Monday, 2 February 2009

Stash Story

My husband tolerates it, my kids complain about it, my friends (who don’t knit) don’t understand it, my house is not big enough for it and I couldn’t live without it!
I am, of course, referring to my STASH.......
I started my now mammoth collection of yarn over 20 years ago when I studied for my textile degree. Back then any yarn I could get my hands on was a God send and I would trawl charity shops and yarn sales for a bargain. For at least five years my stash was relatively meagre, with my financial situation limiting its growth quite considerably. However, once I began working as a Design Consultant for Rowan my Stash started to grow at an alarming rate and I now have yarn stashed in most rooms in my tiny little house. I am one of the many who stuff bags of it down the back of the sofa, squash it into the wardrobe and seal it up in plastic or cardboard boxes in every conceivable bit of space.
A lot of my hoard is a secret – yarn that has been sneaked into the house in an inconspicuous plastic shopping bag or retrieved from the boot of my car in the dead of night when no one is watching.

Over the years it must have cost me hundreds of pounds and I’m now wondering whether my hard earned cash could have been better spent. Does this addiction to my stash and thus my money squandering and covert hoarding make me a bad or devious person? Should I be seeking some kind of help for my addiction? Should I check myself into STASH rehab?
Over the past few months I have set about discovering just how my stash addiction measures up to other people’s and whether or not my stash habits are detrimental to the health and welfare of me and my family......

I recently visited my friend and fellow Design Consultant Erica Pask and she revealed her pretty impressive stash, which she, rather reassuringly, had absolutely no qualms about showing to me. In her studio Erica has a shelving unit along one wall where she displays her yarns as if on the shop floor. Yarn types, shades and dye lots are grouped together in a VERY organised and precise manner and her metres of fabric (which form yet another stash) sit neatly in the bolts lined up and ready for action. There are no plastic bags in sight and certainly nothing rammed swiftly into a vacant space! This is a woman who has obviously admitted wholeheartedly to her addiction and has no shame in displaying it to all.
Another Design Consultant with a healthy and abundant stash is Jenny Stillwell. She quietly admitted to having a dedicated ‘room’ for her stash in the shape of a specially built shed in her Grandmothers garden fit to bursting with yarn, fabrics and all things crafty. This conjured up images in my head of covert goings on at the bottom of the garden in the twilight, a bolted shed door and a shadowy figure hatching a plan and laughing wildly in secret like mad people do in horror films. Jenny - however - was surprising upbeat. I asked if her husband was aware of the extent of her hoard. ‘Of course’ she laughed ‘He built the shed!’

In October I met Yvonne who told me that she rents a garage to house her stash and has been known to put yarn behind the bath panel. Yvonne told me that she even has her knitting patterns and a table and chairs down there so that she can go to the garage for her stash ‘fix’ with no interruptions.
The more people I asked the better I began to feel - indeed my mountainous stash was suddenly diminishing before my eyes. My friend Avril has admitted to having at least 75 projects waiting patiently in the wings to be knitted and at a recent workshop a lady called Claire told me that if just part of her stash fell on her from a high shelf it would probably kill her. Imagine that – death by yarn!

Relieved somewhat by the fact that my stash pales into insignificance when compared to others I now found myself asking WHAT makes us hoard our yarn and buy more than we will ever knit in a lifetime and WHY are we so addicted to yarn?

My friend Lib told me that she forgets that her yarn stash is not considered ‘normal’. That people stand in her living room open mouthed in amazement when surrounded by her artistic mounds of arranged fibres. She compared the ownership of her stash as belonging to a unique club and that ‘outsiders’ do not understand, ‘They don’t comprehend the whole process of yarn fixation. Having to touch it, smell it and feel it every once in a while, my yarn stash is a comfort to me’.
Mira told me that she gets her stash out on ‘rotten, rainy days’ when she doesn’t want to venture out and that this makes her feel better and brightens her mood.
Another lady told me that (for some undisclosed reason) she had had no choice but to downsize her stash. Although this was obviously a difficult thing to do she had decided to keep it eclectic and expensive. She has retained all her luxurious yarn blends including a whole box of cashmere and silk, plus a box of beads. Like Mira she also gets them out when she is feeling down to cheer her up.

I am sure that the size of our stash reflects our relative wealth. Indeed I cannot imagine for one minute that my Great Grandmother managed to accumulate anything that vaguely resembled a stash even though she knitted and crocheted constantly throughout her life. She would unravel knitted garments and re knit them and relied on other people donating their leftovers for her to create her ‘granny square’ blankets. She was a product of the ‘make do and mend’ era where nothing was ever wasted and when yarn was never bought on a fancy (because it was pretty or felt lovely) but rather as a necessity. Indeed even the way that new yarn was sold meant that a stash could never really accumulate as it could be left in ‘lay by’ so that only one ball need be purchased at a time.
It will be interesting to see - at this time of economic down turn – whether our stashes start to diminish. Logic would suggest that knitters will start to consider using up some of their stash and may even return to complete unfinished projects, but I’m not so sure....

The thing that I have learnt through my forage into the world of hoarding is that a yarn stash is not merely a static hoard of fibres, it is, in-fact, an ever changing collection that actually defines the type of person it belongs to. Indeed I have come to the conclusion that without my stash I would feel incomplete and maybe a little sad. Dramatic I know, but touching, feeling, smelling and comparing yarn from my stash provides me with an escape. There is nothing, I now realise, ‘secret’ or ‘forbidden’ about my stash, but rather that there are things in my stash that I simply don’t want to share. There are some yarns that I consider incredibly personal which are kept because they remind me of people and places or of significant times in my life, I know for a fact that these yarns will never be used or knitted because they act as a keepsake and a reminder. Alongside these yarns sit others that are less important, there are some that simply look better in hank or ball form, then there are others that are kept purely because one day I might fancy them again and some that are merely leftovers, but for now they will all remain part of my stash for which I have a new found respect.
(Published in February 2009 Rowan International Newsletter - The Craft Issue)