07 Jun Keeping Tabs on the Ravelry HRN List
For this month’s Ravelry update, we spent a few days tracking the Hot Right Now list. It’s not an easy thing to do, because the list can shift before your eyes as you are trying to catalogue it. So this post is based on a series of snapshots taken for three days in the middle of May 2016. Even with that caveat, there were some clear trends that could affect trends in yarn weights and colors, as well as pattern sales, for the foreseeable future.
First, a few words about the Hot Right Now list is calculated. We ran this explanation as part of the Ravelry Patterns: What Makes a Knitting Pattern a Classic? back in April, but it’s worth the reminder as we try to analyze a selection of the HRN list:
The Hot Right Now list shows which patterns Ravelers are looking at the most often on a given day. There are a lot of factors that can influence Hot Right Now (HRN), which can change on an hourly basis. For example, just after the publication of a new issue of either a print or an online magazine, many of the patterns featured in it will climb into the HRN as knitters check out what’s new. When a designer offers a pattern free for a limited time, that pattern may jump into HRN as Ravelers download it during the free period. New patterns issued by popular designers come to the attention of Ravelers who have made their previous designs through the Your Pattern Highlights feature; Ravelers look at the new designs and the patterns rise in the HRN rankings. Designers who announce a new pattern release on social media or via a newsletter will bring that pattern to Ravelers’ attention. Starting a KAL or CAL (Knit- or Crochet-Along) can send a pattern into the HRN list. Casey Forbes (Code Monkey on Ravelry), the programmer behind Ravelry, deliberately changed up the algorithm so that the list would reflect up-to-the-minute trends in patterns based on these varied factors (You can read the thread about it here).
With all of that taken into account, there were still two dominant trends in the patterns that caught Ravelers’ attention. Shawls are, by far, the most popular pattern type that Ravelers look at; and, not surprisingly, projects requiring fingering weight yarn outnumber all other yarn weights combined. The overlap between these two categories is very large, but the preference for shawl patterns included both worsted and laceweight patterns as well as fingering weight; and the fingering weight projects included tops, socks, home decor items and colorwork accessories.
Here are the statistics for the period of May 17-19, 2016:
Let’s dive a little deeper into these Top 25 HRN projects to determine what they tell us about knitters’ taste in projects.
First, it’s interesting to note how the pattern categories shift over the three days. On the first day, there were four scarf patterns on the HRN list; by the third day, it wasn’t even a category at the moment the list was observed. The scarf patterns themselves play into the dominance of the shawl as pattern category. Shawls come in different shapes and sizes; one designer’s neck scarf is another’s shawlette, and a rectangular stole differs from a scarf only in a few inches of width and/or length. On the first two days, the two categories taken together account for almost 2/3s of the HRN list. On the third day, not only has “scarf” fallen off as a pattern category, (although “cowl” has entered, with two patterns); but shawls have dropped back by one whole pattern in the top 25, replaced by a pattern for cute little felted mosaic electronics pouches, Montage Mosaic Pouches by Linda Browning.
Second, the notion that free or discounted patterns are over-represented in the HRN list does not appear to be true. On the first day, only 10/25 patterns were free and destined to remain so; of the 15 paid patterns, only two were running a limited-time promotional discount. Pattern prices ranged from $1.35 to $7.00, with a majority falling between between $5.00-$6.00, including €Euro to $Dollar conversion. This seems to be a sweet spot for single pattern prices. A designer selling a pattern for a garment in multiple sizes with complex techniques or shaping will generally charge more than a designer selling a pattern for a unsized accent piece like a shawl or scarf, but the range of prices represented over these three days give a good idea of the limits.
So why are shawls so hot and how many shawl patterns are too many? At this writing, there are 30,044 knitting patterns for shawls/wraps in the Ravelry pattern database. While this is not a scientific, statistical observation on the popularity of shawls, it is a set of observations about the factors that may be leading to the perennial place of shawls on the HRN list.
- Shawls always fit. If there are sizes at all in a shawl pattern, the choice is usually small or large.
- Shawls can be comfort-knitting. Acres-of-garter-stitch knitting can allow a knitter to be fully present with a loved one in crisis even as the repetitive motion of garter stitch soothes her worried mind.
- Shawls can be challenge-knitting. Garter tab cast-on? Short rows? Lace? Increases or decreases? Intarsia? There’s a shawl pattern that incorporates any technique or stitch a knitter wants to add to her skill set.
- Shawls are a great canvas for playing with color, shape and pattern. It is possible that a number of those 30K+ patterns are shared creations of knitters who started swatching a stitch pattern they liked, laid it over a shawl shape they wanted, liked their results and decided that other knitters might like it, too. And thus designers were born.
- Shawls are a lot of knitting entertainment at fairly low price. With so many shawls being either fingering or laceweight, shawls offer high-yardage knitting at the price of only a couple of skeins of yarn. And everyone knows that sock yarn doesn’t really count as stash.
- Shawls are actually useful accessories. Shawls let you keep your thermostat set lower in the winter, keep you from freezing in the air-conditioned restaurant or movie theater, allow you to nurse a baby discreetly and can come off more easily than a sweater when you own internal thermostat rises too quickly. Plus they can make handy impromptu picnic blankets.
Within those 30K+ knitting patterns for shawls, a glance at some of the filtering terms (left-hand column of pages of Ravelry pattern results) gives a fuller picture of the variety of shawl patterns available. 9,197 of the patterns are written for fingering weight yarn; add lace and light fingering, and the three categories total 16,640 shawl patterns, more than half of the shawl patterns in the Ravelry database. Under “Shapes” (in “Attributes”), triangles (9,387) outnumber rectangles (4785) 2:1, and crescents (3,016) more than 3:1. Half-circles are the fourth-largest category at 2,017, with all other shapes (full circle, hex, square, etc.) trailing far behind. Under “Fabric Characteristics” (also in “Attributes”), 16,654 of the patterns incorporate lace in some form; that number does not include eyelets or mesh, which are separate categories. The “Colorwork” attribute shows 3,944 listed as using stripes/colorwork, far more than any other type of colorwork (mosaic, stranded, intarsia, etc.) The “Pattern Instructions” attribute shows that 19,838 of the patterns have written instructions, while 14,748 include charts; from my own experience, it’s safe to assume that many patterns include both forms for knitters to use at their own preference.
Taken all together, we can see that triangular lace shawls knit in fingering weight yarn with written and charted pattern instructions are at the intersection of the largest sub-categories in Ravelry shawl patterns. If you omit the triangle shape, five of the top 25 HRN patterns on May 20, 2016 fall into this intersection, and the percentage is similar across the past three days.
It begs the question, however, when we will we hit shawl-pattern saturation? Does it matter? Is the Ravelry world of knitters clamoring for the perfect triangular lace shawl, the one pattern that will make all the other patterns obsolete, or is every variation on this theme simply another option that can inspire a knitter to modify it a little, change a stitch pattern or rate of increase and make it truly her own? In other words, do all of these triangular lace shawl patterns represent actual knitted objects or they (at least some of them) records of moments of improvisation in knitted form?
And what does this mean for the designer or the indie yarn-dyer? This snapshot of the Ravelry HRN list suggests that knitters’ interest in shawls is ongoing; designing a shawl pattern with an interesting shape or innovative technique is likely to capture a segment of the market. As a yarn-dyer, weighting your product line toward fingering weight yarns in different fiber blends is probably going to be a safe choice. Knitters can always justify the purchase of a skein of fingering weight yarn; it’s the souvenir yarn of choice when visiting fiber festivals, event marketplaces or LYSes while on a road trip, let alone those late-night Etsy binges. So maybe this appetite for shawls knit in fingering weight yarn is meeting the need knitters have for all those skeins to find their knitted destiny.
As for colorways, it’s a little harder to parse. The dominance of lace patterns in the overall Shawl/Wrap category in the Ravelry pattern database suggests that solids and semi-solids are going to continue to be in demand–they will show off complicated stitch patterns without obscuring the knitter’s skill. Of the 18 fingering-weight patterns on the HRN list earlier this week, six of them called for at least two contrasting yarn colors; in the words of Kay Gardiner of the venerable Mason-Dixon Knitting blog, “The multi-color shawl is having a moment–perhaps a permanent moment.” Knitters like to play with color–putting together a palette for a shawl or wrap like Grace Anne Farrow’s Volt, Stephen West’s Samen, Melanie Berg’s Drachenfels or Veera Valimaki’s Color Affection occupies customers and staff at local yarn stores all over the world. Fewer patterns pair multiple variegated yarns; one variegated with other solids to semi-solids is a more frequent combination.
But the versatility of fingering weight yarn is another factor in this. While the HRN list during this week showed both the hotness of shawls as a project pattern category and fingering weight yarn as a project weight category, the hot projects in the fingering weight category included socks, home decor, pouches and garments. Anticipating knitters’ colorway desires across all those categories is difficult. The color repeat that is beautiful as a self-striping sock yarn can display unfortunate pooling or flashing across an adult-sized garment. There’s a knitter ready to fall in love with any colorway your creative mind can imagine; dye the yarn for the projects you think it best suited for and let the knitters do the rest.
We hope you have found this little exploration of a moment in Ravelry’s Hot Right Now list interesting and potentially useful. We have all kinds of ideas about yarn, yarn crafts and pattern designs and how to market them. Contact Leanne@stitchcraftmarketing.com for more information about how we can help you build your craft-based business.