Thursday, February 21, 2008

Got Two Cents?


I've been keeping an exciting little behind-the-scenes secret from all of you that I'm ready to talk about today! Hold onto your hats. Are you ready?! Here goes . . .

I'm planning on adding a new sock yarn to my line! Now, before anyone gets concerned, rest assured that my current sock yarn is not going anywhere. I know some of you like to hear occasional bits of "knitty" gritty details that go on behind the curtain, so I'll let you in on a bit of my thinking about this and also ask for your two cents (see poll to the right, but be sure to read the details here first or scroll down to the middle of the post for the summary info on each yarn).

First of all, a bit about my current Superwash Merino Wool Sock Yarn. When I selected this yarn for my line, it was with a very specific goal in mind. I actually wanted to appeal to a segment of the knitting population rather than to the broadest group possible. This is somewhat contradictory to what most indie yarn sellers do, but it made business sense to me. My thinking was that it made more sense to fill an underserved niche than to appeal to as many people as possible. I didn't want to have just another sock yarn that was the same as all of the others.

I chose my current Superwash Merino Wool Sock Yarn specifically because it was a very lightweight, 2-ply sock yarn. The average sock yarn is a bit thicker. Although many knitters prefer a weightier sock yarn, both for the quicker-knit appeal as well as long-term durability, there are also many who prefer lightweight sock yarns. The fine gauge gives a wonderful canvas for complex stitchwork and the finished sock is also a "real" sock. Some heavier sock yarns yield a sock that doesn't fit well into tighter fitting shoes. I know this was a pet peeve of mine several years ago. Back when BMFA first started out, they had only one weight of sock yarn. I knit quite a number of pairs of socks with it and every single one ended up relegated to bedwear only because they were simply too thick to wear with any of my shoes. (This has long since been rectified with BMFA's range of sock yarns now.)

Anyhow, that's a bit of the story of the original sock yarn. It's worked out very well. I have a loyal following of fans of my sock yarn. There are also quite a number of indie dyers out there now who carry lighter weight sock yarns, so I think I was on the mark when I judged a couple of years ago that there was a need for more of these options.

Now, with my business two years old and going strong, it's about time for me to expand the options to a more universally appealing sock yarn. I've been on the hunt for a perfect yarn.

This yarn hunt is more challenging than one might imagine. There are so many things to consider that go well beyond the yarn itself. Of course, the yarn needs to fit the bill in terms of quality, weight, durability, softness, stitch definition, etc. But there are other considerations also. Price, of course, is one. (I'm OK with having a higher-priced sock yarn if needed, but there needs to be a reason. In my review these past few months, I've seen way too many sock yarns that are very nice merino, but nothing better or more "special" than what I carry now, but carrying a ridiculous price tag. This is not okay with me. A higher price is fine, but it still needs to be a good value in terms of what you actually get for the money.) Another consideration is the supplier. Can they deliver the goods on a consistent basis without frequent backorders and delays? Is the quality of the product consistent from the mill? You'd be amazed at some of the things I've learned in this process. One base yarn in particular that is widely known and loved yielded some interesting info. This particular yarn (which shall remain nameless) is a lovely quality yarn, although I always thought it was overpriced by indie dyers. I learned why. The quality of the end product is great, but the consistency from the supplier is not. Every batch, it seems, has several pounds that are full of knots or bad patches and end up in the waste pile. The time it takes for quality control with this yarn plus the cost of waste ends up driving the price up. Again, this is not acceptable to me. I'm OK charging a bit more if my customers are *getting* more for that price. I'm not OK with charging more because of supplier inconsistency.

Alright. Are you bored to death now? Let me get on with it and ask for your input. I've narrowed it down to three options, each with their own pros and cons. I do have a bit more research on the supplier issues and also some price negotation to make my final decision, but I'd love to hear from you about your preferences. I can't promise I'll go with your favorite, as there are so many factors that are important, but your voices do matter!

So here's the rundown, in no particular order:

OPTION ONE - Superwash Merino: This is a 100% superwash merino wool that is quite similar in terms of the actual fiber to the one I carry today. The distinction is that it is more tightly plied, which means the yarn is thicker. It knits comfortably on a size 2 needle (perhaps a 1 if you have a loose hand).

Pros of the superwash merino:

  • In a sense, it's a known-quantity. If you like my current superwash sock yarn, this is just a nice alternative that will knit up quicker and have a bit more durability.
  • The price is right. I can likely bring this yarn to you at the same price as my current sock yarns.
  • The supply chain is solid. It comes from a supplier I've worked with and know that I can rely on for a steady supply of quality product.

Cons of the superwash merino:

  • It's just not all that different. This isn't necessarily a con really, but I am of the mind that it would be nice to have something with a different fiber content and more differentiation.
  • The tighter ply on this yarn may be just a bit too tight in my opinion. It's not a big problem, but it is really tightly spun and can occasionally have the tendency to want to coil in on itself while you're knitting.

OPTION TWO - Merino/Tencel: This is a 50/50 blend of merino and tencel. It's got a nice, firm ply but not so firm as to be overly "twisty." It will knit nicely on #2 needles.

Pros of the merino/tencel:

  • It's just a flat-out nice yarn. If you've never worked with a quality merino/tencel blend before, it really is a nice yarn to work with. I went on a binge with the stuff a few years ago and made quite few projects, including two sweaters and a huge shawl.
  • The yarn will yield a strong fabric when knit at a tight gauge and will have a lovely drape when knit at a slightly looser gauge. It also has a nice sheen to it. Overall, this makes it a versatile option for uses beyond socks. (Of course, all sock yarns can be quite versatile, but I think the sheen and drape make this option a little more of a standout for versatility.)

Cons of the merino/tencel:

  • Price might be an issue. The base price is a bit higher, although not hugely so. My biggest concern is actually one that is behind-the-scenes and that is how the yarn is put up. If I have to buy it in cones and break it down into skeins, that will drive the labor up substantially and thus the cost. I'm accustomed to paying a bit of a premium to have my base yarns put up in the skein sizes I want, but this may not be a possibility or may be too costly with this supplier. Time will tell. If I go with this yarn, I would like to bring it to you at no more than $2 or $3 dollars more than my current sock yarn. Although this is still a solid price compared to some, it is still a higher price and that is always a con.
  • Supplier uncertainty. Again, this is just a behind-the-scenes matter, but the supplier is new to me. I've done my homework and everything checks out very favorably, but there's always a degree of risk with a new supplier.

OPTION THREE - Merino/Nylon: This is a 75% wool and 25% nylon sock yarn that knits up on a #2 needle.

Pros:

  • I know many folks prefer the nylon content in a sock yarn, as it does improve durability and long-term wear.
  • I can bring this to you at the same price as my current sock yarns.

Cons:

  • I'm not sure there really are any cons necessarily, but for me personally, I just don't care for the merino/nylon blends all that much. This is entirely a personal matter though and I'm open to considering this. I've looked at quite a number of different merino/nylon blends and the one I've selected as my top choice is pretty nice. It's just not so soft and luxurious as what I prefer in a yarn. It's more of a "workhorse" yarn in my view. I don't see this as a particularly versatile yarn. In my view, it's a sock yarn. Period.

And so there you have it. Care to share your two cents? Use the poll in the upper right to provide an answer. Comments are also very much appreciated!


21 comments:

Cindy said...

I voted for option 2, merino/tencel blend, but it returned an error and I'm not sure it worked. :)

Sue J. said...

I vote for option #1. I, too, am not fond of merino/nylon, and I absolutely detest tencel. I have destashed any sock yarns I had that contained tencel. I would be very happy with a tighter twist 100% superwash merino. I know businesses need to grow. Stagnation means deterioration to a business. But there is much to be said for the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Good luck. I'm a follower no matter what you do.

Peggy said...

I think I would try a ball or two of any new sock yarn you decided on. What really draws me to your yarn is the quality and value. I would be less likely to buy a more expensive yarn, even if its only $2-$3. I do think that nylon blended yarns are a bit stiffer, but I also like the durability. I think if I were to use your yarn for a scarf or something, I would choose one of the other yarns you already carry.

Lynne E. said...

For me, it was close between option #1 and option #3. I voted for #3, because although like a tighter twist, I really like to have some nylon in sock yarn. I feel that I need to add reinforcement to heels and toes when I knit with FF sock yarn (even though I don't always do so). I'm actually adding Woolly Nylon to an entire spiral sock that I'm knitting for my husband, because he is very hard on clothing.

Elisa said...

I like options 2 and 3. I love the look of tencel in yarn - all shiny like silk. And I like some nylon in my sock yarn. I love wearing my handmade socks but without nylon, I've found that they tend to fuzz more than I like. Can't wait to see what you decide.

Molly said...

I'm one of those in the niche you've been happily supplying for years, so perhaps I shouldn't vote. But here's my 2¢ anyway: go with the tencel. It has a broader appeal for two reasons. First, people can get superwash and wool/nylon sock yarn anywhere. I don't doubt that your wonderful dyeing will still be a draw, but the tencel is a little something extra---particularly good since it's not a replacement, just an addition---and it may well draw sweater knitters as well as sock knitters, which can only be a boon for your sales.

Katinka said...

I'm a sucker for tencel -- so pretty! so drapey! :) Plus, it would take your dyes beautifully.

Marcela said...

I like both option 1 and 3, but all seem good. Ultimately, it should be what you are happy working with!

TessM said...

Hey Deb! just FYI, my own experience with a tightly spun yarn - sold by a well-known indie dyer who will also remain nameless - didn't have a happy ending. As I knit the socks, it too coiled upon itself and was kind of a pain, although manageable.

The bummer came when I washed it, and the entire sock BIASED. Yup, the extra twist was enough to send the whole foot of the sock into a sort of spiral. Hard to explain, really, but imagine laying your sock flat, sideways, like an "L". Then imagine grabbing the toe with your right hand and flipping it over away from you. That's basically what I have to do to get it back into proper shape after washing. It hasn't gone away over time. Fortunately, this pair was just plain ol' stock -- but if I had done anything more elaborate, it would look like complete hammered you-know-what...

I vote for the Tencel!

Tess

sulafaye said...

I voted for the nylon blend, but I think all three are good options. I think the final influence was that in the last 3 weeks I've had as many pairs of handknit socks with holes in them! :) So my opinion may be colored by darning right now. I really appreciate your commitment to quality.

Chrispy said...

I voted for option #1. I definitely don't like knitting with many yarns with nylon and if people really want a nylon wool blend they can find almost anywhere.

I could not decide between option 1 or 2. I would love to knit a sweater or something from the tencel blend. I have not done socks in tencel but the garments have a good drape. I actually don't mind a high twist because I tend to untwist my yarn as I knit so it actually works for me.

Adriana said...

I wanted to thank you for letting us in on your thinking process. It was really cool to know what is going through your mind and to ask for our opinion. I voted for the merino/nylon blend only because I worry about the durability of 100% merino sock yarn. That said, I'll probably order whatever you go with. I'm not a fan of the thin sock yarn so I'd been hesitant to order it.

Micki said...

I had a hard time deciding between #2 and #3. I do like "workhorse" sock yarns with nylon in them, but I would love to see what you would do with the tencel blend too. Since I live in a warm climate, I suppose I should vote for #2.

Thanks for letting us have some input!

Lindsey said...

Thank you for the history or your yarns. :) I voted for the Merino Tencel yarn- but I'm stuck on a Knitspot lace cloud right now. And the thought of something with a bit of a shine too it is very appealing. Granted I have only spun merino tencel yarn and not actually knit with it yet! If need be we can work out a system - I'll skein yarn for you - in trade for some of your gorgeous colored yarn *wink*. Happy Weekend

katrog said...

Hi, Deb--

This was a very interesting post--thanks for letting us have a glimpse behind the scenes.

I voted for #3 because I like to knit workhorse socks for my husband--and you have so many gorgeous colors that are good for both men and women.

That said, if you went with the tencel blend, I would probably try it, but for non-sock projects.

Kathleen

Suzann said...

I love your yarns and I don't mind hand washing. I have made a pair of socks that use the merino tencel combo. I hated knitting them. Too slippery and sort of an off feeling. I voted for 1. I would have voted for 3 too. I think there is enough merino nylon on the market. But not of course in your beautiful colors.
Thanks for the background on choosing a new yarn. It was really interesting.

EGunn said...

Thanks for putting so much thought into your yarns! I have so far resisted expanding the stash, but you're top on the list when I have made it through my current sock yarn! I personally have only worked with pure wool, but I've heard good things about both tencel and nylon. It sounds like they'd all be good choices for different reasons, and I'd be willing to try any one you're willing to sell. =)

cherie said...

I already voted (tencel blend) and just want you to know that a $2-3 dollar price increase is not too much to pay...your yarns are, as you say, already a very good value. (and very pretty)

Namaste Knitter said...

I would love you to have a tighter twist, slighly heavier 100% Merino. I love your prices - some of the sock yarn is getting ridiculous!
I've never knit socks with the Merino/Tencel, so I can't comment. In my book, Nylon is a NO-NO.
The only place my hubby's socks wear out is under the ball of the foot. This is a new development as I've only been knitting socks for 2 years. My solution is to knit the sole on a smaller needle - I'll see how that works!

Anonymous said...

I would buy the yarn with the nylon, #3. Durability is important to me - if I'm going to put in hours of work, I want the project to last. Knowing your standards, I'm sure that the quality is good and I've recently knit with some wonderful wool/nylon sock yarn from an indi dyer (Judy of Ball & Skein yarn), that was a delight to knit. It had a very nice feel, good substance to the yarn and a nice twist. In fact, I'm wondering if the wool/nylon blend you are considering is the same as what she uses. If so, I'd go for it!

Marin (AntiM) said...

I know I'm a little late, but merino/tencel is so lovely I can't not vote for it.