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The Inspiration of the Stash

What is it about yarn?

Of course I have a big stash; all knitters do.  But why?  Is it simply because I like to knit?

I chewed on that question recently while sorting through the big plastic tubs which occupy a corner of the closet in the spare room.  Time to see what I had and yes, there was more than I recalled.  Of course the tremendous bounty I already have hasn’t stopped me from buying more.

As I pulled out hank after hank, I realized that my need for an endless and growing stash was about more than yarn, more than the desire for a sweater or shawl.  I couldn’t remember what most of this yarn had been purchased for.  I have no clue what I’m going to do with 15 balls of black alpaca, much less 15 balls of the same stuff in white.  Had I, at some optimistic point, had a project in mind?  Or had the yarn simply been on sale?

Maybe it isn’t even about yarn, much as I love knitting.  I have stashes of other things, too.  There are countless boxes like this in our basement and garage:


Paper, wire, beads, bottles, trinkets, magazine clippings, corks, maps, sticks…if I think I can make something out of it, it’s in a box clogging up our house.

My obsession with materials is about color and texture and pattern, but most of all, it’s about possibilities.  Having such a great quantity of yarn bestows on me the power to make things.  To make anything.

Need I say it?  That feeling of power, however elusive and fleeting, carries with it the delicious illusion that I can change my life.  I can be creative and organized.  I’ll be a brilliant artist and writer.  My house will be miraculously clean and beautiful.  I can knit a gorgeous sweater and look as sleek and pretty wearing it as the wafer-thin model in the magazine photo.  I can get things done.

The power of possibilities can be enough in itself.  Oddly, I sometimes find raw materials–luscious, candy-hued yarns; the dull sheen of wet clay; rusty pieces of metal scavenged from the street–more exciting than whatever finished product is made from them.  I like materials just for themselves, to touch and wonder over.  Crafting them into something else borders on being a violation of some kind.

Yet that’s what I acquired them for, and I do love to make things.  I can’t live without making things.

Creating things is powerful in a different manner.  Once an object is crafted and pushed out into the world it has all its flaws on display.  Nothing’s ever quite perfect, but it feels good anyway.  Completion, accomplishment, knowing that you made something useful or beautiful or provocative.

I made this.

Aren’t those marvelous words?  They ride up and out of the mouth on a tiny, shy puff of pride.  They glow.  They remind us that we’re imperfect, but that we’re not required to be perfect, that imperfection is charming in its own way.  It’s the creation that’s important, the knowledge that what you made, you made.  By hand.  From exciting hoarded materials.

Like yarn.

Notice that nothing I’ve written speaks of any wish to reform and stop buying yarn.  I know myself better than that.  I simply enjoying contemplating the creative process, trying to understand it, clicking one more puzzle piece into place in the picture of how and why I work the way I do.  I couldn’t be who I am, couldn’t be an artist, if I didn’t surround myself with all this collected stuff.  I wonder if other people feel the same way about their stashes.  I’d feel quite vulnerable without mine.

So often, inspiration comes from the materials rather than the other way around.  I have no idea what I’m going to make when I pick up a piece of gnarled wood while walking the dog.  But it calls to me and I have to possess it, and days or months or even years later it calls to me again and I suddenly know what to do with it.  I’m grateful it’s been in a box, waiting patiently for my imagination to catch up.

Yarn talks to me like that.  There are colors I can’t resist.  Texture has the same effect–or the opposite.  I’ve tried to withstand the seductive effects of certain colors and almost made it out of the store with bank account unscathed until I touched the yarn.  Then I was done for, if it was soft and luscious.  Or I’ve been smitten by a come-hither hue until I touched it and the scratchiness or wrongish feeling made me put it back no matter how pretty it was.

Just the other day I went into the yarn store on an entirely innocent and justified errand, to buy a ball of yarn to make a gift for a friend, and was hijacked by this:

The color nearly slapped me in the face (it’s called Purple Mystery — they saw me coming, didn’t they?), and if you’ve ever caressed a hank of Malabrigo you’ll understand its entirely diabolical nature.  That yarn simply cannot be left in the store once touched.  Even if you already have some and you already know what it feels like, it will still get you.  It will demand that you immediately buy three hanks to make a shawl.  It will actually reach into your bag and pull out your credit card if you don’t act quickly enough on your own.  Really.  These things happen.

Of course it’s good to knit from your stash.  (I certainly should.)  That’s what it’s there for.  But having a big backlog of yarn is no reason to stop buying more.  You must replenish it now and then–a stale stash is an uninspiring stash.

That realization clunked me over the head several months ago.  I’d gotten so bored with everything in my stash–with even the idea of what was in my stash–that knitting was beginning to lose its luster.  I was wearied by the big projects I was slogging through and had nothing in the closet that sparked my imagination.  I was missing the scrumptious rush of new-project lust.

A trip to a yarn store was needed.  Desperately.  For what is a yarn shop but an enormous stash maintained for browsing and creative inspiration?  The fact that you can hand money to the owner for the privilege of taking home a bag of inspiration is gravy.  Once I’d strolled around inhaling the scent of wool and soaking up good knitting energy, I bought a few skeins.  I was okay, and ideas immediately began to flow.  Knitting’s fun again.

I believe all humans come wired with a strong need to create, to adorn ourselves and our environs with things crafted by our own hands.  Otherwise, why knit?  The time when warm clothing could be acquired only by one’s own labor is long past.  Giving in to the guilty pleasure of feathering your nest (i.e., jamming your closets with yarn) is something we were born to do, artists or not.

See?  You didn’t read all this way for nothing.  I’m giving you a perfect excuse to scuttle out and buy yarn and hoard it.  Although entirely nonscientific, this excuse is quite sincere and handy.  Consider it a gift.  I can’t send each of you a ball of yarn (even though it’s a nice idea and would certainly go a long way towards freeing up space in my closet for new yarn), but I can at least do my part as an enabler, a voice of reason in the face of the naysayers who keep telling you that you have too much yarn already.

“Miss T said this is a biological imperative,” you can remark as you bring yet another bag of merino into the house.  It may help to cite some nonexistent academic article, like “Emergence of Consumption Patterns Based on Color and Fantasy:  Toward a Reconceptualization of Biological Urges for Continuous Asynchronus Fiber Acquisition, Containerization and Hoarding.”  Nobody will know it’s not real because it sounds so intimidating and serious.  While the naysayers are busy trying to figure out what it means, you can scurry away and hide your pretty new yarn in the closet.

Go forth now, and be inspired.  Buy yarn!  Knit with it!  Dream beautiful dreams of fiber and things to make with it, and spend the new year in creative ecstasy.  It’s good for you.


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