Saturday, January 23, 2016

Loonie Lunacy: What's a Knitter To Do?

Just in case your head has been buried in the sand, or you're not Canadian and thus haven't had your eyes on this, our dollar (nicknamed the "loonie" for its picture of the loon) has tanked. Not that many years ago, our dollar was worth MORE than the US buck, but over the last few months the loonie has lost more than a quarter of its value against the US dollar. A few days ago the loonie was down to 68 cents US. This is what happens when you live in a resource-based economy. And living with a retired IMF/World Bank economist means that the value of the dollar, the state of the world's stock markets, and the latest words out of the mouths of Janet Yellen, Larry Summers, Mark Carney, Stephen Poloz, et al. are stock topics of conversation around the dinner table (and the breakfast table, and pretty much whenever).
The loonie's decline is having a noticeable effect on Canadians' purchasing power. If you live here, you've probably already encountered the now infamous $7 head of cauliflower. If you buy quality wool, you're soon going to feel the pain when it comes to purchasing new stock from your LYS, especially American-sourced products.
As you know, I'm a lover of Quince & Co wools. Let's see what they're going for right now. At Montreal's Espace Tricot, 50g of Lark is currently selling for C$11.95. The shop very considerately shows the US price below the Canadian one. It's US$8.46. That's a pretty big gap. For a size 38 cardigan that might take 8 skeins, that comes to $95.60. OK, still under $100, which isn't too horrible for a complete garment, even if American customers get to pay only US$67.68. BTW, if you live in my direction, don't forget you can purchase Quince yarns at Rosehaven Yarns in Picton, ON. I only just noticed that they are selling Lark at a very slightly lower C$10.75-11.75, the lower end presumably for older stock purchased before the latest slide in the loonie.
Now let's check out Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, a wool of similar weight and roughly similar yardage. At the Beehive Wool Shop in Victoria, BC, it's going for C$16.95/skein which works out to C$135.60 for a simple sweater (no cables). With taxes, that ramps up to C$142.38. Ouch! Across the border, they're paying US$12.50/skein, making the same sweater only $100 (plus, as far as I know, there are still no taxes on internet-based sales south of the border).

I'm here to suggest some strategies.

1. If you really love these American wools (and I do) be aware of the big price differential between similar weight wools. As I've just shown, Quince's Lark is a much better value than Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, and although they have a different look, that might not matter for the particular design you're interested in making. Check out andreafromtoronto's "Timberline", designed by BT's Jared Flood but knitted in Quince's Lark. Stunning! By sticking with this quality wool, purchased here in Canada, you're also supporting your LYS. If knitters are struggling with the dollar, Canadian shops are doing so too.

2. If you love Quince and BT wools, then choose smaller, less expensive projects, or larger projects in lighter weights of wool. A sweater quantity (6 skeins) of Quince's lighter weight Chickadee will cost you C$77.70. You get a lot more yardage for your (Canadian) buck. Alas, those Americans will still only pay US$55.02.

3. Explore other less expensive, but beautiful, American wools. Check out Peace Fleece, a blend of American fine wool and mohair, long a favourite of mine. You can see it here in the "Siberian Midnight" colourway. This was the prototype for Harriet's Jacket.


You can order this in Canada from Camilla Valley Farm at a reasonable C$12.55 per 114g skein, less than half the cost of a similar weight of Lark (note that Peace Fleece is a heavier "worsted", though--more like aran or even chunky). Camilla Valley sells the same yarn for US$10.50. Not such a bad differential compared to some other yarns.

4. Feeling priced out of US-spun wools? This might be the case if you are addicted to sweater knitting. Sweaters, after all, take lots and lots of yardage. Try some of the South American-spun imports, like Galway's Highland Heather or Cascade 220. The latter sells at Yarn Forward in Ottawa for C$9.99 for 100g. Comparing it to 100g of Lark at C$25, the Peruvian-spun wools are a great buy.

5. I don't recommend slumming with Knitpicks wools. Although I really love some of Knitpick's products (their wool shaver is the best!), I haven't found joy with any of their wools. This is a matter of personal taste, but there, I've admitted it. I find "Wool of the Andes" a bit skimpy, and the so-called "donegal" colour neps incorporated into the tweed yarns are nothing other than viscose, which looks cheap, at least in my opinion.

6. Want to match the American prices on some luxury products? Try BRITISH wools. Americans pay a lot more than we do in duties on British wools. Wool on Wellington, down the street from my house, has just brought in a pile of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus and Dovestone. Titus is currently going for US$29.00/hank at WEBS, but at Wool-tyme in Ottawa, the price is almost the same at C$29.99 respectively. It might seem a lot for a single skein, but the yardage is so fantastic that only three skeins will make a nice cardigan.

7. Think about Canadian grown/spun alternatives. Not many out there, unfortunately. Of course, there are some wonderful hand-dyed products, but these are mostly dyed foreign-grown wools. And there's good old Briggs and Little, beloved of Elizabeth Zimmermann. But those are "crunchy" woollen-spun wools, not good substitutes for Lark or Chickadee. (Do, however, consider B&L's sportweight next time you're thinking about a warm shawl. My favourite shawl, the one I'm wearing right now on my chilly third floor is this one, and the wool comes in 40+ colours.) Perhaps this is a moment for the Canadian wool industry, small as it is, to step in to fill the breach. Perhaps I might need to take a hand in initiating something in that direction...

Now, if only the cost of those imported fruits and veggies would go down!

14 comments:

  1. Elizabeth, where do you buy your B&L? Do try sell directly online?--Louise

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    1. Where are you based, Louise, in Canada or elsewhere? You can always phone the company to place an individual order. Many of their wools are available through Wool-Tyme, but Heritage is not. If you live in the US, Schoolhouse Press sells Regal.

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    2. Thanks for this. I live in Canada and I'll call directly.--Louise

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  2. You could check out Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta - customwollenmills.com. 100% Canadian. Some product similar to B&L but softer. Some alpaca yarns, some Twisted Sisters yarns, sock yarns, 'Cowichan' yarns, Lopi-style yarns, blankets, work socks, Kilt hose & more.

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    1. Good suggestion. I knitted a sweater from their wool some years ago, and I'd forgotten how lovely it was.

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  3. Oh, am I ever feeling this. I agreed to knit a cabled sweater for my husband out of Shelter. Ordered it from Beehive, and spent close to $300! It had better become an heirloom.

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    1. $300! That's a lot of love.

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    2. $300 is nothing compared to the hours it's going to take me to get through this! I've told him it'll be his Christmas gift.

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  4. Camilla Valley Farm also has Harrisville yarn on their website, a yarn company I've been anxious to try. Their mill has quite the history and they offer some interesting yarns that look mostly rustic and wooly, the kind of yarn I love, and in an expansive palette including some bright and cheerful colours that I often seek. However I think the wool is sourced outside of the US, though it is Shetland wool. Their company website has other interesting offerings including a bulky weight yarn and a dk silk wool blend.
    http://www.camillavalleyfarm.com/knit/harrisvillewool.htm
    http://harrisville.com/our-story/

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    1. Yes, I'm familiar with Harrisville's products. The company has a huge display at Rhinebeck every year. I find their shetland-type wool a bit scratchy. They also spin Brooklyn Tweed's yarns and produce their own Watershed, a Shelter look-alike with a bit more twist (which is nice since Shelter is in my opinion a bit under-spun).

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  5. I don't mind paying my LYS, or indie dyer higher prices for yarn from the US. I do, however, mind that a few Canadian dyers are pricing their yarns in US dollars. Recently, Caterpillargreen yarns explained that while they do offer a conversion from Canadian dollars to US dollars, they are pricing their yarns in Canadian dollars because they are a Canadian company. They will have my support.
    Another option to get through this time is also to knit from stash. At least it will make me feel virtuous when I'd do buy Quince yarns if I've knit up something in the stash first!

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  6. Well, now you are making me think about my decision (on my economist husband's recommendation) to price my patterns on Ravelry in US dollars.

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  7. Thanks for a most enjoyable post. As a dedicated US sweater knitter, I am happy to be on the lower side of the prices, at least for a while. I do love British wools, though, and have willingly paid the price.

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  8. Interesting post, I have been debating how to approach new yarn purchases, had thought maybe Knit Pick would be a solution
    The Custom Woolen Mills site looked interesting so I ordered a couple of skeins of the Mule Spinner 2 ply I would love to purchase a 100% Canadian product
    I definitely have a problem with Canadian companies selling their product in US $, particularly PFD patterns or any product that is being shipped from Canada. Understandably customers wanting to pay by CC is a problem for small businesses but PayPay works well.

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