The Cost of Making Yarn

At fiber festivals you’ll sometimes hear people talk about the cost of custom wool yarns.  “Yarn doesn’t cost this much at (pick your favorite craft store).”  This post will show some of the differences and costs of store vs. custom yarns.  Included in the custom yarns are the quality oriented yarn companies that you can find at yarns shops, as opposed to Walmart or Joann’s.

Let’s look at the differences first.  The most obvious is the fibre content, and the content of the majority of yarns from Caron and Lion Brand and other mainstream producers are acrylic and nylon – petroleum products.  There are benefits to these yarns, and I even have used them from time to time.  Those benefits are:

  • Affordable
  • Consistent
  • Machine washable

That’s where the benefits end.   Here’s where those fibres begin and it isn’t pretty.

(Oil Refinery)

These yarns won’t decompose in the trash and they won’t break down for years in the environment.   Additionally, synthetic yarns do not let your skin breath and they contribute to creating a demand for oil products and a dependence of foreign oil.  Not good.  When you consider the last disaster in the Gulf, maybe less oil is better.

But let’s get back to why custom wool costs more.

Here’s where wool fibres begin, and it is pretty:



Synthetic fibre hasn’t been fed for a year before shearing.   The darlings that produce wool, sheep, alpacas, those fuzzy cashmere goats and Angoras, all have to be fed for the entire year in order to harvest their fleece.  In some cases this is not too expensive if pasture is available and adequate.  During the winter, though, farmers still end up having to “hay” their flocks.  (As a side note, some natural resources experts are starting to see the value of grazing sheep on midwest wild prairies – turns out its good for the prairies….that will be the subject of a future article.)

Synthetics don’t have to be shorn.   Each spring, the sheep are shorn of their fleeces.  This benefits both the shepherd and the sheep, as the summer heat would be intolerable for the sheep with long fleeces.   The going rate is $5-6.00 per sheep, and that does not include transportation.  Each farmer has to budget for shearing day.

Custom mills cost more per pound than corporations.  If one were the head of Synthtic Yarn, Inc (fictional name) you’d approach to mega mill and get a cost of dollars per pound.  When a small sheep farmer approaches a mill, it usually a straight $23.00 – $30.00 per pound, depending on the mill, the type of fibre and number of plies.  If you were to send less than ten pounds to be processed, there is usually a surcharge for that.

What all this means is that the standard four-ounce (quarter pound) skein of yarn is going to have to cost about $7.00 just to make up the cost of processing.  That doesn’t include the cost of the fiber festival registration, the overhead and infrastructure of the farm, the feed, the shearing, the veterinarian, or last of all, a small income for the shepherd(ess).   There are also the unexpected losses – my dear friend Eva lost her sheep to a bear last fall.

Some of the more exclusive larger yarn companies have found ways to get around this by making their skeins smaller.  I am holding a ball of yarn from S. Charles called Adele.  It is 20 percent mohair; the rest is viscose, polyester, and polyamide.  The weight of this ball is only 1.75 ounces, or 50 grams!  The retail price on this little gem is $20.95!  That’s over $160.00 per pound!

Please support your local wool producers.  It supports them, keeps local lands undeveloped and does not support oil dependence!



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