Theory Thursday: How to Shop (or not!) at a Yarn Show

On Theory Thursdays, I’ll be tackling (in brief) a question about design theory/overall approach/yarn selection, etc. These aren’t really “technique” questions, in the sense of how to execute something in your knitting, but they’re questions to think about before you get started. This one is a bit of a stretch as a “theory” question, but since it’s Stitches West week, we’ll go with it.

Things I brought home from Rhinebeck (2018).

Things I brought home from Rhinebeck (2018).

We made it, friends! If you were a registered attendee, you got to go to the preview night at Stitches West tonight, and if you’re just headed to the market for the weekend, it opens tomorrow. You can (and should!) come visit me in the mYak and Sincere Sheep booths, where I’ll be hanging out with some of my samples and some of my favorite people (you can also probably catch more of my samples at Magpie and YOTH—I’m all over the place), including my hot-off-the-press Presidio Cardigan (about which, more later). Before everyone gets too high on the yarn fumes (and the vinegar/citric acid fumes), I thought I’d share a few of my tips for how to think about shopping for yarn at a yarn show (including how big shows like Stitches and Vogue Knitting are different from more “fiber festival” type shows like Rhinebeck and California Flock and Fiber). These are my own “lessons learned” from my successful and less-successful shows over the years, so as always, your mileage may vary.

  1. Pack the essentials! Water, a tote bag, comfortable shoes, snacks, and layers are a must. In my experience, indoor shows involve less sweater petting than Rhinebeck and its ilk; while it’s never amiss to wear a thing you made to a gathering of knitters, everyone understands that we’re inside and its California in February and its warm. Cell reception is not amazing in the venue, so pack a spare power brick if you have one.

  2. Bring your knitting! Especially if you’re planning to be there for most of the day, you will get dizzy and burn out if you don’t give yourself a chance to step away, sit in a quiet spot, and knit with your friends (or yourself!).

  3. Further to 1. and 2., plan to be at the show for a reasonable number of hours. You do not have to see every single thing in one day. It is okay to go slowly. You don’t have to be standing on the show floor for every minute it’s open Friday through Sunday. I promise. Really.

  4. Breathe slowly through the FOMO. This is a sneaky thing that’s great about shows like Stitches and Vogue: this is mostly yarn you can get online, in a yarn store, or in a variety of other ways that do not necessarily involve frantically climbing over people for it at the show. (Note that this is often not true at Rhinebeck or other sheep-and-wool shows, where you might be buying yarn from a farmer who has however many sheep and however much fleece for the year and that’s it.) It might be the only place you can see those colors in person or fondle that skein, but it is usually not the only time in the history of ever that you can buy it.

  5. Think carefully about buying sweater quantities at shows. If you’ve got a sweater in mind that’s begging for yarn and the yarn you want to use is there, awesome. (Ongoing shouts in this vein to my wonderful friend and colleague Samantha Guerin, whom I met when she came to the Battenkill booth at Rhinebeck in 2017 with a spreadsheet she’d printed out with little thumbnail images of the sweaters she wanted to make and a list of yarns she was thinking about for each of them. If you are this organized, please go right ahead and buy all the SQs your heart desires and your budget and yarn shelves will accommodate.) If you fall in love with a sweater at the show and the yarn for it is there, godspeed. I’m slightly wary of speculatively acquiring SQs (particularly of unknown yarns) under the theory that “there’s got to be SOMETHING I can use this for sometime!,” particularly under the, um, inhibition lowering effects of crowds, exhaustion, mountains of pretty yarn, and all those cashmere-and-vinegar fumes.

  6. While shows aren’t (in my mind) the greatest place to acquire sweater quantities of yarn, do you know what they are great for? Accessories and (my personal favorite) explorations. 100 grams of yarn is almost always enough to make a something (or one or more swatches and a something), be it a hat, a pair of mitts (usually two, actually), or a modestly-sized cowl. Single-skein patterns for these kinds of accessories abound, many of them designed in the exact kinds of exotic yarns you tend to pick up at yarn shows. If you swatch with the yarn and you love it and you desperately want a sweater out of it, see #3, supra. If it’s pretty but not really your thing, it’s always only a few months till gift-knitting season, and you have enough of it to make something useful for someone on your list.

  7. Found a new yarn you think you might be interested in? Don’t be afraid to bust out your phone and look it up on Ravelry. What have people made with it and designed for it? Do you like how the projects look? Are these the kinds of things you feel like you might be interested in making? It’s not a universal answer to the question of whether you should buy the yarn, but it at least gives you a sense of whether it might be the kind of thing that would fit into your knitting life.

  8. Talk to people! Knitters and yarnmakers are the some of the best kinds of humans, and most of them love the opportunity to talk about their work, so don’t be shy. Even though, as I said, there’s a little less of a sweater-petting culture at the big indoor shows than the outdoor fiber festivals, its still a great opportunity to get to know your fellow knitters. Fact: basically no one was ever sad about a conversation that started with, “hey, I really love the [blank] you’re wearing, what yarn did you use?”

Inevitably, there are things I’ve missed on this list, and things that might or might not work for you, but these are a few of my favorite tips for how to think about surviving and thriving at a big yarn show. If you’re in the area, I really hope to see you this weekend at Stitches West—come visit me in the mYak booth from 11-12 on Friday and Saturday, and say hello! I promise I’ll have water, granola bars, yarn, and an extra cell phone battery if you need them :)