Buying good yarn on a budget

I don’t make it a secret that my financial situation is less than ideal. I’m on disability, I’m up to my ears in debt, almost everything I own, ranging from furniture to clothing, is second- or even third-hand gifts and donations. I have to be careful with my food budget and I need to plan my cats’ boosters a year in advance so I can afford them. I have to occasionally buy them kibble that they don’t like (but still tentatively eat) to ensure the three of us can eat.

That means buying yarn is really a luxury for me. It’s my main hobby and every penny that I don’t spend on food and essentials goes towards it. I reel when I see a single, 50 gram skein being sold for $15. I could never afford or justify it, so a lot on my wishlist will probably forever remain a wish. And that’s okay.

Being frugal means I have no problem with buying cheap yarn. I’ve found that certain projects bear no benefits from using expensive animal fiber wool when acrylics do the job just as well. But cheap doesn’t have to mean ‘no animal fibers’ ever, nor does it mean the quality is low! I’ve wanted to write a post about how to buy good yarn on a budget for a while, and I hope this can help other yarn enthusiasts on a budget to get excellent fibers at a low price! So let’s get started. 😉

Not every project needs animal fiber yarn

As the proud owner of multiple pattern books that were gifted to me by amazing friends, I was astonished to find out that many pattern designers and writers recommend animal fiber yarns for their projects even if the project is non-wearable. I strongly believe that every fiber has its own purpose, and I tend to use wool exclusively for items that will be worn and need to provide warmth. Animal fibers lend excellent qualities in terms of water resistance as well! But when your project is a table cloth or a plushie, you may want to consider switching to an acrylic yarn.

I know that acrylic has a bad reputation with a lot of knitters, particularly with older generations who remember low grade acrylic yarn from several decades ago. I’ve found that nowadays, many acrylic yarns do their job excellently in all sorts of projects. Sweaters, hats, mittens, plushies, cozies and more can all be made with acrylic yarn at a high quality! This is especially useful when you or someone you knit for has a sensitivity or allergy to animal fibers. So if you harbor a grudge against acrylics, or you’ve heard bad stories, give the modern acrylic yarns a whirl. You don’t have to use them exclusively, but it can make a huge difference in your budget if you swap animal fibers for acrylics in projects that don’t rely on wool’s unique qualities.

Dollar Stores

When I first started knitting, I wasn’t ready to invest in expensive yarn with a non-existent skill level. The dollar store was my place to go because the yarn was not only cheap, it was lovely too! Although acrylic seems their main yarn of choice, I’ve noticed that quite a few stores in my area have begun to sell cotton and wool blends as well. Only a few weeks ago I picked up a wonderful wool twisted ply skein, 100 grams for €2.99 ($3,27). While it’s definitely in the more expensive range for a dollar store, it’s half as expensive as the yarn at my LYS.

In many cases I can get 100 gram skeins in acrylic for €0.90 in various colorways. The more extravagant colorways can be a euro extra, but it’s still incredibly affordable. Many people can’t really tell the difference between my real wool yarns and acrylics in both touch and feel. 🙂

If you’re looking for a bargain without sacrificing quality, I recommend you check your dollar store (or perhaps even your big supermarket) and see what they’ve got to offer. My only recommendation is to stay away from single ply yarns (by this I mean the actual ply, not the weight like DK, Worsted etc.). I’ve found that even though they’re super soft, the yarn is also fragile. I’ve had trouble with weaving in ends because the strand kept breaking from a gentle tug. Keep that in mind, but don’t dismiss acrylic yarns altogether because of their price or their fiber content. You’d be surprised at how lovely they can be.

Search online auction/marketplace sites

This is something I had success with recently! I was browsing the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist and stumbled on a leftover lot of discontinued yarn. Retail value for the whole lot was €146 minimum, and I was able to pick up 40 skeins of yarn (nylon/acrylic/wool/silk blend) in various colorways for only €37. That was my entire crafting budget for the month, but for 40 skeins I can hardly complain! I knit a wonderful hat with it last week that I essentially paid less than €2 for instead of €8.

Similarly, I sometimes see ads from people who used to knit or crochet but haven’t done so in years. They’re selling their entire stash for a small price. While you have to be slightly careful with this (ask questions and, if possible, go see them and look at the whole lot before you commit to buying, make sure they’re from a smoke-free home etc.) it’s another great way of fetching good yarn for little money. Many people have true treasure stashes and are eager to clean up their home from items they don’t do anything with, yarn included!

Shop online/for special promotion sales

It’s important to support local businesses, but with a limited budget this isn’t always a possibility no matter how much we want it to be. My go-to site for online shopping is www.iceyarns.com. While shipping can be more expensive for US residents, it’s very affordable for the EU. I haven’t had a single yarn from them so far that I didn’t like!

Their only ‘downside’ is that they sell in lots (usually of 4 skeins of 100 grams or 8 skeins of 50 grams), meaning you can’t buy individual skeins and you can’t return the leftovers. However, with prices as low as $0.50 per skein (for actual animal fiber blends!) this doesn’t matter much to me at all. They have regular bargain sales and promotions, which is exactly what allowed me to knit my boyfriend’s wool blend sweater (45% wool and 55% acrylic) to be knit with only $8 worth of yarn in 12 skeins. It sounds pretty crazy, but thanks to the sale they were having we managed to buy the yarn at such an affordable price it felt surreal.

Of course they have more expensive yarns as well, but there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have a complete adult’s sweater for $30, including shipping, when you keep an eye on their promotions. 🙂

I’m certain there are websites like this that ship from within the US as well. In any case, signing up for newsletters on your favorite yarn sites (perhaps even your LYS’s website) is a good way to get notified of sales that fit within your budget. In fact, sales are the primary drive behind my ability to buy yarn these days!

Limit your purchases to projects you have planned

This is a piece of advice I don’t follow myself at this time. I’m sorry if that’s a bit hypocritical, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to include in this post! It’s easy to blow your budget on a yarn that looks absolutely amazing and you must have it now cause you ran into it without planning. But what good is yarn that collects dust in a corner for years and never gets knit up? If you struggle with this, it can be important to make a habit out of buying for projects you will start within a week versus making a big stash that won’t get used up. That way you’re not wasting money on yarn you never use and you can buy the yarn for the projects you want to make.

Although I’m still a bit of a stash hoarder, my recent purchases have all been assigned projects as I bought them. It helps to avoid impulse purchases that I can’t actually afford. Almost everything in my stash is currently ‘going towards a project’, which means it’s easier to tell myself “You don’t have any projects planned, you don’t need this yarn!” when something pops up.

 

These are my main ‘tricks’ for getting my hands on wonderful high quality yarns for a low price. I think the most important message I have for you is that animal fibers aren’t superior to other fibers, and that high quality animal fibers don’t need to cost $10 a skein to be worthy of knitting into a sweater. There is a lot of stigma in the knitting community regarding acrylics and cheap yarns that I find a bit silly. I haven’t run into any yarn snobs on WordPress, but they’re abundant on Facebook and other sites. It makes me sad because acrylic yarns have served me well and can be just as hard wearing and warm as wool.

There are more ideas I’ve had for budget purchases, but none that I have experienced myself yet. I feel I’m in no position to write about or recommend them for that reason, but I might get the chance for it one day and I’ll be sure to let you know when I do. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Buying good yarn on a budget

  1. This post was lovely and helpful, even though some of it doesn’t apply to the US. I’ve had decent luck recycling quality yarns, both synthetic and animal fibers, from thrift store sweaters. Goodwill in my area only charges $3 per sweater, regardless of size, so an entire XL men’s sweaters worth of wool comes out far, far cheaper that way. But of course, frogging it requires extra time which not everyone has.

    • I have been on the hunt to find sites like Ice Yarns that offer cheap shipping to the US. If I find one I’ll be sure to share it. 🙂 Most other things apply to most countries to my knowledge.

      I did forget about buying full sweaters from thrift stores and frogging them! It is time consuming, I agree, but if it makes the difference between having a custom handknit sweater or no handknit item at all, it’s worth investing time into. (Maybe friends can help with that too!)

      Thanks for the comment! ❤

  2. Great post! I think I am a yarn snob for myself, but not for others. I figure people are working with the best they can afford, best suited to their project. But your post has made me realize that I haven’t knit with acrylic in about thirty years. It was so awful I work hard to avoid it. However – I will not rule it out any more, but rather try it out and see how it goes. I have a budget for yarn as well, although it is a bit bigger than yours, I do save up for yarn so that I can take advantage of bulk order discounts – WEBS (yarn.com) is great that way – lots of sale items, and big discounts for large orders. Probably shipping to you would be horrendous, but you have ice yarns instead. 🙂 I just got a nice fat order of yarn to make hats, wish I didn’t have to work today!

    • I’ve had a lot of icky experiences with people who get snobby with my friend so my feathers get ruffled easily on the subject matter. She’s got a high sensitivity (I think even a legit allergy? She’s allergic to cats and dogs too) to wool and can’t work with any animal fibers. When she joins knitting communities it can be really hard for her to get help cause most people focus on the ‘horrible acrylic yarn’ she works with and try to convince her to invest in real wool without even asking her why she uses acrylic. Sometimes her questions go ignored so people can complain about acrylic yarn. It can be really hurtful and damaging when they do that. 😦 Which is why I’m so glad pretty much everyone I’ve found on WP has your attitude! If you favor wool then by all means, nothing wrong with that. 🙂 I’m just happy nobody looks down on another for not making that same choice. Part of the reason why I love you all so much. 😀

      I do recommend trying Lion Brand for acrylics, maybe even Red Heart. I’ve had skeins from both brands sent to me by friends and they’re very soft and lovely to work with. I totally understand your bad experiences, but the industry has made remarkable progress with the fiber. It’s not wool, some projects won’t be blockable unless you steam the fiber, but overall I’ve never had any problems with it at all.

      Yarns.com looks great! I’ve written it down for a follow-up post in the future, thank you so much for sharing. 😀 I hope you’ll have lots of time for knitting this weekend!

      • Ya know, I never even thought about people who are allergic to wool having to use more acrylic. Just another episode of how the web opens my eyes. I hate to do this to your budget, and your friend’s – but how is she with alpaca – it is lovely when blended with silk. mmmmmm 🙂 Also, there are lots of plant based fibers around now – bamboo, cotton, linen, that all make wonderful garments for warmer weather – when acrylic would just be as hot as wool. I will try to be more open to wondering the why behind the yarn decisions in the future – and will check out those brands you mention.

    • There are a bunch of yarns I’ve wanted to order from Knit Picks, but they, unfortunately, don’t ship to Europe. 😦 Good to know they have tons of discounts and sales though! Definitely wrote that down, thank you very much. 🙂

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