Is there a huge markup on yarn? Why is yarn so expensive often?

Sometimes. But mostly, not.

I had a little adventure into yarn production some years ago. I purchased the fleece, had it spun as a worsted-spun 4-ply, and wound into undyed hanks.

As I recall, the fleece, a rare-breed Galway (my Unique Selling Point (USP)) was £11 a kilo. I bought 10kg – £110.

I drove it to a spinning mill – around £200 by ferry plus 500miles petrol. Total in the region of £600 – lucky it was a multipurpose trip…

The mill charged £56 per returned kilo. I got 60-ish 100g hanks back, so about £336.

The resulting yarn was shipped to me at a cost of about £60.

>> 110+(600/2)+336+60=806 (travel costs halved because it was a multipurpose trip)

>> 806/60= 13.43333333

So, just to break even, I’d have to sell each hank for £13.50. And that’s without a ballband, gauge testing, packaging and posting, Etsy listing and selling fees, etc. A 50% markup would bring it to just over £20. And you’ll find, as you look around, that £20 is an average price for a hank of good-quality 4-ply yarn with enough yardage to make a pair of socks.

But that’s a profit of only £405 – half as much as I’d need to repeat the process the following year.

Rare-breed Galway sheep with characteristic top-knot.

A non-profit business, just bringing attention to the lovely Galway, would need to charge £30 per undyed 100g skein – and that leaves nothing to plough back into a breeding programme, fodder, housing, veterinary bills, or my time and expenses! Salary? Don’t make me laugh…


I could, of course, have shipped the fleece instead of delivering it, at about £100 for the 10kg. I could have gone for a less expensive woollen treatment, costing a mere £52 per returned kilo – and if you think that’s still expensive, you should watch this:

Fleece processing is intensive both manually and mechanically. Neither the expertise nor the machinery (£1mn startup costs) comes cheap!

I could even have used any old fleece at half the price, instead of rare-breed Galway – but that would have eliminated my USP. I’d have to find some other way of adding value, such as hand-dyeing. Sadly, while I can do and enjoy dyeing… I’m not really ‘valuable’ as a dyer. I have no unique vision that allows me to create exquisite colourways that are Art in the skein, like my neighbour EweMomma does:

Skein of hand-painted yarn in shades  of pink. green, purple and yellow.
Ewemomma hand-painted yarn.

I’d produce plain solid colours like wot i dun ere:

7 hanks of yarn dyed in solid maroon, red, salmon, burgundy, lime, turquoise and orange.
Sooooo boring. But at least I got a good R-O-Y range.

The way you need to look at fibrecrafts is as a hobby, like golf, wine-tasting, or astronomy. A decent golf club can set you back £100 – and you’ll need more than one, plus balls, tees, club fees and funny trousers. Wine tastings can be as little as £30 – for a couple of hours, and you don’t even get to drink the wine! Astronomy costs – are astronomical. But a decent yarn is lovely and squishy in the hank, provides hours of knitting pleasure, and an end product that – with a little care – will last 1,000 years…

Egyptian sock fragments, c. 1000–1400CE, with colourwork geometric designs in black, white and blue cotton.
Egyptian sock fragments, c. 1000–1400CE. From L to R: Textile Museum, ca. 1000 – 1200 AD; Victorian & Albert Museum, ca. 1100 – 1300 AD; Textile Museum, ca. 1300 AD

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