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How do I choose my yarns?

One of the questions I’m asked most as a shopkeeper is “How do you choose your yarns?”

There are nearly 11,000 yarn brands across the world and nearly 112,000 yarns on the Ravelry database.  33,000 of those are now discontinued but that’s still 79,000 to choose from.  They come in 12 difference thicknesses from thread to super-super-chunky and can be made of all sorts of different fibres.  I do my best to offer a fine selection of yarns to suit those most often asked for.  And then also cover all but the extremes of the range, with lots of choices of fibres for those thicknesses most commonly used, choices to suit those on a budget and those for looking for indulgence.

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Malabrigo Rasta, a superchunky South American merino

How do I find them?  People ask for them. The companies I already deal with let me know of their new ones either by a rep visiting toting an exciting big suitcase (or three), or posting me balls, or by good old email.  Other companies are always calling up trying to get their yarns on the shelves.  I keep an eye out when out and about, reading magazines and on Ravelry and listen when people are excited about what yarn they’ve met when they’ve been on trips.   When I feel there is something missing, or something new is needed, I search amongst what I’ve come across or go looking even further (and kick out something no longer popular to make room for it).

Britain dominated the world with its wool and after a bit of a bumpy ride we have an enviable choice of wools again. If a British yarn looks and feels great and is a reasonable price, it’s a winner.  For environmental, patriotic and economic reasons, I’d rather get yarn from the UK.  Merino sheep don’t much like our weather, so not all our wool is British.  And not all yarns that people want are made in Britain, so for those I go wholesalers who import lots of different yarns from abroad.  If no UK wholesaler imports a desired yarn then it doesn’t get a home – the unpredictable import duties, shipping fees, currency exchange fees and exchange rates put it out of reach.

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Naked Wool Shetland DK (British)

There are lots of different wholesalers, and they usually have a minimum order of at least a couple of hundred pounds (at wholesale cost).  So I can’t just buy a small amount here or there, at least not without paying a fortune in small order charges and postage costs. Because no one company has a complete range of yarns I think worth stocking, (and even if it did, it would be dangerous to put all eggs in one basket) I go to several.  Not too many though, because then we’re in must-meet-minimum-order territory and have to wait a long time for enough yarn to have gone to make it worth reordering. That’s why a LYS can’t order any and every yarn requested.

Now most yarns come in different colours – usually between 10 to 20 colours but a choice of 60 colours is not uncommon, and some have more than 150.  Almost all yarns have to be ordered in packs of 10 per colour. The main room of The Sheep Shop is a little over 400 square feet big so if I were to order for every yarn here a pack of every colour there is, I’d need the shop to be a Tardis (I’d like the shop to be a Tardis!).  Some of the shelving here does house 30 or more colours of one yarn.  Most yarns have certain popular colours and I keep a rotating range in of other colours.

That’s it folks, it’s a balance between offering a wide selection of types of yarn, a wide choice of colours and keeping enough in stock for people who need a large quantity of one colour, without yarn exploding out the windows or money haemorrhaging away.  All good fun.

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