Posted by: jinniver | December 14, 2008

The “foreign” yarn dilemma

As we sat around talking, eating, and knitting at our knitting guild Christmas party, one of my fellow knitters reached over to pick up some of the yarn I was working with for a better look. “That’s a beautiful color,” she said.

“Thanks,” I answered. Then I gestured towards our resident sock knitter, catching her attention. “One of the Three Irish Girls monthly colorways,” I told her.

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Our sock knitter (who does knit more than socks, but that’s what she’s best known for) is a recent member of 3IG’s Sock Yarnista club, while I’ve been a member of their Stash Menagerie club for several months. So the colorway I had was not one she’d received, but since members can always go back and order any of the exclusive colorways later; I wanted to give her a chance to see this one up close in case she was interested. Other knitters were interested, and we talked briefly about the clubs, the yarn bases, and the exclusive colorways for a bit before moving on to the next topic of conversation.

In some yarn stores, though, this conversation would be anathema…for “foreign” yarn is not welcome.

“Foreign” yarn means any yarn not bought at the store.  I’ve taken part in a couple discussions about whether foreign yarn is or should be allowed in an LYS.  Those who have or support an exclusion policy make some good arguments.  Some knitters have stated that if you’re going to be taking advantage of an LYS’s hospitality, you have an obligation to support that store by buying your yarn there–and visibly demonstrate that support by knitting with only their yarns while there.  A few pointed out that there have been occasions when they were knitting that someone browsing through the store has asked about their project, and they’ve not only been able to take them to the yarn they’re using on the shelf, they’ve helped make a sale.

I can’t dispute the second point; it’s an excellent one.  But I think both of them miss the mark by implying that knitters’ abilities to show support for their LYS are so limited…and I think LYSOs who enforce such policies are missing a great opportunity.

I don’t buy all of my yarn at my LYS, and I doubt I’m unique.  What kills me are how many knitters seem to feel guilty about this.  They talk about “cheating” on their LYS, and sneaking around with the foreign yarn.  I think some LYSOs are to blame for this, by making foreign yarn unwelcome.  But let’s be realistic–there are no LYSs that can possibly carry all of the yarn that a knitter will want at all of the price points every knitter can afford (not even WEBS–I’ve looked for yarn online there and not found it, despite their gigantic selection and great prices).  An LYSO who takes the attitude of “not in my store” risks limiting the knitters who shop there…or alienating the ones who don’t like feeling as though they’re in the wrong by sometimes buying elsewhere.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life–it’s the spice of knitting.  By shopping at other LYSs and online, I’ve been exposed to so many different fibers, and yarn types, and coloring techniques.  I love brightly variegated yarns in every weight, but other than sock yarns, my LYS doesn’t carry many of them because they’re not popular in my area.  So I buy a lot of hand-dyed yarns from independent dyers…and then I take them with me to my LYS’s knitting night.  Almost every time, they spark a conversation.  And that conversation will lead to conversations about other yarns and patterns that can be knit with them all, and eventually we have knitters combing the shelves looking for something they can take home to work one of the things we discussed.

After a trip earlier this year to the Pacific Northwest, I came home with a suitcase full of yarn.  The very next knitting night I caught heck for not having brought any of it for a show-and-tell.  Honestly, it had never occurred to me–I have no trouble knitting with foreign yarn, but bringing a suitcase full of it in?  Apparently, it was not only ok, it was expected.  So, I brought it 2 bags worth on Saturday.

Yarn 072508 (3)Yarn 072508 (4)Yarn 072508 (8)Yarn 072508 (9)Yarn 072508 (12)Yarn 072508 (18)Yarn 072508 (23)Yarn 072508 (26)Yarn 072508 (32)Yarn 072508 (38)CountryTime Alpaca Huacaya Dark Grey (3)CountryTime Alpaca Huacaya Lt Grey (3)CountryTime Alpaca Suri Caribbean WatersCountryTime Alpaca Huacaya Caribbean Waters (3)Krystal Acres Alpaca Oreo (2)Krystal Acres Alpaca XavierKrystal Acres Alpaca HoudiniKrystal Acres Royal Baby Alpaca Teal and Purple (2)Dax Alpaca Indigo (2)Dax Alpaca Spinach (2)Manos del Uruguay Evening Ocean (4)Manos del Uruguay Autumn (8)Krystal Acres Royal Baby Alpaca Purple and Blue (1)

Not a single yarn I bought was available at my LYS.  My fellow knitters pawed through it eagerly…and so did the LYSO.  She took notes on yarns that she particularly liked, and ones that seemed popular with others.  She was also able to point out that she’d recently put an order in for a yarn similar to the Noro yarn I bought–the same fiber content and long color runs, but at a more budget friendly price.  And when a few shoppers wandered back and saw what was going on, they joined in–and then went on with their shopping.

My exposure to a wide range of yarns, in fact, has made me a greater asset to my LYS than if I only knit with what was sold there.  Shortly after my show-and-tell day, there was only one woman working the store, and she was busy; when a second customer needed help, she called back, “Jen, you know a lot about yarn–can you come up here and help?”  I was more than happy too, and I was able to find the shopper a good substitute yarn for the pattern she wants to knit.  And I’m confident enough now through my varied yarn experience to jump up and help without being asked.  So while I might not always be able to take a shopper to the yarn I’m knitting with, I’ve often been able to help find something just as good or better–because I’ve never felt ashamed of or unwelcome due to my “foreign” yarns.



  1. I feel that you have a good point. I have some trouble with my LYS. They’re rather hostile to foreign yarns- especially ones I might purchase at a palace that isn’t a LYS.

    They’re great and convenient (right across the street from campus) but they’re rather exclusionary to crochet (they hooks are in the back and you have to know to ask for it, while the needles are prominently displayed) and I’m constantly being told that what I’m doing would look better knitted. That might be true, but I like to crochet; knitting is a task.

    This tone has probably led me to shopping more online; simply because I want to be welcomed. You’d think that they’d like that I crochet because it typically uses up more yarn, but alas.

    Sorry for the dump, your article hit some passionate points for me.

  2. Fascinating post. I feel generally comfortable knitting with ‘foreign’ yarn at my LYS, but it’s usually because my LYS yarn projects are stalled or something. But they’re really nice about it.


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