My yarn budget has been limited of late, and I’ve done most of my knitting from my (really already ridiculously inflated) stash. I haven’t bought yarn in many months, and I find that I don’t mind too much. But I have been feeling the lack of yarn exposure. That is, I miss the experience of seeing and feeling unknown yarns, squeezing skeins, comparing new colourways, and wondering to what knitterly purpose they could be put. I don’t have a local yarn store – my nearest one is two train rides and a hilly walk away – so I can’t really justify travelling a long way just to feel up a skein or two.

I had a kind of epiphany recently, though. I realised that there was a way of getting my fill of yarn exposure without breaking the bank – shade cards.

Shade Cards

I’m not sure why it took me so long to acquire a shade card stash. Maybe I thought that shade cards were the preserve of serious knitwear designers or yarn shop reps. Not so! Shade cards are an excellent and cheap way of cataloguing yarn choices – especially weights and colours. They are an accurate and tidy collation of tactile information. They fit into a flat folder, and can be referenced easily when considering a pattern. They are the missing link between the vast amounts of electronic information that is now accessible online (*cough* Ravelry *cough*), and the idea of the project as it appears in the knitter’s mind as she sits at home contemplating this information. They are great value for money, and often pretty enough to frame and hang on the wall!

With that idea in mind I set about starting my collection of yarn cards. Here are some that I’ve acquired in the past few weeks:

Shades 2

Along with the Dale samples (top picture collage, top left) this neat little sample of Artesano Inca Cloud came from Dragon Yarns. The store sells shade cards for around 35 yarns for the reasonable sum of around 50p each. Each yarn card includes two long strands of each colour, with information about fibre content, weight, yardage, washing instructions and suggested tension.

I went a bit crazy on the Dragon Yarns website and ordered lots of cards, including: Dale (Baby Ull, Freestyle Chunky, Hauk DK, and Svale DK); Kilcarra Aran Tweed, Elle True Blue (denim yarn); and this sample of the wonderful British Breeds Aran.

I also ordered samples from independent wool mills and online stores, including the wonderfully saturated colours of the Coldharbour Mill yarns (see top picture collage, top right). I’m sure that I’ll be ordering some of this lovely yarn in the future, not least because they sent me the shade card for free!

The yarns spun by New Lanark Mills have been a fantastic find for me lately – they produce a wonderful range of wool and silk/wool yarns in beautiful heathers, tweeds and undyed naturals. Their shade cards – a set of three for £1 – are not strands of yarn, but little samples of machine knitted squares in each colourway (see top picture collage, bottom right), which give a good indication of how the yarns translate into knitted fabric.

Another store that presents its yarns in a very original way is ColourMart. For around £2 the store will send you a shade card with attached yarn samples in the form of small skeins, rather than strands of yarn (see top picture collage, bottom left). Each skein is labelled by yarn count, manufacturer and colour. The yarn included is still oiled (which is how ColourMart sell it), but the shade pack also includes a washed 100 yard skein to show how the yarn blooms. This is by far the most useful shade pack for designers, since it contains enough yarn in each sample to knit a small swatch.

Garthenor Shade Pack

The last shade pack I bought is that for Garthernor Organic Pure Wool (above). This pack is bit pricier than the others, but it is by far the most comprehensive and professional of all of the ones I bought. For £4 Garthenor sent me two colour-printed, recycled-paper booklets. The first is a very full description of all products sold by the company, including raw and carded fleece, hand knitted garments and hand woven rugs, as well as yarns. The booklet sets out the company’s strictly organic production policy, and lists in fascinating detail the breeds (many of them rare or at risk) that produce the wool. I spent a happy hour studying this booklet, and feel very confident about ordering from a company with such a considered organic production ethos. As well as the information booklet, Garthenor includes a booklet of yarn samples, including information on weight, yardage, price and breed origin for all yarns, with an attached strand of each. I hope I’ll be able to write a bit more about Garthenor’s fabulous wools in the near future!

I hope I’ve given you an idea of the kinds of shade cards that are available for sale, and the uses to which these cards can be put. I’m very satisfied with my little experiment – I now have a glut of tactile information on a fabulous range of yarns from UK producers, and beyond. I can touch, smell and even knit the samples, and make accurate judgements on colour and weight. I can dream about the wonderful patterns I’ll be able to knit (and perhaps even design) with these yarns – and I can do it all from home, in pyjamas, with a cup of tea at my side and Ravelry on the screen…

Now I just have to take the final step towards duplicating my shade card stash by buying the Jamieson & Smith shade card!