Friday, 7 December 2007

Stash, pledges, and the joy of ripping

Slightly edited, because I got interrupted in the middle of proofing, and some sentences really didn't make sense.

I was eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation on Ravelry, discussing stash and materialism, and I found myself reflecting on how the knitter's stash is never just wool (or cotton, or silk, or acrylic). It can be emotionally charged within the home if partners, offspring or pets dispute the space it takes up (not a problem here). It causes tensions when talking to other knitters, as those who manage to buy yarn for each project as they begin it take the moral high ground. It can begin to oppress the unfortunate yarn owner too, as they calculate just how long it will take to knit it all. It's never just about balls.

I am a stasher of yarn. Before I knitted I was a stasher of fabric, of books, of attractive embroidery kits. Partly this is a consequence of growing up poor by British standards. When I had money to spend on the things I liked, I spent it, so I could (and did) use them up in the lean times. My mind hasn't yet caught up with the fact that although we are by no means wealthy, we have a steady income now. The lean times aren't coming from that direction.

The other thing my mind hasn't caught up with is that some time around 2001 a whole lot of hours got removed from the day. I still buy books at the same rate as when I was a teenager, staggering home with a carrier bag full on a regular basis. When I was a teenager I'd have read them all by the end of the week. I worked my way through the 19th century English novel in a nest made of an old duvet and all the spare pillows in the house, reading solidly for eight or more hours a day. I don't have that time any more, but part of me seems to think that I do.

There are other lean times too. I grew up in various remote parts of the countryside, far from any shops. Before the internet, mail order was a lot more complicated. I can also remember the 1990s, when knitting was disappearing, and only brightly coloured acrylics were available in the few wool shops open. The current revival could easily go the way of previous revivals, and all the pretty sock yarns and laceweights disappear. So I'm buying insurance.

I'm not ashamed of my yarn stash. I've had fun rediscovering its further reaches recently, as I photograph it for Ravelry. But I'm displaying it for my own benefit. What I was ashamed of was the number of balls I had simply forgotten. Lovely yarns, chosen with care, that I had forgotten all about. I hope that having the pictures to remind me what I own will stop that from happening.

But I don't want it to grow any more, because this is a small house, and Chris has a right to own some possessions too. And I want be able to remember what I own, which won't happen if it gets much larger. So I'm stating here and now that I will not be buying any more yarn until the end of March 2008. There are no get-out clauses, not even for sock yarn (I have more of that than anything else). If my favourite yarn, the sadly discontinued Jaeger Matchmaker, comes up in the January sales, then so be it; it's time I learned to love a new yarn (and besides, I have a whole jumper's worth in a plastic bag upstairs). I might miss out on some treasures, but there will be other treasures another day, and this way I might get around to knitting the ones I already have. No more yarn then, until the first of April next year.

My book piles do bother me, however. Books on shelves don't worry me in the least. Already read books that can't quite find space on the shelf are fine too. But the three teetering piles of books-to-be-read worry me. I know why I buy so many (mostly from charity shops, so they don't cost much), because I still think that I have time to read them all. But I'm not keeping up, and I won't, unless I also give up buying reading books until the end of March. Reading books are any that I would start at the beginning and read to the end straight through, so novels, short stories, travel writing, biographies and popular histories all fall under the ban. On the other hand, books that, although they contain fascinating reading, might well get put straight on the shelf don't count. So I can buy Sharon Miller's 'Shetland Hap Shawls' when I get paid, for example, and Mum can have her copy back. I need it for the shawl I'm designing.

While I was hurling around cardboard boxes and making worthy resolutions, I came upon my oldest unfinished object. It should have been finished three and a half years ago, and it's a bit too late for the intended baby. Probably just as well.
It's a quite attractive baby blanket knitted in a vile colour of grubby beige, featuring fun sheep in Trinity Stitch that I got wrong, and a moss stitch border that wavers all over the place because I hadn't heard of stitch markers then. Nor had I heard of Addi needles, so it's on horrible stiff-corded Pony needles. What is more, my best row counter has been out of action for over three years because of this blanket. There was only one thing to be done. I wouldn't even wish the needles on anyone, so I broke the yarn off (45% acrylic to 55% nylon and I didn't even wince, that's how angry I was with the blanket) and chucked it. The spare yarn can go to a charity shop to find someone who loves it. The blanket is in the bin. And I feel just great.
(If I were to knit another baby blanket I probably would still use a synthetic yarn, but in a nicer colour. Anything that a baby will be sick on really ought to be machine washable, and I don't mean just on a cool wool programme).


mooncalf said...

Good for you! Makes me think of William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

I'm with you on the yarn and book destashing in January. I don't think I'd respond well to an absoute ban but I'm definitely counting down. I probably have enough to get me through the whole year already!

Good luck!

knititch said...

i do believe one should throw out whatever has not been used for over a year alas i rarely do. as for yarn stash i think it tends to make me a little stressed. but now i am seeing it shrink and that is great.
i knit a wool silk shetland shawl for my niece's baby last year and i don't think the lack of acrylic was ever a problem. people can use acrylic if they want to but if you don't like using acrylic don't use it anyway for the wrong reasons. all the wool things i made for babies were very well recepted by the busy parents. wool has changed a lot the past decades and is much more easy to treat now or maybe i just take chances :-))