Monday, April 29, 2013

What Makes a Great Yarn Shop?

My conversation with a fellow knitter on the bus in TO generated this post. I started the conversation rolling by asking her where she likes to shop in the city. (So many yarn shops, so little time and money!) Her response was "Romni Wools", but here are the points she made:
1. A good shop doesn't have a clubby or clique-y feel to it. Ever felt like an outsider at a "knit night" or while wandering around a shop where a group of shop regulars is socializing (and ignoring other customers)? In a good shop, everyone is welcomed warmly, perhaps offered a cup of tea, and engaged in conversation. The staff make you feel that they are genuinely interested in you and what you're doing.
2. A good shop carries lines of yarn in their entirety. Unfortunately, more shops than I would like to mention carry just three or four colours of a type of yarn, and they're usually based on the owner's idiosyncratic tastes. Don't care for 3 shades of orange? Go somewhere else!
3. Good sales people never lie or mislead. You want a double knitting weight of cotton? "Here," says the young woman behind the counter, "this skein is labelled worsted weight, but it'll be just fine for your project." Or, " this ball is a different dye lot, but you'd never be able to tell." This behaviour is even worse when the misleading occurs over the telephone, resulting in a wasted trip to the shop.
4. Great yarn shops carry classic, reasonably priced yarns in sweater quantities. I don't know if it is the trend toward making socks and shawls, but more and more shops seem to specialize in $28 skeins of hand-dyed precious fibre and fewer and fewer carry complete lines of "workhorse" yarns. If you knit a lot of sweaters, there's no way you can feed your habit with super-expensive fibre, not to mention the fact that classic yarns just wear better over time. My personal limit is around $100 for a good sweater, and I rarely come close to spending that.
5. This last point is my own addition. I prefer yarn shops run by owners who are interested in knitting design and designers. You'd be surprised at the number of owners who have absolutely no interest in anything beyond selling pattern books from the big distributors and the yarn specified in those patterns. If a customer shows up with a pattern off the internet, woe betide them. Smart shop owners understand that there's more money to be made from selling yarn than patterns. They may even provide access to a computer to check on yarn requirements or view other knitters' projects on Ravelry. A really smart shop owner supports local designers, with sweater samples labelled with suggested yarns from the shop. Hey owners, we're a great resource!


  1. I also appreciate a store that supports local designers.
    I also like a store that sorts it's yarn by yarn weight so that I can see at a glance all the options availabe to me for the particular yarn weight I need.

    1. I agree with you about yarn weight. Fortunately, all the shops in my area have gone that route.

  2. I LOVE the idea of having a computer handy!! Brilliant. I have a small shop in my village which is super convenient. Went to a knit night there to meet others and was ignored for the entirety. Cliques. Also, I don't like to pay for knit nights. No one is going to go to them who doesn't BUY yarn from the shop. This shop charges $10 for 2 hours of knit night. Not worth it for both reasons. Still, I feel lucky to have a yarn shop in walking distance from my home.

    My grandmother knit gorgeous things her entire life. High quality work with basic wool yarn. She would be appalled at the expense and marketing in kitting today. She had a pattern, or borrowed it or bought it, went to one of many yarn shops in her vicinity, selected a beautiful 100% wool in a color she liked and voila! A sweater came off her needles. No knit shop drama of "try this one instead. it will work." or "try this $100 skein of yarn" or "whoops we don't have the right amount in the color you want".

    I also don't like when a yarn shop sells the pattern books but doesn't have the yarn.

    Also, have sales associates who knit and read a pattern. I also don't like cramped yarn shops although I love a little chaos. Like a kitchen - I want it to look like someone actually cooks.

    And I like NICE sales people. Friendly and helpful.

    Recently, I discovered Churchmouse Yarns and Teas in Washington State. I live on the other coast, but I love their wonderful attitude on the phone, the uber helpfulness and the extremely well-written newsletter they put out. They just love yarn and I will order from them often.

    My village yarn shop is a sweet little place but it's too small, never has the right colors or amounts, not enough samples hanging and their windows are downright boring. They need to change the window decor to attract new business. They could be really really something but the owner doesn't knit!

    Sorry so long and rant-ish. But I feel strongly about it.

    Use to go to a wonderful shop now closed that was everything I loved about the craft: Nice, knitterly owners (Mom and Daughter), happily cluttered shop but with plenty of oak table space for my knitting bag and tea, lots of yarns for stimulation, and plenty of colorways and amounts. FUN!

  3. 1. A good shop has good light so you can see what color the yarn really is without having to ask if it is okay to walk outside and see it in the better light, having to worry the whole time about the owner thinking you really just want to steal the yarn.

    2. Pet peeve of mine--a good yarn shop does not put the price sticker over critical information on the yarn label.

    3. A good yarn shop owner/employee is happy to answer a brief question about a knitting project or pattern instruction. The yarn shop owner at my LYS will reply that she has a two hour knitting help session once a month on Saturday that only costs $15 where such questions can be asked. Then she walks away.

    4. A good yarn shop has a large table and comfortable chairs in the shop where classes are held. There should be enough room around the table that the instructor can easily walk around and see how the students are doing. And did I already mention that the room where classes are held should have adequate light?

    5. A good yarn shop should have lots of knitted samples that are frequently changed and updated with a good variety of styles and sizes. All samples should have an attached card listing the yarn used, the pattern name and location. I love it when the patterns are displayed nearby, so I can just pick it up easily and check out sizes, yardage, and gauge. It's a bonus when the shop also has plenty of the yarn used in stock in several colors nearby. Make it easy for me to make a impulse purchase!

    6. A good yarn shop offers to wind your skeins into yarn cakes for you without charge.


  4. 1. A good yarn shop will have employees who can answer questions about the yarns in the shop: how does it work up? Will it be appropriate for a baby sweater/a special something for my mom/the pattern I brought along? Bonus points for having a swatch worked up and available, or for making a ball of the yarn and needles available for you to work up a test swatch while you sit in one of the shop's comfy chairs under good light.

    2. A good yarn shop keeps regular hours, and is open when they say they'll be open! I don't have a LYS in my town, so if I'm going to a shop, I'm driving an hour or more to get there. More than once, I've gotten to a shop to find it not open at 10:30 although the door says it opens at 10, or the door is locked but the lights are on and a sign says "back in 5 minutes" but after 5 minutes nothing has changed. This has happened to me in more than one shop, and quite frankly, I'm amazed that it happens at all!

    3. A good yarn shop has space to walk in, and the shelves aren't so crammed that it's difficult to pull out a skein from its shelf or cubby without releasing a torrent of wool onto the floor.

  5. Well said all! It seems that this topic provokes strong views. I hope other knitters will continue to add to this list.