Discussion

01/21/2019

Don’t be a Yarn Snob

Two things happened this weekend that made me think of this:

  1. On Facebook, Gaye Glasspie aka GGmadeit, has a weekly knitting Q&A and she asked who was going to Vogue Knitting Live. Well, I’m not, and it’s because I can’t afford to go to a knitting event unless I’m working the show. People often make assumptions about me. Sometimes it’s flattering, like when they ask me where I got my degree. (I quit high school.) And sometimes it’s annoying, like when they assume I am well-off financially.
  2. On Instagram, I saw a comment from a knitter (sorry, I don’t remember who) who mentioned that she didn’t feel comfortable or welcome at yarn shops or in the mostly-white knitting community where she lived because she can’t afford to spend $30 per skein. She didn’t feel like she fit in with those who knit with nothing but expensive yarns. I’ve knit with yarn that was $30 per skein from time to time, and I’ve also knit with yarn that was $2 or $3 a skein. And the results from both have been wonderful. In fact, looking forward at what I want to knit next, I’m planning to use lower-price, basic yarns that are machine washable.

My grandparents were on a fixed income, and my grandmother did not have much money to buy yarn. She bought 100% acrylic at the local discount store. For cardigans, she often spent more on buttons than she did on yarn. And sometimes, as in the jacket above, she chose designs that didn’t even require buttons. The most important part of making a beautiful garment was her meticulous stitchery.

If you can afford to knit with luxury and hand-dyed yarns, and you prefer them to anything else, that’s OK. If you have the time to hand-wash all of your hand-knits, more power to you.

But please be aware that not all knitters can afford these luxuries. Please be welcoming to those who knit with Lion Brand, Plymouth, Valley Yarns, and other basic, affordable yarns, even if they shop at Michaels. And if you are a shop owner, make sure you carry a good line of affordable yarns in addition to the sparkly, trendy, uppity luxury and hand-dyed yarns.

Free knitting patterns, Knitting, Knitting articles by Donna
45 Comments
  1. A few years ago I paid big $$$’s for a class featuring a “big name” knitting author and teacher at an out of town college which meant some travel and overnight hotels for 2 nights, it was apparent the “big name” was mostly interested in a yarn shop owner that attended the classes. Although “big name” was interesting and had lots to offer, the fawning over the shop owner was a sad reflection of her personally so I no longer buy her books or anything she is involved in. Makes no difference to her but it does to me!

  2. I must say that this is a different take on the yarn discussion. I have a coffee mug that says “Yarn Snob” and I have been heard saying “life is too short to knit with cheap yarn”. However, like someone pointed out cheap doesn’t have to refer to expense paid, but to quality. Cascade 220 and Wool of the Andes are great “workhouse” yarns and I think I get a great value. I am disappointed though when designers design a pattern for a specific and expensive yarn. I have had my eyes on one for over a year, but the $140 price tag for the yarn is beyond my means for one sweater.

  3. I seem to get the same amount of enjoyment no matter the price of the yarn. I have bought high end yarn for projects and I’ve bought less expensive Lion Brand or very recently Knit Picks Wool of the Andes yarn. Both have worked up beautifully and created lovely projects. I have found over the years I just love the process and at the end I get a product. There is a really popular yarn shop about an hour from me. High end and moderate yarns. I took a class there and they pulled all price ranges of yarn for the garment. It was wonderful. They have a very inclusive attitude and the shop is booming. Creating a community and being inclusive to everyone does make a difference. I wish I lived closer, so I could participate in the knitting events they do, like the movie nights.

  4. RI has quite a few local yarn stores that vary pretty wide in their friendliness and affordability. I’ll drive last the three in my town to go to the one that doesn’t treat me like an interloper for heading to the bargain basket. Single parent of three, caregiver to my elderly mom and two adult disabled sisters….I’m broke. Knitting is my escape and needle arts are my passion. It’s a treat for me to buy myself something extra. I do fine for our needs with big box brands, and I proudly display and use my now fifty year old bubblegum pink Afghan made for me by my aunt in 100% acrylic. Redheart most likely.
    Your shop is on my vacation bucket list….maybe someday. I might come in wearing something special I made from some pricey splurge, or wrapped in that big pink afghan.

  5. There also used to be a LYS near me that charged for their knit night and made it very clear they did not welcome anyone using “cheap” yarns. They didn’t specify that it had to have been purchased from them, but since there were no other stores nearby other than the big craft stores it was a good bet that most, if not all, who came there to craft together also purchased their yarn there. I think maybe they did waive the fee for attending if you bought yarn. It just totally went against my belief in customer service being that you help whoever came in as long as they weren’t excessively needy. That customer coming in with inexpensive yarn and a pattern from somewhere else will remember where they got help and will certainly recommend your shop to others. They may even come back and become a regular customer. The odds are always good that quality service with a good selection of merchandise to back it up will lead to more future sales even if not providing much in immediate sales.

  6. I hope you can take the time for a different point of view. Moderate price yarns DO have a place. It’s called Michaels, Joanns, Hobby Lobby, etc… Shop shelf space = money (i.e. rent, salaries, and other business expenses). Big box stores count on high quantity sales and foot traffic that independent shops just can’t attain.

    Therefore, independent shops depend on a higher revenue per sale to stay in business. If the shelves were stocked with lower priced yarns they would not meet their cash flow requirements to stay in business.

    Isn’t it great that we have both kinds of shops to meet the desires of all range of knitters.

  7. Also, shop owners (and ideally any yarn professional) should make an effort to use inclusive terms.

    Knit shop & knit night vs. yarn shop & stitch night.

    And for the love of all, if someone says they are crocheting, please do not make rude comments or displeased faces. Appreciate the fact that they are using yarn and if it’s new to you, you may learn something.

    • Yes, I’m working to get some crochet samples and patterns for my shop. I crochet but less often than I knit, but I don’t design crochet patterns.

    • Yes! Thank you!!! I am a crocheter who is learning how to knit and I can’t tell you how often I get snubbed by the LYS when I tell them I crochet. Often a shop will have a token crocheted item or two but little else related to crocheting. I love to support LYS but if they aren’t willing to be friendly and engaging, I will take my business where it hurts them the most…online!

      • @M, am SO sorry that you have been snubbed by any LYS when you tell them you crochet. I think this is really wrong, very sad, and quite silly!

        I am similar to Donna D. in the fact that I knit more than I crochet, but I do both. (I’ve never designed a pattern for either; I am grateful to brilliant people like Donna who know how :-) Knowing how to crochet is another tool in the knitter’s toolbox in my opinion (and vice versa). I find that knitting is easier for some things, and crochet is easier for others.

        One year I made cotton dish cloths for Christmas presents. The solid, angular Christmas trees were knit with a green variegated yarn, and the lacy snowflakes were crocheted with sparkly white yarn that contained a “metallic” thread. (I warned people NOT to use the snowflakes for hot pads because those “metallic” threads can melt.) I gave each person 1 Christmas tree and 1 snowflake. Only a couple of people to whom I gave the dishcloths knew the difference between knit and crochet, and no one cared!

  8. Thanks, Donna, this needed saying.

  9. Donna, thank you for this excellent post. I will attend Vogue Knitting Live NYC. You and your amazing book on Lithuanian knitting inspired me to take a stranded knitting class. I save all year so I can attend Vogue. I was stressing thinking about the materials needed for this class. I already had to order extra needles, but I also need dk weight yarn. I don’t want to use expensive yarn because I will probably be frogging back my work many times during this class. I was worried that people would judge me poorly if I didn’t use spendy yarn. By reading your post, you have given me the courage to bring my own homespun yarn made from Cheviot wool. This is what I really want to work with, and I have plenty. Donna, your point is spot on. We need to be kind to each other, help one another with no judgement. I will be thinking of you when I take my class.

    • The snobbiest yarn snobs I know will be jealous of your homespun Cheviot. I guess I’m snobby about quality, not price or brand .

      • Lol! Thank you. I cannot refuse the offer of a fleece! I agree, quality is important, not price or brand.

    • Kathleen, home spun yarn is the best of the best! Enjoy your stranded knitting class and wear the result with pride!

  10. My favorite LYS is in the next state (39min 22.8mi), but the owner is so welcoming and non-judgemental it is worth the drive. She taught me the joys of better quality acrylic for projects that must be washable, and/or that do not justify a large expense. There are some big box synthetics available now that did not exist ten years ago and are wonderfully soft to work with. Sadly, in my experience, you trade softness for pill-resistance.

    I feel angry and rejected when a yarn store refuses to stock ANY affordable brand. I remember when 79 cents at the local five and dime was a lot of money in my craft budget.

    • My friend who owns a tiny shop here in VT frowned at me because I bought the Mary Maxim acrylic/wool blend kit for my sweater. But we’re friends and we laugh about it together. It’s OK to have different preferences and not put down other people for what they decide to make, for whatever reason they choose their materials.

  11. Donna, sadly it is the only one near-by. I WANT to support my LYS. I just am having a very hard time justifying it. And you post today hit a nerve. 😫

  12. Personally I prefer to knit with natural fibers, but sometimes I don’t because the people I’m knitting for someone who might be allergic or I’m knitting something for small children or people who don’t have the time or means to wash a 100% wool item.
    When I had my “ brick and mortar “ store my number one goal was to be welcoming and never judge what they were knitting with or their skill level. So many of the customers who came in with cheaper yarns already felt judged by other knitters and stores. It’s important to honor all who have chosen to knit or crochet and not judge or snub them also because they couldn’t afford to buy the yarn they are working with at “your” store. Admittedly most of the yarns I carried in my store were natural, However I still developed a community of crafters by inclusion. Maybe they all didn’t buy their yarn in my store but they took classes there, bought other supplies, came to craft nights, and recommend the store to others.

  13. Donna, thank you for the reminder in your post. Completely agree! Use the yarn that you enjoy and is available to you. ❤️

  14. I learned to knit very shortly after moving to Washington state. I felt fortunate to have so many wonderful knit shops around – until I visited them all and found there was some definite snobbery running rampant.

    The one store that opened whenever they felt like it, rather than the published hours shown in their ads and website. I went in and found it filled with luxury yarns and luxury workers who wouldn’t talk to me unless I had an armful of expensive yarns. I have never purchased anything from this store and have only had one successful visit out of three attempts. Never again.

    The other store closer to home where their “Master Knitter” (who hasn’t actually finished TKGA’s MHK program) gleefully pointed out mistakes in people’s finished objects, sneered and commented loudly when customers diverged from her opinions, purchasing long circular needles for magic loop or working socks on two circulars instead of her preferred DPNs. Another store where most of the employees wouldn’t talk to customers unless they had an armful of luxury yarns. That shop and its sister shop have now closed.

    The several shops that were pleasant and kind, and carried a variety ranging from Sugar & Cream to Tilli Tomas, but just couldn’t compete or survive in this area with the rising rents. Now there aren’t so many stores, and finding certain yarns is becoming more of a challenge unless I buy them online, which saddens me.

    I have a dream of opening an inclusive shop with lessons and knit nights and community building. But at THIRTY SIX DOLLARS PER SQUARE FOOT for space, it will never, ever happen unless I stumble across some rich benefactor who supports my ideas.

    It baffles me how some shops can be so polarizing and unhelpful. I wonder to myself if they realize by doing so they are simply hammering the nails into their own coffin.

    • The only reason we can have a shop is that we moved from California to Colorado to Vermont, and went from corporate jobs to having our own business. AND because our old farmhouse has a big section on the back that has always been used for a business, or at least since the 90s. It was a daycare center, an upholstery shop, and now it’s a yarn store. Definitely working to carry lots of affordable but very nice stuff for local knitters, plus a few luxury yarns for small projects and for summer tourists.

    • I also wonder how many people who open yarn shops never worked in retail before. So they weren’t trained on how to treat customers and they don’t know “the customer is always right” and “leave your shit at home.” When you are at work you are nice and friendly. When you go home, you can be crabby.

  15. Rachel, I hear what you’re saying, but please take a look at the situation from the other side of the counter. Why is it the local yarn shop’s responsibility to provide free help or free knit nights for someone who isn’t a customer?

    Would you expect your plumber or your doctor to provide free service? Why isn’t your LYS owner’s time and expertise just as valuable? Is it because she is female?

    Would you buy a coffee at Dunkin Donuts, then expect to be able to take it into a full service restaurant to drink, taking up a table for free? Why aren’t knitters (and other crafters) asking Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, et al to support the products they sell?

    As for providing lower priced yarns, it isn’t possible to compete with the 50% off coupons, the internet behemoths, etc on price, and still be able to cover rent. That’s why your LYS is closing. Seriously, just do the math: say rent = $2400/ month (and that’s cheap in most places). At a retail price of $6, that’s 400 skeins at $3/skein net on those less expensive yarns. That’s just to cover rent. That doesn’t include utilities, additional inventory (because you constantly ask what’s new) and, oh, something for the yarn shop owner to live on. (Btw, no one is getting rich running a yarn shop, even selling the higher priced yarns.) The big box stores have that kind of volume. Your LYS doesn’t. In fact most LYS can’t – there isn’t enough space to store the amount of yarn required for that level of inventory in most shops.

    • I think yarn shops should help anyone who comes in with a problem and needs help. That said, if they need extensive help, you can have a “knitting doctor” session for $. My LYS in Colorado was like that. They had a table in the store and would help anyone with a quick problem. But if you needed a private lesson, that was available too, with the knitting doctor.

      Also, I would expect anyone I work with or do business with to provide some free advice and service. Yes, including a plumber or a doctor.

      I don’t buy that’s why LYS are closing. Amazon should be putting all bookstores out of business, but there are actually more and more indie bookstores opening now. People want the personal attention. The staff at my bookstore knows what I like and they order stuff just for me. As a yarn shop owner, I try to do the same thing — I get to know my customers and stock things specifically for them.

  16. Speaking as a Fiber Arts Store Owner in Alaska, this baffles me. I understand the purpose of all types of yarns, and while yes, I’d prefer to see folks using natural fibers, the synthetics have their place in the craft. If that is what you can afford to allow you to do your craft, then by all means, GO FOR IT!

    Work with what makes you happy, I might not use it myself, but that’s my problem, not yours. I try to stock a mix of low to high end yarns, rehome vintage yarn as much as possible, and the same goes for my other stock as well. I can’t imagine telling a customer that I refuse to sell a basic product simply because of the material.

  17. thanks for the reminder. There are alot of really nice affordable yarns out there and online places to get them. I don’t live near any yarn shops so don’t see what they offer. I have a big stash and lately it is the basic yarns that I am picking out to knit with, not the hand dyed variegated ones. Maybe because it is winter? I realize my comments aren’t really what the point of your essay was, but I spent yesterday looking at lots of yarn for a new project and like I said, it was the basic, solid, 100% wool yarns that appealed to me. Anyhow I enjoy your stories and love your cardi and thanks for sharing all of it!

    • There is something to be said for the basics. When I had a corporate job, I made some sweaters out of pricey stuff like Noro…. and really, I like the basic, classic sweaters I’ve made out of smooth, solid yarns best. Personally, I prefer the trendy, fun stuff for one-skein projects.

    • Phyllis Bradley 01/21/2019 at 10:56 am Reply

      Kathy, I hadn’t thought of you and your sister and Taos in a month of Sundays! Hope you’re doing well.

      Re: the topic. Snobbery and rudeness are everywhere. I’ve declined to patronize stores that judge me or my choices of materials. (Sad confession; I’ve gotten so accustomed to natural fibers that it’s hard to tolerate the feel of acrylic yarn. I’m also a fool for indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and clean sheets.)
      My privilege isn’t earned and doesn’t make me better than another, or less than, of course.

      • There’s plenty of affordable wool! And cotton! Lion Brand has some great products that are available in the big box stores, and Plymouth, Valley Yarns and some others have really affordable stuff for the LYS market. And there’s lots of stuff I don’t know about, because I don’t got to stores all the time. Our shop that we opened is very small because we’re in a really rural area, so I’m keeping the product lines small, but with a variety from $ to $$$.

  18. Beautifully said! I have witnessed on many occasions, a knitter getting discouraged because of negative comments from other knitters about the yarns they are using to work with. Some of the comments have been outright ugly. It doesn’t matter what the yarn, or fiber content, or name on the label is. What matters is that someone is getting enjoyment out of what they are making and will enjoy the garment or item they have made.
    BTW-I am on a budget, and LOVE the Valley Yarns line (yes, they are my ‘go-to’ yarns)

    • I don’t get why people have to be so snobby about stuff. Like what yarn you use does not make you a better person, whether it’s qiviut or Red Heart Super Saver.

  19. Jennifer Burnham 01/21/2019 at 7:46 am Reply

    A million thanks for this blog! I knit, every single day. All the time. And every Thursday I get together with a few friends and knit. And, unfortunately, a few of them are what I think of as yarn snobs. Only the best. Only the purest. And yes, only the most expensive. But – it’s not me! I buy yarn at my favourite local yarn shop, very rarely and only for something very special. Because I can’t afford it. And truthfully, most of my projects look perfectly good, sometimes better than those my friends produce with much more expensive yarn. And I also hear them often comment that the garment they knit hasn’t worn well, that they are disappointed because it was knit with “xyz” brand. So – I’ll continue using (and buying!) cheaper yarn. Treat myself rarely. And continue to enjoy knitting! And thanks again for this blog.

    • Yes, my plain wool or alpaca and all the acrylic sweater my grandmother made are the best, hardest wearing, and easiest to take care of. You get that fancy stuff and it pills and gets really yucky. That’s been my experience too, at least for sweaters.

  20. Want to put a ❤️ comment on this post!!! Here here!!! While I seriously love knitting with the luxury yarns I can’t afford that luxury anymore. Yet, I am told by my LYS that I can’t come to a knit help night unless I am knitting with yarns purchased from their LYS? They also charge a fee per visit for this “knit help night” and I can’t afford their yarns. So my cheap yarn labels from the crafty store excludes me from my LYS. THIS is why I don’t have my knitting tribe anymore. THIS is why our LYS’s are closing and people go elsewhere. It’s not about race it’s about social status in my neck of the woods. And it’s sad. Dear local LYS-please offer a different price point for ALL your current customers, and future ones. Love, Wanna Support my Local Yarn Shop

    • Must only use from that store? And a fee for knit-night? Are they insane?

      I do stitch nights and I couldn’t care less what people bring. If they buy it from me, awesome, otherwise, who cares? If it is a formal lesson, I can see charging a fee, but if it is a “can you show me what I’m doing wrong on this one stitch/pattern” then of course I’m going to give them the 5-10 minutes of my time and help them out. This is just bizarre to me.

      • Exactly. I don’t get it either.

      • Jon I agree about the insanity! I should have included that I USED to work in an LYS that closed near by. I GET the overhead, time spent helping for “free” and people that expect a lot versus people that don’t. Yes, bottom dollar. Ok. But to witness someone being turned down for “help” that wandered in because they don’t understand a part of a pattern (sorry we don’t carry that designers patterns) to (sorry we can’t help you as that yarn wasn’t purchased here) and they are asked to leave. Too much of our air space being used up I guess? Do you think they will ever return? What happened to helping neighbors? What happened to sharing a craft not for profit, but for the love of creating? Customer service? When it becomes a strict bottom dollar do or don’t , we’ve lost our reason why Knitting brings EVERYONE together, not just a chosen few. Some of us share because we love the craft, not the money.

        • I used to work combat retail, and my general philosophy on customers came down to, treat them politely but firmly, and help them within reasonable parameters.

          At a certain point it became “The Customer is Always Wrong” so most of them, you don’t tell them just how wrong they are, but the ones who take severe advantage, or try to browbeat you into selling below what your wares are worth, politely kick to the curb.

          The courteous customers are welcome to come back, and I will do all I can to help them, the ones who aren’t, really don’t belong shopping on a small scale anyways. I’ve dropped everything I was working on for a polite customer needing a hand, and I’ve dropped multi-hundred dollar orders in the trash, because a customer was being rude or too demanding of my time.

          Most of the time, if it is a question of “Do you have this?” The answer runs the gamut of “yes”, “maybe, let me check”, “already on order, expecting it soon”, or “no, but I’m sure we can find a source for it.” Just answer the question and move on.

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