Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Sorted: Communing with the stash

#a month of moments
30. sorted
Every knitter worth their salt has a stash. Stashes are odd things. You start off with a few tiny leftover balls of wool from your first big project. You buy the occasional ball of deliciously smoochy yarn at your local yarn store or a craft show. People see and admire your knitting talents and decide to gift you with the relics of Great Aunty Lucy's yarn hoarding skills after her demise due to extreme old age.

And before you know it, the stash has invaded your house. There are odd balls of wool breeding in secret with the dust bunnies behind the couch. Opening the hall way cupboards becomes a dicey exercise as you have forced the stash in there so tightly, it is effectively spring loaded. Strange garbage bags infest shadowy corners in the laundry, and when the better half tries to put them out with rubbish you have to sheepishly admit that they are, in fact, full of yarn. There is wool in the drawer with the videos and remote control thingies and cotton in the kitchen drawers (but the chef was using that to truss a lamb roast, I think that excuses this).

You have to control the stash. You can't let it control you and you really have to vigilantly police it to prevent unauthorized breeding practices which can result in undesirable un-knittable fibre. Imagine eyelash yarn breeding with that horrible mesh stuff for example.... The thought makes me shudder.
Photo credit: assasindwntheavenue. Uncontrolled stashes are susceptible to tangling like this.
A few years ago, my stash got seriously out of hand. It was all jumbled into the aforementioned garbage bags and they just weren't up to the strain. There were cracks appearing and stray balls of yarn were staging sneaky escapes and rolling away into inaccessible corners or the middle of major walkways leading to some quite nasty "slipped on a ball of yarn" injuries. A lot of it was shoved behind the stereo on the principle that if I couldn't see it easily, I didn't have to deal with its bad behavior. The worst of it was that, I had no idea what was there and could never find the right ball of yarn when I needed it. It wasn't even serving it's purpose in life! Then the head of the household gave me an ultimatum, either I indulged in some seriously stash wrestling or he would. I knew exactly what that meant. That's man code for I'll throw out anything I don't think is important. And as much as love and appreciate my man, he is no connoisseur of fibre. I would have lost the lot!!!!

He generously gave me my own hall way linen cupboard for the stash and allows a certain contained overflow into the lounge room. So I thought I'd share with you my accumulated knowledge of successful stash taming. Here's are the four C's of stash control.

Step 1: Cull the stash. I know this is hard, but be ruthless. Life it too short to knit with bad fibre. My stash had expanded exponentially due to donations from random relatives and well meaning friends. There were a lot of things in there that I was never going to touch with a 10 foot pair of knitting needles. I'm a little bit of a fibre snob. No, that's a bit harsh but I don't like knitting with anything much larger than 6mm needles and worsted / aran / 10 ply weight yarn. So all the chunky and super chunky stuff got donated (and on the plus side, this really diminished the bulk of the stash). Cheap and nasty acrylic got donated to the local nursing home where it can be reincarnated as lacy knitted coat-hangers. Generally all the fluffy stuff got given away too. I kept a limited amount of real mohair and stuff for doll hair. You could make money out of this stage - sell the quality stash you are never going to use 'cos it's the wrong colour or because you are allergic to it, etc... Use Ravelry to arrange stash swaps or advertise your sale.

Step 2: Categorize and catalog the stash. You need a stash filing system. Find what works for you. In my case, my stash is arranged by colour. Colour works for me cos that's how I tend to plan new projects. You'll also notice my stash is in clear containers so I can quickly open the cupboard and see what is there. I also have to secretly admit that its arranged in colour order because it makes the stash a thing of beauty truly reflecting its potential. I love how opening the door to this rainbow of colours makes my heart sing.
Here's a few more ideas for a stash filing system that might work for you. Create a stash spreadsheet with columns for all the information, e.g. yarn weight, no. of balls / skeins, fibre type, colour, dye lot, manufacturer, etc... Or do this by hand in a stash book. Photograph your yarn and use the stash feature in Ravelry to document it. Organize your fibre by yarn weight or potential project type (e.g. stick all the sock-weight yarn together). It doesn't matter what you do to organize your stash. The idea is to be able to find what you want easily and know what you have. My stash is still sort of a lottery as to locate something specific I get to pull out a colour box and rummage through it to see what specific yarns it contains. This is fun. See also Step 4: Communing with the stash.
Brown stash box. You can also store semi completed projects in with the stash.
Step 3: Contain the stash. Stash storage at my place comes in three major categories, Immediately At Hand stash, Short Term Storage and Long Term Storage.
Baskets are ideal for the first two categories. The basket on the left is Immediately At Hand Stash. This is the wool I am using to crochet my daughter's Granny Wants a Latte Macchiato granny rug. The basket on the right is short term stash. This tends to be two things; yarn for the next few things on the "To be Knit" queue and new acquired stash which still needs to be fondled and admired regularly.
Another short term storage basket. This is the resting WIP basket.
There are three essential requirements for long term stash storage. The first is that is needs to be dust proof and insect and vermin proof. Some knitters have uncontrollable nightmares about moths invading their stash. (See for example : the Yarn Harlot). So sealed containers are best. The second is that it needs to be compact. I love the idea of stack-able containers and it allows you to make optimal use of the space you've got. It also solves that stash falling out of the cupboard and burying you up to your neck in a pile of yarn issue. My third criteria is that you need to be able to see what is in the container without unpacking it. So clear containers or clear lids are a good idea.
Here three containers wide by four containers high exactly fills up the lower two thirds of my stash cupboard. There is a shelf above this too.
Space bags (vacuum seal storage bags) also work well as a storage method, especially for jumper amounts of yarn. Here's some charcoal grey yarn waiting patiently for its turn in the queue. Its going to be crocheted into a Saturn sweater.

Step 4: Commune with the stash. A stash that is neglected gets feral. You need to talk to it, caress it, cuddle it, plan with it and use it. For most of the last year, I have only used yarn from the stash. Don't panic if it looks like the stash is getting smaller, this is the general idea and you have to learn to embrace it. You can always replace it with new stuff you'll love just as much... Trust me.
Remember Scrooge McDuck and his money pit? Image replacing the money with yarn and this is my ultimate fantasy for communing with the stash.
Wait a minute someone has already done this. MoMA PS1 Yarn Pit installation.
How do you deal with your stash? Do you have a system or is it a free range stash, left to roam to its own inclination. Do you sort it by yarn weight or type? By colour like I do? Or is it by amount and purpose? (i.e. That's a jumper/sweater worth. There's a shawl, a pair of socks, etc...). I've love to know! Maybe we can help each other discover the best way to tame the stash.

And just when I thought I had it all under control, I turned around to see this.....  A box of feral wool that escaped the stash when the daughter was rummaging for yarn to make a fairisle cushion on the weekend. At least it has tried to make itself tidy by jumping into the box the veggies came in. You must be unceasingly vigilant.


  1. Hi! I discovered your blog last week and I'm so glad I did! This post made me laugh! One day I will have a colour coded stash too :-). At the moment it is entirely feral in plastic bags!

  2. I do mine by weight. So if I want to make socks (which happens frequently) I just go to the fingering weight box. But I admit that I haven't culled the stash in a while and I don't commune with it often enough. You've inspired me!

  3. Wow! I see that I commented at 2 in the morning tomorrow. Can you tell I'm in the USA?

    1. No, I can't . It could also be indicator of your age you know. I know teenagers who are on the internet at 2am. Though they're probably not commenting on knitting blogs. Hmmmm.

  4. Awesome post. I don't have a stash problem, yet, but I believe I will someday. It's just so hard to resist!


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