Every knitter - or rather,
every knitter I know - has a stash. Some are
larger than others. Some are neatly organized,
others are confused and tangled masses. I
know a knitter who has, at any one time, just
enough yarn for the current and one future
project. I know another with closets full
of oddballs - not enough of any one to make
even a short and narrow scarf.
I fall somewhere in the
middle. I admit to being a bit of an impulse
buyer. I go through binges the way any other
shopper might: I find myself celebrating small
victories with yarn purchases. I celebrate
big victories with yarn purchases. I celebrate
sad events big and small with yarn purchases.
I celebrate lunchtime with yarn purchases.
The rate at which I complete projects in no
way keeps pace with my yarn acquisition. I've
swatched stuff and totally forgotten what
size needle I used. I've lost ball bands galore
and have many many skeins of mystery yarn.
And I still want more.
not just yarn. Knitting books often advise
having multiple sets of needles in duplicate
sizes - after all, what if your only pair
of 7s is stuck on a project and you just must
start something new with that same size needle.
Boy, did I take this to heart. I pick up things
I am sure I might someday need, but already
have in spades. I am embarrassed by the number
of stitch markers I have. And I can count
on one finger the number of times I've actually
used stitch markers. But you never know when
I might someday, in the middle of the night,
madly and desperately need a stitch marker.
So I've got tons of them, just in case. And
though I've never actually used any of my
15+ sets of double-pointed needles, they're
there, just in case.
I've always thought that
my obsessive stashing was the reason I seem
to have trouble finishing projects. I've got
halves of sweaters lying around, foot-long
scarves-to-be, even several dozen granny-squares
for a long-abandoned afghan project. I wondered
if I had a peculiar form of ADD, that I was
wrested from one project by the siren song
of a luxurious tape ribbon only to be ripped
from that by an oh-so-soft alpaca blend. Yet
on I go, buying, collecting, sorting, stashing.
I think I reasoned that if I had enough yarn/needles/tools/knick-knacks,
I'd be able to do anything as soon as the
spirit moved me, that if Inspiration were
ever to slap me upside the head, I'd jump
up, needles in hand and yarn at the ready
and show it a thing or two about how to get
One day my sweetie and his
two-and-a-half year-old daughter were at my
house playing. She and I decided we wanted
to color. I jumped up, excited because I have
tons of nice paper, expensive colored pencils
and a full range of crayons [yes, I stash
art supplies, too]. My sweetie, seeing me
going for the expensive paper hastened to
assure me that a plain old notebook was just
fine. I grabbed a box of 24 crayons and started
to head to the designated drawing area when
he stopped me. "Just one or two colors,"
he said. "Too many will overwhelm her."
I couldn't imagine such a thing, but I grabbed
a brown and a green crayon and drew with this
tiny person whose assurance was humbling.
Apparently, a small child doesn't need cornflower,
midnight blue, indigo and sky blue crayons.
She can scribble a brown line and make a duck,
a green for a strawberry, or a bunny's lunch
or anything else. Too much variety, or any
variety at all, was extraneous and sensory
overload to her. I noted this, and filed it
few weeks later, I was having what I like
to call a "Midas Day". This is when
I get out and catalogue all of my stuff. All
of my yarn, each needle, crochet hook, cable
needle, pair of scissors, everything. It is
useful to me to do this on occasion because
knowing I have, say, 4 sets of size 7 double-pointed
needles lets me a] believe in my heart I could
knit two socks at once if I ever learned to
knit socks and b] remind myself yet again
that I already have size 7 double-pointed
needles. I spent a few hours sizing my circulars,
sorting yarn according to color, or fiber,
or hank/skein/ball. I made sure my row counters
and bobbins [which I've used on exactly one
project [unfinished] and loathed because they'd
unwind and fall on the floor constantly] were
all present and accounted for. After I had
counted and recounted and written yet another
list of everything I had [I keep losing the
lists], I sat back and surveyed my domain.
Suddenly the excess of it all struck me.
I'm convinced that my stash
is on the smallish side, but still. I've got
wool yarn, cotton yarn, linen, rayon, mystery
blends in all sorts of colors. I've got every
kind and size of needle, tons of pattern and
how-to books, gewgaws and gimcracks and everything
I could ever possibly need to create a fabulously
unique and oh-so-me article to wear. But I
have never done such a thing. I've tiptoed
through a few scarves and sweaters, altering
patterns and disdaining them altogether, but
where was the article of clothing that said,
"This is me!" I've felt it lurking
in my periphery for a while now, but I can't
seem to get it in my sights.
The words of my sweetie
came back to me. I sat and looked at my stuff,
the bulk of it, and suddenly, the way a cartoon
character's desert island mate turns into
a roast turkey or hamburger, my stash turned
into a large box of crayons right in front
of my eyes. I had tons and tons of crayons
- so why couldn't I draw?
It occurred to me that something
about the endless number of possibilities
I had set up for myself was preventing me
from taking advantage of any possibilities
at all. Like a frat boy with a trust fund,
with everything I could ever need right at
my fingertips, I was unmotivated and spoiled.
Perhaps I continued my stashing behavior because
part of me was hoping that the magic creative
spark was contained in the next acquisition,
ready to explode into insanely groovy knitwear.
It took me a few days to
process what this meant. Because I don't particularly
care to liken myself to a frat boy with a
trust fund, I decided to do something about
it. Perhaps I had to figure out how to court
that creative spark with what I had.
I looked at my stash with
a newly critical eye. There were some monsters
in there, ugly ugly yarn that in a world without
evil would not exist. What if, like my sweetie
with his daughter, I limited myself to two
colors? Would I be able to liberate myself,
vault into new creative waters? What if I
further limited myself to two of my most unusable
yarns? I rolled up my sleeves and decided
to go for it.
chose a difficult champagne-colored chenille
of unknown fiber content from a slightly sun-damaged
cone that I purchased in my first innocent
blush of love for eBay.
I remember when it came.
I sat back and regarded it the way you might
a blind date who was tragically misdescribed
to you. Something about the way the cone sat
there, squat and belligerent, told me that
the only thing I could be sure of with a garment
made of this stuff was sweat stains.
The second yarn I selected
was a brownish wool from what must have been
the Methuselah of sheep, it was so scratchy
and rough. I held it against the chenille
- such a pairing was really unthinkable. It
couldn't wash together: the chenille I was
sure would fall apart the second it hit water,
whereas the wool looked ornery enough to felt
at the drop of a dime. I had committed myself,
however. I rubbed each of it between my thumb
and forefinger, determined to make something,
anything, with this pairing.
being a masochist, I decreed that my experiment
would not take more than two hours of my time,
start to finish. A small knitted square would
suffice. I rifled my pattern books and, in
an out-of-print booklet of charted Transylvanian
embroidery patterns, I found a cunning little
bird that would be a quick-and-easy Fair Isle
design. I copied it onto graph paper so I
could read it and set to work.
The chenille proved to be
entirely too thin on its own, so I ripped
out my first attempt and using two strands,
The wool acted like Velcro
against the chenille and I had to untangle
the strands at least once every row. Two hours
later, I bound off the last stitch. The resulting
square was awkward looking, the different
qualities of chenille and wool made the design
look clumsy and amateurish [never mind that
I have yet to master two-handed knitting].
But there was the bird. Really, it's a bird
still hated both yarns, but the proximity
to the chenille turned the wool's boring brown
color into a rich chestnutty hue. The chenille,
doubled, looked almost substantial and the
doubling seemed to eliminate the "worming"
problems I have always had when knitting chenille.
It didn't look champagne-colored anymore,
reminding me instead of the color of Midwestern
fields in January under a flat cloudy sky.
Which made me think of working
with some of my long neglected earth-toned
wools, creating something - a vest - Fair
Isled and reminiscent of the winter landscapes
I grew up with. I'm still thinking of how
it will manifest, but I am turning it over
in my mind in a way that feels new to me,
more assured and purposeful. I look often
and kindly on all of the yarns in my stash
and I am able to see new possibilities for
each of them.
But the bottom line is this:
will this experiment help me tap into my latent
creativity and curb my rampant stashing behavior?
It's too early to tell, honestly. Old habits
and ways of being die hard. But I can say
this: some time after this exercise, I spent
more than an hour in my favorite yarn store
and walked out with only a new ball-winder.
No new yarns, not one new needle, row counter,
bobbin or anything.
I'm encouraged: it's a pretty
safe bet that even I couldn't rationalize
buying a second ball winder.