Knitting on a budget: Buying Yarn

I started knitting when I was in primary school, so I didn’t have to worry about supplies - I just borrowed my mum’s. During high school I dropped in and out of knitting as a hobby (I mostly did cross stitch) but I really got stuck in to it in uni. Picking up any sort of hobby during uni means you have to get… creative with your budget. I quickly learned that there are lots of ways you can make what seems to be a ridiculously expensive hobby into a more manageable one. In this blog post series I’m going to share what I learned in those early uni days, and some extra tips I’ve picked up along the way.

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Most notions are optional for knitting, but at the end of the day there are two things that you can’t get around needing: needles and yarn. We’ll cover needles next time, but in this post I’m going to share ways of making your yarn buying more affordable.

The easiest way to buy yarn on a budget is to buy cheaper yarn. Most budget yarn is acrylic and comes in really big skeins, which is a great place to start if it’s what you need to do. However, “buy cheaper yarn” would make for a really short blog post! So here are my top tips for buying nicer/luxury yarn at more accessible prices.

lean in to marketing channels

When people think of luxury yarn these days, a big part of the conversation is hand dyed yarn from indie dyers. While indie dyed yarn is beautiful and supporting small businesses is gratifying, the small-batch nature of hand dyed yarn means the price tags can get quite high. The flip side of this is that smaller yarn companies rely more heavily on social media to get the word out about their brands, and tend to reward their followers throughout the year. If you have a favourite company you know you want to buy from, follow them on Instagram. You’ll be able to hear about any sales they’re running, and it’s common for companies to run giveaways for special occasions. Due to shipping costs many companies only run giveaways for residents of the country they’re based in, so this is a good opportunity to support local businesses.

Mailing lists are another good source of discounts, both for smaller companies and big brands. Companies will often give you a bonus when you sign up to their list - usually a discount or free shipping. Once you’re on the list you’ll also be the first to know when there are sales on. This is especially good for bigger companies like LoveKnitting and KnitPicks who usually have at least one of their product lines on sale, and advertise these deals via their mailing lists constantly.

find accessible indie dyers

There’s been a recent push in the knitting community to make knitting a more accessible hobby, and indie dyers are starting to jump onboard. One of the more innovative ideas I’ve heard about is a yarn scholarship. The premise is that a dyer sets up a shared pool that people who have funds can donate to, and the dyer then uses the donations to provide yarn to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. The programs are still in the early stages for a lot of dyers, but if you're interested check out the following information:

There is also a group of dyers who are starting to set up more conventional schemes for their stores. These range from discounts for sweater quantities of the same yarn to payment plans to coupon codes for any orders above a minimum value. The best resource for finding them is the roundup over in Amanda of Master Yarnsmith’s Instagram story highlight.

Get thrifty

Going to your local thrift or charity store (for example Vinnies in Australia, or Goodwill in the States) can net some surprising results. If you look hard enough, every so often there’ll be some balls of nice yarn rolling around in the homeware section. You can also buy large jumpers made from really good yarn for a low price - if you have the time and the patience you can unravel them and recycle the yarn.

combine forces with your friends

Do you have people in your life who need yarn? Not just knitters, but crocheters, weavers, or anyone else who has a fibre addiction. If so, going in on a bulk order can save money. It can help you save on shipping costs, and there are a handful of bigger stores that give discounts if you have a higher value order.

The best candidates for big discounts are companies who have wholesale rates. Wholesale rates are the prices that yarn manufacturers use to sell stock to local yarn shops, and the discounts can be huge (up to 50% in some cases). But because the prices are geared towards shops who are purchasing inventory, they usually require a large minimum and - the big catch - a business number (an ABN in Australia, or an EIN in the States). Because of the business number restriction they also tend to be for local vendors. This isn’t always a requirement though, so do a Google search for your favourite yarn company’s name and “wholesale” and see what comes up. The best luck I’ve had with this so far has been with We Are Knitters - the last time I did an order from them you got a 40% discount on orders over 500USD and a 50% discount on orders at 1000USD, and they don’t require a business code. The amounts are a pretty steep ask, but if you have a big group or are trying to build a stash it can work out. You can contact them for more details if you’re interested.

 
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Aside from wholesale discounts, some companies have discounts on all orders over a certain amount. My favourite example is yarn.com (you can’t go wrong with a URL like that!), who have a discount scheme that basically boils down to a 20% discount on most orders over 60USD and a 25% discount on most orders over 120USD.

Keep an eye on the AMERICAN holiday calendar

Pulling all the red and blue clothes out of my wardrobe for 4th of July!

Pulling all the red and blue clothes out of my wardrobe for 4th of July!

One thing I’ve learned after living in the USA for a few years is that Americans love holidays. Not holidays in the take-a-week-off-work-and-go-somewhere sense (they call that vacation), but what we’d call public holidays in Australia. My friend explained once that most of the reason is that they like having an excuse to take a day off work and drink - I told them that we don’t feel the same way in Australia because, well, we just do that whenever we feel like without needing an excuse.

Anyway, the reason that this is relevant is that a strange part of the holiday “celebration” seems to be that shops go on sale. Whether or not you agree with the commercialisation of holidays is a whole other topic that I’m not going to get in to, but keeping an eye on the holiday calendar means that if you can wait until the next holiday rolls around you can probably get that yarn you’ve been eyeing off at a nice discount. This is more common for larger websites, but a lot of smaller businesses have holiday sales too.

Here’s a general outline of the holidays that I’ve noticed are sale days in the States. Since most online stores are based in the US, even if you don’t live in the States you can still take advantage of the sales.

THE BIG KAHUNA - THANKSGIVING WEEKEND

If you’re going to save up for anything, save up for the fourth Friday of November. It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t been to America how important Thanksgiving is, but the biggest sale day of the year is the day after - if a shop is going to have a sale any day of the year, it’ll be on Black Friday. At some point the following Monday was designated as “Cyber Monday” - the idea being that physical shops went on sale on the Friday then online ones had theirs on the Monday. This has just evolved into all shops being on sale for basically the whole weekend. As far as I can tell the popularity of Thanksgiving weekend as a sale event has also spread to other countries, so keep an eye out on your local shops at the end of November to see if it’s become a thing.

OTHER BIG SALE HOLIDAYS

These are the other days that shops are pretty likely to have sales on.

  • President’s Day - third Monday of February: this is less common, but gaining in popularity.

  • Memorial Day - last Monday of May.

  • Labor Day - first Monday of September.

  • Boxing Day - December 26th: this is the best day to try and find sales in Australia and some other Commonwealth countries. It’s slowly starting to gain popularity as a sale day in the USA as well.

That’s it! Tune in next time for some ways to save money on needles. If you have any tips on how to get more affordable yarn, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Many thanks to Wesley Walser for editing, and Morgan Capestrain for the information on indie accessibility programs.