I've been spending a lot of time lately window shopping for yarn. There are two projects at the top of my Ravelry queue that require "sweater quantities" of yarn (although neither is an actual sweater). Having become seriously addicted to socks over the past two years, I'm out of the habit of purchasing more than 100 grams at a time.
First we have the Alicia Tabard from the Winter issue of Interweave Knits (and also in "Knitting Little Luxuries" by Louisa Harding). I love this pattern, although my very first alteration will be to add side pieces to connect the front and back squares. The slim young lady in the picture is welcome to display her hips like that, but not this broadbeamed old broad, oh no. The yarn called for is (not surprisingly) Louisa Harding Grace, 11 balls for my size. Most webshops sell this wool/silk blend for about $10 per ball, so that would be $110 to create this lovely garment. OUCH! Must. Find. Substitute. Yarn.
Another project I'm panting to start is the Highland Triangle Shawl from Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Vests." The yarn specified in this pattern is Woolpak N.Z. 8 ply (DK), which generally retails for just under $20 per skein. Seems expensive at first glance, but these skeins are over 8 ounces and contain 525 yards. The shawl requires only two skeins for a total cost of about $40. Not bad. But then I toss the stash and find a sample skein of Merino Style that I acquired from Knitpicks on a whim. It's a DK weight, so that would work for the shawl. It's soft, bouncy, and comes in a bunch of good colors. And it's only $2.49 for a 123-yard skein.
Now I need my calculator. Okay (525 X 2)/123 = 8.5 skeins. So we have to round up to nine skeins (leaving aside the question of whether one needs the entire 1,050 yards of Woolpak or whether one simply needs some portion of the second skein). Nine skeins @ $2.49 gives a total of $22.41. That's a better number. Along the way, of course, I checked out a passel of other yarns and was constantly stymied by variation in put-up. Different yardage per skein, weight per skein, yardage per ounce – all within the same general yarn-weight category (DK, worsted, etc.) -- makes it difficult to compare prices.
I ended up calculating "cents per yard" for each yarn I considered. Probably sounds excessively geeky, but consider your local grocery store. Do they not have little "price per ounce" (or whatever unit of measure is most appropriate) tags on the shelves? As I recall, this feature – which allows us to determine whether the 10-oz can of Brand X peas is a better deal than the 12-oz can of Brand Y peas – was required as part of the deal when supermarkets were allowed to cease marking the price on individual products (anyone remember that guy in the aisle stamping the cans?). Why couldn't yarn retailers put price per yard on their labels? Or, better yet (says my inner geek), how about price per 10 yards. For instance, the Woolpak I mentioned above is 38¢ for 10 yards; the Merino Style is 20¢. Instant easy comparison.
I bet companies that have reasonably priced yarns would get behind such an initiative. And those who market "the name"? Well, there will always be folks who must have the Green Giant peas, no matter the price per ounce. What do you think?