Changed my life.

Although I learned to knit when I was a kid, in the UK, I didn’t seriously pick up my needles until I finished University, in the early 1990s. It was the worst possible time in recent memory to take up knitting…. my knitting grandmother had recently died, all the yarn shops were closing, books and magazines were hard to come by, and there seemed to be so few other knitters around.

 

For a few years, I muddled through on my own, learning what I could from the few books I could find, buying yarn and patterns where I could find it, feeling totally isolated.

 

And then, one quiet day at the office, around 1997, my life changed: I found woolworks.org. (The site is not longer being maintained, but there is a version of it available online here. You can also browse the site as it was in the past through the WayBack machine, here.)

 

The founder of Wool Works, the lovely Emily, was a knitter in a very similar position to me: she’d taken up the craft, and found herself struggling to locate resources and products and indeed other knitters. She was a subscriber to the email discussion group, the KnitList. She had a simple realization: the answers to many of her questions were in the archives, but there was no easy way to search them. So, using skills developed in her day job, she built a website. Seems obvious now, but this was a revolutionary thought in the mid 1990s.

 

For about 6 or 7 years in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Wool Works was the online knitting resource. It wasn’t the only site, but it was the largest, and it was the most active. It had a section of tips & techniques, it had free patterns (notably, the KnitList Christmas gift exchange patterns), it had a gallery of finished projects, it had links out to other online knitting resources (knitters were starting to maintain personal sites, the forerunners of blogs). It had a spinning section, which seemed seriously radical to me  at the time (eating my words, as I look at the huge box of roving beside my desk), and a list of stores. The store list was particularly wonderful, as I was travelling on business a lot at the time.

 

I would not be the knitter I am without Wool Works. Wool Works let me know I was not alone.  Through Wool Works, I was able to learn more and expand my skills. Wool Works kept me interested and engaged in knitting when the rest of the world was less interested in it.

 

Thanks to Wool Works, I am a sock knitter. My first socks were knitted from a pattern published there: the legendary Joan Hamer’s socks. And indeed, I not only used Wool Works to find my first sock pattern, I used the store list to help me locate the yarn, and I used the tips and techniques section to help me with the heel turn.

 

As a knitter, I owe Emily a huge debt of gratitude for providing so much support and so many resources, perhaps most important of all, making me feel connected. Thanks Emily!

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15 Responses to History: Wool Works

  1. Anita says:

    I also remember Wool Words with great fondness. It was – it still is – a wonderful resource, extending the knowledge base available through the few magazines available at the time. My fondest memory is finding patterns for my daughter’s American Girl doll there. Thanks (and hugs), Emily, from me, too!

  2. Lovely homage to the powerful combination that is Fiber + Internet. I’ve often thought since I started knitting again that the meaning and purpose of the World Wide Web is at last being fulfilled.

  3. Hester Sturrock says:

    Wool Works was a major force in my return to knitting in the mid-1990s. Anything I needed or wanted to learn about was available in the WoolWorks website. Isn’t it all amazing how much the the internet has played in the resurgence of knitting? WoolWorks – was the beginning of the dream of the Community of Knitters active in the world today. Thanks Emily.
    Hester

  4. Donna says:

    I still occasionally look for stuff on Wool Works. It has great hints & some very nice patterns indeed. One of my favorite patterns is the toddler Balaclava. All 3 of my grands had them when they lived in the frozen Midwest. (now it’s socks, socks, socks – they live in the south). I know there are a lot of knitters of a certain (ahem) age who have very fond memories of Wool Works. Think I’ll go find that Balaclava patten. My adorable great nephew will be the right age net winter & lives here in the Chicago area.

  5. kbsalazar says:

    Yes, yes yes! Wool Works was one of the first and most useful knitting websites, back in the Ur days when Web-connected knitters crawled out of the slime of isolation and discovered we were a community.

    I am proud to number among the Emily’s Faceless Disciples, and sorely miss the days of the passionate independents like WW and FiberGypsy.

    My fave WW patterns – Anne Krekel’s Baby Booties, and Judy Gibson’s “You’re Putting Me On” socks, which started me on a toe-up fest which continues to this day.

    kbsalazar

  6. Diamond says:

    Oh my goodness! Thank you for sharing this. It was a wonderful retelling of my own (re)introduction to knitting on my own: no helpers, finding this wonderful resource in WoolWorks on the web. Even it’s introduction to me knitting socks (though I choose a different pattern to start).
    I admit, I had forgotten about them, but this was a beautiful walk down memory lane for me as well.

  7. Daydreamer626 says:

    I was out there in the 1990′s too. Still have a file of patterns printed out! How far we have come as a community. Thank you to all the pioners.

  8. Summer says:

    I loved Wool Works! I used, and added to, the shop listings. What a joy to find others who knit :) Can’t believe how much the web has grown and changed since I was in college.

  9. dclulu says:

    Yes! I used Wool Works, too! It was so amazing at the time to find free patterns and knitting advice on the web. Think of how much we take for granted today.

  10. Jamie says:

    I joined the Knit List in 1993 (or there abouts), back when the librarians on the list would describe how they got to look at something in another organization’s collection (lots of type in this address to jump to this server, then this address, etc. — all of which were nonsense alphanumeric sequences). As I recall, at the time I joined it was run by the wife of a professor of geology or minerals at a university in northern US (Montana?) on the department server when there was available time to use it (not clear that the university knew of this use of their resource). I loved the annual Christmas pattern list and have kept copies of many of the patterns.

    The World Wide Web was a revelation (I doubt any of us grasped the marketing/sales possibilities at the time), but Emily saw early on what it could mean to the community of knitters who had so recently found each other on the Knit List.

    Three cheers for Emily!

  11. Deirdre says:

    Couldn’t agree more – I knit my first pair of socks using the same pattern as you, and remember being absolutely astonished at how much other wonderful information was available – for FREE!! Woolworks helped me feel connected to a vast knitting community, and for that I say Thank You!

  12. Beth Collins says:

    I too joined the KnitList in the early 90′s and fondly remember Wool Works. It was a wonderful resource! I couldn’t believe there was so much out there for knitters … now look at us! We rule the world :)

  13. julianna says:

    Wow — what a blast from the past. :-) Like others have written, I was a Wool Works fan and had joined KnitList back in the day. I was such an inexperienced knitter that the pattern from those resources that has stuck with me is for the lowly garter stitch dishcloth. I guess I have come a ways since then. Thanks for the post.

  14. Nina says:

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I, too, joined the KnitList back in the U of M listserv days. I also fondly remember Wool Works and Lois, the Fiber Gypsy, Joan Hamer and many others from the old days.

  15. Kathy says:

    This post is so wonderful. I too was on the early knitlist (1996, not as early as some, but with my first computer, eager to see what was available). Emily’s site and the community it started for me have continued to today. I still make a coffee cake from the recipe found on one of the Christmas lists. Joan’s socks, the mittens, baby booties, WW and Babies & Bears, all introduced thru the early web.
    What a trip down memory lane! Thank you!

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