Knitting is no longer a pastime for granny – young people are picking up their needles. We find purls of wisdom for retailers looking to take advantage.

John Lewis bunny crochet kit

John Lewis bunny crochet kit

A bunny crochet kit sold by John Lewis. The retailer has enjoyed a spike in sales in the knitting and crochet categories

Knitting clubs have become the new hipster hangout and A-list celebrities from Ryan Gosling to Sarah Jessica Parker have come out as fans.

“The market is buoyant,” says Kristine Kirby, chief executive of knitting and yarn etailer Deramores, which she joined in May.

For old and young

“It now crosses generations, with everyone from teenagers to people in their 80s and 90s knitting.

“There’s groups in the city in London knitting, there’s yarn bar crawls and people meeting to knit in cafes and pubs. 

“People are knitting things for their grandchildren or children, or instead of buying that scarf, they’re knitting it for themselves,” she says.

In fact, it is estimated that 21% of UK women pursue knitting as a hobby. 

Meanwhile, the Craft & Hobby Association says the UK creative, craft and hobby industry is worth £3.4bn, up 11% year on year.

Naturally the trend for all things knitting and crochet has helped retailers.

In its results in June, Hobbycraft said fashion yarn sales were up 37% year on year, while John Lewis has noted an 84% rise in sales of knit kits – beginner kits that include yarn, stuffing, a pattern and a crochet needle.

“Some shops have become places for knitters to meet and learn, with many running workshops”

Juliet Bernard, UK Hand Knitting Association

”They are proving extremely popular,” a John Lewis spokesperson told Retail Week. “It suggests that there is a trend for those new to knitting taking up this pastime.”

According to Juliet Bernard, spokesperson for the UK Hand Knitting Association, the market is dominated by the likes of John Lewis and etailers Deramores, Wool Warehouse and Black Sheep Wools.

“However, there’s a lot of independent stores up and down the country,” she says. “Some shops have become places for knitters to meet and learn, with many running workshops.”

A loyal following

Many larger retailers jumped on the knitting bandwagon when there was a resurgence in the hobby several years ago, says Verdict analyst Honor Strachan.

“It was a big trend and it drew in a new consumer base,” she says. “It helped with the Hobbycraft growth story and it coincided with social retailing with customers coming together to discuss ideas and patterns at places like Hobbycraft and John Lewis, which put on knitting workshops or hosted knitting groups. The growth of knitting will probably have slowed [from several years ago], but it’ll have built a loyal following that will continue to buy into that.”

Deramores, owned by TV shopping channel group Ideal Shopping Direct, is one retailer seriously trying to tap further into this loyal customer base.

When former Hackett and Monsoon ecommerce boss Kirby joined the etailer earlier this year, she laid down ambitious plans for Deramores to become the world’s biggest knitting and crochet site.

The new Deramores website


The market is dominated by etailers such as Deramores

Late last month the website was relaunched to provide a more user-friendly experience and introduced new editorial content.

Becoming a resource

“We want to be a resource hub for knitters,” she says. “We have products appealing to them but we want to become a source of inspiration too. So we’re spending more effort on content; we’ll have more bloggers writing articles and will showcase more videos.”

Deramores is also tying up with two yarn designers Vickie Howell, host of the DIY Network TV channel’s Knitty Gritty, and knitwear star Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton to make yarn ranges for the etailer.

“Anything that we can do to get people more engaged with craft… comes back to us”

Kristine Kirby, Deramores

“My hope is that we’ll not just be a place to shop, but a resource for knitting and crochet,” says Kirby. “People know and trust the brand, learn new stitches, and we offer content to support them.

Anything that we can do to get people more engaged with craft, whether that’s through telling them about a knitting festival where they might not spend money with us, but become more engaged with craft knit more, comes back to us.”

As Deramores aims to grab more market share, non-specialist retailers shouldn’t pull the wool over their eyes and ignore the strong demand for yarn and wool, especially as peak knitting season approaches. Needles at the ready.