How to buy yarn: 5 tips

Martingale's Knit and Crochet Friday

How to buy yarnOne of the questions we get from readers is, “How do I knit or crochet this project with a different yarn than the pattern calls for?”

In June, we began to answer this question, starting with a yarn primer. We know that any successful yarn substitution begins with a knowledge of yarn fibers and characteristics.

If you’ve familiarized yourself with the vast and varied world of yarn, you’re ready to learn the next skill you’ll need to substitute yarns like a pro: how to buy the perfect skein. That’s right—it’s time to go shopping for yarn!

Tip #1: Do a little research

Before you grab your keys and shopping tote, read our primer on yarn. Make sure you’re familiar with some of the basic fibers you’ll be encountering, and their characteristics—this background will help you understand how various yarns behave and how that behavior will affect your pattern.

Tip #2: Gather pattern information

Be sure to bring your pattern with you, or write down all the information about the yarn your pattern calls for, including its weight, fiber content, yardage, and color. Even if you’re shopping for a substitution yarn, a pattern’s yarn requirements can tell you a lot about the pattern and how your choice of yarn will affect it. When making substitutions, it’s especially important to note your pattern’s yardage requirements, because yardage per hank or skein of yarn may differ between yarns.

Great Yarns--one of our local yarn shops!Tip #3: Find a local yarn shop

Search online to find local yarn shops. Write down their hours, location, and phone number in case you get lost or want to call ahead to ask about their selection.

Tip #4: Read the signs (and labels)

Every yarn shop will have a different way of categorizing  inventory. Take a look around and see if there are placards or signs that tell you how they’ve organized their selection—or ask an associate to point you in the right direction. When you find the right section, be sure to compare your notes with the information on the yarn label. Each skein should have a label or tag that tells you the fiber content, yardage, and weight.

Read yarn labels and signs
Read yarn labels and signs

Tip #5: Ask for help

You might have noticed we didn’t include any tips for buying yarn online—and that’s because your local yarn shop (and the people who work there) are an invaluable resource. Unless you live too far away to visit a local yarn shop, we recommend buying yarn in person. Small, local shops are usually owned by yarn-enthusiasts (just like you), and they have a wealth of information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with reading the label on a skein or finding the perfect yarn for your project. They’ll be happy to help!

Stay tuned for our final post on how to substitute yarns, where we’ll give you tips for swapping out yarns in your pattern. Don’t want to miss a post? Make sure you subscribe to Stitch This!.

For more information about yarn and how to use it, check out All About Knitting and A to Z of Knitting.

All about Knitting and A to Z of Knitting
All About Knitting and A to Z of Knitting

Do you have a favorite place to buy yarn? Tell us about it in the comments!

20 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I am in the Atlanta, Ga area, and my favorite palace to buy yarn, chill out, get great INFO is Sheepish located in Decatur, GA. By the way, they have moved to a new location. The staff are so helpful, they even went out of their way to help me on a project. Thanks Carrie and Stacey. I shop there even though there is another shop closer to me that does not offer the friendly and personal attention. So when in the area please visit Sheepish.

    —linda on August 9, 2013
  • My LYS is K2Tog in Albany, CA–Ellen carries a wide variety of mid-range priced yarns, a few high-end. Teachers are well-vetted, and the classes very high quality. Several Knit-alongs are available during the week for $5, a terrific bargain, and one can get brief help at the counter most of the time. Ellen is very responsive to her customers. In all, I recommend anyone looking for yarn in the east San Francisco Bay Area could find what they seem at this LYS.

    —Amy on August 9, 2013
  • Quilt shops and yarn shops are dropping like flies around here. The closest for anything is about 60 miles anymore, so that is a multiple-errand kind of shopping trip anymore.

    —Claudia on August 9, 2013
  • My fave yarn shop is Apple Yarns in Bellingham, Washington State. They carry a wonderful selection of washable wools, alpaca, llama, and cottons, all safe for my wool allergy. Plus, their clearance room has comfy chairs, to try out my newest yarn!

    —Lynne on August 9, 2013
  • I love visiting Spin a Yarn located in Brewer, Maine. Melissa MacCrae loves being the owner of a yarn shop and loves to meet new knitters. She feels it’s a successful day when a new customer comes into her shop. She’s met a new person every day since the beginning of 2013! It’s a welcoming shop and her enthusiasm invites you to stay and look around before deciding on a purchase. There’s always help from Melissa or one of her regular customers who come in often, sometimes sitting to knit.

    —Martha on August 9, 2013
  • I love Wool Over Your Eyes in Greenville, SC. Great shop!
    Thanks for your resources online, like the primer. It helps!

    Jacque on August 9, 2013
  • My favorite place is in my home town called ?Hank and Purl" It’s a small but friendly shop!

    —Kathy on August 9, 2013
  • OMG!!!…OMG!!!!…I just wanted to share this with you…..I love shopping from Mary Maxims…Herrschners…and right here in Victoria Bc Beehive Yarn Shop…..they’re awesome people….but what I have to tell you is…."I made my first knitted toe"…….I found the Patons Yarn site and they have this free sock with toes pattern that’s been discontinued but still in their free patterns section….When I saw that pattern in January I told myself I was going to learn how to make that pattern for my daughters…..Well…8 months later as of 4:57 this morning on August 9 2013 I made my first toe from that pattern….It’s the 37th pair of socks since I saw that pattern…..I have spent the last 8 months learning how to make socks just for that pattern…I think my brain exploded in ideas of what I have just learnt in making that one toe……Thank you Patons…..and Martingale…have a great day!!!!….I am learning so much it’s awesome…..

    —Darlene Krystal on August 9, 2013
  • Believe it or not, the local thrift shop (VERY big thrift shop) always has packs of yarn bundled and grouped without any thought as to what goes together. You get what you get. I have found some treasures there. One day a few months ago, the entire wall was FILLED with about a hundred plastic packages. My daughter (33) was with me and I said, "I think some knitter must have passed away and her children donated all this." She poo-poohed me, but I stand firm on that. I also buy yarn at the local shops and at stores like Michael’s. I now just to need to use it up (ha ha, what a funny thought).

    Debby Kratovil on August 10, 2013
  • FUZZY WUZZY yarns in Arlington Heights Il

    —gloria A on August 10, 2013
  • There are no yarn shops near us, so when my husband goes on business trips, he hunts for yarn and fabric shops all over the US. Last fall we took a trip into New York and Pennsylvania, where he had found a few shops. My favorite yarn shops, now , are the ones we find on our trips…he goes to the motorcycle shops and drops me off at the yarn shops. I love them all, because they are all different and have wonderful yarns to chose from. Now I am beginning a yarn stash so will have to settle down one of these days and actually make my projects. Can hardly wait to see where we go next.

    —Pamela Zajicek on August 11, 2013
  • I buy my yarn at Paradise Fibers in Spokane, WA. They are a family-owned and operated business with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. They are willing to (and do) go the extra mile to be helpful. In addition to yarn they sell raw fibers and dyes and weaving a spinning equipment. It’s a "candy store" for fiber enthusiasts…and no, I don’t work for them! Great place to shop…or order from online.

    —susan on August 12, 2013
  • There is a yarn shop in Lakefield Ontario, Canada called Happenstance.
    The owner obviously enjoys reading and knitting because she sells both yarn and books of every genre.
    I think she should have called her store " Yarns "… for obvious reasons.

    —Wilma Williamson on August 16, 2013
  • I love Happenstance!!!! I have bought many a book and ball of yarn there while cottaging in the area. If fact will be there on Saturday.

    —Pat Bonhoff on August 29, 2013
  • Is that my friend Fontelle’s shop in WA state? Love her; very crochet-friendly! 🙂

    VonVonne on August 29, 2013
  • The Knitting Circle in Milford, MI– one of the best shops in southeast Michigan. Worth the trip, even if you are not nearby.

    —Onda on August 29, 2013
  • My favorite yarn shop is Friends & Fiberworks in Asheville, NC. Not only is huge…..almost 4500 square feet but the staff is so helpful and friendly that anytime I am close I have to stop in. They are located in a mall, just off interstate 26, but are moving to a new location in February. If you haven’t been there before it is a must see!

    Lisa on August 30, 2013
  • lovely jubbly fantastic thanks so much

    accident claims on September 20, 2013
  • I don’t know what you mean (website)????I’m in the process of opening a yarn shop, any info would be great . THANKS

    —Regina Libby on October 26, 2016
  • It sure was nice that you suggested going online to search for local yarn shops and taking note of their phone number that you can call in case you have questions about their selections. This is a great tip for my sister who is looking for a sewing shop where she could buy knitting, sewing, and yarn supplies. She is interested in preparing handmade items that she can give as a gift for the upcoming holiday. Thanks for sharing this.

    Jeana Hughes on September 2, 2021

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