In 2000, Clara Parkes started the Knitter’s Review e-newsletter to tilt her skills as a tech magazine editor toward a topic she was passionate about: yarn. She’s since published six books on fiber craft, including 2017’s Knitlandia (10,000 print copies, per NPD BookScan). Her seventh, Vanishing Fleece (Abrams, Oct.), documents her purchase of a bale of wool in 2013, tracing it from its origins on the bodies of 500 Saxon merino sheep through all the steps that get it from raw material to finished skeins. Along the way, she gives voice to farmers, shearers, mill owners, and dyers, who represent a once vibrant, now threatened, industry.
How did you evolve from reviewing yarn to writing about the agricultural side of wool?
When I began Knitter’s Review, I assumed that I could go to any yarn company and say, “Tell me about these fibers and where they came from,” and it would be easy to piece together a story. At the end of the day, though, a lot of yarns were pretty similar. The turning point was in 2006, when I stumbled upon a skein of Cormo yarn; everything about it was traceable and had intention behind it. The more I looked, the more interested I became in the story of the people who put it together and the lives they were trying to support.
Did you expect your newsletter subscribers to share your interest?
I got emails from tons of people after I wrote [2009’s] The Knitter’s Book of Wool, saying they had no idea there could be so much nuance to a skein of yarn. So when I got the chance to buy the bale, I knew other people would be into it: not just fiber artists, but anyone curious about the clothing on their bodies and the complicated story about what’s happened to textiles in America.
How has your readership changed over the years?
Since I started my advocacy work, ranting more about wool, I’ve found a whole other world of people; they’re finding me through their fiber farmers, or they sew, or they farm, and there are also more general interest people who don’t have knitter as the number one word in their Instagram profile. That’s been very inspiring.
What do you hope readers learn from your latest book?
I want to remind them of the human consequences of what they wear. I’m hoping they can have a better understanding of just how many people and families and communities and livelihoods are touched with every purchase they make, and I wanted to put a face and a name to as many of them as I could. Do you need 39 sweaters in your closet? What about three well-made wool sweaters that will last 30 years and sustain multiple communities in multiple states that help keep land in agriculture? I hope my readers will understand how tenuous it all is. The U.K. has the Campaign for Wool, and I think we need something like that here, to champion the American wool industry. I hope I can pull in my platform to help us achieve that.