Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

blog my yarn use

I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….

12 thoughts on “Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

  1. Thank you for your insightful article on your (and my!) knitting habits. My MBA project was Harlequin (of romance book fame). I wish I could have chosen yarn as you did. You’ve differentiated process vs product knitter which I found very interesting. Newly retired, I too have become very cost conscious about my knitting habits and buy only what I need once the project has been chosen. I’m looking forward to seeing your PHD thesis on the yarn industry. 😉

    • Hi, unfortunately the paper on yarn was just for the marketing module; my thesis will be on stakeholder engagement in mental healthcare provision. I think yours sounds like fun! I also tend to buy only what I need for particular projects; my impulse buying is mostly a thing of the past.

  2. Using luxury yarns is a slippery slope. I don’t really want to knit with any more Patons Classic Wool or Cascasde 220, although both have their place and are more than adequate, I’d rather knit with Rowan, which I put under the luxury heading considering landed prices in Canada, plus our added 15% tax. That said and done, my Rowan consumption (and hoarding, it must be said) went up considerably when a new Rowan-carrying LYS opened up. I don’t even want to know how much I spent on Rowan last year, but it’s a considerable enough amount that if I transferred my woolly transgressions to a shoe fetish, for example, I’d be prancing around in Manolo’s and Jimmy Choo’s for every day of the week.

    Yes, I calculate cost per hour, too! (LOL – analytical minds need this information). Cost per wear is also a factor. Some things, like my Gypsy in Kidsilk Trio, become “reasonable” when I consider I wore this sweater at least 50 times over the course of last winter. Other things, like a hat made in angora that was worn only once, can’t be justified using the same formulation. However, three evenings of knitting using lovely yarn that cost the price of a take-out meal for two, well, I can qualify that and let it slide.

    Sock knitting remains the biggest bang for your buck per hour, considering most pairs of socks take me at least 10 days to knit. I’m always willing to spend a bit more on sock wool, which as we all know does not count for stash! (And yes, I am still trying to encourage you to join us sock knitters on the dark side).

    I’m tempted by indie dyers and niche-market wool as well. I like to encourage local dyers and Canadian manufacturers, and there is no shortage of choice right now.

    Regarding impulse versus planned purchases, I’d say I’m a mix of both. I’ve splurged on a project when I’ve noticed a new FO at my LYS, yet I also plan future projects based on sales and promotions, which leads me to MY next point: how the internet has changed knitting! Ravelry is an inspiration beyond words, and I often “shop” my favorites to quench my thirst du jour. Same for bloggers. How many times have I seen a gorgeous FO and just needed to make it? Or what about those sales previews from places like Webs and Deramores? Need I go on?

    My only rule of late has been to buy wool with a specific project in mind. I then bundle pattern and wool and stash both away. In quiet times, I might start a gauge swatch and make a note of needle size, and “shop my stash” with my mood and needs.

    I also consider myself fortunate enough to be able to afford most of what tickles my fancy, and I consider myself very privileged in this regard.

    Like many things we consume in life, it’s separating needs versus wants and trying to maintain an air of responsibility. And one day, I’ll cull my stash, and pass on a lot of wool I’ll never knit, and we all know what will happen to that dreaded vacuum, don’t we? It will be filled with more wool…

    • Hi Ann, Its good to see that others have a cost per hour mindset as well. I love that you calculate the cost per wear too; this is really important. Too often, of course, we don’t have a reasonable idea of which items will be the most wearable beforehand. I think that these days I want to knit with yarn that feels lovely, and I want to knit patterns that are challenging and fun. Reading your comment has made me think of another calculation: percentage of a Jimmy Choo, as in “the yarn for this pullover comes to 1/8th of a pair of Jimmy Choos”.

  3. Thank you thank you thank you – for giving me a way to justify spending more on wool/yarn – my entertainment budget!
    How much I spend on yarn is dependent on total cost per shipment and my current mood! But, if I can take it out of my entertainment budget then I will spend more!
    I still use budget yarns for toys and novelty knits, but am coming round to spending more on garments that will last and this usually means spending more.
    However, being machine washable is very important to me too – I have 2 boys aged 2 and 4 so time spent hand washing or caring for very delicate fibers – just not going to happen at the moment.
    I am also now a stay at home mum as well as a canny scot – so don’t often spend on the expensive yarns, but my item production has slowed down (see above comment about 2 small boys) and my appreciation of getting what you pay for and over exposure to sheer beautiful ness of lovely yarn on ravelry may influence me to increase my spend.

    In conclusion – tell my husband its okay to spend more, but don’t tell him what I spend already!

    • I’m always happy to be an enabler! I really do feel that yarn is a legitimate entertainment expense. As to the wachine washing – I would definitely not want to be hand washing after two little boys; luckily, there are some really great machine washable yarns available these days. You could always try the Jimmy Choo argument on your husband (see above comment). Of course, it works best if you are likely to buy Jimmy Choos in the first place (and thus probably wouldn’t fly for me!).

  4. What a way to lay it out. I like how you roll with yarn for projects.
    Right now I have a big stash. Unfortunately, I have many one skeiners. I tend to buy my yarn from a LYS. I tend to stick to my favorites – Malabrigo, Madtosh, Spud & Chloe, Cascade 220, or Debbie Bliss Cashmerino. I eye Quince & Co. all the time. I’ve never use Brooklyn Tweed or Noro. Noro seems a bit scratchy to me. I’ve used Rowan a few times as well. I have used acrylic, but usually the nicer ones for baby projects. As a fellow parent who’s been there, I know how exhausting it is to take care of a baby. Handwashing is the last thing on my mind.

    • Your favorites are all good ones for me, too (though I have yet to try Spud & Chloe). I highly recommend the Quince & Co; I have used their Lark, Chickadee and Osprey and am thinking of trying their linen yarn. Noro is a bit scratchy, but definitely has a way with long-run colours. I think that sock knitters can impulse buy easier than someone who mostly knits sweaters, because a single skein is enough for a project. Too bad I don’t have the patience for sock knitting.

  5. You are lucky that you don’t have to add shipping charges to the total cost!
    I leave in Greece, and yarn from the most popular companies for us knitters here can only be bought online, plus any shipping charge that may apply. We do have Greek yarns (exceptional cotton yarn), most big European yarn labels like Schachenmeyer and Katia and of course all the Turkish ones, which offer varying quality and prices – from high to low.
    So if you want to go ‘luxury’ like Noro and Rowan, you have to think twice about the cost.
    There is also the problem, that even if you find an online shop that ships to Greece, chances are that they might have limited stock (like 1-2 products per brand), and/or limited colorways.

    Personally, I see myself buying more yarn each year in the past 2-3 years, in part because I knit larger projects, but also because I consider knitting and yarn hunting part of my entertainment – just as you describe. I usually try not to think about the amount of money I spend on yarn (totally not how I work), because I think I will get very stressed xD.
    The diversity of yarn that I use has also grown, mainly because I order more yarn online. Thanks to the internet I was able to work with Noro, Lopi, Wollmeise, Drops, Lithuanian yarn, DyeForYarn and other various handdyed yarns.
    The only time that I plan yarn hunting is when I have travel plans to other European countries. xD

    Though I think that, when I get to have more regular access to a wider range of yarns, I will start being much pickier and a lot more particular on what and how often I buy yarn.

    • I know what you mean about the shipping costs. Last year, I tried a number of North American yarns (Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fiber Arts) and ended up not only paying big shipping costs, but having the yarn held up in Customs and paying import duties. I now only buy yarns from UK companies, or from local yarn shops, where the customs and shipping costs have already been absorbed (it at least takes the uncertainty out of the equation). When I lived in Germany, I bought Shachenmeyer and Katia. Being able to get Wollmeise is a plus. The best solution is to always have room in your suitcase when you travel, and indulge in special yarns that way.

  6. I found your article really interesting- thank you. I don’t calculate the cost per hour as such and as a product knitter formerly traded down my yarn choice or reasons of economy. However I have since I adjusted my thinking and now recognise the added value conferred by using yarn I love. The initial outlay may be more but, as you observe, it adds so much to the process and thus represents excellent value for money in terms of pleasure per hour. in addition when the knitting is done I have a garment I love and will wear rather than the compromise garments that I used to end up with, which rarely lived up o expectations and which were often quickly cast aside.

    • Pleasure per hour is an excellent measure. I couldn’t agree with you more – It is far better to knit something you will treasure and wear for many years, than to skimp on the yarn and make a project you don’t love.

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