On Knitting, Yarn Stashing and Consumerism

I have been thinking a lot lately about stash.  This is the term that knitters use to refer to their yarn, specifically to yarn which is not currently being used, but which is stored somewhere, presumably for future use.  Some knitters will have a skein or two lying around the house; some knitters have literally rooms full of yarn.  I try to buy yarn for specific projects when I need it, though this has not always been the case, and sometimes I succumb to the urge to buy some pretty yarn just because I like it.  This means that I have yarn stashed away, but not too much in the grand scheme of things.

I must admit, however, that lately I have been finding my stash very dissatisfying, for a number of reasons.  A number of months ago, I gave into impulse and bought some yarn because it was on sale.  It was lovely yarn; I bought five skeins of it.  This yarn was laceweight and the truth is, I don’t use laceweight yarn very much.  Plus, with my hand and wrist issues, I have to watch how many hours I knit.  It would take me a year to knit up that quantity of laceweight yarn.  After I bought it, I wasted days – yes, whole days – trying to find a project to knit with this yarn.  I used search functions on Ravelry and looked at laceweight patterns until my eyes threatened to bleed, but still haven’t found a use for it.  The fact that it is sitting there, in my stash, is not providing me with joy and comfort; in fact, it makes me uncomfortable and leads to stress.

I have also spent uncountable fruitless hours trying to find ways to utilize yarn I do have, rather than buy more.  It always turns out that the yarn I have doesn’t lend itself to the projects I want to make.  I am always happier when I see a project I want to knit, find the right yarn for it, and start knitting.  I have come to a conclusion:  I don’t really like my stash.  At least, not most of it.  Before you think I am having a severe reaction to my recent non-knitting induced stress, let me qualify.  I keep left-over yarn from projects I have knit – this is good in case I need to make repairs, or in case I want to knit a matching pair of mitts or something.  I also think it is lovely to have a few projects lined up, with pattern and yarn, so that one can have variety in one’s knitting, and be able to cast on something new on a whim.  I even think it is nice to have a few special skeins that have been bought with no purpose on hand just in case.  But more than that, I find having stash becomes stressful – I feel obligated to find projects for it, even though the projects I’m drawn to are never suitable, and I am obliged to store it, which adds to my stress.

This weekend, I was looking at a forum for people to show their storage solutions for yarn.  One of the things that became clear is that there are lots of knitters who have obscene amounts of yarn.  I know that there are knitters out there who routinely turn out a garment every two weeks.  They need to buy a lot of yarn to keep up with this output.  All power to them.  But, what appalled me on this forum was the absolute glee with which knitters crowed abut their addiction to buying yarn, while admitting most will likely never get used.   I saw the term SABLE bandied around – for the uninitiated, this means Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy.  This means that you could knit every day for the rest of your life and not finish the yarn that you currently have in your stash.  In some parts of the knitting community, SABLE is a desired state, and gives you bragging rights.

I wrote a post a few years ago (you can find it here) called WIP Crazy, in which I commented on the lunacy (in my opinion) of having masses of WIPs (works in progress – knitting projects that have been cast on but are as yet unfinished).  Many of the arguments I made there, with respect to cost specifically, but also to changing tastes and trends, hold up here too.  Having a stash of yarn which you could never finish knitting, not in three lifetimes, and then adding to it frequently, strikes me not only as lunacy, but as consumerism run rampant.

To summarize so far, I find that I personally dislike having too much stash.  I also think that having WAY too much stash is pretty crazy.  I have more serious thoughts bouncing around in my head about this, which have to do with austerity and privilege.

I am a Ravelry fan, and I spend time each day reading too many threads about knitting, yarn, patterns, etc.  I like beautiful yarn, so many of the forums which I pay attention to are focused on beautiful (read: expensive) yarn.  To me, these yarns are a luxury.  I buy them.  I knit with them.  I enjoy them immensely.  But I don’t buy 40 projects worth of them, and then stuff them under the bed and hide them from my husband.   Luxury yarn is just that – a luxury, and one I have to budget for carefully.  In this age of austerity, for most knitters, yarn is a luxury at any price point.   As I read these threads, I cannot help but feel disquiet at the sheer aquisitiveness and consumerism that have taken over parts of the knitting community.

One of Ravelry’s feaures pertains to stash.  It allows knitters to keep track of their stash, and also to search through other knitters’ stashes.  This has all sorts of useful functions.  But the fact remains that once you have the ability to photograph all of your yarn and store it in an electronic database that 5 million plus knitters can see, it is inevitable that a certain amount of competitiveness will take place.  “Ooh, my stash is bigger than her stash.”  It can lead to a certain keep-up-with-the-Joneses mentality.  (I am not knocking this feature; I don’t use it myself but mostly because I am too lazy to catalogue my yarn.  I see its appeal, but I also see the unintended consequences.)

For the past few years, while I have been working full-time and studying for an MBA, I have been knitting less, blogging less, and reading other blogs even less.  Still, even given the limited number of blogs which I follow, I can see that I am not the only knitter who is thinking along these lines.  My  discussion here has been about stash, specifically aquisitiveness above and beyond your capacity to knit, but many knitters and bloggers have been thinking about privilege.   Sarah Pope, of Whistling Girl Knits, wrote a very thought-provoking post on issues of consumption and privelege in the hand-knitting community.  Her post was triggered, in part, by comments from Bristol Ivy and Isolda Teague; all three were inspired to some degree by the Slow Fashion movement.   I found Sarah’s post particularly interesting because she points out the conundrum we knitters have:

By editing down our wardrobes; making only what’s beautiful, serviceable, and lasting; and avoiding the temptations of the new and the now, we have to rein in our purchasing from the very independent designers, farmers, and other artisans we’re so proud to support.

She is absolutely right about this point.  If we want the vibrancy to remain in the hand-knitting community, we need to support this community with our spending dollars.   In addition, if we care about how yarn is produced, about animal welfare, pesticide use, and fair wages, then we must buy from those producers who support these things (at a higher price of course).   Please go read Sarah’s post; she is more eloquent than I will ever be.  (She is one of the first knit bloggers I ever read, from back in the days of her previous blog incarnation.)

Karie Westermann, of Karie Bookish,  has recently been writing a lovely series called Building a Hand-made Wardrobe.  The last part is called Thinking Slow Fashion on a Budget.  In it, she addresses the issue of privilege head-on, and gives good advice and encouragement to knitters on very restricted budgets.  In her lovely way, she acknowledges disparity, both of budget and time:

It’s so easy to feel disheartened when you are still on the first sleeve of your wool-blend cardigan six months down the line, and you see someone looking swanky in their 134th unicorn yarn project of the year.

Karie advises knitters to avoid comparisons and be proud of their achievements.  I am fairly new to Karie’s blog but am enjoying it immensely.   I encourage you to read the entire series.  I definitely plan to follow her advice on how to critically examine your wardrobe.

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, a day that has always been my favorite holiday.   While I think about all of the things I am thankful for, I cannot help but notice the effects of austerity here in the UK.  Life is hard these days.   I find myself thinking that perhaps it would be good for us to try to buy what we need and use what we buy.   I love yarn.  I love beautiful yarn.  And I want to support the knitting community, including small producers and designers.  But I think I can do it without having enough stash to sink the Titanic.


26 thoughts on “On Knitting, Yarn Stashing and Consumerism

  1. I don’t buy yarn unless I have a project in mind, but still have accumulated lots of left-over balls over the years.
    I don’t really NEED more hand-knitted cardigans or sweaters, but I love knitting and wearing them, so I was determined to find a colour-work pattern which would enable me to use yarn I already have. I couldn’t find anything that really excited me. Then I remembered that a local charity was asking for hand-knitted baby clothes to sell. I’ve made half a dozen small garments which have used ‘some’ of my stash, and enabled me to try different patterns. Now I’ve been rewarded as my daughter has requested a cardigan for Christmas, two grandsons want customised hot-water bottle covers (!) and granddaughter has designed herself a cardigan for me to make. Now I’m knitting frantically to get it all done in time. I’m going to try to alternate one for me and one for charity in future.

  2. Thanks, Kelly. I, too, have been feeling quite trapped by my stash. I think it’s time to get rid of some of it, and there is a group here that knits for charity. In the meantime, I’ve been knitting some 1 skein projects for the gift box, and using some extra non superwash yarn and making felted potholders.

    • Hi Susan, “trapped by my stash” is a good way to put it. I’ve found a group here which uses knitting therapy for treatment of health issues, such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, and depression. My plan is to sort through my stash and donate what I don’t need or won’t use. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. What a brilliant post, and one that resonates so much with me, thank you. I have a big thing about your stuff having the potential to own you, rather you owning your stuff. This can apply to books, clothes, and yes, the dreaded stash. It can indeed be extremely stressful and cause one to feel very dreary about one’s hobby, rather deriving joy and love from it. I find it difficult to resist new yarn – I bought two new sets only last week. I am now in two minds. Either to spend 2016 stash busting, or simply grasp nettles and pass on bundles of yarn to others to free up space, and free myself from my stash tyranny. The latter option seems so much more attractive 🙂

    • Thank you for commenting. This problem definitely extends to other stuff – in my case books are the main offender. I love them dearly but they are taking over! It is difficult to avoid temptation; I think the key point is moderation. I wish you luck!

  4. I totally agree with you. I don’t have much of a stash, more to do with having an upbringing of only buying what we needed and using what we had – rather than me being good and smug and virtuous. One thought I do occasionally find that weasley voice in my head, that likes to knock my confidence, saying, is ‘proper knitters have big stashes’. I wonder if large stashes make us feel as if we’re better knitters/crocheters?

    • I felt this a lot when I was starting to knit. I learned on my own via internet (you tube) and of course I read all blogs and dreamed with the famous patterns. I also thought at some point that it was ok to go to the yarn store and just buy pretty yarn because I needed a stash to be a knitter, now I have finally grown out of it. The good part is that I learned about yarn weight and which yarn do i actually like.

    • If I were to advise a beginner knitter, I would say that having good tools – a really good set of interchangeable circular needles, for example – is a better investment than stash yarn. The tools get used all of the time; yarn comes and goes (or sometimes sits and rots). And I don’t believe in the term “proper knitter” – do what works for you and ignore the weasley voice in your head!

  5. I agree with your thoughts on consumerism and knitting. We try to teach our son to enjoy what he has instead of always wanting more things. I don’t keep a stash because it diminishes my joy of knitting. I do enjoy looking at yarn online or in the store, but I can only knit so fast!

  6. I’ve been knitting for 3 years now and a few months ago i realized that I did not have a functional stash and, more important, I did not like my stash. I went to all kinds os options in my mind and in the end I took my yarn to an oxfam shop (second hand shop), I simply gave it away. It was hard because it was a waste of my money but the stress went away and now I do my best to buy yarn only for a specific project. In fact I’m dying to buy some yarn right now because the weather is asking me to knit but I have not because I don’t have one selected project, so I’m doing good.

    Patterns is another story, I still buy a lot of patterns and knitting books, but at least those make me happy every time I look at them.

    Thanks for your post!

    • I like your comment about a “functional stash”. I think one thing that people don’t realize is that tastes change, and even if your stash is highly functional now, it won’t stay that way. When I started knitting sweaters in earnest, novelty yarns were big, I wore mostly black, and my favorite needle size was a US9 or 10. Now, I find anything bigger than DK really not fun to knit, and I want real wool yarn in beautiful jewel tones or naturals. Kudos to you on de-stashing.

  7. Yes! Exactly that. I try to only buy yarn for specific projects. Any time I’ve bought yarn on a whim, it’s just sat sadly in a box for ever more. The accumulation and retention of ‘stuff’, however useful or important it may be, is a constant source of stress and annoyance in our household. Anything that can be done to restrict the amount of stuff coming into our house is a good thing, even if that means practising restraint when browsing pretty yarn in the shops!

    • I’ve had exactly the same experience; buying on a whim rarely works for me. When I was younger, I used to move every year and I think that helped control the volume of “stuff”. Now I’ve been in the same house for nearly a decade, I find the accumulation so annoying. I think your solution is the best – practice restraint!

  8. Excellent post and one that a lot of knitters will relate to. I have been following the Slow Fashion movement and Karie’s blog among others that have been writing about this. I too feel that dilemma of trying to support the indie farmers/dyers and trying to control an out-of-control stash. But when I think about the skeins in my stash that cause anxiety, it’s not the one-off skeins of lovely hand-dyed British wool that I picked up at a yarn show, it’s the bags of sweater quantity, usually of discontinued Rowan yarns that I bought simply because it was massively on sale without having a pattern in mind. I look at some of it and think, yes, I ‘ll use that, but others I don’t know what I was thinking. So it’s that type of stash that I’m determined to use up and NOT increase.

  9. Excellent article. Thank you so much for confirming my thought to give away the yarn I am never going to use and not feel guilty about it. I have learned the hard way that I really only use the yarn specifically purchased for a project. Very little spontaneous stash ever becomes a useful item. So away it goes…I wholeheartedly agree that in these tight times we should be careful what we spend on and yes, support our local producers.

  10. This was a delightful article! As someone with a keen interest in business of all kinds, I find yarn companies, especially in the US, use scarcity marketing really effectively. The average consumer needs an extraordinary level of will power to resist. Stash is really not a bad thing when one looks at it from the yarn business owner’s perspective. The seller locks in the profits and someone else takes on the cost of managing inventory. However, it takes a specific approach towards learning in the knitting education process to recognize that the act of acquiring yarn is becoming the sport, not so much the knitting. If that’s what one is after, more power to her (or him)!

    The ethics of yarn acquisition are an entirely different matter and I concur with your views on the privilege of owning and making things with beautiful yarn. I have a small stash and I relate to your sentiment about it never being “just right”. So, building and unbuilding the stash has become a deeply personal learning process in itself! I have found it effective to set higher level knitting goals and convince myself to use what I have. 2015 was focused on making my first sweaters and perfecting scarves – straight edges, getting tension right, etc. I’ve done a reasonable job knitting from stash this year. I want 2016 to be the year where I tackle cables(?). Another thought for stash, if I lack yardage, is to make gifts for thinner friends (or their kids).

    When all else fails, it helps to channel Marie Kondo. In her book she draws attention to the fact that sometimes, the process of acquiring is what contributed to one’s joy; holding on to the object no longer does. So, hold it, thank it and let it go. Earlier this year, I gave away some yarn I was never going to knit with to two security officers in my office building. They could never afford that nice yarn and it makes them so happy to knit with it. The stash I gave away gives me much greater joy when I hear about the hand-knitted gifts their grandkids will get this Christmas.

    Happy Holidays!

    • I really enjoyed this very thoughful response. I think your comments on scarcity marketing and inventory costs are really interesting and a nice way to look at this issue. I agree that for many knitters it may be that the act of acquiring stash has become as enjoyable as the knitting itself, perhaps more so. In an ironic twist, I bought Marie Kondo’s book and then put it on a bookshelf without reading it – thus contributing to my book stash! Perhaps I should read it!

  11. I agree with what you wrote about stashes.
    When I see pictures of stashes that take up rooms in people’s houses, I have to think- why are they holding on to all that yarn! I love my stash- just the right size for me. I have about 5 small bins sorted by color and 1 for eyelash type yarns. And then a few others with assorted- 1 all acrylics, 1 verigated, etc. And yes, I have bought 1 or 2 skeins at Webs on clearance just because I love the color and texture but have no idea what I will knit with it. I love going through my stash every so often and touching it, rearranging it, combining different colors, and just looking at it.
    I went through my stash recently, took out a bagful of yarn I had no interest in and gave it to someone on freecycle. She was so thrilled with it and that made me very happy to, to know that it was going to a good home where it would be appreciated and used.
    My knitting group has a yarn swap every few months so that is great- I bring in yarn that no longer gives me pleasure or I am not interested in it anymore and come home with new-to-me yarn. I do a lot of knitting for donations and have made some great hats and scarves with the “new” yarn. I have a notebook with my collected patterns in it- not very large. I recently went through that and got rid of quite a few patterns. I looked at them and realized I had absolutely no interest in knitting the pattern- why am I holding on to it.

    • Hi Jossie, yarn swaps are a great idea – one knitter’s useless stash could be another’s treasure. Knitting for charity and giving away yarn are also good ideas. If I lived near Webs like you do, I would be in big trouble!

  12. Well, I’m going to be the lone voice saying I actually was offended by your post. I live in a very rural area, where there are no local yarn shops within a 2+ hour drive. I have accumulated a nice stash and not only does it bring me joy, it is essential if I suddenly need to knit a baby gift, or if I am suddenly inspired to begin a new pattern. I often find if I have to order the yarn and wait for it to arrive, I have changed my mind by the time it arrives. I find that quite frustrating. My yarn stash is nicely organized in a spare closet, and I am at a loss as to what harm it is doing. I support a lot of indie dyers and feel good about that as well. While you have the right to speak on this issue as you see it, I found the overall voice of your post to be very judgemental, with the intent to shame those those who feel differently. To each her own.

    • I have to say that offensive and judgemental was definitely not the tone I was striving for. It sounds as if your yarn stash is functional, gets used, and brings you joy – all good things. Thanks for commenting and I wish you good knitting!

  13. Pingback: Minimalism in the craft of knitting | Coffee Tea Knits

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