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Sorting and Storing Stash and Scraps

Some mornings (okay, most mornings) when I wake up and face the pile of grocery bags filled with yarn in my bedroom, I think I should develop a real system for yarn storage. Those bags are my holding tank, waiting until I have time to put them away. Of course, some of them have been there for months -- double-digit months.

A few weeks ago I confided in my knitting circle, and admitted that there must be some system I should be using. My very kind circle friends assured me that the pile-of-yarn-filled-grocery-bags was indeed a system. But system or no, it is probably not the most efficient way of storing stash. So what would be the best way to organize yarn and knitting equipment? This led me to a little research and a few musings.

Sorting Yarn

When deciding how to sort yarn, I have one main criteria: what organizational system will make it easiest to find the yarn I need when I need it? I don't think I'm alone in this desire. Of course, the answer to that question will vary from knitter to knitter, but there are three categories that most knitters use.
- weight (all fingering yarns together, all sport weight yarns together...)
- color (one box of reds and pinks, one of blues...)
- type (all the wool yarn together, all the novelty yarns together, all the cotton yarns together...)

There are advantages to each of these methods. If you enjoy working Fair Isle or intarsia designs, sorting by weight can be helpful. With this method, you can quickly see what you have available in a given weight that will work well together in a project. However, if you find yourself drawn to a particular kind of project, say knitted items for babies, you may find that you have so much fine yarn it is not helpful at all to store it in one big bin. In that case, you may choose to sort by color. This is reminiscent of doing laundry (but somehow much more fun): whites, brights and darks may each have their own container. The advantage to this system is that it easily expands or contracts to accommodate your stash. For instance, you may have a box each of blues and grays, but as your yarn supply dwindles, you can consolidate the skeins into one big blue/gray box.

Sorting by type is helpful if you enjoy trying yarn made of different fibers and are likely to have leftover yarn made from a variety of materials. There are two advantages to this approach. One is that you will easily be able to select yarn of a type (e.g. all mohair, all acrylic) should you choose to mix yarns from previous projects. This will make blocking and laundering easier. Another reason to organize stash by type is that certain yarns may require care in storage to assure they are not damaged.

This issue of appropriate storage leads us to consider:

Yarn Containers and Space for Them

When selecting yarn containers, there are several factors to consider.
1) What will make it easier to identify the contents of the container?
2) What will be most appropriate in preventing damage to the fibers?
3) How much will all these containers cost?
4) How much space do I have to store yarns, and where can I eke out more?

For the first item, identifying contents, the issue is the same as for sorting: finding the yarn or equipment and finding it fast. This can be done either by using transparent containers, by using baskets and containers with slats that allow the yarn to be seen, keeping yarn in plain sight, or careful labeling. A number of excellent boxes, bags and baskets are available at specialty stores such as The Container Store, Hold Everything, or at discount department stores.

Secondly, it's important to store your yarn appropriately to preserve it from pesky insects, mold and other pests. Make sure your woolen yarns are stored with some kind of anti-moth substance. My favorite is cedar chips, as the yarn stored with them comes out smelling even better than it went in! Similarly, all yarn should be kept from particularly damp or warm spaces. While yarn doesn't mold as quickly as food, it certainly can and this is especially true for yarns made from natural fibers.

Because good containers for yarn storage could, in some instances, cost even more than the yarn they're storing, I have a number of knitting friends who have resorted to creative recycled or inexpensive containers. One popular choice is gallon-sized zip-lock plastic bags. Those made for freezer storage often have a spot for labeling where a knitter can record information about the yarn and when it was used. This is especially helpful if the label on the skein is missing. Other cost-conscious solutions include dressers, toy chests, canvas bags or shelving previously used for other purposes. I have a knitting friend who swears by her guest-bathroom tub. This concept appeals to me and I'm jealous of her guests who have the opportunity to dive in and wallow among beautiful yarns.

Recycling containers doesn't need to be the end of it. Desperate knitters can be creative when recycling space as well. A truly spatially challenged knitter may begin to reconsider even the tightest possible areas for yarn storage. In many cases, containers already exist that will help exploit square inches. Some examples include flattish boxes on wheels meant to be used under the bed, or small shelving units (often advertised for college dorm rooms) sized to fit behind an open door. Don't forget hanging possibilities. Using hooks for hangs of yarn, baskets on the wall or bags on clothes hangers all can provide ample storage.

While evaluating space around your home to stash your stash, you may reconsider old standbys, like reorganizing your closet either on your own or with a professional organizer. Or, you could go the opposite route and instead of hiding your fabulous fiber, flaunt it. Think creatively, and consider your yarn as a home decoration. For instance, take your half-used skeins out of the grocery bags in your bedroom, put them in beautiful baskets and relocate them to your living room. Or move those long hangs of yarn you just arranged on a set of hooks in your closet to your wall as art. Change them around to suit your mood, or as you knit them up. A wine rack can show off baguette-shaped lovely skeins of yarn. Teapots are a charming way to store smaller balls, and you need only thread the end through the spout for tangle-free knitting.

Storing Knitting Equipment

Like yarn, you may choose to use more traditional methods of organization and storage for your equipment, or you can choose the path less trodden and display your equipment decoratively.

If you want to use equipment holders made especially for the purpose, most yarn catalogs have a wide range of choices of equipment holders. My own favorite organization method for circulars is the hanging canvas holders with horizontal pockets marked with the needles' sizes. A friend in my knitting circle stores them together, but marks them using a fine-tip permanent marker so she doesn't have to determine the size each time she uses one. Or, you may choose to support a social justice cause by ordering needle holders through Lantern Moon whose profits help support the Viet Namese women who make them or the Cambodian Handicraft Association, run by survivors of landmines and polio who hand-dye, spin, weave and sew their beautiful product.

Imaginative and thrifty solutions to equipment storage are many. My Aunt Tootsie uses tall, round oatmeal containers, and I have found a silverware separator to be handy. Dental cases and desktop trays provide excellent ways to sort and store smaller knitting equipment such as stitch holders, stitch markers, measuring tapes, scissors, and other odds and ends.

For a decorative approach, try glass or clear pasta canisters to hold knitting needles. Handsome rosewood or bamboo needles make an attractive bouquet for the table during the winter and fall months, and incense stick holders are a good way to hide your needles while still storing them in plain sight.

Smaller equipment can be stored in ornamental ways as well. Those napkin rings your Aunt Sally gave you that are still sitting in a drawer? Clip stitch holders of varying sizes to them so you can easily find the ones you want. Collect small vases and attractive paperclip holders for stitch markers, T pins and knitting notions. All the public areas of your home can become knitting storage without your public even knowing!

Decreasing Stash

On occasion, you may find that no amount of wrangling or creativity will accommodate your extra yarn. In that situation, it may be time to decrease your stash, but that is another article. (Or two. Specifically, Pass it On, and Overloaded, or Variety is the Spite of Life, both by Kate Boyd..)

Regardless of which methods you choose to sort and store your knitting things, take a minute to pat yourself on the back and give yourself credit for having faced your problems and addressed them. You can feel good about bringing orderliness to your knitting world.

At least until those grocery bags begin to pile up around your bed again.



Ann Richards is the knitting instructor in the Studio Arts Department of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. She lives in Northern Virginia with her family and her stash.