Stories of Yarn Store Etiquette

Those of you who’ve read my blog for any length of time know I work parttime at my favorite yarn shop. I love it and feel privileged to be part of it. However, like any retail job, there is the downside of dealing with rude people. Yarn shops have their own special set of etiquette questions, so in most cases, I like to think people may do something rude without intending to. In the interest of helping to clear up questions about what’s appropriate, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and what those of us who work in shops would consider good etiquette.

But first, allow me to dispel what I call the Friday Night Knitting Club myth. A yarn store, while indeed a wonderful place, does not have magical potion hiding in the corners to guarantee that you will find the social life of your dreams, become best friends with everyone who walks in and receive solutions to all of life’s problems. There is indeed much evidence to support what all of us crafters already know, which is that knitting and/or crocheting do HELP us deal with life. But people need to keep their expectations reasonable, and understand that the general rules of how to build good friendships still apply.

One weekday afternoon when I was working, someone whom I’ve never seen came in and was not happy the shop was so quiet. She wanted to knit with a group and left a bit huffily when I couldn’t guarantee she’d have company for the afternoon. I’m sorry if she was having a lonely day, but did she really think it was my job to provide her a social gathering? I made polite conversation, but that wasn’t enough, which begs the question of what she was looking for. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was anything we as a yarn shop could have provided. I’m not criticizing anyone looking to build friendship around a common interest, but people do need to get over the fantasy that they can just walk into a yarn store and order up a best friend.

Along the same lines, it should also be noted that customers should not treat yarn store staff as their personal (free!) psychologists. I’m shocked at some of the things people expect me to listen to for hours at a time, and to be honest, I find it disrespectful. I’m not trained to help someone solve their family issues, medical issues or whatever the case might be. My job is to help people  find the right yarn for a project, to answer questions about the yarns WE CARRY (more on that in a moment), and to offer knitting and crocheting assistance. In fact, most of us live to help people, and because we love our craft so much, we enjoy teaching and sharing it. But just as in any industry, we are instantly turned off when people have unreasonable expectations or are just plain rude.

And now, the list of etiquette questions that I’ve noticed keep popping up and my thoughts on how to answer them. Unfortunately, it’s usually the worst examples of rudeness that stick in my mind, so I apologize in advance if any snark comes into play here. Please just take it as what NOT to do if you would like to build good relationships at your local yarn shop.

Can I sit and knit in the store, even if I don’t buy yarn?

Every shop owner has the right to make their own rules about this, so you may receive varying replies. At our shop, the short answer to the question is yes. The long answer is, even though my boss cultivates a friendly, open atmosphere and generally does not mind, there are a few caveats. The bottom line is that yarn stores are businesses. Because we have to compete with all the discount stores, plus huge online retailers who can afford to sell the same yarns for a few pennies less, it is a hard business. If you plan to hang out in a shop all the time, or to ask for lots of help, then you should also be buying yarn there. A shop cannot stay open if people don’t support it. Also, if you want to sit and knit for a few hours (or all day), please don’t torture the staff. Sitting there ALL DAY LONG talking nonstop makes it hard for me to do my job. As mentioned above, staff is not there to be someone’s best friend/significant other/psychologist/therapist. Which brings me to a question I just heard the other day and hear pretty much every day in some form…

Do you help people with their knitting? I didn’t buy my yarn here, but I ran into a problem and can’t figure it out. (There’s about a 100 ways to ask this question, and I’ve heard them all.)

I have all kinds of stories about this question. There was the lady who came in with a cheap ball of specialty yarn from Michaels who wanted me to help her figure out how to use it. On a VERY BUSY day. In this situation, let’s be honest. Either Michaels does not offer support, or she knew what top quality help is but was just too cheap to pay for it. I had to send her home to look at Youtube videos because: a) it was a busy day, and b) I don’t work for Michaels or buy my yarn there, so if they’re offering a specialty item, no, I don’t know how to use it.

Aside from situations like this, the answer is yes, we help people all the time, and usually, we LOVE doing it! Just be aware that even if you buy yarn at a shop, you still need to respect the difference between asking for help and taking advantage. Here is asking for help: A customer who buys yarn with us came in the other day for more assistance on a pattern she’s had lots of trouble with. She was very apologetic for coming in again, and I helped her. I told her not to feel bad about asking, and I meant it. We are very happy to help out with things like this, and especially if you bought yarn with us, we will not begrudge you the time if you’re really struggling. We all have been there before ourselves, and the knitting community exists to help each other grow and learn. I never feel taken advantage of when I know someone supports our store and is in genuine need of help and willing to learn.

But, so we understand what it means to take advantage, consider Exhibit A: The customer who asked me to untangle a big mess she’d made out of her ball. And Exhibit B: Another customer who expected me to sit there and do 3 hours of ripping out. Both of these illustrate what it means to take advantage, because both customers were asking me to do something they were perfectly capable of but just didn’t feel like doing. Sorry friends, but dealing with tangled yarn or ripping out because you made a mistake are YOUR responsibility, not the yarn store’s. There is no “expert” trick to untangling yarn, and even if it’s not a busy day, it’s still not my job to clean up someone’s mess. As for ripping out, I am happy to teach customers how to do it, since fixing mistakes is part of becoming a better knitter/crocheter. But customers need to be willing to learn to fix their mistakes because unless they’re paying the yarn store to do it, it is their responsibility. It’s not fun to fix mistakes or to deal with tangles, but neither takes any special skill, and neither is the responsibility of yarn store staff. Speaking of messes…

Can I bring in food, drinks, snacks…?

Short answer, at least in our case, is yes, but DON’T LEAVE A MESS. That is all.

Where is Employee A, when will she be in, why wasn’t she here when I came in, and all similar questions.

There was a lady who got mad because I didn’t know what one of the other staff members did over the weekend. She wanted to know why I wasn’t there certain times of the week, and why the other employee wasn’t there. She got very unpleasant when I told her I have kids and can’t just sit in the shop knitting all the time. (Trust me, I WISH that were possible sometimes!) And then I realized, I don’t need to explain to any customer why I’m there one day and not the next! I’m not sure why she felt entitled to information, but the etiquette here is the same as everywhere else. The yarn community is friendly and warm, which is one of the greatest things about it. But personal privacy and safety still apply, and friendliness should not be confused with expecting someone to be on call.

May I use the ballwinder and swift to wind my yarn if I didn’t buy it here?

This is another question each shop owner will answer differently. My boss is not overly strict about this, and as long as we’re not busy, I’m usually happy to do someone a favor. But a customer that receives this sort of favor should be respectful that it IS a favor. Ballwinders and swifts are expensive and they do wear out. The best etiquette tip I can give in this instance is to just always be mindful that the only time you’re ENTITLED to use a store’s equipment is when you spent money in the store.

Good etiquette really just equals being polite and considerate. I tried to answer questions here that are specific to yarn shops, and I hope this post clears up some of the confusion about what is appropriate.

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