Help me find cheap-but-comfy yarn brands?
September 10, 2007 7:29 AM   Subscribe

What yarn brands give the best quality for the price? I'm interested in designer yarn as well as more economical yarns.

I'm new to knitting and find myself in a bit of a jam: the yarn stores around me tend to either carry super-cheap yarn (chain fabric stores) or super-pricey yarn (boutiques). So while I'm willing to get it all online, I'm overwhelmed by the many brands that are available. And since my local shops' offerings aren't diverse, I can't touch and feel my way to a few trusted brands that I can seek out online.

So far, I'm in love with Rowan, but can probably only afford it for special projects and whenever it's on sale. Knitpicks seems like a good economy brand, but I'd rather not just start buying sight unseen without some advice. What are some cheaper, but still comfy brands that I can knit up for friends without wanting to charge for materials?

In case you wanted to know: I'm interested mostly in scarves and hats, but may try a sweater soon if my confidence is up. So I'll be looking for bulky weight wool and alpaca yarn in earth tones.
posted by cowbellemoo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it can be pricey but I love Colinette (especially point 5 - SUPER chunky, great for beginners). Check ebay!!
posted by infinityjinx at 7:32 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: I think with a lot of knitting yarns you will get what you pay for. Knitting, contrary to expectations, is not really a cheap hobby. That being said, I'm a cheapskate as well. Here are some of the tricks I use:

First off, know your yarns. Knitter's Review has a great site where they review different yarns, at different price points, for things like ease of knitting, how well the yarn holds up in the wash, quality of knitted fabric, etc. Knitter's Review - Yarn is my first stop when considering purchasing a yarn I haven't used before. They do tend to review more higher- then lower-end, though.

You can buy a lot of yarn on eBay at discounted prices. Try searching for "rowan yarn" and see what comes up. With a little bit of patience, you can pick up bags of yarn for very decent prices. A lot of times you'll see discontinued yarn colors, which is fun.

As for a hobby store purchase, I like Wool-Ease (which comes in a bulky weight). I use it for hats a lot. It's cheap, and the mix of acrylic and wool is a decent one for making winter wear that holds up but isn't super-squeeky plasticy.

Another thing that I don't use but I see others on knitting blogs and boards using: thrift stores. If you're savvy you can pick up some great deals. Beyond just buying yarn at a thrift store, if you find a ugly knitted sweater (with seams, not cut) with fantastic yarn, you can unravel the sweater yourself and salvage the yarn. Here's a tutorial. (The tutorial explains how to tell apart knitted and serged seams.)
posted by warble at 7:49 AM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've heard Lambs Pride and Cascade 220 called the baking powder and baking soda of yarn -- you'll not go wrong with them. I've used them both.

I like what I've used from knitpicks, too. You can order a color card from them and see how the yarn feels, too.

Also, if you're going to the craft store, Lion Brand has some pure wool yarns for a decent price.
posted by sugarfish at 7:51 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: Good on you for wanting to work with decent materials. You're right on about online-buying concerns, too - color and feel can be really subjective, and hard to describe (or guess at) without seeing and feeling the skein in person. There are some good, solid, workhorse kind of yarns out there, though, that you can't really go wrong with:

Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted is a nice wool with a little mohair thrown in for strength. It's great for scarves, hats, and felting projects. Brown Sheep makes a huge range of natural-fiber yarns in giant palettes, so you might find something that works for you from among their other offerings (they're one of the last big American mills, too - a really cool family-run business).

Cascade 220 is what I'd call a basic worsted weight wool. It doesn't come with a fancy pedigree, but the price is great, and it comes in, like, 200 colors including heathers and marls. It's also soft enough for most people to wear next to their skin.

Dale of Norway is a nice brand of not-fancy but nice-to-work-with yarns. They have a lot of thinner stuff geared towards colorwork etc, but they're priced nicely for when you want to get into more adventurous stuff.

Do you by chance have a Stitches show near you? It's basically the only consumer show in the yarn world, and it's a great chance to see and touch all kinds of yarns you might not otherwise come across.

Oh, man, there's so much more! Email me if you want more information - these are just a couple of really solid, dependable brands, but they don't come close to being all the cool stuff there is in the knitting market.

P.S. - If you want to score Rowan yarns on the cheap, check out eBay. There are a few sellers who routinely seem to have mill bags of single colors, often at a very good price.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:55 AM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

eBay's great for finding bargains -- you just have to be patient. I really like Knitpick's yarns, too -- reasonably priced, but really good quality.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:09 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: has IMHO really good prices on a lot of yarns, including baby alpaca and alpaca blends. I've recommended this company to friends before, and they've been very pleased with both price and quality.
posted by vers at 8:11 AM on September 10, 2007

Seconding I especially like their Peruvian Highland Wool. Lots of bulky picks too, since that's what you're looking for.
posted by Work to Live at 9:07 AM on September 10, 2007

I know Lamb's Pride and Cascade 220 will always be on these sorts of list, but it must be said I do not like either of those next to my skin at all. That said, they are terrific for felting (and lots of felted projects make excellent gifts).

Along with Wool-Ease, Cotton Ease should also get a mention. They temporarily discontinued it, but now it's back and better than ever with more adult colors (they used to carry bubblegum pinks and slushee blues). I think both are readily available at Michael's and the like.

I also love Caron's Simply Soft. Ok it's acrylic, but it really is soft, as cheap as it gets, and comes in a buttload of colors.

And if you fancy taking a stab at knitting socks, then you are just really spoiled for choice because you can easily make a pair with 2 skeins of dk weight yarn. There are also fab handpainted yarns that will cost less than $20 for a pair of socks. Ok it's a bit much for "just socks", but quite cheap for a knitted project that will be a heartfelt and treasured gift.

Also seconding Knit Picks! Unbelievable prices for the same yarn mixes as some designer ends.

OMG I just noticed no one mentioned! When I used to live in the states I was an avid purchaser. It IS a bit hit and miss when it comes to their "exclusively made for Elann" yarns. But I think this is just my personal takes and I've actually very recently ordered their denim line (often compared to the Rowan version) which as been getting great reviews. They also sell designer yarns (usually discontinued lines) at cut prices.
posted by like_neon at 9:11 AM on September 10, 2007

haha, ok now that I've posted I see I'm actually thirding elann ;)
posted by like_neon at 9:13 AM on September 10, 2007

I would second peachfuzz's suggestions on those brands. I've used Cascade 220 for years, and it's still a good bargain.

I'll nth the Knitpicks suggestion. They are so much less than other brands that it's worth ordering a couple of skeins and a color card to try one scarf. I made about a dozen knit and felted slippers last year for friends and family and each pair cost $6.00. They wore well, too.
posted by Flakypastry at 9:13 AM on September 10, 2007

I'm also a fan of Lamb's Pride. It's easy to find, pretty consistent in color (and has a lot of colors to choose from), and affordable. The mohair can be a little itchy but I don't mind it all that much.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:22 AM on September 10, 2007

Webs can be a good source for yarn, and they discount heavily the more you buy. just be careful of their color swatches, which can be VERY off. Everyone loves Cascade 220 for a good reason; I also highly recommend Cascade's Eco Wool, which has amazing yardage for quite cheap (and with Webs' discount is even more affordable).

Another good online source for yarn is Hand-painted Yarn, which sells yarn that is comparable to Manos Del Uruguay and Malabrigo but for much less.

I'll throw in another endorsement for Knitpicks, but recommend spending a dollar or two on color cards for the yarns you're interested in. Not only do you get to see what the actual colors look like, you can also feel the yarn and get a sense for its texture.
posted by dropkick queen at 9:49 AM on September 10, 2007

Yeah, Lamb's Pride is nice and comes in a lot of colors, but having that fucking mohair against my neck makes me want to freak.

Count me in for Knitpicks and Elann, although I prefer Elann for the variety and the odd "holy crap, awesome, this other kind of yarn is super cheap" occasion.

I feel like the colorways at Knitpicks are, for the most part, too limited for my preference (except for shine, which is good).
posted by mckenney at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2007

knitpicks good!

also, plymouth encore yarn is what a friend of mine terms "the cream of the crap". it's a good overlap of "good" and "cheap" (75/25 acrylic - wool)
posted by rmd1023 at 10:08 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: Lopi and Eskimo are great (especially for felting)

Berroco's Ultra Alpaca is awesome- ant the site has tons of free patterns.
posted by solongxenon at 11:37 AM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: Lion Brand Cotton Ease and Berroco Ultra Alpaca are two that I am really in love with right now. In fact, most of Berroco's yarns are fabulous. I don't go in for novelties, but their basics are wonderful, and come in a great color range.

As far as socks go, I'm a big pusher of socks. Go with Cherry Tree Hill or Lorna's Laces for a first pair. You can either us the two circular method or the double pointed needles method. There will also be toe up or cuff down choices to make. None is better or more knitterly than the other. Go with your gut. Feel free to change your mind.

For learning to knit, Encore Worsted is a great bargain yarn, at over 100 yards for generally around $5.50 these days. It's 75% acrylic and 25% wool. I just finished making a baby sweater from it, trimmed in some Wendy Velvet Touch.

I like Rowan Calmer, which is nearly $12 a ball and quite a splurge for me. Worth. Every. Penny. (OK, I'll admit, I got it on sale, 25% off, otherwise I wouldn't have done it. But now that I have I probably will pay full price for some in the future).

If you are thinking about lace knitting, I suggest starting with the laceweight from 850 yards. For $5.95. And the shipping is great. I just got some for my birthday today and the colors are gorgeous.

You didn't ask about needles, but I will tell you anyway. Clover, the brand you can get at most locations, kind of sucks. The points are dull and the joins on their circulars are...sucky. The shop I work for has started carrying KA and I really recommend them, funnily because they're a slightly lower price point. But what I've really fallen in love with are Addi Turbos, which you can get at Elann. For some things, not for really slippery things! But for cotton, or fibers that tend to grab at your needles, go with the metal.

And finally, please, go add yourself to the Ravelry waiting list. There are answers there to so many questions that I didn't even know I had!

Feel free to email me if you have any more questions. I teach knitting in a yarn store and I tell you, I'll never go back to managing dental offices.
posted by bilabial at 1:11 PM on September 10, 2007

Oh, and your alpaca... I can't bear to knit with this Baby Alpaca Grande from Plymouth because it's so deliciously soft. I just take it out and pet it. The plan is to make the Anthropologie Inspired Capelet with it. Soon.

Plymouth, by the way, are the folks who make Encore Worsted.
posted by bilabial at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2007

I also want to second Berroco Ultra Alpaca. I haven't knit any sweaters with it but I have made bags and such and love it. Besides the normal colors, they also have a lovely heathered range.

Also seconding looking into lace knitting. You can get a ton of mileage out of a single skein of lace weight, since lace knitting is, in essence, made of holes. ;) It's a nice way to make a scarf, which tends to run very long and very monotonous as far as knitting projects go.

A sock yarn you may want to look into is Trekking XXL. As the name implies, you get quite a lot of yardage out of a single skein (plenty for a pair of socks), they come in fantastic colors (often selfstriping), and pretty cheap too (about $14).

If you are not really feeling the vibe for sock knitting (I love it, but know it's not for everyone) you can still enjoy the fantastic range of fingering weights for items such as lightweight scarves. I made a mini-Clapotis (self-link) out of two skeins of Lorna's Laces that I lurrrve.

Finally, also seconding Ravelry. Get ye on the waiting list!
posted by like_neon at 3:42 PM on September 10, 2007

Peace Fleece hasn't been mentioned yet, so I'm throwing it out there as another woolen possibility. They don't have a bulky weight, but if you're using it for scarves and the like, you could use two strands rather than one (this is what I did for my very first knitting project as a kid). Not too expensive, and you can order a sample card so you can see/feel the yarn.
posted by splendid animal at 4:24 PM on September 10, 2007

Best answer: Seconding, thirding all of the Cascade 220 comments. I'm not a huge fan of Lamb's Pride; it has a much more rustic look, as it's single-ply. Cascade 220 makes cables really pop nicely, and it's available in so many gorgeous colors.

If you find yourself stuck with nothing but Jo-Ann/Michaels nearby, see if you can find Patons stuff.

Plymouth Encore, as mentioned above, is usually a better bet than Wool-Ease. They have similar content, but Wool-Ease tends to pill a bit more.

Lace knitting is definitely a lot of bang for your buck.

Really, just go ahead and spend some time in yarn stores, whether you buy the expensive stuff or not. Listen to the employees and the conversations they have with other customers; you'll find out what's popular and what's problematic. Lurking, in all of its forms, works very well :)

Learning how to substitute yarns (and which yarns can't be substituted) is probably the most crucial skill you can obtain, both for your budget and for your work. You'll save yourself money and heartache galore if you learn about this.

And yes, get yourself on Ravelry. It's been such an inspiration to see how everyone uses different yarns on the same projects. Invaluable resource.

(P.S. If you're on LiveJournal, come on over to any of the many knitting communities. I co-mod the main one, and even though we have a rather harsh reputation for what we let through, it's only so our 7000+ members can keep some semblance of focus :) You'll learn a lot just by watching for a while. Thoughtful knitters of all skill levels are more than welcome!)

Good luck!
posted by Madamina at 7:09 PM on September 10, 2007

Response by poster: Wow! What a response!

I've signed up for Ravelry and tomorrow I'm going to flex my credit card at knitpicks once I pick out a few patterns that I want to attempt. I'll keep an eye on elann, too, for deals to build up a stock of my favorite colors in the higher end fibers.

Thanks so much. I feel like I have some background now, so I can order a color card and really get into the materials. Now I just need to finish this scarf...
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:54 PM on September 10, 2007

I see you're in Maryland. Stitches East, the East coast iteration of the big knitting convention/classes/market is coming to Baltimore in a month. It will be at the Convention Center starting on the 11th, though I don't think the market opens to the public until the 12th. You're too late for classes, I'm pretty sure, and many are filled anyway. You can go to the market, though. It's $8 to get in for non-students, but it's the chance to fondle a whole mess o' yarn. Vendor list is here if you want to do some pre-market research.

Also, n'thing Ravelry. Don't despair at the long waiting list. The new servers have been installed, the site's been moved over to them, and hopefully the pace of invites will pick up soon. Once you get in, come over to my group Fearless Knitters for some support in moving beyond scarves - I'm in the same boat! :) If you get in before Stitches, I've got a group for them as well.

And, it's not the world's most popular choice, but Lion Brand Homespun doesn't completely suck. At knit night last night, someone brought in a blanket she had made from it, and it was pretty and soft. She's made other nice stuff from it as well. I had a bitch of a time with it, but I also was knitting it on size 17 needles, so that may have contributed.
posted by booksherpa at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2007

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