Sunday, June 5, 2016

In Praise of Smart Stashing (and Knitting Socks in Summer)

You may wonder how I've gone from yarn stash-busting to stash-building but, really, my methodology has changed completely.

I'm not a volume stasher - by nature. It goes against my minimalist grain, the part of me that loathes clutter. On the other hand, and many other crafters of all kinds have written on this topic: materials provide inspiration. What's more wonderful than planning out your next sweater, knowing that you have 1000 yards of sport-weight yarn in that gorgeous slate grey?

To digress briefly, socks are a different sort of stash subject. It's been so long since I dissed making and wearing handmade socks that I hope we can all forget I ever said anything. My revisionism is based on 3 years of making pair after pair and realizing that a) everyone loves them b) they're practical and c) they're cozy and comfortable, especially when made with good yarn. Furthermore, there are as many fancy sock patterns as there are pairs of socks - which isn't my thing (ok, yet), but you can't get bored with all of those options. The sock is a knitting microcosm.

I've hit the point with my own (simple) sock pattern that I work without paper. It's just me, some needles and yarn and, seriously, I feel like a magician! Yeah, you might call my simple sock boring (it is, sort of). I prefer to call it basic (and not by that modern definition). It's everything you need and nothing you don't.

Socks are also very little, portable and they don't heat you up in the middle of summer. Easy to pull out, easy to pack away. I, for one, intend to knit them on my train rides to and through Quebec.

Alas, you can't make them if you don't have yarn (most easily, stashed for the purpose) and I've managed to use up all of my previous sock stash remnants (with a few exceptions that don't add up to 75g - i.e. the amount needed for one pair of Kristin-made simple socks).

Throw in a birthday weekend and you can see how yesterday's purchase was born.

Also, 300g of sock yarn (in 3 distinct colourways) cost a total of $70 (from Ewe Knit). Admittedly, Regia yarn is not expensive or fancy (though it's insanely durable and long-lived). While Koigu is at the higher-end, the skeins come in 50g so you can purchase with more flexibility. All this is to say I'll be able to make 4 pairs of socks for 70 bucks! Fun, efficient and affordable!

But how does this help if I'm not buying to feather the stash?

How to Smart Stash

Buy Enough: One way in which I've changed is that, while I want to give myself a bit of room for maneuver (buy enough yarn for a sweater in my preferred weight and choose the pattern later), I won't buy a single skein (unless I know what I want to make with that complete skein). Buying in unconsidered bits and bobs results in having multiple skeins that don't really do anything - unless and until you get massively creative, and not in the most fun way. God help you if you never knit in DK yarn and you end up with an orphan skein or two of that description. Or lace-weight silk coated stainless steel. Ask me how I know.

Research to Buy Efficiently: I also make sure, to the best of my ability, to have no yarn remaining (or another project planned for the remaining yarn). To do this, I've spent a LOT of time on Ravelry finding the best of the 100 - 200 yard projects in just about every yarn weight. Fortunately I live in the north because the majority of those projects seem to be fingerless gloves and hats. (I really don't love knitting hats.) Honestly, once you figure out how to apply all of the features in Ravelry, there is a shockingly well-organized archive of information. Don't forget - the research phase is the one during which to do math, consider fiber properties, post photos on your mood board (if that's your thing, it isn't mine).

Buy What You Use Most Often (or have a specific project in mind to use it all up): There are some things I'm going to make again and again. I don't just mean specific patterns, but categories of patterns that use interchangeable amounts of yarn. Sport-weight Kristin sweaters take @1000 yards of yarn. Socks take @300 yards of fingering yarn. Sometimes I work with lace-weight, bulky or worsted yarns but not often enough that I'll buy them to stash. I need to know my project and how I can ensure that I don't end up with extra yarn in those weights. Because they don't move fast and they take up space.

Buy Complementary Yarns: Every yarn I buy has a project associated with it. Those projects live in my queue and there are very few skeins of yarn that don't have a project alloted (even if that project might change before I start to make it). Whatever amount of yarn remains gets assigned to a new project. It's my job to find one. If there's nothing available, I have to figure out how to mix it with another one in my stash. This is much easier when you have lots of yarns in the same weight and made of similar fibers). Your hairy alpaca isn't necessarily going to work with springy Quince wool or Icelandic yarn or woolen-spun Brooklyn Tweed.

Organize First. Buy Second: Every time I go into a yarn store it takes me at least an hour because I'm not just buying what I love, I'm buying what I love and what I can use effectively. It's considerably more challenging than buying on drunken creative impulse but much less scary because I know I'm going to use my yarn. It will not threaten to take over a box or a shelf or a closet or a room.  Before I go near actual yarn, I choose the item I want to make, I research it and parse it out, I consider what its sibling project will be and then I allow myself the drug-hit that is finding the fiber. This is the reverse action of most knitters I talk to - even those who don't love having lots of stash. Fiber is compelling and there are some people who cannot control themselves when they start to touch it. This sounds amusing, I realize, but I'm being serious. I know that faint nausea that happens when you touch perfect yarn. It's all potential and it feels like a pet. One's lower brain goes kind of scrambley.

Be Somewhat Dispassionate: Do not allow yourself to get sucked in. It's ok to buy 300g of sock yarn when you know exactly what you want to do with it. If you know enough about sock-knitting to understand that 300g will get you 4 pairs, you're going to use it up. It's less ok to buy 300g over 5 skeins of disparate yarn, with no plan in mind for any of them, simply because each one feels and looks awesome. What will they be when they knit up? If you don't know, you run the risk of consigning that gorgeousness to a box in perpetuity. Do you really want that?

So that's my current take on stashing sensibly. Thoughts or feelings?

PS: As it's my birthday, I was able to coerce my husband to garden with me this morning. With 2 people and after 70 minutes, we've got things under control. Note: My front garden is a patch that's @15 x 15. Imagine the weeds that were...


  1. Happy birthday a day late ;)

    I think that sounds like a pretty reasonable approach to stashing. I have an overburdened stash of garment fabric, and the quilting fabric stash is threatening to become the same. I have sworn that the yarn stash will not. So far, aside from what I inherited from my mom, I've only got a project or two in advance. Intoxicating is the right word. ;) Lois K

  2. Happy birthday! Well, you know I'm on board with the sock yarn stashing because of project portability, wearablity, creativity, etc. I almost always have a pair of socks on the needles. And sock yarn stashing and sock knitting is cheap even for the best yarns when compared to a sweater or other larger project.

    Oh and if you find something fun to do with the silk coated steel, lemme know. 'Cause I got some of that too. Oy vay!

  3. Thanks so much, y'all, for the birthday well wishes!