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The yarn world is changing

For a couple of years now I have been watching how the yarn world is changing, and with an aching heart, that included watching the slow death of the much beloved local yarn shop (LYS).

Sure, you will still find many brick & mortar yarn shops. In small towns, they cater mostly for the older generation not interested in online shopping, and they carry mostly acrylic yarns. In bigger cities, you might find a more upmarket version that caters for the modern day crafter looking for natural fibre yarns and modern tools and accessories. But most of the modern crafters, shop online these days.

As the local yarn shops disappear, so a wealth of knowledge and experience are disappearing along with it. Gone are the days where a newbie knitter or crocheter could go to the LYS for much needed support and mentoring. That alone is something to cry about. While online shopping is certainly comfortable and easy, the luxury of touching the yarn isn’t there. Still, online shopping continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, and the worldwide pandemic certainly helped that trend.

Currently we are spoiled for choice in online shops. But there too, a big change is taking place. It is slow. It is subtle. But it is happening nevertheless.

Just a few years ago, the entrepreneurial online shops used to carry a variety of yarn brands, along with a certain brand of needles and hooks, maybe even more than one brand. These days however, those online yarn shops are battling to survive. Who is largely responsible for this? Indie dyers.

Previously indie dyers were over the moon if a yarn shop stocked their products. Nowadays, every indie dyer has her own online shop. And that is where the problem comes in. Instead of indie dyers supplying entrepreneurial yarn shops, they choose to have their own yarn shops, effectively cutting out the ‘middle man’ and selling to the public directly. And those that still sell to yarn shops, kill the yarn shop with constant promotions the yarn shop cannot compete with.

Does the public benefit from this? No. We don’t. Let me explain.

  • The public pays the same retail price they would have paid at the entrepreneurial yarn shop. The indie dyer scores all the way as they are now paid retail, instead of wholesale.
  • The indie dyer isn’t really concerned in offering a variety of tools and gadgets. Sure there are some items in each shop, but the offering is relatively low. So for the average crafters, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find specific items.
  • Previously the crafter could order a variety of yarns from one shop, now we have to order from individual indie dyers, and for each parcel, we have to pay shipping fees.

There is nothing much we can do about this scenario. Our world is changing and we can’t stop the change. Yes, online shopping is comfortable, fast, convenient etc, but if you look at the bigger picture, the crafter is losing all the way.

I love hand dyed yarn. And I will support indie dyers for a long time to come still. I just wish I could support them, while supporting a local yarn shop, or an entrepreneurial online shop. I wish I could buy a variety of brands from one online shop that I like to do business with, and pay shipping only once.

In South Africa we still have a few online shops not owned by indie dyers, but times are tough for all of them. And for these entrepreneurs, it will certainly just get harder as times goes by.

If you still have a local yarn shop you can visit, make sure you support it while you can. Whether that shop will still be there in 10 years time, is anybody’s guess. My guess is that it won’t be. Support the entrepreneurial online shops that carry a variety of brands. Believe me, they are first in line to fall.

Do I blame the indie dyers? No. They are just trying to survive like everybody else in the crazy world we live in.

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7 thoughts on “The yarn world is changing

  1. So very true.
    I wish I could own a yarn shop, but it just is not economically viable where I am.
    One needs to combine it with something like a coffee shop, or some other trendy thing.
    Nothing beats holding that yarn in your hands…

  2. Textile is tactile, I need to feel it before buying it. I love the one stop yarn shop, yarn, needles, patterns( sadly no longer available) and much needed advice.

  3. Remember… Those Indie Dyers are also trying to make a living… Supplying to yarn shops cuts into their profit margin, not to mention that the yarn then sits and languishes because it has to compete with other commercial brands at a cheaper price point available in these “cover all” yarn shops. I agree the loss of knowledge and support from the yarn shop is sad, but there is spaces for that that is blooming such as at D’Wolhuys. Blaming the Indie Dyers for this trend is not only selfish but short sighted too.

    1. Each person is entitled to an opinion, but we can have different opinions without insulting each other. Let’s discuss the scenario without getting emotional about it. I had a yarn shop; I have personal experience of exactly what I blogged about. I have friends with yarn shops; they still experience the same thing. I have indie dyer friends doing exactly that; they are trying to survive. As I said in the last line of the blog: “Do I blame the indie dyers? No. They are just trying to survive like everybody else in the crazy world we live in.”

      1. Placing a single line at the end saying you don’t blame indie dyers, doesn’t nullify an entire post where you effectively do in fact blame indie dyers. The commercial landscape of yarn has changed significantly over the last few years, but even so I cannot imagine a shop’s sole or even biggest reason for closing was an inability to stock yarn from particular individual indie dyers. Of course, your experience is yours, just as mine is mine. In my experience I don’t go to most LYS’s in my area because not only do they have shop attendants who’s full capability ends at ringing up what I ended up choosing all by myself, but they treat me like I’m an alien if I ask about gauge or fiber content. Very few have social type gatherings and even fewer have classes while most of them stock acrylic or cotton only ranges due to the cost of merino and the market valuing cheap products disproportionately. There are of course a few gems because I’m lucky enough to stay in a big city and those I will always support whether they carry indie dyers or not, just as I will always support the indie dyers directly as far as possible. I just cannot understand this unjust vilification of indie dyers trying to stand on their own two feet, even if your one liner say you don’t.

  4. I used to own a beautiful yarn shop in KZN, I work my but of in that little shop, expanding the ranges trying to get my customers to buy natural fibre. I employed staff that was experts in knitting, crochet, embroidery, tatting and felting in my shop, I had classes and free socials almost every week day. There was a local Indie dyer I wanted to stock in my shop, she refused to sell wholesale to me, as a LYS I had overheads, that expert staff does not work for free, rent to pay, a long list of payment responsibility’s . You know what that specific Indie dyer did, she sat at my free socials and sold her stock under the tables to my customers, when I stopped her from trading in my shop I was the unreasonable LYS that does not support Indie dyers. In my experience are Indie dyers not willing to work with a LYS, they would rather sell their yarns themself and cut out the LYS. Only 3 of all the Indie dyers in SA was prepared to sell wholesale to me.

  5. […] the comments on yesterday’s blog, I feel I need to explain the concept of change, in a bit more detail. It is quite obvious that […]

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