Montreal fibre arts expo gives growing community of knitters chance to gather after 2 years

Independent yarn dyers and fibre craft enthusiasts flocked to the inaugural knitting event, which was originally planned for March 2020.

Knit City exposition started in Vancouver in 2012

Claudine Tomasino, who attended a fibre arts expo in Montreal this weekend, says she knits two to three hours a day. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Claudine Tomasino spent the onset of the pandemic knitting her first sweater, a promise she made to her late aunt.

"I would never trust myself to do a sweater and she pushed me to do it," she said.

This weekend, she and hundreds of fibre craft fans are attending Montreal's first Knit City event, a fibre-crafts exposition, where they can discover and buy different yarns and join knitting workshops.

What started as a casual hobby for Tomasino, a self-proclaimed introvert, soon turned into a cherished social outlet. Now, she can turn around knitting sophisticated projects within two weeks.

"I feel very proud," she said. "Even if someone makes the same shirt as me, they won't use the same colour… it's something nobody can buy in the store."

She first learned how to knit at the age of eight thanks to her aunt. Although the hobby waned during her teenage years, she picked it up again in her twenties.

"I look like I have a lot of tattoos and everything and people don't associate me with this kind of hobby so it's nice to share that love," she said. "Here, everybody gets it."

The inaugural show at the Centre Sheraton features independent yarn dyers, fibre farmers, local yarn stores, and knitwear designers. Many attendees came sporting clothes they knit themselves as a badge of honour.

Organizers initially planned the event for March 2020, but had to be postpone it two weeks before the start date because of the pandemic, says Knit City Canada co-founder Amanda Milne.

Since then, though, the popularity of knitting has grown, as people searched for activities that would help ground them amid the upheaval caused by the pandemic.

"Knitting is often done by yourself but people love to get together with people who love to share their passions," she said. "We would really like to make the festival accessible to everyone."

Knit City has held nine events in Vancouver since 2012. Milne says the group is considering expanding to other cities given the success of the Montreal show.

Knit City held its inaugural Montreal show at the Centre Sheraton on April 2 and 3, 2022. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

The growing interest in knitting has been good for business, says entrepreneur Julie Asselin.

The yarn-dyer from Sherbrooke who's participating in the show credits the pandemic and social media for knitting's surge in popularity.

Asselin says events like Knit City are an opportunity to make Montreal a destination for fibre arts fans in the years to come.

"It's basically like a big yarn shop, so it's fun to get everybody to gather together and you can see we are so many enthusiasts basically coming together for one passion," Asselin said.

"We like community building and I like to meet people and I do that with local yarn shops."

Now that Tomasino is a seasoned knitter, she says she hopes more large-scale knitting events will be held in town.

"It's my hobby," she said. "It brings me joy, and that's my heart."

with files from Matt D'Amours