Why Is Yarn So Expensive in a Yarn Store?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

FOLLOW-UP POST here.

Why We Do

Much has been written about how to answer the common non-crafter question: why do you bother taking all that time to knit or crochet when you can buy a scarf (or whatever it is) for much cheaper at (insert chain store)? The Yarn Harlot always has hilarious answers for these sorts of questions, but I came up with my own list of reasons the other day when I was madly trying to finish a gift for someone and asking myself the same things! Of course, the answer to these sorts of questions is always personal and individual, but if you need a quick comeback for someone, here’s a potential list to pick from.

1. Learning to knit and crochet teaches you not only the skill, but also appreciation for an art form. It’s like taking ballet or music lessons – you never truly appreciate the talent and beauty of the masters until you’ve experienced first hand the effort it takes to get there.

2. There is a huge trend toward artisan and handcrafts, and in my opinion, this is because the general public is sick and tired of the Walmart mentality of “Buy 20 because it’s cheap!” In our hearts, all human beings are individuals, and we appreciate individuality. Knitters and crocheters just have already known for a long time what the rest of the world is starting to figure out! And when you make a gift for someone, you certainly don’t have to worry they’ll receive 10 more of the same.

3. The biggest reason (for me at least) to take the time to make things by hand is because it is the ONLY time to sit down and breathe. I learned right after my dad died very suddenly, and I don’t know how I would have recovered if I hadn’t been able to turn to crocheting and knitting. I couldn’t focus on reading a book, had no interest in anything on TV because I felt like the world didn’t understand my grief, and I couldn’t sleep. When I learned to crochet, I could sit down for an hour or two and have my mind completely focused on what I was doing. I was creatively involved, my hands were busy, and at the end of a project, I had something useful (even if not beautiful, since I was still learning!). Thankfully, I can now remember my dad without feeling all that grief and pain, but crocheting and knitting are still what help me manage stress and those times in life I feel overwhelmed with too much to do. Even half an hour of working on a project makes me feel calmer and more focused.

4. Working with yarn teaches you so much besides just working the hook or needles. When I used to go shopping and buy clothes, I never paid any attention to fiber content. I never knew anything about it, and didn’t realize I needed to know! Now that I’ve learned so much about different fibers, their properties in terms of how they react to heat, water, etc., I’m so much smarter about what clothing I buy! Knitters and crocheters learn all the nuances of their materials hands-on, which is usually the most thorough way to learn anything.

5. And finally, when asked why you bother to craft, there is the old standby question of WHY NOT? If you’re going to sit down and watch TV, why not have a project in hand? Anytime in life you have a chance to learn something new or do something creative, why not?

A Tasting…of Yarn

A few weekends ago, I spent a lovely afternoon at the shop participating in a yarn tasting. Of course it was fun to hang out with my fellow knitters and crocheters instead of working, but I wanted to share it with all of you because if you ever have a chance to go to one at your favorite shop, you should jump at the chance!

For anyone not familiar with what a yarn tasting is, allow me to give you the lovely details. We were tasting yarns from Kelbourne Woolens, who distribute the luscious Fibre Company line. For a minimal fee, which was applied to our purchase, we received a little drawstring bag with a generous sampling of each yarn and a pattern to knit incorporating all the tasting yarns. We even got to try Knightsbridge, which is not even listed yet on their main yarns page. Each sample was wrapped around a card that gave all the details about that particular yarn – yardage, fiber content, etc. The event was 3 hours long, which was just the right amount of time to enjoy knitting through the samples, and ponder projects in our heads…or with each other!

Yarn Tasting Kit for an afternoon of play
Yarn Tasting Kit for an afternoon of play

Aside from the pure relaxation and enjoyment of experimenting with yarn for a few hours, the top reason I would give for going to an event like this is that it’s a great way to get an overview of a line of yarns. Of course, the minute I opened up the kit, I wanted everything, but after knitting with each sample, I was able to think more clearly about what projects I might make with which yarns. I knitted with the tweedy Acadia, and decided I’d like to make a cardigan out of it. I am not usually drawn to tweedy yarns, so this is a classic example of trying something I wouldn’t have usually. I also realized that as lovely as the single ply yarns are, I could rule those out for right now because I already have so many in my stash. And when I started knitting up Tundra, I decided I absolutely MUST design myself a chunky knit dress!

Some of my fellow knitters started making projects out of the tasting samples, but I decided to spend the afternoon playing, and even though I don’t have a FO to show, I’m so glad I did! I highly encourage anyone to try a yarn tasting. If your shop doesn’t have any events like this in the works, set one up for yourself at home. Go through stash, wrap yourself off some yards of yarn, knit different stitch patterns, try new colors together, switch up needle sizes, and just play. I realized in this experience, that I almost never take the time to play with my yarn! I swatch when I’m making garments, but I rarely, if ever, just play. I left feeling relaxed and inspired, and from now on, when I finish a project, I plan to take a little time to play and experiment before starting the next.

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.