I own a lot of yarn.
I mean, there are plenty of people who own more (not even just people who make a living from knitting), but I have plenty. More than I can use in, say, at least a year? A couple of years? Eh, I’m totally guessing, because even the prospect of using up all my yarn makes me hyperventilate.
And I love my yarn. I have plans and goals and backup plans and goals for almost all of it. Sure, I have a few remnants of very early purchases that don’t work for me any more (Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride, I’m looking at you… you’re a lovely economical yarn and I made a hat for charity out of you, but a bulky wool/mohair mix isn’t really where I’m at right now), as well as orphaned leftovers from finished projects. Neither of those categories are going to get used up soon, but if I were put on house arrest and all my assets were seized and I absolutely could not, in any way, ever buy more yarn, they’d keep me going a bit longer.
This is all to say: I do. not. need. more. yarn.
But did that stop me from ordering this a few weeks ago?*
excuse the overexposure; this seemed to show the color best. I’m still terrible at photographing yarn
This is Delilah Lace, from Posh Yarn, in the “Every Neighborhood Should Have a Great Lady” colorway (I love Dee’s color names, even though – because? – they rarely have anything to do with a specific color; if you scroll down at the link you get her picture, too). I can’t really tell you anything about it as a yarn yet, because I haven’t wound it or knit with it – all I’ve done is stroke it and ooh and aah over the softness and the gentle sheen and the spectacular color.
I didn’t need any yarn, but it’s 1) purple 2) silk 3) lace – my nemesis. I was powerless. Really.
And, crucially, Posh Yarn operates on a limited-time basis. Once a week the shop opens with a new batch of yarn. There are a number of bases, but they don’t all appear every week (one week may be a lace week, the next a sock week, and so on). The colors are all one-offs, unique and unrepeated. There’s no going back to buy anything later; if you like a color and base, you need to buy it when the update opens up (or perhaps scour Ravelry later in the hopes that someone will sell it to you, but that’s not very reliable).
These kinds of updates are such a great way to suck in knitters like me. I bought the yarn above at the tail end of a Posh update, fueled by that pleasurably frantic feeling of “This yarn is perfect and if I don’t buy it now I will NEVER see it again!!!”
Similarly, yesterday evening I stumbled into the middle of a Plucky Knitter update over on Etsy. If you follow that link you won’t see anything now, because those updates sell out FAST. Those yarns are gorgeous, but I don’t need any yarn (duh), and I can’t really afford to buy a sweater’s worth of yarn from them right now. Nonetheless, I still found myself putting random single worsted skeins in my cart because OMG IT’S A PLUCKY KNITTER UPDATE I ALWAYS MISS THEIR UPDATES PRETTY PRETTY SHINY.
I hesitated long enough that the skeins got bought out from under me, which is good, because I don’t really have any realistic uses for a couple hundred yards of worsted yarn right now, and they would have sat in my stash to be admired but not used, which would be sad. It was a relief to miss out, really.
But it still also felt like missing out.
So then I was scrolling through my e-mail and saw a notice I’d saved for Madelinetosh’s Magnolia Society Yarn Club (you sign up to get three shipments of different yarn bases, for which you choose the general color family, but the specific color within that family will be a surprise, and exclusive to the members of the club). I’d been thinking about signing up, but I hadn’t yet, because (once again) I don’t need more yarn and wasn’t sure exactly what I’d use it for. But when I saw the e-mail tonight I thought, “I know! I’ll buy Madelinetosh yarn instead! That’s a great idea, because I know I love Madelinetosh and I totally deserve to sign up for the yarn club, because I missed out on the Plucky Knitter update!” And I clicked over to the MadTosh page… to find that the signups had closed.
And there was much disappointment.
So here I was, practically lousy with yarn, having convinced myself that I had missed out by not managing to get something I didn’t need (even though I would very much like it. And a trip to Europe. And a pony).
Marketing is an amazing thing. I could take the cost of the Madelinetosh yarn club and buy myself some amazing stuff – including regular issue Madelinetosh that’s available in plenty of online stores, which I would love just as much, and for which I would choose the exact color and amount I want – but that doesn’t hold any appeal at all. Well, buying yarn is always appealing, but there’s no urgency. There is pretty much always going to be some color of MadTosh yarn that I like available somewhere on the internet, and there’s no reason I have to buy any right now, because (say it with me) I don’t need any yarn, and I don’t have the money to just
start keep buying more willy nilly.
Call it a “yarn club” or an “update,” though, and make it limited edition of some kind? And I’m all over it – even when all that’s needed for entree to this exclusive group is the cost of admission and being at the keyboard at the right time.
Clearly this works on many more people than just me, or yarn producers wouldn’t do it. Nor is it exactly an obscure or complicated principle that scarcity/exclusivity make something more attractive. But it amuses me how well it works, and how easy it is for sellers to manipulate one’s FOMI (fear of missing out). While FOMI’s usually understood to result from viewing others’ carefully curated/sanitized lives on social media like Facebook, somehow in the consumer context (because it’s not limited to yarn) it endows a physical object with emotional, social significance. It makes me feel not only as if I need and deserve this yarn – despite the fact that it is entirely a frivolous, if beloved, luxury – but also as if purchasing that yarn will make me part of some kind of in-group (for lack of a better term).
Because these kinds of updates are very social experiences. There are Ravelry groups devoted to each of these yarns, to discussing the updates, and to sharing pictures of the yarn, plans for future projects, and photos of finished objects. If you join the Magnolia Club, before each shipment you get to vote on what color it will be, by choosing from a selection of inspiration photos. Even though voting on a very general color family is really not a significant part of the creative process, it makes the members feel involved with that process – much more so than simply plunking down a credit card at a store or online.
To be clear – I’m not criticizing these limited edition updates/yarn clubs. I love them. I love being part of a group of people geeking out over the same pretty, shiny, fuzzy, colorful hanks of string. I love that yarn producers/dyers make the effort to involve their buyers, and are responsive, and have an emotional connection to what they do. The apogee of this is probably Clara Parkes’ Clara Yarn, which is perhaps the most intentional, mindful example of creating a community around the production of a good, about which the producer is incredibly and genuinely passionate, and including consumers in the process in a way that’s thoughtful, educational, and exciting.
I’m also not knocking these practices for being centered around luxuries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying things you love and will use, if you can afford them. Really, there’s nothing wrong with accumulating great piles of yarn if you love it and can afford it and have space to store it, even if you may not really knit with it for, well, a long time, if ever. People love and collect a lot of different things simply for the sake of having them, and yarn is no worse or better than most collections. (My mom has a beautiful collection of eggcups.)
And “manipulate” isn’t a great word to use here because it implies some kind of sinister purpose, which isn’t what I mean at all. It’s just that it’s the nature of a market economy that people who create things for others to buy must find ways to convince said others that those particular things are worth buying, or go under. This doesn’t preclude producers from also being warm, kind, generous people who are genuinely interested in and supportive of the communities who use their products. In the context of yarn, that has certainly been my experience so far. But they must be businesspeople and marketers, too.
Well. This post has taken a much more philosophical turn than I intended when I started writing, when my intent was really only to say, “Look at my new pretty yarn!” But I continue to be fascinated by the dual nature of crafting communities on the internet – at once commercial and creative, artistic and business-savvy. And it seems to me (as very much the amateur/hobbyist) that there must be quite a bit of pressure on designers/producers of yarn and knitting patterns and other craft items. How to be at once the warm, friendly, maternal/grandmaternal/crafting buddy stand-in that consumers want, to enhance their experience of crafting as something social, that builds community and addresses emotional needs; and at the same time, the businessperson who has to be responsible to a bottom line? Maybe that’s not really a tension for most people in the industry; maybe it would just be a tension for me, and I’m reading too much into things. But it does seem to me that people who buy yarn and yarn patterns have different expectations than people buying, say, glue, or flour, or some other kind of staple.
In any case, I’m still super glad I caught that Posh update.