Design process: yarn support

Let me be honest: I’m not showing you even close to half of what’s going on here. I’m in a push to get the knitting all wrapped up for this book. The fact that I can squeeze any baby knitting in at all is kinda amazing. So let me talk for a moment about something I’ve done a lot of over the last year: yarn support requests. Hopefully this’ll be helpful if you’re an indie designer (or considering it) and at least interesting even if you’re not (if it’s not interesting go read something else. I don’t care if you skip a post)

What is yarn support? Hopefully it’s a relationship, and a business agreement, that supports BOTH the yarnie and the designer. It can be a lovely, LOVELY thing when it works. But I’ve heard some horror stories from yarn makers I know. And I’ve heard questions from designers who are mystified by the process.

festival yarn

First and foremost remember this is a BUSINESS deal. Even if you’re just designing on the side you should still be keeping track of profits, right?* Well the yarn company is the same way, except it’s probably someone’s full time job. Or several someones. So let’s all try to act professionally, shall we?

From my point of view that means having a plan. Before I go looking for yarn support I want to know exactly what I’m designing. I need to know how I’m going to construct it, what it’ll look like, and this means I have already created a swatch and a sketch. Hopefully you have too. The yarn company would LOVE to know you’ve thought this through. So be prepared to send them the details! I always lay out my yarn support requests just exactly like a submission to a magazine.

Herrick - Doric mitts

That is, quite literally, a jpg of the PDF I sent for my Doric mitts. I fuzzed out the contact info at the bottom… If I feel like the swatch add a lot of info I’ll scan it, or photograph it, and include a picture in the PDF. In this example the stitch pattern is simple, so I left that out.

Writing out a proposal forces me to determine exactly what I’m doing. I’ve got enough of a plan that I don’t have to worry I’ll get half way through construction and hit a snag. I should also have a good idea of how long it’s going to take me to complete the project at this point. Once I have all my thoughts written down, I’m ready to contact a yarn company.

Whenever I want to reach out to a new company I start by finding a general e-mail. If I can find something about yarn support on their website AWESOME. But that often doesn’t happen. So if I’m emailing the yarn(a) address I’ll start with something like this:

I’m (Name), an independent designer with self-published patterns as well as patterns published through (list a few by 3rd party, if you have them). I am looking for yarn support for an independent design for release through my blog and Ravelry. Could you please let me know to whom I should submit my request? Thank you!

It’s short but still polite. I’m not asking for anything except a proper introduction with someone to whom I can send the juicy details. Note that I’ve already given them enough info to go look me up if they’re curious. But generally, this fits into the limited character contact forms on some websites. And I don’t send any links at this point. It’s a personal preference, but I figure they get a lot of spam at this general contact addresses, I don’t want to be filtered out.

Now comes the waiting. When you hear back be prepared for one of several responses:
No, sorry, we don’t do yarn support.
Yes, please contact helpful.person(a)
We love indie designers! What are you looking for?!

If they don’t do yarn support accept that and move on. Remember it’s business, not personal. That last one is great, although sometimes I get flummoxed (don’t you want to see my idea first??) but it’s also rare. A lot of companies have been burned by indie “designers” who take yarn and then disappear. Don’t be that person ;-) The middle answer is most common.

Here’s where my carefully laid out proposal comes in. I e-mail my new friend:

Hello! I’m (name), an independent designer with self-published patterns as well as patterns published through several publications. You can see my full portfolio online, here:

I am looking for yarn support for a sweater/hat/shawl pattern which I’m developing for release this winter/spring. Do you provide yarn support for indie designers? Please let me know if this is something you could help me with and if so let me know the requirements of your yarn support program.

Please find attached my proposal for the sweater/hat/shawl. I’d like to knit this design in your (merino, cotton, unicorn hair) yarn in the (shiny name) colorway. Please let me know if there is a problem with this yarn or colorway, or you know of a better option. For these detailed cables/insane lace I need a mostly solid/highly variegated colored yarn in fingering/aran weight. I believe I will need between 300 and 350 yards or 2 skeins. I look forward to hearing back!

Things to note:
1) I gave them a direct link to see all the published work I’ve done so far.
2) I gave a timeline for release.
3) I asked the requirements of their yarn support program.
4) I asked if the yarn I’m eyeing is really best in their mind for my project.

Let’s go through those points:
1) Now that I’m e-mailing a person I want to show them my body of work. I love the Ravelry designer page as a simple portfolio. It’s public and can be viewed even by folks without accounts. It shows both 3rd party and indie designs. And since I’m selling my indie patterns there they might as well see the platform through which I’ll be selling the pattern I hope to knit from their yarn.

2) This is key. It gives them an expected timeline. Whether your turn around will be 1 month or 1 year be up front about it. That way they know what to expect. And if you fall behind? Communicate! I originally planned to publish my Boyden sweater in late fall or winter. But then it took 7 months to pull together. I wasn’t e-mailing my dyer every week. But I did give her a head’s up that I was running behind when January rolled around and the pattern wasn’t close to being released.

3) Did you know yarn support comes with requirements? At the very least you want to be sure you’re not recommending substitute yarns! Some companies can’t afford to give out free yarn; it’s just not in the profit margins. Some companies would like photos of your design to help promote your yarn (good news, this promotes YOU as well) Other companies are happy to let you do most of the promotion. But asking what their requirements rather than making assumptions shows that you understand this isn’t just a handout. It’s a partnership.

4) Several times I’ve reached out for yarn support only to find the colorway or base I’m considering is in danger of being discontinued. Apparently I have bad luck that way… But these are exactly the sorts of things the yarnie will know better than you. They may also have a new yarn they’re about to release that would be even better for your design. Asking their opinion gives them a chance to communicate with you, making sure that the yarn used is not just a good fit, but the best fit.

yarn pile

Now that you’ve opened a dialogue things should move smoothly, just remember to be professional! I always get in touch again to let my new friend know when the yarn safely arrives. Then I get down to work. When the pattern finally goes live I get in touch again to let them know. Sometimes we can work out a give-away or other promotion on the yarn company’s blog. Knitters love a chance to win a free pattern, and I bet that yarnie has a slightly different audience that might like your work!

I hope this helps! If you’d like to read more about yarn support Alex Tinsley has another post on the process behind asking for yarn support. And Ruth over at Rock & Purl has given her own opinions and suggestions as well. And if you have any questions that still aren’t answered feel free to ask them here!

*trust me, the IRS (or whatever your government agency is) expects you to be keeping track of profits.

6 responses to “Design process: yarn support

  1. All very good suggestions – you know I personally love working with indie designers, but I also know there’s a huge difference for a small dyer providing 1 skein of sock yarn and enough for a sweater!

    • I feel like recognizing that difference is important! I feel like every time I ask a small dyer/yarnie for a sweater’s worth of yarn I’m asking them for a loan of actual money… Which I suppose it a good way of looking at it since it makes me really committed to finishing the project.

  2. Hi, I just followed your guidelines and got some yarn support for the first time! Thanks for your great advice

  3. Love this article! Found it on Ravelry and is so helpful with my confusion lately about yarn support.

    • I’m happy to share what I know. Yarn support can be such a murky topic where everyone has their own point of view. I think communication is the most important part.

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