My grandmother lived to be 99. She wasn’t any “health nut”, but she did watch her diet and took daily walks. She lived independently all the way up until the last one or two years before she died. If you want to be healthy, there’s no getting around the whole “watch your diet!” advice. However, I do love the fact that this lady, who already has my grandmother beat by 5 years, prefers knitting to exercise. It makes me feel much less ashamed that I do too! And such a generous soul! I’m sharing it because I hope like me, you’ll find it to be a lovely, inspiring thing to read first thing on a stressful Monday morning.
When people come in our store, I can always tell the ones who shop in chain/discount stores by the way they pick up a ball of yarn, look at the price, and immediately put it down again in shock. I truly hope they never visit one of the shops in Beverly Hills that only sell fine cashmere or they might actually faint. Our shop sells a variety of fibers, at a variety of prices, but like any yarn shop, and even online retailers, our yarn is still priced above what you pay at Michaels or JoAnn Fabrics. Sometimes people are so rude I just want to tell them to stop being so cheap, but alot of the time, it seems like they simply don’t understand why it costs more than what they’re used to. I hope the following list helps in understanding what you’re paying for, regardless of what your budget is.
- The majority of yarn shops (at least all the ones I’m familiar with) carry mostly natural fibers, while the chain stores are generally filled with acrylic and other synthetics. And, if you really want to research it, take a look at the prices in your favorite chain store – the natural fiber yarns they do carry cost more than the synthetics, right? Natural fibers are a little like diamonds – they’re a commodity, and there is not a way to industrialize the process. Animals only grow hair/fur so fast, and when a commodity is in limited supply, the value of it, relatively speaking, goes up.
- Animals (or plants) growing the fiber is only the beginning. There is so much more in the process before it arrives at your local yarn shop! The beautiful part of the fiber/handcrafting industry is that it is filled with small business, traditions that have lasted for centuries, and personal touches. However, in business terms, the more steps and handling a product needs before it goes to market, the more costs associated with getting it there. There is a local dyer who sells in our shop, and aside from doing all the dyeing herself, she also rewinds all the skeins. That’s so many more hours of work than producing synthetics in a factory! Another company stopped re-skeining their yarn after the dye process just to cut out an extra step to keep the costs lower for the consumer. However, no matter how much these small businesses try to be efficient and keep costs low, the reality is that it’s impossible for them to sell their products at the same price as a $5 ball of mass-produced synthetic yarn.
- It’s cliche, yes, but you do get what you pay for. When it comes to making clothes, socks, and other wearables, it is extremely important to consider fiber content. Until I started crocheting and knitting, I was completely ignorant of fiber qualities, as I suspect many people are. For example, did you know wool will keep you warm even if it gets wet? There’s a reason that Scandinavia has such a time-honored tradition of wool sweaters! Alpaca is even more warm than wool, and also has the property of providing warmth when wet. This article covers all the great reasons wool is a great buy. Bamboo is also environmentally friendly and has antibacterial properties. On the other hand, I don’t hear very many positive things about acrylic other than how well it holds up to abuse. This is not to insult fans of acrylic, and I use it to make blankets because it stands up so well to the washer and dryer (I’ll pass on handwashing a huge blanket!). However, crafters should be aware that there are major differences in fibers, and if you want all the perks the natural fibers have to offer, then that’s what you should invest in.
- Sometimes, the problem isn’t price – it is that some people really are just too cheap. Once I became a knitter and crocheter, I started paying attention to what stores were selling. For instance, all the cheap knitwear you can buy at Target, Walmart, etc. is all acrylic. When you move up to Macy’s or Nordstrom, for example, the price goes up, but you start seeing fiber blends, like 10% wool, 90% acrylic. If you want a sweater made of completely natural fibers, you have to go to a high-end retailer like Saks or Neiman Marcus, where of course, you pay top dollar. The amount of money you have to spend at one of those stores for a good quality sweater makes the cost of the yarn at your local yarn shop look like a steal! People who complain and act rude about the price of yarn that was produced by hand and is pure, top-quality fiber need to rethink their expectations. No one in their right mind would expect to walk into Saks and buy a sweater for the same price they’d pay at Walmart.
- And now, a note about customer service. I would be retiring on my own private island if I had a dollar for every time someone came in the shop with their cheap yarn from somewhere else, wanting me to teach them what to do with it. As long as the shop isn’t busy, I’m happy to help someone, even if they didn’t buy their yarn with us. But I do wonder why it is that people don’t go back to where they bought their stuff if they have questions about it. The only conclusion I’ve been able to draw is that they can’t find the help they need at the chain stores.While no one can be expected to be a walking encyclopedia of every single yarn ever in existence, generally, yarn shop employees are very knowledgeable about the yarns they carry. We are VERY supportive and happy to provide top-quality customer service to people who shop with us. However, if you do all your shopping at a chain store, you don’t have the right to expect yarn shop employees to go out of their way to solve your customer service issues. Even a chain store can’t stay in business if people only come in to get free tutoring, and they certainly aren’t going to provide customer service for someone else’s product! If you are truly interested in the fiber arts and want to be educated, you can’t put a price on buying your supplies at a place where you can always go back in and get support when you need it.
There is a good reason besides the obvious why those of us who work in the yarn industry take great pride in our work. If you craft with natural fibers, there is no faking the process. You can’t mass-produce animals or fleece. It is one of those few processes left in the world that is still heavily tied to tradition and custom – in the best possible way. I have always enjoyed reading Piecework, which does an excellent job of researching and presenting traditional techniques. But I just found this magazine, which I am adding to my Christmas wish list. Aside from the fact I can now live vicariously through these world travellers, I think it’s wonderful to get firsthand knowledge of where the animals are raised, as well as the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of the people who raise them.
Even though this is the week during the year we are supposed to focus on being grateful, I have to admit I haven’t particularly felt grateful this week. Both of my kids have had stomach flu, so I’ve pretty much spent the week helping them recover from that. There are other things this week stressing me out as well, and let’s be honest, life is full of stuff that just does not generate grateful, happy thoughts. Today, while we are all home recovering, I happened to be catching up on some of my yarn-y reading, aka Vogue Knitting, Interweave, etc., and came across a number of inspiring, charitable knitters and organizations that craft for people in need. Reading about these people who are going through way worse things than I ever have, and the kindness of those who are working to help them, made me feel much more grateful. My life is indeed good, even if a particular week is not. In celebration of Thanksgiving, and of cultivating gratitude year-round, here’s a list of people and/or companies who are doing good in the world. I hope you enjoy browsing this list and feel grateful and inspired to help also! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
- Debbie Macomber and World Vision’s Knit for Kids is perhaps the most well-known, but worthy of support nonetheless. Debbie seems like the patron saint of charitable knitters, and if you haven’t read her books, you should definitely relax a few hours after your turkey and enjoy one!
- More than 50% of the employees at Skeino are challenged. This is a group of people who are often overlooked, and Skeino aims to give them a place in society and a way to make a living. And they’re doing a good job – the Arabella Shawl is gorgeous!
- This generous soul gives free patterns and information on knitting chemo hats.
- Ancient Arts Fibre donates to a cause particularly close to my heart – helping stray animals. I have two rescue cats, and as any animal lover knows, for every two you take in and adopt, there are 200 more that still need help. Dog lovers, they donate to help stray dogs too. And I do think it’s just plain cool to dye yarn based on cats and dogs – who doesn’t want a skein of Meow or Woof Yarn?!
- Ten places that need crocheted items.
…about these really beautiful yarn bowls that make me want to have way more than one and use them for way more than just yarn. I don’t have any yarn bowls, and I never even thought I needed them, but these are changing my mind. I share with you all because you might want to add these to your holiday wish lists! Browsing this site also makes me imagine a utopia in Maine in which there are sheep wandering around, a fireplace, cable-knit sweaters, and all the knitting time I could ever hope for. One can dream…
I’m a big believer that you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, in the case of ballwinders and swifts, you always end up spending a good amount, even for the ones on the low end of the cost spectrum. I will be nice and not name the company I bought my swift and ballwinder from, but let’s just say it’s one of the inexpensive ones, relatively speaking, and sure enough, I’ve had tons of problems. Usually when I want to wind my yarn, I just take it up to the shop, which defeats the purpose of having the equipment at my house. The main problem with my swift is that the screw you use to hold it in place after you expand it to the size of your skein has never worked. It seems like the company never made it properly, and it has never held the swift up. The company even sent me a replacement, which didn’t work any better than the first one!
Then the other day, my husband dug around on a shelf and came up with what you see in the photos. It works like a charm, and I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out such a simple hack! But then that’s the thing about hacks – they are genius, yet simple at the same time.