For reasons that aren't relevant or interesting, I had to make a quick trip to Buffalo at the end of last week.
I didn't find a yarn store, but I did spent a few minutes in a Michael's. They had the usual selection of brands: Lion Brand, Bernat, a bit of Paton's and lots of Red Heart.
I'm very fortunate in a couple of ways: that I live nearby some really terrific yarn stores, and so have access to all sorts of great products, and also that I can afford to spend more on the yarns that I buy. Not everyone has that luxury. Sometimes, Michael's is the only option a knitter has.
I have no experience with Bernat - other than what I can tell by looking at the ball band and the product itself.
I am fairly familiar with the Lion Brand yarns. They're reasonably priced, reasonably good quality yarns. They're great for newer knitters, knitters who can't or don't want to spend a lot of money on a project, and knitters who are concerned about durability and machine-washability. I don't hesitate to recommend Wool-Ease in particular to knitters who need to think about price and durability. And some of the Paton's lines are very good. Their Classic Wool is an underappreciated wonder: a reasonably priced high quality 100% merino wool worsted weight that is great to work with, and felts like a dream. Both companies are guilty of producing some rubbish novelty yarns, but both have decently priced, good quality basics.
But then there's Red Heart. I've used a couple of Red Heart products. They are definitely at the lower end of the scale in both price and quality. They are very representative of the sorts of things you get when price becomes the only consideration... They come from the same corporate thinking that produces boxed, dried mashed potatoes: it's all about price and convenience, quality be damned. And in colours and types of yarns, they focus very much on the mainstream - yarns for granny square afghans, quick-knit kid's sweaters, the sorts of winter accessories than can be knitted every fall and lost or ruined or grown-out-of by the time winter ends. These aren't about lace knitting, or fashionable adult garments, or heirloom-quality baby christening robes.
And so there I was, scanning the shelves to see what was new in the land of low-price mainstream crafting... and I nearly fell over.
Red Heart Sock Yarn.