Choosing Yarn – Big Box vs. LYS (by Jenifer Rank)
What is the first thing to look for when choosing yarn? Is it color, weight, feel? Or is it the location that you purchase it from?
There are basically three options if you want instant gratification and want to start your project immediately. You can head to a local farmer’s market, a “big box” craft store – think JoAnn, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart, etc., or a local yarn shop (LYS). What is the difference, really? They all have yarn and a good variety of yarn at that!
So, let’s start with the largest of the options: the craft store. This is a fantastic option if you are trying to a project on a small budget. A ball/skein of yarn can cost anywhere from $2.99 to $10.00 – and that’s the maximum of the range. There are always sales, and usually coupons.
There is a wide variety of acrylics, wools, cottons, sequins, blends, eco-friendly, baby yarns, and sock yarns to choose from. When I started knitting about ten years ago, you could basically get either acrylic or cotton yarns from the craft stores. The stock (and quality of that stock) has improved drastically in the last decade. Some of the latest additions that I’ve noticed have been the “Bamboo Ewe” and “Full o’ Sheep” from Debbie Stoller’s new line of yarns.
The craft stores are a great, economical option – especially if you are trying a new skill, like knitting in the round, or attempting to learn to crochet. The downside of the craft stores is that chances are, there might be one or two employees there that knit or crochet, and they probably won’t be working when you are there. It’s an “on your own” type of experience, and if you’re a novice, should the yarn your pattern calls for isn’t there; substitution might not be a possibility. There is also the environmental factor – these goods are shipped cross country in most cases, made in other countries, and the stores do little to support your local economy.
Next up is the LYS option… awesome choice! I’m a huge proponent of these, even though they are slightly pricier – anywhere from $7.00 all the way to $50. The stores are usually staffed with the owner and a small, select group of employees – who have experience with the product. They are on hand to make recommendations, substitutions, and help with pattern selection.
Often, patterns that your LYS carries won’t be available anywhere else. The variety of yarns might be smaller than at a big box store, but orders are usually possible and only take a few days… most also have websites or email where you can arrange an order a few days in advance.
Many LYS also have knitting space, serve tea or coffee, and are a great place to meet and chat with other knitters and crocheters. These shops are usually arranged by weight as opposed to by brand or type like in a craft store.
Smaller, more intimate, and based in your community, your local LYS usually participates in things like school fundraisers or “First Friday” events, and offers special discounts on classes and yarns depending on the month or season. These stores also tend to stock local products, and occasionally spun yarn from the employees themselves!
Finally, there is the option of the Farmer’s Market. Talk about choosing to support directly from the source! Many markets have farmers that also have sheep, and they will bring the wool (from sheep, alpacas, llamas!) as a side product – this is usually already spun, but you can find bags of straight wool. One of the farmers I’ve seen even puts the name of the sheep it came from on the label.
So when you name your sweater ‘The Maybelle Sweater’ on Ravelry, it actually came from Maybelle! A quick word about online shopping – yes, this is a great way to go if you already know the product or are prepared to make a large purchase so that your dye lot is consistent. Shopping via the internet – or trading too, is perfect if you are in the planning stages of a project and have time to wait.
No matter which store you choose, as craft stores are improving their selections, the LYS becomes more endangered. Support them! Go to a knitting night, escape from the house and go chat and sip tea and make new, knitty (or crochet-y) friends!