Researching yarns probably takes up more of my time than knitting it, or designing. I spend a lot of time on Ravelry, Yarnsub, and the various yarn manufacturers’ sites, finding out as much as I can about yarns, comparing them, looking at examples of projects worked in them, and reading yarn reviewer blogs. Sometimes I’ll know what fibre content I want (or have to use), sometimes I’m looking for certain colours in the same range, sometimes I’m looking for an equivalent yarn to one that’s no longer available.
While I’m fortunate to have a standard LYS, a locally-grown luxury and rare breed LYS, and an independent dyer practically on my doorstep, I still don’t have access to many of the yarns I want. Hand-painted silk, yes. Mushroom-dyed mohair from an Angora goat flock down the road, yes. Cheap ‘n’ squeaky acrylic, no problem. But not Manos Silk Blend, not MadTosh Pashmina, not Nerd Girls Clever, not Jamieson and Smith Cobweb. I can also pick stuff up at yarn festivals, they don’t happen frequently enough – and I can’t plan for inspiration or design calls around them.
One thing I do commonly, with yarns I can’t pick up locally or in a timely manner at wool festivals, is order small amounts of the yarns in contention for a design from an online stockist or the manufacturer. I’ll get a skein (or one skein in each colour if it’s a colourwork design) and see how it works up. Sometimes, I can order these try-out skeins along with a bigger order for another design where I know what I want and how much, other times I’ll get a lot of try-out skeins for many designs that are still in concept. This has recently worked out to be quite expensive for a modern Fair Isle I’m working on, as I’ve had to order multiple shades from different brands as far away as Canada, Norway, Iceland and the US. But mostly, it’s a fairly economical method – and even if I decide not to use Brand X, at least I now have some Brand X to try-out elsewhere.
Or just make another hat. Never can have too many hats!