Supermodel Heidi Klum feels too young for it, former US Presidential wife Michelle Obama relaxes and top chef Cornelia Poletto does it when she’s not working: knitting.

From May 3rd to 5th, the “Nadelwelt” trade fair in Karlsruhe will be celebrating this ancient art – together with other traditional handicrafts such as sewing, embroidery, crocheting, felting, patchwork and spinning. Knitting, which many people first discovered during the Corona period, is experiencing a revival. And there is much to suggest that the needle game was not just a stopgap for forced couch potatoes in times of pandemic.

It is also a counter-trend to the megatrend of digitalization and virtualization, says Heidelberg trend researcher Eike Wenzel. “Knitting is deceleration and de-automatization.” Instead of constantly flaunting yourself online on Tiktok or Instagram, do something that “stays with yourself.” Knitting has something contemplative, but is also communicative.

Knitting was already a retro trend 20 years ago: “Back then it was clear that a first phase of digitalization was taking place and people were looking for a counter-world to cold digitalization,” reports the head of the Institute for Trend and Future Research in Heidelberg.

Knitting also fits into the times because there is something sustainable about doing it yourself, says Wenzel. “The exact opposite of fast fashion.” For textile designer Anne-Susanne Gueler, it is also “a wonderful vehicle” to realize your own ideas and produce an individual piece of clothing.

A woman’s thing

According to the industry association Initiative Handarbeit, the number of manual workers is increasing. “More and more women in Germany are discovering handicraft as a relaxing and at the same time meaningful hobby.” With sales of 370 million euros, the crochet and knitting yarn sector was the largest individual segment in the industry in 2023 and recorded a significant increase (2022: 350 million). Even if the industry no longer records exceptional sales like in the Corona years 2020 and 2021, according to the association, the figures show that handicrafts have permanently established themselves as a hobby.

Trade fairs like the “Needle World” exploit the potential. From this Friday to Sunday, new products will be presented on around 10,000 square meters in Karlsruhe and inspiration will be given during creative courses and workshops.

The good thing about Corona

The handicraft industry benefited from the Corona period, when people had to spend significantly more time within their own four walls. “After the end of the pandemic, many of the changes from this time were retained because they simply turned out to be pleasant and good,” says “Nadelwelt” spokesman Peter Pfeiffer. Like home office and video conferences, for example.

In contrast to the 1980s, when green-alternative men demonstratively picked up a needle, knitting now seems to be predominantly a female hobby in this country. According to the trade fair, it is estimated that around eleven million women nationwide are enthusiastic about it. “In Germany, knitting men are still the exception,” notes Pfeiffer. In Scandinavia we are much further ahead.

Because of old grandma

What is striking is that the handicraft scene is getting younger. The fact that 18 to 29 year olds can get excited about this is a very encouraging development. The target group is extremely important for the future of the industry, says Hedi Ehlen, managing director of the Handarbeit Initiative. The main focus is on knitting and crocheting, sewing, repairs and upcycling. “The fact that knitting is an activity for older students can, in good conscience, be described as a cliché,” says Pfeiffer.

The fact that knitting is chic again can be seen on Instagram and Co. At the same time, the Internet has become the most important source of inspiration, observes the Handarbeit initiative.

Right stitch, left stitch

Some are watching the hype with mixed feelings: The Amadeu Antonio Foundation fears that right-wing extremist influencers who presented themselves as “wifeys” who love cooking or knitting could influence young women in the spirit of a home-and-hearth ideology. The Handarbeit Initiative has not yet observed any such infiltration attempts. “It is important to us that knitting is a hobby for everyone – regardless of gender, origin or sexual orientation.”

But whether right-wing or left-wing, politics has been entangled again and again over time. During the French Revolution, tricoteuses attracted attention with knitting. During the First World War, female agents are said to have sent messages using various knitting patterns. And from trend researcher Wenzel’s point of view, the Greens used knitting as a provocation with a feminization aspect: “As a move against the apparatchiks and civil servants.”