Where's the yarn come from?

I got a great question the other day from Jada on "where do designers get the yarn for their projects".

Here's here question:

Maybe you could help us out. On a crochet list I am on, we are having a discussion about the designing process and yarns chosen for patterns. How do you choose the yarn? Do yarn companies donate yarn, do you ask for it, do they pay you to use their yarn for advertising? Maybe these are trade secrets?

Some patterns are in such expensive yarns that a person would spend way more on a project than is feasible. Are we intended to just admire the project and come up with an alternative yarn? For instance, there is a coat in a magazine that uses a yarn that is $9.96 per skein. It would take $250 of yarn for that coat/sweater! wowzers.

Please shed some light on this to some poor non-designer crocheters.

Great Question, no?

Well, Jada there are lots of answers to that question and it really depends on where the project will be published. But I'll try my best to answer.

When designers work for magazines, they submit a proposal for each issue with a couple of designs sketched out with a swatch of the stitch pattern. We can use any yarn in that swatch, but most of us know that if you swatch with a yarn that the company also pays to advertise in the magazine your chances of getting it accepted go up. What are those yarns? All you have to do is turn to the back of the magazine, and they will list all their advertisers. Now, just because you chose one yarn to swatch with does not mean that the editor will choose that yarn too. Editors get to decide what yarn and what color for the project. They usually contact the designer and discuss the choice with them. But ultimately it is their decision. They need to use yarns from companies that are advertised in the magazine, and will need to spread the wealth as it were so that all the companies are represented. So for magazines, I can steer my projects toward a fiber, like merino wool; but the decision on which brand will be out of my hands.

When a designer writes a book, some of the same holds true. In my case, I publish under Interweave Press. So in the books, I need to make sure I am using yarns from a number of their advertisers in the magazines. They all don't have to be advertisers, but the majority need to be. I get to choose the yarn company and brands, and for the most part the colors as well. For my books, I choose the yarn that is best for the project. I look carefully at what drape and wear-ability I will need, and choose a yarn that matches up. The cost of the yarn is pretty far down my list. That doesn't mean that I always choose the most expensive yarn I can find. Being expensive does not necessarily mean better, it just means it costs more. I always choose the best fabric for the project period. Sometimes it will be a luscious alpaca silk, and sometimes it will be a sportweight acrylic. I do not discriminate. It all depends on what the project is and how I need the fabric to behave.

Pattern Line
The most freedom comes from designing your own pattern line. There is no editor or editorial board reviewing your yarn selection. It is purely your own decision. On my patterns, again I use the yarn that is the best match for the project, just as in my books. But I also favor companies that I have a good relationship with. The yarn industry is made up of a number of small businesses, and whenever I can I will support other small businesses. Most are very happy to donate yarn for a pattern in return to advertise their yarn. So for most of my pattern line, the yarns will be from small yarn companies that I want to support with patterns. The choice is entirely mine. How do I get the yarn? Well, usually it comes from attending conferences and striking up relationships with the companies. For example, at the last TNNA, I met the great people behind Schaefer Yarn company. We had a lot of fun chatting about yarn and their color philosophy. They offered to send me some yarn to play with and come up with a pattern. The yarn in the picture above is what they sent me, and I am working on coming up with a new pattern with it. (BTW, you have to check out their colors. Most are named after famous woman in history. All the hanks come with a bit of background on the woman. I really enjoy reading their history and thinking about the colors they choose for that woman. Their yarns make great gifts for history lovers (like me) or teenagers and kids to be inspired. Plus, winding their yarn is a lot of fun. You never can guess what color will be the dominate one. It's like a fun mystery.)

Hopefully, that answered some of your questions. One thing that never happens, is the yarn company pays the design to play with their yarn. They may send me a ball to swatch with, but that's it. Yarn companies only pay a designer if they have designed a pattern for their pattern line. When writing a book, they will donate all the yarn for the project in the book; but again they don't pay me to use the yarn. It is purely my choice. So for that next project that you fall in love with but the yarn is too expensive for you, really look at the fiber content and how the fabric is behaving. Then do some detective work (by swatching) and find a substitute that will work for you and still give you the same kind of drape. Subbing yarns is quite the art and science and is a whole other discussion for another day.

If anyone out there is looking at becoming a designer or other crochet professional, I recommend attending CGOA's Professional Development Day. There you will fine a ton of great information that you can not get online. It has been known to jumpstart a number of careers, including mine; but you have to attend to find out.


jada said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I will post a link to your blog for others to read what you've answered.

Banana Moon Studio said...

This was extremely helpful to me too. I've submitted a design to a magazine. I had no idea it would be important to use a yarn they advertise. Thanks for the info Robyn!

Valencia said...


I have a question not related to this current post. Do you provide pointers or additional help on your patterns. I'm trying the cardi featured in the April 09 issue of crochet today and I'm having trouble understanding how to do a part of the pattern. It's the part about '..working over ch 3 sp, sc in ch1 2 rows below...' do you count that chain 3 as '1', then go the row below???
email: val_taylor@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about this - thanks so much.

Valencia said...


I watched the video on reading crochet symbol charts on the crochet today site. I then went back and looked at the chart that goes with the pattern in April 09. I understood what to do. The diagram really helped. I was able to do a swatch successfully!

Robyn said...

Valencia, that's great news! So glad you are enjoying the diagrams. If you want to connect with others also crocheting that pattern, check out the Crochet Today group on Ravelry. They are much faster in responding them I am. It takes me forever sometimes to get back to people. Good luck!- Robyn