Knitting on a budget
A few people have asked me how I fund my knitting habit, so I thought I'd write a post on knitting with nice yarns without going broke.
I'm not a fan of synthetic yarns, especially acrylic. There are few synthetic fibers that compare to wool and other natural fibers in warmth, practicality, durability, texture, or attractiveness (did you know that wool can absorb up to ten times its weight in water before it starts to feel wet? that's my favorite natural fiber fact). Personally, if I'm going to put lots of effort and time into knitting something, I like to end up with something that lasts - and also something that looks and feels good. Acrylic generally doesn't satisfy those criteria, so I rarely knit with it (there are a few exceptions; more on that later).
I also try to be realistic about the costs of knitting. The bottom line is that it's not a cheap habit. The only way I would be able to make sweaters for cheaper than retail prices would be if I knit exclusively with the most inexpensive yarns, which tend to be synthetic fibers. For me, the higher quality of the finished product is worth shelling out more money for good materials. I would never pay $60 for a store-bought sweater (probably made out of acrylic anyway), but I would by $60 worth of wool or alpaca to make a sweater pattern I really loved, custom-made to my measurements. I'm unlikely to find that exact finished product in a store, and even if I did it would cost far more than $60.
Anyway. The internet is a great resource for good deals on yarn. There are online stores that sell brand name yarns at lower than retail prices, online companies that manufacture their own line of yarns, and online companies that do both. Swapping yarn with people online is another a good way to get your hands on yarn that you might ordinarily be too frugal to buy in a yarn store. Finally, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for 'destashing' sales by other knitters. The prices are often much lower than store prices. I've included a bunch of links to internet retailers and swapping/destashing blogs at the end of the post.
I used to buy a lot of yarn online, but lately I prefer to support my local yarn store (LYS) - all the more since I now work there! I think it's entirely possible to be a regular patron of an LYS and still keep the costs of knitting at an affordable level. You just have to be selective about what - and how much - you buy. A few guidelines:
- Budget how much you can spend on knitting supplies in a month, or in a year. I try to keep it down to $30-40 a month (which historically I've been able to afford since I almost never buy new clothes. Whoops). If I want to spend more than my monthly budget on a particular project, then I compensate by not buying any yarn in the next month or two.
- Don't be afraid to substitute a more affordable option if a pattern calls for a yarn beyond your budget. Look for yarn that knits up to the same gauge, has a similar composition, appearance and texture to the original yarn, and behaves similarly to the original yarn. Don't substitute cotton for wool or boucle for tweed; you'll end up with something entirely other than the original pattern (which can be fine if that's what you're going for). As long as you choose a substitute yarn carefully, you should be able to find something that works with both the pattern and your wallet. I've been able to cut down the costs of my knitting by a lot by substituting yarns. For example, I made a sweater out of Rowan's Vintage Knits that called for 6 balls of Rowan Felted Tweed - a $60 investment. Instead I used Grignasco Tango, a yarn with an identical fiber composition and tweedy appearance that cost only $36 total. I could also have used Elsbeth Lavold's Silky Wool ($42) or Kathmandu DK ($36). Most LYS's carry a number of good, basic yarns that are very affordable, have great yardage per skein (Silky Wool is a great example, also Cascade 220) and are easily substituted into a wide range of patterns.
- Look past high prices. Some yarns seem much more expensive than they really are. Be sure to check the yardage per skein before you decide if you can afford a particular yarn. Example - our store had a sale a couple months ago, and everything in the store was (at least) 25% off. People made a beeline for all the cheapest stuff, while overlooking a number of higher-priced yarns that would have been great sale deals - e.g. Alchemy Promise, a hand-dyed 85% mohair/15% nylon blend that's $32/skein. It seems like a high price until you realize that there are over 400 yards in each skein, and the gauge is huge - 3 sts/in. With that kind of yardage most people would no more than 3 skeins, more likely 2, to make a sweater. I was kind of surprised at the fact that not a single person besides myself took advantage of the reduced price. Anyway, the point is, a high price per skein is only half of the story.
- Knit small projects for yarns that you absolutely love but can't afford in large amounts. We just got some handspun cashmere in the store which is sooooo soft I can hardly even describe it - it's like feeling a cloud. Unfortunately it's almost $40 a skein. I'm planning on buying a couple skeins to make some super soft and warm fingerless gloves for the winter. I'm never going to be able to afford to knit a large project out of cashmere or silk, but I can afford to knit hats, gloves, scarves, etc out of luxury fibers.
- Knit lots of lace. This is my favorite strategy! Seriously, lace is probably the most affordable type of knitting out there. Lace shawls and sweaters take much, much less yarn to make than plain stockinette or textured knits. For the lace shawl I posted most recently, I used a Cashmere/silk blend that costs $31 per skein - but since the shawl is pretty small, and it's lace, it took only one skein. Two skeins would get most women a decent sized shawl. I'm highly skeptical that anyone could buy a handmade cashmere and silk shawl in a store for $62, much less half that. Also, lace shawls take some time to knit, so you're using less yarn for about the amount of time as it takes to knit a sweater (or longer). So lace knitters get more knitting enjoyment out of less yarn - more bang per buck. There are also a lot of very affordable lace and fingering weight luxury yarns on the market. Zephyr Wool-Silk (50-50%) is $7 a ball, and 2 balls are enough for a very large shawl. Misti Alpaca Lace (100% alpaca) is about $6 a ball, and 3 balls are enough for a large shawl. This means that you can make an intricate lace shawl (or sweater, or christening robe) that might someday be a family heirloom for less than $20. So yeah. Lace.
Um, that's all I got. Any other suggestions?
Knitpicks - sell their own line
Elann - own line and brand names
Handpainted yarn - own line of really lovely hand-dyed, often hand-spun yarns from Uruguay.
Discountyarn Sale - brand names, mostly sold by the bag. Good resource if you need a large amount (around 8-10 skeins or more) of yarn in one color.
Webs - (own line and brand names)
The Lorien Store - great deals on Brown Sheep, Louet
Destash for Cash
Destash and Restash