With knitting and crochet on the rise, Greater Boston yarn sellers open the door to a world of color

“It used to be kind of old-fashioned sweaters, and people ... learned to knit from grandma, or their mother. Now it’s a new ballgame.”

George Robinson and Katie Fontes browse yarn at the Boston Fiber Company in the South End. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Annie Webber can usually track the popularity of knitting and crochet by the number of college kids and young adults who pay a visit to her shop, Mind’s Eye Yarns in Cambridge.

And lately, she says, they’ve been coming more and more often. 

“I’m right in Porter Square, I’m right in the middle of many, many colleges,” Webber told in a recent interview. “And so I have noticed that I’m seeing more young people, college students, people right out of college coming in and buying stuff for the first time.”


The craft’s popularity ebbs and flows, she explained, and “right now, we’re for sure in an upswing.”

Michelle Obama knits; Julia Roberts, too. And British diver Tom Daley put the craft in the spotlight during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where he could frequently be spotted knitting in the stands. 

In fact, the hobby — once considered old-fashioned or twee — seems to have picked up steam during the pandemic, and independent yarn sellers in and around Boston are noticing the trend. 

A wall of yarn at Boston Fiber Company. – David L Ryan/Globe Staff

What’s behind the boom? 

Part of the upswing could be stress-related, explained Webber, who started working at Mind’s Eye in 2008 and took over as owner a decade later. She recalled a knitting resurgence following Sept. 11, 2001, when people craved calming, low-stakes hobbies.

Crafting in Boston:

“I find that the appeal goes up a lot when people are kind of low-key stressed out all the time, because it’s nice to take that sort of fidgety energy and turn it into warm clothes,” Webber said.

Knitting and crochet lend themselves particularly well to the post-COVID era, explained Sara Ingle, who opened Boston Fiber Company in the South End last July.

“People are working from home a lot, and they spend a lot of time on Zoom meetings and need to do something with their hands,” Ingle said. “And if you’re just working on, like, the body of a sweater, it doesn’t actually take that much concentration, so you can actually pay attention in a meeting, but you’re not zoning out. I think that’s been really helpful for people.”


Both Ingle and Kristin Follette, a Newton-based independent dyer who runs East Coast Yarn Company, said the local fiber arts community can be tight-knit — no pun intended. 

“I think a lot of people picked it up in the pandemic; it’s calming and you can keep yourself busy while you do it,” Follette said. “And I think for a lot of people, part of the appeal is there is such a big community, so you make knitting friends and crochet friends, so you build up your own little knitting circle.”

People pick up the hobby for different reasons, according to Nancy Shulman, who runs Black Sheep Knitting in Needham. She began working there on a whim in 2006 and stuck around, eventually purchasing the store several years ago. 

“There are process knitters who just knit because they love the solitude or the meditative part, the rhythmic part of knitting … and they love the fibers and the colors,” she explained. “And then there are project knitters who have specific goals of projects that they want to make.”

After all, those projects are endlessly customizable, Follette pointed out. 

“You really just tailor it to yourself, so your end result is going to be something that you absolutely love,” she said.

Not just for grandmas

From stripes to solids, bold neons to cozy neutrals, knitwear is having a moment, as evidenced by recent spreads in Vogue and Marie Claire


“There are cool knitting patterns, too, coming out,” Ingle said. “I feel like knitting and crochet is a lot cooler than it used to be; there’s more fun stuff. Things are a little bit more fashion-forward.”

Shulman agreed: “The wonderful thing about knitting now is that the whole industry has changed quite a bit,” she said. “It used to be kind of old-fashioned sweaters, and people sit and knit, and they learned to knit from grandma, or their mother. Now it’s a new ballgame.”

After years of mainly highlighting white women, a lot of the larger fiber arts magazines and companies are also catering to a more diverse audience now, Follette said. 

Sara Ingle, who owns Boston Fiber Company in the South End. – David L Ryan/Globe Staff

At Boston Fiber Company, Ingle aims to source the majority of the store’s inventory from businesses owned by queer people and people of color — “I want the items in the store to reflect our customers and myself,” their website notes. 

“I think people who aren’t part of it think it [knitting and crochet] tends to be like an old white lady thing, and obviously there are wonderful old white ladies who are great at knitting and dyeing yarn; I learned from my grandma,” Ingle said. “But there are so many cool designers and dyers working right now who are not necessarily at the forefront of all of the yarn advertising.”

Today, Ingle sees a new crop of crafters coming into the shop. Among them: young men, high schoolers learning how to crochet, and newbie knitters graduating from the inexpensive acrylic yarns found at big box stores like Michaels.


Not that Ingle begrudges anyone who buys their yarn at Michaels; she and other industry members who spoke to noted that acrylic yarn still has a time and a place, particularly for baby blankets and other items that require frequent and heavy-duty washing. 

Still, independent yarn sellers offer unique finds, higher-quality materials, and expertise that customers won’t necessarily see at corporate chains, Shulman explained.

Vibrant colors are all the rage at East Coast Yarn Company, run by Newton-based independent dyer Kristin Follette. – Courtesy Photo/Kristin Follette

With multi-colored hand-dyed yarn, for example, no two skeins are ever going to be exactly alike, Follette explained. 

“With the independent yarn dyers, you just have that real uniqueness that you don’t get from the bigger box stores,” she said. 

Ingle added: “If I go into an indie yarn store, I want to find something that I can’t find everywhere else.”

Does more crafting mean more competition?

Despite the proliferation of independent yarn sellers around Boston and on online platforms like Etsy, none of the shop owners who spoke to said they felt more competition was necessarily a bad thing. 

“I actually don’t feel like Boston has enough yarn stores,” Ingle said. “I think we could do like one or two more.”

Follette added: “I think everyone has their own unique styles … Which is great, because then if I see yarn that I like, I can just go buy it from another local dyer.”

Local yarn shops tend to work together, Webber said, citing co-organized events like the Greater Boston Yarn Crawl


“We don’t all carry the same things,” Webber said. “I know Gather Here [in Inman Square] and I don’t carry pretty much any of the same yarn, partly because we’re two miles apart, and so we might as well lean into diversifying rather than competing for the same dollars.”

She added: “I have never felt that more yarn shops were bad for business, because we all have different strengths.”

It also helps that the knitting world is constantly evolving and expanding, according to Shulman. 

“It’s an incredibly exciting field to be in, I find,” she said. “Just new stuff all the time — I’ve been here 17 years and I haven’t been bored yet.”


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