By this point, we’ve probably all realized that fiber hobbies aren’t exactly cheap. You need a certain amount of tools and materials to get started, and I for one always recommend that people work with the best tools and fiber that their budget will allow. Today we’re going to talk about all of the ways that you can get great stuff for a good price! Strap in, because this is a long episode.
First of all, animal fibers tend to cost more than an acrylic or a plant-based fiber. Fine wools and breed-specific wools will tend to cost a bit more than the generic “WOOL” – because generic wool comes from a blend of bits and pieces of all sorts of fleece. Figure out which materials you like the best, and you can look for good deals within that category. Organic wools and cottons will also tend to cost a bit more than conventional materials, because of the extra considerations that go into manufacturing organics. Click this link to read the Organic Trade Association standards for labeling organic fiber products.
Just about everything that we use is available in a range of prices, from low cost box store items to high cost handmade items.
Hand-dyed fibers will cost more, because you’re paying for all of the labor that goes into dyeing every individual skein. If you’re working with a limited budget, you may not want to pay $20-$30 per skein for hand-dyed fibers. But, if you like the effect that hand-dyeing brings, try dyeing your own! You don’t need fancy equipment or dyes – you can dye with Kool-Aid or food coloring in your own kitchen, without any special equipment. Click this link for a great tutorial on Kool-Aid dyeing. Dyeing with food coloring is the same process, you just need to mordant your yarn with white vinegar or citric acid before you add the dye, so that the chemicals bond to the fibers. Note that these dyes work on protein fibers (wool, alpaca, silk) only.
If you’re looking for lower cost spinning fiber, it might be a good time to learn how to process fleece. Because you’re investing the time needed to prep your fiber, you’ll be paying less per pound than you would buying prepped fiber. There is a tool investment cost involved, but you can often find prep tools secondhand, and some you can build yourself. There are tons of resources online for washing fleeces – find a tutorial that works for you, and go for it! It’s always good to work with a smaller amount first to make sure that your method won’t felt your whole fleece – I usually wash about a pound at a time.
You can also get undyed fiber for less than you would pay for hand-dyed fibers, just like undyed yarn. Paradise Fibers, World of Wool, and Etsy are all good places to find undyed wool. Buying in bulk is also a great way to save, if you’re going to use large amounts of fiber. Paradise Fibers also frequently has great clearance sales.
Blended fibers will tend to cost less than 100% wool – there are some great blended yarns that hold up well and even if there’s only a little bit of wool in the blend, you still get a lot of the desirable wool properties. There are lots of wool blends available at big box stores, and you can frequently get coupons for 50% off any item. Also consider what you’re making and who you’re making it for – a blanket that’s going to live in a dorm room might benefit from being made from 100% acrylic. Not all acrylics are equal – there are some really lovely acrylics that don’t feel squeaky, and benefit from being washable and hardwearing. Some acrylics also feel softer after washing and drying, or being steamed.
There are tons of online stores that have their own house brands that tend to cost less, because there’s no middleman between you and the yarn. KnitPicks only carries their house brand, and WEBS has the Valley Yarn line. KnitPicks offers free shipping on orders over $50, and WEBS has bulk discounts where you get a certain percentage off your total order when you spend $60 or more. If you need smaller amounts, you can try to join up with crafty friends to place one big order and get the discount. LoveKnitting, Discontinued Brand Name Yarn, and various other websites often have good sales and clearance sections. You can hear about sales by signing up to receive online store newsletters.
ColourMart is an animal all of its own – it’s a UK based bulk yarn discount site. You can get large amounts of luxury fibers at a huge discount. They frequently carry merino, cashmere, yak, and other luxury fibers. There are great sales and bulk discounts. The yarns are all oiled for machine knitting, so the yarns have to be washed in a degreaser (such as blue Dawn dish soap) to get the oils off. There are tutorials online for removing the oils from ColourMart yarns.
If you know what yarn you’re looking for, you can look through Ravelry stashes where people may be selling yarn at a discount. You can also frequently find tools, wheels, and lots of other goodies. Click here for a list of destashing Ravelry groups that you can look through to find things for sale or trade.
You don’t have to buy yarn brand new! Lots of people unravel sweaters to reclaim the yarn; you can find sweaters at thrift stores or discount stores. Pay attention to the seams on the sweaters, and pay attention to the fiber content. Click here for the tutorial that Sarah mentioned, it’s a good one! Avoid felted sweaters, because you won’t be able to unravel them. The Ravelry group UnRavelers have great resources for recycling yarns.
Yard sales and estate sales can have good deals on nice yarns, and it’s a good idea to check Craigslist too. Check Facebook for crafty destash groups, or for craft groups in general – you never know when someone will be trying to get rid of things.
I personally consider tools to be an investment, and recommend buying the best tools that you can afford. Sets tend to cost less than buying needles or hooks individually. I do recommend investing in a set of interchangeable needles, because you can make hundreds of combinations of needle size and length. Big box stores also carry needles, and I personally recommend the Susan Bates needles if you’re going to be shopping at box stores. Plus, you can use a coupon! (NOTE: Knitters Pride needles are not manufactured by WEBS, but they do carry the entire line of Knitters Pride needles).
Investing in good tools that you love will be less expensive in the long run – or, at the very least, know that you love what you’re buying. You can frequently find used wheels and tools, and if you take good care of your tools you can often sell them for a good price. Don’t be afraid to shop around for stuff!
There’s always going to be a little bit of an upfront investment when getting into a fiber hobby, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
Note that no one on Ravelry is making sure that free patterns are written well, but people can leave notes on their project page, or comment on the pattern to let other people know whether the pattern is worth making. With free patterns, you can always have a look at the pattern to make sure it’s easy for you to understand, but paid patterns aren’t always high quality and it’s not as easy to tell. Patterns with lots of project tend to be well written, and you can sort the project pages by “most helpful” to read project notes. I do believe in supporting the pattern designer, so I would recommend budgeting for the cost of the pattern when you’re budgeting for the whole project.
Don’t forget about your local library!! Talk to your librarian; they are there to help you find what you’re looking for, and they’re skilled researchers.
Overall, have fun with your hobby! Work with materials and tools that you enjoy, and consider them worth investing in.