As I mentioned yesterday, today I was part of a Grand Road Trip to Webs, the yarn mega-store in Northampton, Massachusetts. It’s pretty much at the other end of the state from where I live, but this being one of the small Eastern states (as opposed to large rectangular Western states) that translates to only a two-hour car trip each way.

I will say that the entire group had fun and spent some money, but not as much as we feared we might. Webs is quite large, with both a front room laid out in yarn shop fashion, and a warren of warehouse aisles and side rooms full of industrial shelving and shipping boxes full of extra stock. It’s easy to browse for hours, and especially if you’re looking for deep discount bargains in the warehouse, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of choices.

There are some hints I’d suggest to anyone planning a trip of this type either to Webs or another discount yarn venue. They all fall along the line of "be prepared."

  1. Bring the tools you may need to make your purchases. Depending on the individual, these can include a calculator, pencil and paper, a PDA, and a yardage consumption card or chart. In Webs case, a small flashlight is also a good idea because in places the warehouse area is very dark. If you’re a card-carrying knitting guild member, bring your card or other proof of affiliation. Some stores (including Webs) offer special discounts to guilds, but don’t be obnoxious about it if the shop doesn’t have a standing policy about extending such discounts.
  2. Look through your patterns and decide if there’s something special you wish to shop for. If so, bring either the pattern or some notation of gauge, fiber and yardage required.
  3. Look through your stashed yarns. You may want to buy something to coordinate with, eke out, complement or knit along with a yarn you have on hand at home. If so – bring a snippet for color matching, plus notation on the quantity you have stashed away.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the various numbering systems used to describe yarn weights. Webs (and other stores of its type) cater to both knitters and weavers. Many yarns can be used for both crafts, and cones are not always marked with yardage or suggested gauge. For example, if you’re looking at a wool or mostly wool blend, something marked 2/10 is likely to be DK to worsted in weight, knitting at 5.5 to 5 stitches per inch.
  5. Educate yourself about fibers. You’ll see yarns marked as "Shetland," "Merino," or other fiber types. If you’ve done your reading you’ll realize that Merino wool is softer in general than many other wools, but in certain spins and finishes can pill more than other types of wool.
  6. Be flexible. You will probably not be able to find the **exact** yarn your pattern calls for (although there is considerable stock of current labels) – but you can probably find a workable substitute. Look for matches in fiber type, yarn finish, and of course – gauge. If you can’t find a marked gauge but the fiber composition is close to that specified in your pattern, do the math to check the yards per pound (or ounce, or gram). If that’s close you’ll probably be o.k., especially if you buy 10-15% extra yardage as "insurance."
  7. Many yarns in places like Webs are significantly thinner than most hand knitters usually use. But remember, they can be doubled or tripled to bring them up to fingering, sport or heavier weights. Two strands of lace weight (2 ply in the UK ply system of yarn weight descriptors) = one strand of fingering weight (4 ply). Two strands of fingering weight (4 ply, usually 7 spi) = DK (8 ply) 5.5 spi. Two strands of gansey weight (5 ply, hard to find in the US, around 6.5-6.25 spi) = 10 ply or worsted weight (5 spi). Two strands of sport weight (6 ply, usually 6 spi) = 12-ply or Aran weight (4.5 spi). Two strands of DK (8 ply, 5.5 spi) = 16 ply or Bulky weight (3.75 spi).
  8. You will have questions. The staff is used to dealing with them, but try to make the staff’s life easier. Cluster your questions to make most efficient use of their time. Try to remember where you found something, and make every effort to find tags or other descriptors and gather as much info as possible before grabbing a shop clerk. You’ll find a question like "This yarn is labeled at 1500 yards per pound, could please you tell me how much it weighs?" followed by some quick calculations on your part, and the follow up question "Would 1900 yards be enough for a long-sleeve cardigan in size 36," will give you a more useful answer than handing the clerk a cone of something with the question "Can I make a sweater out of this?"
  9. Be considerate of other shoppers, many of whom have trekked as far as you to get to the target destination. Don’t push; put things back where you found them if you decide not to make the purchase; avoid rooting through displays and leaving them sadly pawed; have patience at the check out (especially if you’re behind a large purchase of unmarked coned yarn); try not to block access to the shelves or aisles; and in general – shrieks of discovery are not a good idea.
  10. Leave ample time to make decisions. Arriving before lunch, making some choices, parking the selections and heading out to eat, then returning for a final cull and/or addition is a good plan. (If you do go to Webs, I recommend Sylvester’s for lunch. It’s a short stroll from the shop, the fresh air does wonders for the brain cells after the dusty, dark yarn warehouse room, the food was quite good and very reasonably priced.)

What did I buy? Just a couple of things. First, I finally got myself a McMorran Yarn Balance. That will come in handy to calculate yardage for the various yarns I have on hand. I bought a queen-size bed’s quantity sport weight cotton flake, destined for my re-do of my North Truro Counterpane. It was amazingly inexpensive, especially for the vast amount I need. And on a whim, I bought a cone of shrieking cranberry color lace-weight silk-look rayon which will (eventually) become a Hazel Carter Alcazar shawl, or maybe something else equally as dramatic.

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