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 Acquisition: How Do Our Stashes Grow?
Carrie: There are stages of stash. It’s okay to feel differently about stash at different stages in one’s crafting journey. Some examples from my own experience. (1) Relatively new knitter: Buy what you can, hoard carefully. I am devoted to this, I want all the yarn! (2) Somewhat more experienced knitter: Buy sweater quantities inspired by dreams of a beautiful wardrobe. (3) Introduced to indie dyers: FOMO*, better get the good stuff, ooooh…I can hang with the Cool Knitters. (4) Moving house: Why do I have all this yarn?!
*Fear of missing out
Stash acquisition is a different hobby than knitting…
Alyce: Before I was online, I bought yarn as needed for a project, and my only stash was leftovers. I got online, and was unduly influenced by the notion that stash acquisition is a different hobby than knitting.
I was further influenced by the idea of must-have yarns, and yarns that I might someday have a project for. And then I started spinning, which gave me a whole other class of pretties. And all of this is overlaid by the so-called obligation to support small business dyers. So, honestly, having a stash is a burden.
Chris: Because I started out as a crafter with absolutely no money, I would buy stuff only for a particular project. Whatever was left over was my stash. Sometimes it was stuff people gave to me. Everything had to be used, and nothing thrown away. It was such a desperate feeling that I started hoarding for my postage stamp quilt. Some of the first scraps were from dress shirts I made from my husband’s military dress blues for my three- and four-year-old boys. Now I have seventeen boxes and a bunch of drawers of my various stashes for various craft types. I go through it every few years and toss stuff, and add to it if something really tickles my fancy—but only after thinking about it for several days or weeks. I see this as my inspiration, where I find those random bits to finish stuff, and something nice to look at and dream about as I sit and work.
Laura: I have a rather contentious relationship with my stash right now; it has really evolved over time. Part of it is that I now have several stashes and ironically—or amusingly—they have all gone through a similar evolution from start of craft to experienced crafter.
My early stash seems to contain equal parts joy and guilt. Joy, for all the colours and places, festivals and people that were around when I bought the stuff. Guilt, because it’s just sitting in boxes in the closet—and in the basement…and in the garage—with lavender sachets and my inability to figure out what to do with it. I had a better-informed opinion of what I liked and needed at that point; however, I was easily distracted by THE SHINY—bright colours, sparkles, amazing indie-dyed skeins/braids, et cetera. In some ways I am still “afraid,” for lack of a better word, of breaking into that looks-amazing-in-the-skein yarn to make something with it, because I don’t know how best to show it off, and it’s pretty now, but what if I ruin it? At the same time, my quantity of a particular type of stash builds up enough that I start looking for alternative ways to use it up (Hello, rigid heddle loom). Unfortunately this rabbit hole leads to another new stash because ideal materials for craft A are not necessarily ideal for craft B.
If I could go back to the beginning and give any advice at all it would be to USE IT, not stash it.
I totally agree with having a “library” of things to go and use, but a stockpile of tomes you’ve never cracked the cover on isn’t the same as a bunch of well-read books. I think the character of my stash would be significantly different if I had made more with what I bought rather than magpie buying and then hiding it away.
I’m hoping to be heading into a new stage: a well-informed “library” stash. Go dive, get something, make something, move on. It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty but in the end you have a better understanding of a stash item’s strengths and weaknesses for future projects.
As an aside, I am also working through some ideas that none of this is, or was, a waste and I’m worth buying pretty things for. I also don’t have to wait for perfection to make something, and it’s okay to try and fail.