When a maker says the word stash, they are probably referring to a collection of the primary materials needed to practice their craft. For knitters, yarn; for spinners, fleece; for quilters, fabric; and so on. Stashes can start out modestly—a single special skein received as a gift, or maybe leftovers from a project that you just can’t get rid of. Stashes are built up over time—weeks, months, decades—and additions may be made impulsively or deliberately, for a particular project or solely because of the enticing scent of wool coming from a pile of gorgeous skeins. We crafters can get emotionally attached to certain items in our stash (a skein of silk that reminds us of a far-away friend, a bag of qiviut fluff from a festival) and even to our stash as a whole.
In preparation for writing my recent Digits & Threads article about moths, I asked a few dozen folks on Ravelry what they thought about their stashes and if they had any words of wisdom to share. The responses were not at all what I had expected. Instead of giving advice on lavender sachets and bins versus bags, these experienced fibre folk told stories about their stashes—where they bought their first skein of yarn, the emotions they had about having a stash in the first place, and how they knew when bounty had become burden. I tried to pick just one story to share, but then realized that it might be more interesting to hear from a variety of voices. Be aware that the quotes below are not always in complete sentences, and, except for small edits for clarity, I chose to leave them in the authors’ own words.
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I’m grateful to (in alphabetical order by given or user name): Alison, Alyce, Carrie, Chris, filatura, Jekka, Laura, Mardi, Martha, plantgoddess, Tanya, and all the others who so graciously shared their stories.
Stash Size: Struggles and Solutions
Carrie: Stash is not de facto negative IMHO*, but it varies by individual circumstances and what one wants to get out of practicing a craft. Recent minimalistic trends have been quite harsh on how we perceive stash—and people who have large ones. Sometimes I ask myself: If I were a recognized “artist” with a studio, would my stash be considered too big?
plantgoddess: I have slowed down [collecting yarn] as my stash has grown, but I don’t deny myself if I see some fiber or sock yarn that calls to me. My stash makes me happy and productive, and I love having options without driving an hour to get to a yarn store.
(*In my humble opinion)
Mardi: If I had it to do all over again, I would try very hard not to have one [a stash]—or as much of one. Tastes change over time, and stuff I liked and had plans for years ago, now has little appeal. My stash is way too big and still I add to it when a new enthusiasm takes hold, and that’s just bad—it’s overwhelming.
There is a point at which “possibilities” become “burdens of obligation,” and stash should be a happy thing.
Once I get from “I could make this! Or this!” to “what on earth am I going to DO with all of this stuff?” it’s too much, and I got there long ago. Guilt, overwhelm, and unrealized dreams. How much is too much? I think some people, like me, don’t know the answer until it’s too late, and then it’s like an unscalable mountain.
Alison: I think decisions and feelings around stash are super personal, and I would always hesitate to judge. What feels overwhelming to me might feel like security or even scarcity to another. I really liked Mardi’s comment about the feeling of possibility changing to a feeling of obligation—whatever size stash triggers that for you, I think that’s your sign!
Martha: I love my stash. I love knowing it’s there, I love being able to poke around in it and look at the colours and get ideas for projects. It’s big, but contained (maybe eight to nine big tubs); it has knitting, spinning, and weaving stuff, plus bits and bobs for embroidery, cyanotype, buttons, et cetera. I make stuff; my fiber supply helps me do that. Maybe we should stop calling it stash—that implies something hidden away guiltily. For me, it’s supplies, raw materials—beautiful in its own right. And a reminder, every day, how lucky I am to be able to have it and work with it.
filatura: Supplies is a much better word. It implies abundance and the potential for creativity. [For me] the real problem is the fiber, which I went nuts with when I first started spinning. Yak, camel, every sort of sheep’s wool, even Shetland pony. It takes up a whole armoire, plus a paid-for locker in a nearby storage building. Using it up would mean spinning eight hours a day for months. Someday I’ll organize a giveaway in my apartment for local spinners. Someday. Or organize a Ravelry giveaway, which I do not have the time or energy for. Or start a mattress-stuffing business…. At this point, the stash feels like a burden and a responsibility rather than an opportunity for creativity.
Alison: I am quite sustainability-minded, and I am very aware of the natural resources embodied in a stash. Raw fibre is, in many ways, the least of it; the amount of water and energy needed, for example, to turn a fleece into dyed yarn is quite significant. And yarn doesn’t have an infinite shelf-life, even if all the bugs in the world are kept out. One of the reasons I stopped dyeing yarn or fibre for sale is that I realised that, to earn a living, it would be smart to encourage folks to buy more than they need, and I think the world needs less of that. I think something ugly sometimes comes out at shows, around the “popular” stalls and I can’t support—even in jest—sentiments like, “there is no such thing as too much yarn.”