Knitters are fortunate that there is so much beautiful yarn out there--in every color imaginable, different fiber blends, different weights, spun in myriad ways, there's something for everyone. But, let's be honest: with all of those possibilities, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to pick yarn for your next project.
A general rule of thumb I've heard is to use the nicest yarn you can afford at the time. I think this is a good starting point, but perhaps oversimplified. For example, even if I could afford to knit JJ a sweater with Madelinetosh, I'm probably not going to do it, because 3 year old boys are hardwired to destroy everything they own (and everything you own, and . . . ).
That said, I'm also not going to buy the absolute cheapest yarn for his sweaters, because I want them to look nice, wear well, and possibly last long enough to hand down to Ollie. So sometimes a middle-of-the-road yarn is going to be my best choice.
Every project comes with its own particular set of circumstances that should guide your yarn choice, but here are some things I recommend you consider when choosing yarn for a new project:
1. Who's going to wear it? An adult who will be responsible with it, or a toddler who's going to spill juice all over it 30 seconds after you wrestle him into it? Someone who sits quietly in front of a computer all day, or someone who spends his or her time stomping around a construction site? I not only take into account the lifestyle of the person who's going to wear it, but whether or not they will appreciate a nicer yarn. My sister will probably notice that a yarn is particularly soft, sturdy, or handdyed; my dad probably not.
2. What stands out about the pattern? A distinctive indie-dyed yarn may get lost in very ornate lace or cabled design--whereas a project that's mostly stockinette or other simple stitches is just made to show off a fancier yarn.
3. What is it? It's easier to splurge on a single skein project and make more economical choices for a large-scale project or a project that requires lots of different colors, like fair isle. That's not to say you can't knit your dream sweater in Madelinetosh Vintage, but maybe not every sweater.
You'll also want to consider the function of whatever you're knitting--mittens or socks have to survive a lot of exposure and wear and tear; a shawl not so much.
4. Where (on the body) will you wear it? While not a hard and fast rule, more expensive yarns are often softer, while less expensive yarns run on the rougher side--coarser wool is usually less expensive. Add to that, skin in certain areas tends to be more sensitive. So a big cozy sweater you're going to wear a layer under probably doesn't need to be as soft as a cowl you'll wear around your neck.
5. Where (in the world) will you wear it? If you're making a cozy cardigan solely to bum around the house all winter, something sturdy rather than fancy might be your best choice. If you're knitting a lacy shawl to wear to a wedding, that's definitely a time to splurge.
So, now that you've asked yourself these essential questions and you're ready to pick a yarn, maybe you'd like a few suggestions for super-saver, mid-grade and splurges? No problem! (Note: of course, this is not a comprehensive list, just a few of my many favorites!)
Knit Picks: the price-points on Knit Picks yarns vary quite a bit, from saver right up to splurge, but generally speaking, they're a good choice when you need to rein in your spending. I've used most of their yarn lines, trying many of them for designs like the Vaughan Vest and Penny Vest, and consider the majority of them to be good or better quality--I especially like their yarns for kids' knits. In particular I would recommend their City Tweed, Hawthorne, Paragon, Gloss, and Palette lines.
Valley Yarns: WEBS in-house brand has been expanding over the last few years and now includes a variety of fiber blends and weights, so they have you covered for pretty much any kind of project. My Umaro blanket knit from Berkshire Bulky is still going strong--and is amazingly warm!--4 years later.
Cascade: Quality, durable yarns at a fair price, and in a range of weights, fibers and colors. I personally find 220 too scratchy to wear next to the skin, but many people don't have a problem with it. And in particular, I love Cascade's cottons, like the Ultra Pima Fine used for Boardwalk Tee.
Quince and Co.: I could wax poetic about Quince's yarns forever, probably. Produced in the USA, and often with domestic fibers, every yarn I've tried has been soft, sturdy and beautifully dyed. Owl (used in my Sparia sweater) and Chickadee in particular are dreamy.
Malabrigo: I know everyone swoons for Worsted, but personally I love Rios--same beautiful colors and still very soft, but sturdy, since it's a plied yarn, with much less pilling!.
YOTH Yarns: So soft, such subtle colors, I can't believe I don't have more in my stash! Did I stupidly knit a child's sweater out of this? I did. It was worth it--Ollie looks adorable in his Catoctin (and assuming he doesn't destroy it, I have a nice quality sample on hand).
Magpie Fibers: Dami's yarns are my go-to lately. I used Swanky DK for Hechicera, and am using it again for my adult version of Catoctin--it's impossibly soft. If you're heading to Rhinebeck, then absolutely do NOT miss Magpie Fibers at the Indie Untangled Trunk Show Friday night!
Tanis Fiber Arts: From Yellow Label, which is a sturdy DK, to Cosmic Blue Label, fingering weight with sparkle, Tanis' yarns come in a stunning array of colors, and hold up well, even with daily use.
How do you decide what yarns to use for your projects? What are your favorite splurge and saver yarns? Share in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like . . .