Why is Yarn so Expensive?

March 17, 2020

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Why is yarn so expensive?’ When thinking about a hobby to learn or a project to start, your budget should will be an important consideration. A lot of hobbies require tools that can be used over and over again. These hobbies may have no supplies or very inexpensive supplies to keep you in your happy place. Think about juggling, all you need are three evenly weighted objects and poof, you can teach yourself how to juggle! What about card tricks? All you need is a deck of cards. Yes, you might need to buy a new deck after a while, but you really aren’t consuming anything each time you practice or show off your skills.

Why am I talking about non-yarn or fabric related hobbies? Each hobby has an approximate budget associated with it, you can be as frugal or as extravagant as you like. Well, with knitting (and sewing) you need tools and supplies. The tools: knitting needles, scissors, yarn needles, rulers, needle gauge etc. are all reusable and will last a very long time if well taken care of. But you can’t knit air, it just doesn’t work. You need to spend something to get the yarn for your projects. (Yes, there are some people who knit or felt with their pets fur, I’m not considering that right now. Yes, the fur is essentially free, but it does take a long time to accumulate and prep that fur and you know that time = money.) So the question becomes, why is yarn so expensive?

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knitted fabric

What Kinds of Yarn are Available?

There are so many different varieties of yarn, some made out of natural fibers, synthetic fibers or mixes of both. Yarns also come in many different weights, they are called weights but really it is a measure of thickness, making the combination of fiber type and weights near infinite.

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Natural Fibers:

This is a long list but no means does it reflect every single kind of fiber used for yarn, these are the most common. (One of our cats has amazing fur that would probably make an amazing yarn, but another kind of cat may not create the same results. Yes, the thought has crossed my mind, maybe when I’m an old cat lady with more than one cat that produces the right kind of fiber and my kids are grown…)

Common Name of Natural Fiber – Origin of Fiber

Wool (varieties such as Merino) – Sheep
Alpaca Wool- Alpaca
Angora Wool – Angora Rabbit
Mohair – Angora Goat
Cashmere – Kashmir Goat
Camel – Baby Camel
Silk – Silk Worm
Yak Wool – Yak
Cotton – Cotton plant
Linen – Flax plant
Bamboo – Bamboo plant

Natural Fiber Care

Natural fibers tend to have the same qualitites in yarn form as they did in their native form. Wool is very forgiving with cool water and no agitation, like a sheep walking through the rain, you can wash it very gently. You don’t see sheep running around with shrunken wool coats, they don’t bathe in hot water while rubbing up against each other. That’s how you get felt. Washing wool in hot water with agitation (like in a washing machine) causes the wool to seize up and lock all the little natural fuzzies (actually small ‘barbs’) together which makes its overall size smaller and denser.

NO DRY CLEANING Necessary! Ever see a sheep hanging and waiting to be picked up from the dry cleaners? Yes, a lot of commercially made wool sweaters suggest dry cleaning. Please don’t do it. Either let it sit, spread out in an airy location so the smells can go away on their own or rinse gently with a wool cleaning no-rinse solution meant for handknits like Soak or Eucalan.

Cotton yarn is soft and breathable, making it ideal for warmer weather garments. It is also very easy to clean, making it just like any other cotton fiber clothing. I would personally wash it very carefully, simply because of all the hours put into the creation of your garment.

Natural Fiber yarn - 100% Merino Wool in black, whitr, purple, magenta and cyan.
100% Merino Wool, a popular natural fiber

Synthetic Fibers:

Synthetic here means that it is mostly man made and chemistry was involved. A few on this list are made from wood pulp cellulose, but need to go through so many processes that the end product is completely unrecognizable from their beginning state. These are the most common types, but there are new synthetic materials being engineered all the time, this list will certainly change over time.

Common Name of Fiber – Origin of Fiber

Rayon – Wood Pulp + lots of processes
Tencel – Wood Pulp + lots of processes
Acrylic – Petroleum Product – Essentially Plastic
Polyester – Petrolum Product + lots of Chemistry
Nylon – Air, Water & Coal

Acrylic Yarn in bright rainbow colors
100% Acrylic Yarn

Do you notice the lack of shine and sophistication with this yarn? It just has this dullness to it that I do not find appealing for sweaters or hats. This is a great yarn for learning to knit and for kids crafts, it definitely has its place in the yarn stash. It also has this bumpiness to it that I have noticed on a lot of acrylic yarns compared to natural fibers, I do not know why its so noticeable but I sure notice it and don’t care for it. I know I’m a yarn snob, please forgive me. I forgo other things so I can have beautiful, kinda pricey yarn sitting in my studio.

Synthetic yarns are usually used to create novelty yarns as well. What is a novelty yarn? It is the kind that you’ll find that has little loops or glitter or shiny stuff in it. Something usually used to accent a piece and held with another strand of acrylic yarn, not usually used for the bulk of the item.

Synthetic Fiber Care

Not nearly as delicate, synthetic fibers can be washed more like regular laundry. I still wouldn’t wash anything too valuable in the washing machine, unless it needs a good cleaning, such as a picnic blanket. Follow the directions on the yarn label, if there are any, just like you would a care label on a garment.

If there is no label or you do not know the fiber content, treat it like you would a very delicate, natural fiber garment. Better safe and clean than sorry and felted!!!!

me

Blends

What is a blend? Ever have a t-shirt tag that says 50% Cotton / 50% Polyester? That is considered a blend. It is a blend of two different fibers to create a new kind of fabric. Why blend fibers? There are many advantages to each kind of fiber listed above. By making a blend, you can have the best quality of each fiber added together to make an even better end product. For example, a lot of sock yarns are made with a combination of Merino and Nylon. The Merino is there for comfort, it is a very soft and warm wool and the Nylon is there for strength, it will extend the life of the socks.

blended Fiber yarn in orange and teal to look like the sky and rocks at Garden of the God in Colorado
A blended sock yarn, 75% Superwash Wool, 25% Nylon.

Blend Fiber Care

This is a tricky question, there are so many different blends out there. I would as a default action, always go with the kind of care required for the most delicate fiber listed on the label.

Why is Yarn so Expensive?

You can find yarn prices from a few dollars a skein to $300 a skein! (Skein is a length of yarn sold at a retail location/festival that is usually twisted or balled up. The larger the project the more skeins are required.) Holy crow. That’s expensive!!!

Why the huge variation in price? It all comes down to time, energy and supply, like most things sold in a retail setting these days. How long does it take to make? How difficult is it to acquire?

Looking at Yarns from Least Expensive to Most Expensive

Synthetic yarns

Synthetic yarns are the least expensive yarns you will find at a retail store. They are made from materials that are more readily available because they are manufactured in larger quantities. Making the yarn from sythetic materials is all done in a factory setting and involves lots of chemistry and/or processes. Just about all of the processes to make synthetic yarn are automated and there is considerably less human labor involved. compared to natural fibers.

A quick summary:
Raw materials made in a factory from petroleum or wood pulp (yes it needs to come from trees, but it is a more readily available product since it is used in a lot of other industries). Dyeing the material that will eventually be the yarn through a chemical reaction. Prepping the fiber so it can be spun, depending on the type of yarn it could be stretching, steaming or bundling different bales. Spinning of the fiber into yarn. Plying the yarn. (Plying is taking a few strands of the spun yarn and twisting them together to make a thicker yarn.) Winding into skeins. Placing a label on the skein. Packaging the yarn into boxes. Shipping the yarn to the warehouse. Shipping the yarn to the final retail location.

Natural Fiber Yarns

Natural fiber yarns have a longer journey from raw material to finished product, both time wise and number of steps required. You want to know why natural fiber yarn is so expensive? A few of the steps can be up to three years! Shearing the Vicuna, a relative of the Llama, is done every three years and it doesn’t produce much fiber at all compared to some sheep. Hence the $300 price tag! Sheep are shorn once a year when their woolen coats are heavy and the weather gets warmer. Goats and rabbits are combed in the spring when they are molting their soft undercoat, and like sheep, they only produce fibers once a year. Wow, that is a long time from ‘sheep to shawl’.

A quick summary:
Fibers from animals need to start at the farm, crops (cotton/flax) need to get settled into the field to germinate. Animals need time to grow their coats, crops need time to grow their fiber products . Shearing or combing the animals is done very infrequently, crops are harvested after their growing season. Both types of fibers need the impurities removed (sheep poop is the first one that comes to mind…). Both types need to be prepped so that the fibers can be spun. Spinning of the fibers into yarn. Plying the yarn. Making smaller skeins from the bulk yarns, the right size for dyeing. Dyeing the yarn and washing it as many times as needed. Winding the yarn into individual skeins. Placing a label on the skeins. Packaging the yarn into boxes. Shipping the yarn to the warehouse. Shipping the yarn to the final retail location. That is a long time and a lot of effort.


My favorite place to get natural fiber yarns is at a festival. Here is more information about festivals.

People walking around a sheep and wool festival
Lots of Vendors and Festival Goers

Yarn Price Ranges

When I searched up yarn.com to see their yarn selection, I paid attention to the number of yarns in each price bracket. Yarn.com is the website for Webs, a large, if not the largest, yarn store in the US. The brackets are as follows: (I am rounding, I don’t need to add in all the .99 cents, pardon my laziness)
$0 – $5 – 51 yarns
$5 – $10 – 295 yarns
$10 – $15 – 231 yarns
$15 – $20 – 136 yarns
$20 – $30 – 134 yarns
$30 – $40 – 49 yarns
$40 – $50 – 15 yarns
Over $50 – 40 yarns

So the most common price range is between $5 – $10. You can find some very nice varieties in that price range, I’m seeing some Icelandic Wool, Kid Mohair / Mulberry silk blends, Merino Wool and some very nice Acrylics. Acrylics have come a long way since they were first produced, give them a try.

What Yarn Should You Use When Just Starting to Knit?

I recommend using an inexpensive acrylic yarn:
1) They are usually tightly wound/plied – reducing the splitting of the yarn plies which is soooo annoying/confusing to beginners.
2) Inexpensive yarn will not make you feel guilty that your knitting is less than perfect. You can mess up over and over again, you don’t feel like you have to make something perfect the first time. Remember, you can always undo it and start over.
3) Acrylic yarn does not pill as much as natural wools, you can take out a section of knitting over and over again and it will still look decent. I like to learn a technique then rip it out so I can use the yarn again and again.

Why Choose a Yarn Based on Fiber Content Instead of Price?

The end goal of your project will help determine (nicer way of saying, ‘should dictate’) the kind of yarn you should buy.

For example: If you are making an heirloom shawl for your daughter’s wedding, I would splurge and get the soft, etherial yarn that she will enjoy and keep forever. A heavy, not so soft acrylic shawl would not really do the trick. It doesn’t fit the occasion.

Another example: You are interested in making a gift for your friend who has a cabin in the woods. This would be ideal for a heavyweight blanket. A heavy weight, yet softish acrylic that is less than $10 a skein would be more suited to this project than a thin, super soft Angora that is $40 a skein. It wouldn’t be warm or comforting on a cold winter’s night. Plus it would be astronomically expensive!

If you, like most of us, are bound to a budget, make the most of it. You can find some decent Acrylics and Wools at big box stores.

The BEST TIP:

The best way to tell if you will like a particular yarn is to check out it’s softness. If you are making a scarf, put it up against your face. If you are making a blanket, put it up against your arms and neck. I would not recommend putting sock yarn on your feet, that’s just not cool. Just do a cheek test with the sock yarn and pretend it’s your foot.

Promise me you will buy the right yarn for your project, it will be worth it in the end. Putting in all that time and effort, you want it to be used, loved and not irriatating to the skin!!!


Once you get the yarn for your project, check out the Stitch Clinic FREE project tracker to help you keep your project going smoothly. Subscribe below.

Psssst… Use this pin to save this article on Pinterest when your significant other or parent asks you why yarn is so darn expensive!

Upclose photo of blue purple and pink yarn
photos of different yarns
Upclose image of blue, white and pink yarn

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