Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bust the Stash: An Introduction

I've been wondering what I'm going to write about when we begin the renovation: I won't be able to sew (no sewga room), cook (no kitchen), make skin care (again, no kitchen and reno zones don't make for good cosmetic facilities). I won't be vacationing (gotta supervise a complex process even if it will have its own project manager). It's possible I'm going to feel a bit, well, stressed (never my most fun blog fodder).

But then it occurred to me: I'm going to knit (happy body notwithstanding). Moreover - I'm going to knit every last freakin' strand of yarn in my stash and document the whole process.

(On hearing about this, Scott suggested it might be vaguely more interesting for me to write about my stress.)

I'm also going to visit every awesome restaurant in TO - I've budgeted for this ALL summer while I have no kitchen - and I'm sure that will warrant some discussion.

BTW, they tell us that the duration of this project will be 4 months. I say that's high on drugs - though I desperately wish that I could believe them. Mind you, every reference (and I checked them all) indicated - with utter shock - that they came in on time to the day. Note: We're working with an independent architect and our scope may creep, as we say in the biz (it already has), so we may be advised about a longer timeline, before the shovels hit the ground, but our project manager has assured us that minor changes wouldn't add more than a month to the project. Let's just say I'll be happy if I have a finished reno, complete with new hardscaping in the back yard, by Thanksgiving (mid-Oct). I'll be fucking ecstatic if it happens by the end of August. (Our goal is to kick this off - permits and weather pending - in mid-April or beginning of May.)

But never mind that. This is where I introduce my Bust the Stash series. (Scott would also like you to know that he thinks knitters use crazy language and this puts him mind of drugs and police.)

Technically, I'm starting this process as soon as I finish that KNUS thing. I'm trying to like it but I have so many reservations that are only going to come out alright (or very wrong) on the blocking. So it's hard to slog away under those circumstances. Having said this, if it's all wrong, I'm ripping it out (ugh to ripping out dozens of hours) and turning it into viable stash for the Bust the Stash!

To kick things off, let me clarify that - by knitting standards - I am not a hoarder. In fact, here's what I'm working with:

This photo was taken part way through my organization process so don't pay attention to how unlovely it looks. The tissues are in the bags because I put a few drops of cedar essential oil on them, to deter any bugs, and occasionally re-scent them as the fragrance disappears. The ziploc bags are also used to deter bugs.
Non-knitters may be surprised to learn that knitters can have entire rooms full of stashed yarn. Or closets at the very least. I shudder to think of how long it would take me to destash that sort of habit. I estimate I'll keep myself busy - on this stash alone - until the end of 2016.

Allow me to explain what you're seeing in that pic:

That's my entire stash. It fits into a fabric banker's box. Most of the yardage is made up of small remnants of yarn which remain after having completed larger projects. (You know you have to slightly overbuy or you run the risk of coming up short.) A couple of the largest yardages in my stash are gifts. In the bottom right you'll see some hearty navy Lopi (Icelandic) yarn from my friend Michael, who visited this summer and kindly brought back yarn for me! The gorgeous pink yarn, from my friend Ruth, is chunky alpaca - the most beautiful and soft fiber but tricky to use because it's very bright and rather thick. 

I'd advise you about the total figure of yards stashed if I could figure out how to figure out that one outstanding detail in Ravelry. I find it hilarious that I haven't figured it out already because - as I've mentioned numerous times - if I had to live in a website it would be Ravelry and I use the fuck out of it, like, in an advanced fashion. OMG people! I just figured it out and my love for this site is more boundless than ever.  There's a little button at the top right of the Stash page, to the left of the advanced search feature) that EXPORTS all of your hard-won information into a beautiful Excel file. Tells you EVERYTHING in one easy spreadsheet. Well formatted too. Anyway, I just added up my total remaining yardage and it comes to a higher-than-imagined total of 7462 yards. Let's call that 7500 yards.

I've got to say, I'm surprised. I mean, I realize that my little banker's box of yarn is full and I'm the one who spent an entire afternoon organizing it to within an inch of its life. But I don't buy indiscriminately. 90 per cent of the time I've got a project in mind when I buy yarn.

Alas, 99 per cent of the time I have remnants in the neighbourhood of (let me look at my spreadsheet for a moment) 30 to 200 yards. Not really enough to do anything with but too much to discard.

And while we're deconstructing this, 7500 yards will knit up into about 7 sweaters or 3 blankets. In large project terms, it's meaningless.  Alas, 7500 yards of 50 yards of this and 200 yards of that is a bit of a dog's breakfast to utilize.

How I've been preparing:
  • So... I spent last week (for hours every evening) going first through my "favourites" (a category in Ravelry) to determine whether I have enough yardage of various yarns to make things I keep on the radar. Unsurprisingly, the answer has been, generally, no. This is because I tend to prefer projects that use a lot of yarn and I don't think to "favourite" the stash buster patterns.
  • What I did next was to use the advanced patterns feature to comb through hundreds of pages of potential projects requiring the specific amounts of yardage in my stash. When I found them, I faved them too so that I have all of my options in one place. It's tougher than you think because I'm very fussy about how I use yarn and there aren't a ton of things (other than baby garments, hats, fingerless mitts and cowls) to be made with remnants. None of these types of projects thrills me. Not to mention that one must comb through zillions of patterns just to weed them out.
  • But here's the thing: Bust the Stash is not about making things for me specifically. It's about making things for whomever they suit. So I'm getting with the hats, mitts, cowls, baby stuff AND ornaments. 
  • The next thing I did was, strictly speaking, not necessary - but I'm happy I did it because a) I am an organizer's organizer and I love doing this sort of thing and b) it highlighted a few (admittedly small) errors in my Ravelry stash details:
    • I reweighed all of my yarn. Yes, I weigh my yarn at the end of every project to see how many grams I have left but - till now - I haven't weighed it at the beginning. Alas, sometimes yarn labels indicate a certain weight/yardage but it's slightly off in the skein (up or down). In the future, I'm going to weigh my yarn as soon as I bring it home so that I can stash the amount correctly. As it is, I noticed inconsistencies of up to 10 grams - admittedly in rare instances. And the larger discrepancies were with the thicker yarns so the weight discrepancy is not particularly significant overall. Where it gets significant is when you try to make something with 100 yards of yarn (which is what the pattern calls for) and you only have 87. This process took hours because, while I have @7500 yards of yarn, they're all in little bits and pieces. 
    • My stash records 35 yarns but I actually have many more than that number in my banker's box. This is because, over the years, I've deleted the smallest remnants from my stash page on Ravelry, not wanting to confuse myself, at a glance, into thinking that I might have enough of a particular yarn to actually make something with. In a couple of instances I readded them to my Ravelry stash page (75 yards or more). In other instances, cuz I didn't like the yarn to begin with or because I cannot find a project on which to use it, I stored it in a Give Away bag. Note: That bag is currently sandwich sized. There aren't many of these remnants but I'm happy to send them to anyone who emails me. Shipping's on me. (Presumably the baggie will fill up as I complete the stash projects and have small remnants remaining from some of those projects. If you knit washcloths and tiny things, this may appeal.)
    • I put stickers on all of my yarn remnants so that, as I pull them out of the bags, I'll know exactly what to do with them. Sure, Ravelry has all of this info captured. But my biggest issue is in determining which remnant is which (they all start to look the same when you only knit with 3 colours: blue, grey and beige - and 3 weights (fingering, sport and worsted)). That's why the sorting process took so long.
    • The Wildcards: I will admit that a couple of yarns were a complete mystery and I don't actually know how that's possible because, even when I deleted a small remnant from stash to avoid confusion, I've documented EVERY project I've ever knit in Ravelry (on the projects page). So I should have been able to cross reference the yarn with my robust project details. This freaks me out slightly. In these instances, I have to guess at the yarn weight (prob fingering, sport or worsted) and the number of yards in the skein. Still, I may opt to use the larger remnants that fall into this category. It'll be a true adventure, if nothing else. From now on, I'm keeping the yarn tag and affixing it to remnants as, it would appear, I will not remember the details of a yarn remnant a year after knitting the original project.
    • I used the Queue feature in Ravelry to queue up these projects so I can easily turn the queued project into an actual project with the click of a button. I'm going to make a variety of things multiple times because, frankly, I don't have a lot of choice and I'd rather make a project I can get with 3 times, than experiment with one I don't love just to keep it novel.
 Here's a little yarn remnant porn:

I've put these labeled yarns back into the ziploc bags - in a colour coded fashion so that I'll easily be able to find what I'm looking for...
Here's a crappy photo (sorry about the quality - I was occupied!) showing how the colour-coded remnants have been returned to their bags in an easy-to-use fashion.
It took me a ridiculously long time to classify these. A couple of the wildcards, referred to above, are in this batch...

Wanna Play Along?
  1. If you're interested in doing this same sort of thing (and I'm sure I'll eventually try to convince you to join me), why not start by visiting my Ravelry Favourites page. I have 199 patterns bookmarked and they span many yardage requirements. Dare I say it, my faves are excellent and carefully considered. You might opt to fave a few of them for yourself. 
  2. The next thing you should do is to ensure your stash is cataloged - if not in Ravelry, then in some sort of way so that you can identify the yardages you have to work with. If you want more info on how to use the Stash Feature in Ravelry (it's as easy as you want to make it):  Check out this very comprehensive post. If you're on the fence about the usefulness of investing the time, let me assure you, it's worth it. In fact, the more yarn you have, the more useful it is.)
On this subject: You can go into Ravelry and look at my profile to your heart's content. Lord knows I do it to others. (I'm a voyeur.) You do have to be a member of the site to gain full access to profiles though. What you can see without being a member is more limited, but still fairly robust, at least when it comes to my personal profile, because I've made many of my pages public.

Thoughts or feelings??


  1. Ravelry is amazing. When I discovered the export stash feature I was both amazed and kind of terrified (there's knowing and then there's *knowing*, you know?) I export my stash at the beginning of every year, just so I know how I'm doing (I try to keep it neutral to decreasing, but... yeah.)

    I am also on a de-stashing kick, though mostly because mine has creeped out of its original confines and I'm not totally sure how I let that happen. I like having a big stash on hand, since that lets me knit what I want, when I want, but I don't want anything unwieldy. Up first (I think) is my sweater quantity of Louet MerLin, destined, I think, to be a Lila Light pullover. Just the thing for spring.

    I can't wait to see everything you knit this year! And, who knows, maybe it will be a turning point for you. New horizons and all that :)

    1. What I love so much about Ravelry is that, no matter how often I use it and immerse myself in it, I learn a new feature I never knew about (because I never knew I needed that feature). I've never tried to figure out my total stash size in yards before, which is why I didn't know it could be done, or how. But it took me 3 minutes to find a way - so it's the most user-friendly site on the planet - and the most intelligent. I'm going to check out the Lila Light Pullover. You can never see too many of those :-)

      I feel, if I can figure out how to get rid of every bit of stash, I will have learned a valuable skill - and then I can stash up again :-) But this may take me a year and that amazes me. I can spend a year coasting and not spending any money on yarn! (BTW, that's almost true - I do need to buy a couple of skeins of merino to make the Decalage scarf (using the Habu stainless silk). Talk about a crazy yarn to have bought...

  2. I can't second the recommendation to put your entire stash up strongly enough - can't imagine how I used to live without it! It took me a long while to slog through it but less long than to grope around in plastic bags going "I could swear I had 2 balls of black anny blatt merinos..". Always keep the tags though, guessing is murder.

    But I'm a lot more generous with the favorites than you are - I basically mark as such everything I'd consider making, a good couple thousands by now. That means when I use the advanced search for something grandiose like 'what torso-covering thing can I make with 600 yards of bulky yarn?' I can limit to favorites and have a good array of possibilities I like without straying too far.

    Then I have a hundred or so items in my queue - patterns I'm dying to make, or patterns that are great for yarn I already have (enough of). That means I no longer have those months of dithering between projects, because I have plenty of things I can just pick up needles and go on without giving it much more thought. But note that I usually have a couple yarn possibilities for a pattern, or a couple pattern possibilities for a yarn. Then I still feel like there's some excitement at making up my mind at the last minute.

    I love the Vancouver mittens, and I've made and love the shalom cardigan. I like your choices overall :-).

    1. Thanks! I vacillate between being very fussy about faves or very "open minded" and I find that it works best for me to keep things tight - though not when I'm trying to bust the stash :-) What's your Ravelry handle? I want to check out your faves!

  3. This may not be something youre interested in, but why not knit (or crochet) those bitty pieces into blankets for charity? We have so many charities around that need blankets, and as a bonus it gets rid of those tiny pieces in a non wasteful way. :-)

    1. That's a totally terrific idea. I'm going to consider that for my next destash - but I'd likely have to do hats and socks cuz I wouldn't have enough of the same yarn to make a blanket - even for a baby.

  4. Love love love Ravelry. It's not pretty but it's bloody effective.
    Also love your plan to destash. I can't wait till I get to unpack the boxes of sewing/knitting stuff that are in storage and work out just what I've got and just what I'm going to do with them.
    And, I have to say, Scott is very droll. I can hear the eye rolling from across the Atlantic!

    1. I can't wait to hear about how you do it! Scott is droll - and a pain in the ass.