Yarn Accessibility

This is a conversation that started on Instagram and whilst I’m still not sure I’m well enough to weigh in on it, here’s a few things that I do to help make patterns more accessible to folks using different yarns, and a few thoughts on connected issues.

Some of the things we can do as designers include:

  • list yardages, not just skeins. No.of yards per skein need to be listed but total yardages alongisde total no.of skeins makes that information much more useful, especially if partial skeins are used. Yardage or skein requirements can never be an exact science but as a guide, it all helps inform the knitter
  • yarn weight, ply info, fibre content – these are super helpful. I’ve been rubbish at adding WPI but if you can, it makes the info even more helpful, especially for handspinners
  • list the yarn used as “sample shown in” – the yarn company still gets their name on the pattern & all the marketing & advertising that brings, but the subtle change in wording helps knitters understand that the pattern is still usable if they can’t access that yarn
  • stocking stitch gauge is one of the key pieces, even if stocking stitch barely features. If I’m changing up gauge or using an unusual needle size I say why – it helps save a lot of headaches even when folks are using the suggested yarn. The only time I don’t list St.St gauge is when it’s all garter stitch, as that’s another basic stitch pattern that helps us compare gauges & yarns
  • placement of pattern requirement info – I list yardages, yarn weight, yarn type, notions first and then I’ll list the sample details – the model’s size, the sample size & the yarn used
  • I try to explain why that yarn was chosen for that design! I don’t necessarily say “I chose this yarn because” as that’s too verbose for me, but where it’s important I will suggest why it’s ply, it’s texture, it’s bounce, it’s dyeing method & more are relevant
  • I also expanded further in the comments. I’m not sure they’re as visible there so I’ll share them here below.
  • I’ve not read everything but this convo sounds to me in part like a pushback against the lifestyle influencer marketing that’s everywhere in the industry & I’m onboard with that. My opinion on this should surprise no-one but I know that I’m also part of the problem. Who gets to be featured? Who gets to be seen? Why can’t we switch that up?

The fibre industry has a long history of treating patterns as loss leaders to sell yarn & as much as we’ve worked to change that, we’ve still a long way to go. Yarn companies have worked hard to ensure that knitters don’t stray outside of the pattern’s yarn requirements because they’re there to sell you the yarn first, the pattern second (if at all). And as much as many of us know how to substitute, not everyone does. And we can’t blame knitters for that if that knowledge has been withheld from them. Sure, there’s much more help available now but not everyone knows where to look or what to do with the information provided. The way we combat that is provide as much information about the yarn as we can and gently encourage knitters to be more confident in their yarn choices. If nothing else, listing yarn properties helps impart knowledge, regardless of whether the suggested yarn is used or not.

I’ve got so many stories about why I largely don’t use yarn support, ranging from “Hat patterns don’t sell enough yarn” to “your knitters substitute too much” to totally being ignored by yarn companies when I’ve contacted them about upcoming releases in their yarns (that I’ve purchased) but needless to say that on the whole, I think yarn support is another area that needs to change as it’s still weighted too heavily in the yarn companies favour. I’ve worked with a few fantastic indie dyers & small yarn companies where our relationship has been much more understanding & balanced and they’ve been the exception – I’d love to see more of that but at the same time, their yarns will be out of budget to many.

Recommending alternative yarns is tricky. Given the International reach we have as designers, even the most popular yarns – budget or not – aren’t available to everyone. I’ve always tried to use a variety of yarns from different countries so that folks see something familiar to them when they flick through my patterns, but that barely makes a dent. If we do recommend a yarn, we need to know it’s absolutely gonna work & for some patterns that’s more easily done, for others less so. I wouldn’t recommend a yarn I’ve not used, I’m not sure anyone would, & again that brings us back to what’s available to us. Arming the patten (& therefore the knitter) with as much info as we can about the yarn is gonna help more in the long run than trying to suggest alternatives if you don’t know of one. That said, adding an alternative is another way of saying “hey, this pattern can be used in more than one yarn even if this alternative is also not available to you”

Test knitters aren’t used by all designers, & arrangements vary greatly, but if we could not require test knitters to use the suggested yarn that would be a big step forward (‘cos yeah, those arrangements do happen). Encouraging use of different yarns & then showcasing them is a brilliant way to manage yarn availability & accessibility issues – sharing folks projects is win on so many levels – BUT do bear in mind that the use of test or beta knitters is a contentious issue & adding expectation only aids exploitation. And if we want our test or beta knits to be successful in different yarns, we wanna provide yarn info where we can to aid in that. As for designers knitting extra samples in different yarns… I kinda hope that why that’s an unreasonable explanation is clear from the issues listed above.

As to what a designers job is… everyone’s gonna have a different answer to that. What’s unreasonable to one will be reasonable to another. The way I see things is that I’m not here to sell yarn. My patterns aren’t about selling yarn. They’re about encouraging you to explore your knitting & make yourself a fantastic well fitting Hat. I DO see my patterns as educational but many designers don’t, and that in turn will affect how a pattern is presented and what it includes.

There’s an awful lot of pressure on designers, especially right now as we’ve all just lost Ravelry as an accessible platform & we’re trying to find ways to mitigate that. And I do see these convos as connected ‘cos we’ve all just lost the best place to check for yarn subs and different projects in different yarns. We’ve not long had yet another convo about the work that’s involved & the prices we charge – I’m not surprised at some of the pushback ‘cos we’re constantly needing to defend ourselves & get folks to understand that many of us are also disabled or skint or otherwise marginalised as so many folks assume privileges for us. There’s a lot of that wrapped up in this, for sure. But as size inclusivity is mighty important, so is yarn inclusivity – what’s available to different budgets, different locations, different allergies.

eta/ this post was updated on 11th March 2022 with a new post graphic. The image shows the crown of my Sumner pattern, with concentric rings of knitting tucks.

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