The LYS dilemma

Let’s talk about local yarn stores. Have you ever noticed that local yarn stores don’t typically seem to carry independent yarns? I’ve been to many places all over the country, but it seems like many yarn stores carry a very specific set of manufacturers.

I think one of the main reasons the local yarn stores don’t carry independent yarns is because they’re too varied for the general customer. It’s a much smarter, from a business standpoint, to have a balanced variety of weights and fibers, in a series of popular colors. Beyond that, a large number of “big name” distributors have required minimum order amounts a retailer must buy in order to carry their yarn. And once you get into the indies, how can you really choose? There’s so many fiber blends and color combinations that it would be difficult to pick things that you know would sell.

On the other hand, as a frequent yarn store shopper, I find it very frustrating to go into a place that sells three major brands and not much else. I know what Rowan, Debblie Bliss, and Cascade have to offer. I also know that a sweater quantity of those yarns can be easily acquired online. Furthermore, I know that every other store in the general area is going to have something similar.

I’d love to go into a store that primarily sells varied types of yarn. Crazy color combinations, fun dyeing techniques or weird blends. I want to see brands I’ve never heard of before, with amazing blends that are softer and feel “more special” than the standard stuff. Why are “workhorse” yarns the focus in many local yarn stores? If I want a sweater quantity of Cascade 220, wouldn’t it make more sense to order it online and verify that I have matched dyelots?

The yarn above is one I bought at Loop, a gorgeous and near-perfect yarn shop in London. Near perfect only because it requires a bit of a trek for me to get there. Although they have some “regular” yarn, I find their collection to be more curated. There are maybe 5 colorways of a certain base instead of all 15. You may struggle to find the seven skeins of Yarn A that you needed, but, in my opinion, you gain so much more.

For one thing, a yarn shop with a ton of indie yarns supports the little guys who need the exposure. You know who Rowan is. You know what their yarns are like. You can see seventy projects done with a Rowan base on Ravelry. One the other hand, buying indie yarn online is a crapshoot. Sometimes you get amazing things and other times you get half-white, crunchy, scratchy skeins with five knots. A shop with a selection of great indie yarns gives me exposure to things I may have wondered about online and introduces me to new things I might like.

Second, a selection of indie yarn tells me a lot about the LYS owner and staff. Imagine walking into a shop with “Julie’s pick of the week” or having someone behind the counter telling you why Brand Q yarn is so awesome in a cowl they’re knitting. When you really like something, you get excited. You want to share it. But if everyone already knows it, you’re not able to share in that new experience with them.

Third, I strongly believe in the potential for yarn to “tell you” what it wants to be. If I love a yarn, and there’s only one skein of it available, I’m going to get that skein and find a pattern that fits it. Knitting is a tactile experience, and I’m not walking away from a good opportunity to play with some pretty string because there’s not enough to make the next thing on my queue. I tend to follow my desires and instincts in a slightly less rigid way.

Finally, a shop with a variety of indie yarns has more flexibility to change up the stock in the shop. Since you don’t have to reorder $750 worth of a brand, you can get a few skeins from one person, try a sampler from another, and get a solid stock of a third. Every time you visit the store, you’d want to stay and browse, because the products are always changing. Right now, when I walk into my LYS’s, aside from a few “seasonal” new things, there isn’t much that I haven’t already seen.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe in supporting the little guy. Especially when there are so many great indies who are breaking out and becoming mainstays in the industry- Madelinetosh and Cephalopod (pictured above) spring to mind immediately.

What does your ideal yarn store carry? What do you dislike about your current LYS? What indie dyers are your favorites? Tell me everything in the comments!
– YX

26 thoughts on “The LYS dilemma

  1. A "Pick of the Week" is a great idea! That way different employees can highlight different yarns. I would love something like this at my LYS.

    I hate having to shop online, rather than locally, but it's the only way to get the quality and color selections that I am looking for.

    1. I agree. …And if I'm being picky, a sweater for me is typically going to be a semisolid and not a multicolor, but it seems like most of my LYS colors are either a straight solid or a multi. I love the subtle color variations of a semisolid in large fabrics.

  2. I am an impulse buyer. If I see brightly colored yarns displayed prominently chances are I can't resist. If I see that there aren't many left then I'm done for. If an LYS were to have a dedicated Indie display I think it would be profitable to the shop as well as the dyer.

    Sadly I am now over 40 miles from any local stores so I have to shop 100% online.

  3. Come to Virginia. We have a (relatively) new store that has enjoyed tremendous success because they carry a huge number of indie yarns. Walking in is like heaven.

    1. It's probably fibre space in Alexandria, Virginia, just over the river from DC. If it isn't I still think you should go see it (though I'd like to know of the other one myself!) because you'd love it. Indie dyers galore! Just in the past year they've had Cephalopod Yarns, The Uncommon Thread, Dragonfly Fibers, Neighborhood Fiber Co., Miss Babs, Skein, The Plucky Knitter, Hedgehog Fibres, and I am sure plenty more I am forgetting. Also BT Shelter and Loft. (And Rowan! Sorry!)

      If you ever get to Philadelphia check out their Loop, and even further afield in East Lansing, Michigan, is a great LYS called Woven Art, which also carries a lot of local indies and a really well-curated selection of cool fibers and yarns and looms, Japanese knitting books, etc.

      Looks like Loop London is a great shop, I've ordered from them before but haven't had a chance to check it out myself. One day…

  4. Whenever I go into a yarn sore, no matter where I am I always ask to see their local yarns. Some have them, many don't. But think of this, if everyone did it the store would get the message. Especially when I am on vacation, I don't want to buy Cascade 220 to remind me of my trip. I want a locally sourced, spun or dyed yarn.

  5. It's an interesting article.

    I'm not sure you represent the typical LYS customer, though. Most customers *don't* shop online, so what they want are the yarns you said you don't want. There ARE locals who carry indies though. I'm in a few and I'm pretty small.

    Another side you might not have thought of, indies don't always WANT to wholesale. There is a limited amount we can make, and if I can sell everything I can make directly to customers then there is no reason to increase wholesale sales.

    There is one LYS here that you would love. It's called Knit Stop (like Pit Stop) because it's owned by one of the the millionaire owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She carries so much yarn I've never heard of anywhere else, I assume partly because profit is not her number one goal. She has a wall of Rowan too, but there's also a $300 skein of Qiviut.

    1. You're absolutely right about indies and wholesaling. You don't get the profit of retail, and selling directly totally makes sense for small lots. I do believe wholesaling is one of the most direct ways to grow a business if your stuff doesn't go rabidly viral (a la Wollmeise). The big cash creates a jump in profit that makes it possible to upgrade or add more equipment or pay someone to help.

      But it depends on the kind of business you want to be, too, I think. Not everyone wants to be big, and that's okay! It would be nice to be able to have indie stuff in a store local to them, to continue to support local artists.

      Maybe it's my secret hope that, with more fun indies in stores, more people will move to a mixture of local and online shopping. Give the online-ers like me some local options, and show the LYS-only shoppers that there are others out there to try.

  6. One thing that I really enjoy while travelling is trying to find local indie yarn to buy, but it's often difficult. When I visit my mom, there's one store that carries a local dyer. In Seattle, the store I visited had yarn spun from local alpacas. Where I used to live, there was a selection of yarn from local dyers, including my friend.

    Why don't more stores carry local dyers or spinners? It's less of a crap shoot than buying from someone you've never heard of online, plus you're supporting your local independent dyers.

    1. I agree! There's a great little alpaca farm down the road from my parents' house, and I grabbed a ton of their alpaca when I was home once (it became my Jaina sweater). The best part was, I got to MEET the alpaca! How cool is that?!

  7. Come to Portland. Seriously, 16 of the 21 LYSes (I've been to 18 of them) have at least some indie dyers. Four stores are about half indie (or more) and two stores have their own dyed yarn. I am not even counting the store that is owned by StitchJones or the store that is basically Shibui.

  8. I don't have a LYS so I have to travel to get to one and it really isn't that great. The store is small and doesn't carry very much inventory and very little in the way of tools, and certainly NO beads. I do a lot of buying online and occasionally I take a day trip to San Francisco, but that becomes very expensive.

    1. That's too bad! It seems like very few stores carry any beads… We had a few bead stores in Houston for awhile, but they all seemed to close, which is a shame. I'd also love to see way more buttons!

  9. "And once you get into the indies, how can you really choose? There's so many fiber blends and color combinations that it would be difficult to pick things that you know would sell." I think the most successful yarn shops don't even ask themselves that question. They know their job is to sell it to you. If you are a LYS come up with reasons to make your customers want that yarn. Purl Soho does a genius job of this with their blog. They create some simple but must have project to highlight some product they want you to take a look at and thus a customer for that product is born. Many times that is how I get sucked into buying a yarn line or fabric line I never would have given a second thought to. (but then I'm easy 😉 )

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