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Pricing Handspun Yarn Database?

 
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Hi, I am new here. I have noticed in lots of shopping places recently that it is getting harder and harder to quickly get the weight and yardage of yarn in a listing. Even the professionals seem to consider it a low priority bit of information so that I have to search down through descriptions if they have not posted detailed specs. This is very time consuming.

I am trying to work out fair prices for the items I make with my own handspun. It would be so easy if all the shopping listings out there had the amount right up front in the title and then you would see them all at once in a search page.

Is there any place that maybe has some heroic yarn-loving nerds who are running such a page? Is there a way of sampling the handspun market from day to day?

Got any ideas?
 
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You have a good question.

There isn't a database that I know of.  But I do know that about 90% of handspun yarn on Etsy is underpriced.

I'm going to call myself a professional as I've made my living from yarn for neigh 20 years, and hand spinning for at least 16 of that.

Pricing is HARD.  You can look at the market and what people are pricing at, but it's not the only factor.  Many people start spinning and then suddenly they have too much yarn.  So they sell the yarn to get it out of the house, not remembering how much they paid for the fibre.  A lot of spinners (I was one for a long time) feel that it's so easy to make yarn, anyone can do it, it's not worth much, so they don't value their skill or labour.

I find that low price yarn has low perceived value - it doesn't sell.  

High priced yarn requires the quality to match or exceed the price, and it's harder to get first time buyers.  But if the quality is good, I find there are a lot of repeat buyers.  That's the part of the market I focused on pre-2020 - wholesaling to shops and fibre artists.  

For selling my yarn, my current calculations look like this:

+ Materials cost (replacement cost, not what I paid for it)
+ Cost to get materials to me
+ general background costs like business licence, tool upkeep, expansion, etc.
+ labour (based on the cost of hiring someone of the same skill level as me to make the yarn if I break my arm and cannot spin)
========
WHOLESALE price
x standard markup (which is 1.6 for yarn these days)
========
retail price (aka, Etsy)

When calculating and this price comes out too high, then go to the different parts of the equation and see what can be reduced?  Maybe buying fibre wholesale?  Or change the method for handling the yarn to speed things up (this is where time and motion studies come in handy) or buy more supplies in one go to reduce the shipping cost to get the fibre to you.  




so yeh, I know, it didn't answer your question.  It IS time-consuming to research the prices other's set and it doesn't help that most of those shops you see on Etsy will be gone in a year or two because they weren't sustainable in their pricing.  

Etsy is probably the best place to search, and you can narrow the search by different filters (like yardage or fibre type).  This not only gives you a better idea of what people are charging, but the shops that fill out those parts of the listing are more likely to be thinking long term.  
 
Josie Grenier
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Thank you. I think most of us with any retail  and industrial experience understand this. But the database is necessary. Take, for example, the price of raw fleece. That is easy to look up because the agricultural agencies, (mostly at the county level, perhaps) do aggregate and publish the going rates, enabling individual ranchers to make their own decisions.

What I think is possible in a dedicated community of this size is that some individuals here could look at the agricultural price indexes and cobble together a program that would do the same for certain kinds of finished yarns. Not the artsy stuff, of course, but perhaps the plain-vanilla stuff like "300 grams of undyed Cheviot worsted, handspun".

Maybe there are already price indexes in place for commercially produced yarns. That might be a starting point. I wish I had the coding languages to do this myself. I would love to hear from anyone who does understand the concept and might could write the code.

It seems to me that a script if code could be applied to a search engine to pull out a price index. If you got this going in your forum, it would be great!

*Edited for spellbot typos
 
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Let's dive into history.

Before there were machines and mills for spinning yarn, all yarn was handspun on spindles or (later) wheels.

Weavers need massive amounts of yarn.  Depending on the modern mythology you follow, it was a ratio of 4 or 14 spinners per every one weaver.  (long story, but the likelihood is with wool, the ratio is 4 to 1, with linen it's closer to 8:1 if we include processing the fibre - which most people don't).  Lots of different spinners all spinning slightly different yarn.  But a weaver needs extremely consistent yarn.  And if each yarn is different, how do you know how much to pay each spinner?

So you see, we've had this problem before.

Their solution was to create a standard length called a Hank.  A hank (at that time in history - circa medieval Europe/England) was a set length of yarn.  Each town's guild had its own length that they went by which was later nationally standardized depending on fibre content.  I can't remember wool yardage off hand, but a hank of linen was 300yds.  For some reason, my mind wants to say wool was 430yards per hank

A hank used to be a unit of measurement for yarn.  These days we use it to mean a skein - aka, a large loop of organized yarn.  Just like how gross used to mean a dozen dozen, and now it's just yucky.

The spinner would sell the wool by weight.  If it was lightweight, it was finer (and better) yarn.  Each spinner had his or her own history, so the weaver would know the quality and pay accordingly.  Then the weaver would sort all the skeins of the same wight - knowing that these would all be the same thickness.  Thus yarn thickness is called "weight".

(as a side note, proper finishing of yarn was common.  Either the weaver would wash and block the yarn, or they would contract with the spinner to do that before selling. Thus finishing wasn't an issue - unlike today where most hand spinners have their own ideas of how to finish yarn, and many/most don't finish it at all.  How the yarn is finished dramatically affects the weight:length ratio.)

This worked really well when the yarn was being gathered in small regions.  The areas within a day's horse ride of a town, for example.  The sheep were of a consistent style for that area - the same style of wool, the same gene pool.  The wool each of the spinners is using is the same!

However, not all wool is created equal.  Cotswold vs Suffolk.  Each individual Cotswold fibre is denser and longer than that of a Suffolk Sheep who has more crimp.  Even processed and spun the same way, the yarns will be drastically different.  Suffolk will trap more air and be more squishy.  Cotswold denser and smoother.

At the same length, the Suffolk will weigh considerably less than Cotswold yarn.  

As the canals system and later the railways were built, yarn trade within England and abroad became more common.  Even standardizing the measurement of a Hank didn't do enough to help the weavers know what thickness of yarn they were getting when they bought one hank.  This is why different names for "weights" (thicknesses) of yarn started about this time (circa 1800s) as well as the more frequent usage of the YPP (yards per pound) system of describing yarn.

...

Industrialization.

When they first started making spinning mills, there were a few factors that limited the weight (thicknesses) of the yarn.  

1. to make many thicknesses means more expensive and more complex machines - which break down faster and cost money to repair.
2. the weaving machines could only use a limited range of yarns.
3. Only certain kinds of wool (the down descendants) could be used on the spinning mills as the design is based on cotton which is more standardized than wool
4. some other factors that don't need exploring at this moment.

So here we are, using one 'family' of wool to make standardized yarn.  We can go back to knowing that if a hank weighs suchandsuch, then the thickness is thusandthus and can be woven shuch-ly.

The yarn was made thicker by plying, rather than spinning thicker yarn.  You can see this more strongly in modern-day weaving cotton sizes.  8/2 for example.  It makes no sense unless you are steeped in industrial history.

Then as machines change and could spin a broader range of fibre types, we went back to having the not-all-wool-is-created-equal problem.  

...

Handspinners today

Some factors that are going to effect the weight (thickness) of the yarn vs, the YPP (yards per pound)

- spinning style
- fibre prep
- type of wool
- breed of wool
- finishing choices

Depending on the way these are done, we can have two yarns of the same thickness, the same length, and have one weigh half again as much as the other.

A database of what people are selling their yarn for would be a starting place, but it wouldn't tell us enough to know what people want to spend on handspun.

...

Industrial wool buying/selling/prices.

I have my level one wool grading certificate.  It takes about a dozen years to get to the top level.  There are maybe a few dozen fully trained wool graders in North America.  Who graded the wool will have a final effect on the price per pound the farmer gets.

At big farms (we're talking of more than 10,000 head of adult sheep), the wool is graded and sorted on site.  You have A, B, C.... Z, and then numbers added to these.  Complicated codes.  You can have a dozen grades per farm.  All yarn has value, even the shitty stuff I toss into the compost here, would be sold at several pounds to the penny.  Then the wool is compacted into bails and often core samples are taken from those bails and sent to a laboratory to make sure that the grade is consistent with international standards.  

Each bail weighs between 125 to 200 kilo.  The people buying wool are buying it by the hundreds or thousands of bails.  

There are often wool brokerages and sorting houses (sometimes up to half a dozen) between the farm and the final customer.  Each stage on the journey, adds a bit to the price.  Everyone's got families to feed.  

These published prices may be what the farmer gets, or they may be what the buyer pays.  It's important to look at that.  More importantly, looking at the scale of the sales.  

Handspinners - I can go through a fleece a week if I'm only spinning.  That's 50 fleeces a year.  Each fleece (of the kind I'm used to working with) weighs about 1-2 kilo.  That's half a bail of wool.  My volume is much lower, so my price is much higher.  Most farmers here don't sell a fleece at less than $20.  Some give them away.  Some cost upwards of $300 depending on the quality.  That's buying directly from the farmer.  But the agricultural agencies don't deal with such small potatoes as that.  The prices don't equate.  

....

These are the difficulties the database would have to overcome.





 
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Yep! It's not a simple this is x plus y equals z.
This is something I struggle with also. For me most of what I work with is from my own sheep or fleeces I've bought. The actual costs and time versus what price I'll actually be able to sell at worries me. I haven't found a set solution that works for me yet. I'll be doing some math comparing my numbers in Ranson's math outlined there.

What I see and hear is baseline 10-15 cents per yard for handspun. Harder to spin? Higher price. More costly fiber? Higher price. Time consuming prep? Higher price.
So generally my go-to spinning is going to produce X yards/oz abouts. So if that ends up 2ply DK weight then that's the easiest and quickest for me. For me spinning other weights I'm going to notch up the cost because the time and effort are more. For someone else that is going to be different. Art yarns are much more prep and time intensive and will cost more.
 
Josie Grenier
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kadence blevins wrote:Yep! It's not a simple this is x plus y equals z.
This is something I struggle with also. For me most of what I work with is from my own sheep or fleeces I've bought. The actual costs and time versus what price I'll actually be able to sell at worries me. I haven't found a set solution that works for me yet. I'll be doing some math comparing my numbers in Ranson's math outlined there.

What I see and hear is baseline 10-15 cents per yard for handspun. Harder to spin? Higher price. More costly fiber? Higher price. Time consuming prep? Higher price.
So generally my go-to spinning is going to produce X yards/oz abouts. So if that ends up 2ply DK weight then that's the easiest and quickest for me. For me spinning other weights I'm going to notch up the cost because the time and effort are more. For someone else that is going to be different. Art yarns are much more prep and time intensive and will cost more.



Sorry for late reply. I was traveling to Mars with that new stainless steel starship.

But here back on Earth: you mean "art yarns" are not what I can call my first lumpy efforts? ☹️ Oh well....

Actually I don't think this kind of activity can be priced in isolation from everything else. I mean, what we are doing is calculating all the time, energy and materials that are specifically involved in spinning yarn. This works at the industrial level, but as individuals we are actually returning to a pre-industrial practice.

I have been looking at my whole life as a terrarium and trying to work out how each activity fits into a complete cycle, accounting for the balance of inflow and outflow. This makes for much fuzzier math than the question of dollars and cents per yard of wool.  Recognizing that underpricing my yarn (if it were up to standard of selling to the public, which it is not) is tantamount to creating trash, I have to look at its value differently. This has caused me to decide not to sell it now or in the near future but to store it up and use it in items that I can sell at some future point. This is possible because I am not relying on the yarn to pay my rent, but if I were to try to spin a ton of yarn and sell it off, I wouldn't be able to pay the rent and still have money for fiber, anyway. Or for the land to raise a few sheep, etc. because I know I cannot compete with more skilled spinners (and of course I would have to upgrade from a drop spindle!)

There really is no easy solution to this question, but shifting the thought process from dollars (particles) to energy flow (waves) does help.
 
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I'm kinda in the same boat. I like to handspin. I've also long forgotten how much I've paid for my fibers or how long it took me. I don't really know what to do with what I've spun, however, I don't have enough passion to make a bunch of socks either. I'd like to learn, but the translation from watching a video or reading a pattern is failing my brains.

So clearly I need sell what I've spun, which is maddening frustrating, bc I don't want to "give it away" and making something from it isn't really in my cards either.

I do like the idea of a database, but it would be nightmarish with all the variables. Part of me was wishing guilds were more of a real thing instead of just my fantasy books!
 
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