Is there such a thing as too much yarn?


OK, so I never thought I would say this, but I have too much yarn in my life. (Don’t be scared…This is not a tragedy by any means…there is definitely a happy ending that will satisfy any unrepentant yarnaholic.)

When I started traveling as a yarn rep, I, of course, carried with me A LOT of yarn—I could barely see out of my rear window with the car all packed for a trip. Worse, valuable car real estate was getting usurped by silly personal items, like extra shoes and jackets, full-sized fancy lotions and shampoos, and other things that used to seem essential. Every time I hit the road, I consciously tried to bring less. Later, I wanted to bring my spinning wheel on sales trips (why not? That’s normal, isn’t it?) and I had to find ways to leave a couple more things home. Then, my sample knitting became quite prolific. You always need to show “what’s new” don’t you? Many of these samples are shown In Progress, ‘cause knitters get the idea. It’s nice when they are finished, but not always necessary. That took the pressure off! Thus, several bags of WIPs also accompany me across the Industrial Midwest. They lie on the extra queen bed in my hotel room and mostly get worked on while I listen to Pandora. About a year into this, I finally learned how to pack for a YarnSuperhero Adventure, and I can live out of quite a small duffel bag for a week or more. I suppose the time is only limited by my how long I am willing to stay away from husband, cats, dog and home, since I could certainly do laundry any number of ways on the road (hotel sink, hotel laundry, Laundromat, make friends and get invited over to do laundry—maybe not the last one) My “uniform” is very simple. Boots, skirt, a couple of shirts, tights, sweaters and other knitted items when it’s cold,. Everything is grey, brown, or some other muddy “non-color”—putty is my favorite–and so everything matches, more or less. I removed the rear seat from my small SUV, since I never bring people in my car, just stuff. That’s all well and good…less personal stuff, more room for fibery stuff, most of which could actually help me make sales.

What’s weird is what would happen when I returned home. Even before I changed jobs, it had started to seem absurd that I had so many suits in my closet, when what really belonged there was yarn. This feeling only got stronger. When I got back from a trip, it would be so glaringly obvious that I would need to get rid of some STUFF. What was it all doing there? I realized I needed little, and so it was time to start the practice of de-cluttering. For most of 2009 and 2010, in a very disciplined way I threw out at least one small thing a day. It could be a mostly used bottle of nail polish (that I couldn’t open anyway) or a lonely sock. Or some boring papers. I also gave many many bags of clothes and shoes to the goodwill, and there is still more to go. New clothes shopping is nearly nonexistent (spending in general is way down vs. “old Life,) and my new philosophy is to only buy pre-owned or handmade, except for underwear and shoes. I really don’t want to make those, nor do I want to wear someone else’s. Maybe I would buy used shoes: goodness knows I have had many awesome thrift store scores over the years, not to mention the perfectly good although paint-splattered doc martens I found on the street when I lived in Oakland. Thanks, Rich Girl, all they needed was new laces. I would probably still have them if I had not gone through my last grown-up lady professional phase.

Getting rid of things was a small step outside of my comfort zone. I remember the inner voice telling me I might need those things someday or I might fit into those jeans again someday. Or those metallic shoes that were on such a good sale aren’t really too small and painful to wear. You know that voice. It is strong in me, especially coming from a long line of women who saved things in coffee cans or decorative boxes/tins. Buttons, gift wrapping paper, little bits of pretty somethings. I still have some purging to do. It has been a slow, sometimes uneasy process, and I am ok with that. Self acceptance has been the precursor for change many times in my life. There is a whole bag of metallic shoes that are never going to be worn by me again. I could probably get some money for them on ebay. We’ll see how long that takes to happen.

Once many of the clothes were gone, I started to notice that while my “work yarn” stash grew, my “personal yarn” stash was still there, and not getting used, at all. I had way better free stuff to use than most of what I had bought over the last several years. I saw people on twitter who carved out time to sort, catalog and sell their yarn. What a great idea, that realistically would never be done by me. One day, I grabbed a couple of large garbage bags, and very hastily shoved a bunch of yarn into them, filling them both. I did not hunt down ball bands, I did not even disassemble WIPs. The Noro. The silk/wool blend that tried to be about 4 sweaters before I decided that it just was not a good match for me. The cotton bibs (for whose baby? Who knows?) All were bagged, sealed, and handed off to two wonderful souls in Michigan who were willing to take them and share them with deserving beginning crafters. Why shouldn’t beginners learn to knit using the good stuff? Kids just learning to knit might actually finish the scarf that, for me, would never end, or maybe they wouldn’t have the same guilt I would at ripping back a yarn buying mistake for the 6th time.

An aside: The never to be finished mostly Malabrigo worsted log cabin afghan seemed like a great idea at the time, and was ultimately such a UFO disaster that I could not in good conscience foist this off on anyone. Seemed quick and easy enough way to get rid of earth toned stash. But so boring. And what about all those ends? Who is going to weave them in?…not me. So I tried to make a back to the blanket to use more yarn and hide the ends—crochet no less, and then, my thought was, I would only have a few seams to sew. Good thinking, still not going to happen. Still super boring, and there were new yarns and projects beckoning. I should take a picture of this poor blanket, but I am too ashamed.

I did keep some of my really special yarn, and will probably give the whole collection another run through, since it gets even easier to minimize, the less stuff you have. See for more on this. That dude doesn’t even need vowels.

In March, I took up spinning. Some really bad yarn was made. Hideous fiber was bought or otherwise acquired. No one would want to inherit this stuff. Yet the Maine yankee in me hates to not use something that really could still be beautiful and functional. Usefulness is one of my favorite qualities in a gift. One of my best presents ever (though it seemed odd at the time) was a valentine’s day gift from my Grammie. It was a nice, shiny, small, and very sharp paring knife. She had an extra one for some reason, and thought I could probably use a good knife. She was right! It was a darn good knife and I did think of my Grammie every time I used it.

So what to do with all of this yarn and fiber? We all like to collect this stuff, to acquire it and to HAVE it, and it seems like the more, the better. Your knitting and spinning friends are probably all enablers( I know I am!) It’s not even called hoarding, it’s called stash. Like a pirates treasure. (I forgot to mention that I had purged many of the household’s books, but not knitting books. Knitting books, like yarn are not a hoarding item, or even a collection, they are a knitting library, especially when one is in the yarn industry.)

I just felt vaguely guilty about the yarn buildup as my unconscious set about finding an answer (when you have too many things on your to do list, try letting the universe be responsible for some. You will be amazed at how much more gets done.) I went to a couple fiber festivals this season. Okay, more like 5, but I was working at 4 of them. The other one was Rhinebeck. I did not buy much at any of them—a little indie-handpainted fiber, a couple handmade tools, a fleece here and there–like I said, not much. But what I didn’t realize I had really been gaining was the information. These fiber festival chicks (mostly women, sorry, fiber dudes, for the generalization) know a shitload of things to do with too much fiber. After all, many of them have been at it way longer than I have. They also have a nomadic lifestyle, and know that value judgments have to be made, sometimes ruthlessly, about what stays and what goes. The test of in item’s beauty and usefulness as a criteria to keep it, fails many if they do not stay strong. And creative types truly do see a lot more potential beauty and future use. Two of the best stash busting ideas ever came out of casual conversations with such fiber goddesses. The garden loom and locker hooked rugs.

Easy, fast, sort of attractive (I’m sure this will get better with practice and planning, but for now, it’s about making a dent in the pile and satisfying my craving for randomness and learning-while-doing). For the rugs, any few yarns can be held together. And the really crappy stuff can be used for “the string.” It will still be useful and I will never have to see it again, but I don’t have the guilt of getting rid of it. When I actually plan a design, I can sort colors and stuff, if I want. For now it is like painting. The ends can be kept in a small box and when I have a big pile of them (or the little bits of crazily twisted roving that gets dropped on the floor while I am spinning, am I really going to card all of that together and spin it? Most likely not until I get myself a drum carder. I liked hand carding for the 1st 4 lbs of my first Romney fleece. After that, not so much.)

…where was I? Oh, the pile can be taken outside and incorporated into the garden loom! Are you kidding me? Perfect! Useful, interesting looking (I will try for pretty later, as with the rugs) and it makes the husband and the neighbors wonder what I am up to now. And I am creating something new. And I am giving the birds a neat attraction in the yard. I suppose I could put some beads in it if I wanted (the bead stash is the least problematic of anything, though, so this is just theoretical. Although what the birds would do with those is a good question. Maybe it will entice them to come check out the nice fiber and berries I have incorporated into the design. In the warmer months, I could train a vine to climb it, or I could even weave with weeds. Or aromatic herbs, to make it a multi-sensory experience. I could even put stale bread in it! Who could stop me? What industry and functionality!

One of the best things about both of these new fiber arts is that they do not require much in the way of fancy gear. My loom is constructed out of a very tall weed that I decided had become a tree but then my husband said it was in the way of his sat dish so I got a saw and chopped it down. It laid instate in my yarn for a couple months and then I sawed it into pieces, the largest of which became my garden loom frame. I bought some jute for a couple bucks. After that, it is just time and leftovers. The rugs are also cheap. A locker hook tool from the fiber fest and some latch hook canvas from the craft store. Literally less than $15 investment so far for both! And no new yarn.

No, I did not need more stuff to do. But I make time or can take time to do something fun new and excitingly creative. Maybe I will become good at one or both of these crafts and this will be my Art. The log cabin nightmare blanket will be a lovely rug or rugs someday, and the parts that cannot be easily ripped back will be cut with scissors, and given to the birds. Why shouldn’t the birds also have the best? What if someone is taking a walk on a nice day in a nearby neighborhood? What if she takes the time to look around at her surroundings and sees a bird’s nest that, surprisingly, has many brightly colored bits of yarn and fiber in it? What if this person is a knitter/spinner/weaver?