Wednesday, 25 March 2009

buying yarn

I get asked a lot about where I buy stuff, specifically the stuff I used to make my stuff. So in this post I’m letting you in on my yarn buying habitat. I would like to keep this list referenced in my side bar and I want it up to date and as extensive as possible so would welcome suggestions for additions – either by comment or email.

How I buy yarn

First off I have to say, I shop for yarns in a few different ways, based on the way I categorise yarns in my mind.

At the base of things are the bog standard yarns, which are usually around the $5 for a 50gm ball mark. These include a number of yarns produced by Cleckheaton, Patons, Panda and so on. Nothing wrong with them, and many are quite good value. I would use them for things like toys, everyday outer wear, blankets, tea cosies, experimental projects etc. I would quite often buy these yarns from chain discount stores like K-mart or Spotlight and sometimes I can pick them up in good nick from the op-shop. I am not a fan of acrylics or novelty yarns but if for some reason I really wanted something in that line I’d shop for them in the same way. I don’t think too hard about these purchases and they are often incidental.

The next rung up I would call specialty yarns. These are in the $5-10 for a 50gm ball range and I would use them for projects in which I was investing time, from which I wanted longevity, which I wanted to look special or unique, or where something like softness was particularly important. I would use specialty yarns for baby clothes, lace projects, socks, hats, adult garments (where I was confident of the outcome!), stoles, special gifts. In the main I offset the greater expense of the yarn by choosing smaller projects. I might buy specialty yarns on sale or as a consequence of word of mouth, or for a particular project, or because I just fell in love with it, but generally I get them because I am out looking for yarn.

The top tier of yarns I would call luxury yarns and they cost more than $10 for a 50gm ball – sometimes a lot more! I don’t use these yarns often and very rarely for big projects. Their cost is the result of highly expensive fibres like cashmere, high labour costs like hand spinning or dyeing, or reputation for really superior wear and quality. I most often buy a luxury yarn when I have a specific mission, and I have thought about it quite a bit. I would probably have done some research, checked out feedback and projects made with that yarn on Ravelry and maybe even visited yarn shops to fondle the yarn a couple of times before actually making the purchase. I might use a luxury yarn for something that is very small like a hat, or something I see becoming an heirloom like a lace stole.

Places I go in real life to look at and buy yarn

Spotlight in Brunswick - not my favourite place to buy yarn, but it comes through when I am desperate for something straightforward. Occassionally I pick up a bargain here, or a good workhorse yarn and increasingly (although my local Spotlight is not very good for yarn) it has the occassional better yarn, like the new range of merino cashmere blend.

Cleggs in the City – their stocks of yarn are seasonal, so if I want to knit socks in summer I wouldn’t bother, but they have a good array of yarns including excellent European manufacturers such as Rowan as well as Australian and New Zealand yarns. They carry good bog standard yarns as well as lots of specialty and luxury yarns so you can really compare value, colour ranges and so on. They also have quite a lot of knit samples so you can feel the yarn’s knitted fabric, and a good range of clover accessories, though no addi turbo needles. Oh, and they have really good sales. And they take phone orders and post stuff to you, which is really helpful if you know they have something you need but you can’t get there.

Wool Baa in Albert Park – Wool Baa is a delightful shopping experience. Aside from the wool bit, they have good toys for keeping kids amused, an excellent array of pattern books, tables and chairs so you can sit and contemplate a project and staff who are very knowledgeable and helpful. On one visit as I sifted through about 100 balls of Noro, they even brought out cups of tea for my shopping companion and me. But of course that wouldn’t amount to much if the yarn was crap, so luckily they have good yarn right across the three categories too. I like their display – you can see all the yarn at once – and the way it is organised by weights. If this was closer to home I would be here more often. So it’s probably a good thing it is two tram rides away…they do have an online shop, which I have used a few times, but it isn’t a patch on being there.

Sunspun in Cantebury – Ok you got me, I’ve never actually been to Sunspun, but I keep it on the list because so many people shop here who make great stuff and it always comes up on people’s yarn shop lists. From what I understand it is similar in stock range to Wool Baa and if I lived on that side of town I am sure I’d be in there all the time.

Marta’s Yarns in Malvern – the late Marta was a master dyer and a visit to her shop was always about the colour. Her base yarns were also excellent, but her colour combinations were what set her apart. Her daughter, husband and sister have kept the business going in a greatly pared down form and the shop is still well worth a visit for beautiful specialty and luxury yarns. You can always find something interesting and unusual at Marta’s and the colour combos in their own dyed yarns continue to live up to Marta’s reputation.

Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild in North Carlton – the Guild stocks individual skeins of yarn spun and dyed by guild members. It is a delightful place to visit and to look at the amazing work done by regular crafting folk. A great place to splash out on something special for a small scale project with a distinctive handmade feel.

Bendigo Woollen Mills in Bendigo – you can also buy from the Mill’s online shop or by mail order but a visit in person is great to get the feel for ‘Bendy’s’ products (and a visit to the bargain room out the back) is well worth it is you are in the area. Bendy’s products are exceptionally good value and while most of it is in the bog standard price range, I really like the feel and touch of their yarns a bit more than the highly machined feel of other yarns at this price.

Wool on Piper in Kyneton – I’ve been buying from this mill shop since I was a teenager (then called the Meskills wool store) and while I hear the store is for sale, I hope we’ll continue to see their products around. Like Bendy you can buy through mail order but a visit is best for a first time purchase. Meskills wool is excellent value, particularly the 500gm hanks of natural colours in 8 and 12 ply, perfect for a big rugged jumper or coat. The store also stocks a few other yarns and wool products, like sheep skins, woollen socks and garments.

Pear Tree Products in Torquay – Pear tree yarns are amongst my most favourite of the small scale Australian luxury yarn producers as their yarns are light and super super soft and come in lovely and unusual colours. The owner of Pear Tree has deliberately chosen the mill to get an old fashioned and not overly processed feel to her yarns and I love it. The shop is a total delight, with all kinds of things to look at and buy aside from yarn. Pear tree also handles sales through it’s website and has a presence at many shows like Bendigo and Stitches and Craft.

Purl’s Palace in Daylesford – yarn is only one product carried by this shop, but they have a very nice little selection of specialty and luxury yarns and the shop is very beautiful. They also carry a range of very fancy buttons.

Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo – this annual event in June or July is yarn buying mecca. In particular it is a chance to see the product ranges of great Australian manufacturers, indy businesses and overseas yarn products which don’t have a direct retail presence. Of course you also get to see sheep and alpacas and tractors and sheep dogs, as well as fashion parades and all the fun of the fair. A definite yearly highlight.

Wool and Craft Fair in Brunswick – previously known (by me at least) as the Coburg Wool Show and then the Brunswick Wool Show, this annual event (May 30 in 2009) is organised by the Handknitters Guild of Melbourne and is kind of like a mini Bendigo show. Without the sheep and tractors of course. In past years I have purchased some lovely and very well priced yarns at this show.

When real life isn’t an option I buy yarn online at places like – for yarns which are eco friendly and sustainable in both fibre and production this store can’t be beat. Some really lovely lovely stuff. – a great place for undyed as well as hand dyed yarns and accessories including addi needles (my favourite). They send out free sample cards to help you get a feel for their undyed yarns and I think this makes choosing much easier. – there are a whole stack of really creative dyers who sell super special yarns through their Etsy stores. Just browse and stand back. – very good value (though the postage is a killer) bulk undyed yarns from an expat aussie in Hong Kong. If you can dye (which isn’t hard!) it is a wonderful way to buy a whole project’s worth of yarn in a single lot. - WEBS is a major US online yarn company, and though I haven't bought from them I used to listen to their podcast and they carry an excellent range! You do have to pay for the shipping from the US, but otherwise they are good value. - a site that deals exclusively with discontinued and thus discounted stock. Again, I haven't shopped, but I hear you can pick up the odd bargain here if you are prepared to pay for the US shipping. - another discontinued and discount yarn site, this time in Canada. – there’s a range of yarns I know about, but which aren’t readily available in oz. I have been known to cruise online shops though in search of people who ship something in particular to Australia. I’m hanging out for the day knitpicks ship here.

**Many online retailers also have email newsletters which can be well worth signing up for - especially those that carry discount lines which change frequently. You get the heads up early when a limited amount of stock is available.


Kate said...

Great list and info Soozs. Do you mean webs as in - if so they definitely do ship to Australia. I might be a lot richer if they didn't.

innercitygarden said...

Wool on Piper are fabulous. Even though the fox fur on the floor freaks out my kid. Pick Up Stitches, also on Piper St, does a good range of specialty and luxury yarns.

Online, and can be good for bargins.

froginthepond said...

Agree with comments on and - they're worth checking out on a regular basis. I've ordered from both and they're great value and service. I've just ordered a jacket's worth of merino tweed from DBNY for the really good price of $45AUD. Including shipping.
So far I haven't ordered from Webs. Simply because I don't think I could resist that much temptation.

travellersyarn said...

Thanks for the mention!

Thistledew Farm said...

Thanks for the listing - it was fun to hear about your yarn excursions - I am addicted to fiber - it's a texture/color thing for me.

Stacey said...

The Wool and Craft Fair sounds great. I've never heard of it before but am now marking it in the diary.

Judith Turner said...

Hi Sooz great blog! I believe Knit Picks is mailing to Oz now tho i'm yet to buy anything!