with the Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival, also a brainchild of Grossman’s. The first Creative Arts Festival was held last summer and it included all types of handcrafts — beading, paper crafts sewing, wire jewelry, embroidery and more.
“This was a transitional year for the show at the hotel, and we look forward to being at the Convention Center next year,” she said. “Our growth has made it necessary.”
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at email@example.com.