Book Club: Some reflections

Happy Valentine’s Day! While I’m not a big celebrator of this day in general, I thought it would be fun to sing some ode to joy to our stashes today! You may know that over in the Ravelry group, we’ve been reflecting on the book by Clara Parkes, A Stash of One’s Own. It is an essay-based book from many notable people in the knitting world who were each asked to reflect on their stash. Stash seems to mean many different things to many different people, which is really wonderful because it means there is a whole heap of responses. It offers us many different perspectives on how stash can influence our lives, both positively and negatively, and if anything, can become a conversation point. I put a call out on the podcast for people to respond in their own way to the word prompt stash and here are two initial responses from our community. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! The first is from our friend Becca, who is bethy40 on Ravelry:

My Stash is My Teacher

Right now I am logged into Ravelry and I’m looking at the Stash part of my digital notebook. I really like this tool although I know others that do not care for it. I don’t understand that entirely. It’s a database! Who doesn’t love a database? It records things and then shows you all kinds of interesting information and metrics. I can play with spreadsheets! Why don’t more people do this? Okay, it’s a lot of work to initially set up, especially if your collection of yarn is large but I love all that busy work anyway. I have pictures for each entry and it really satisfies me to have it all there laid out neatly giving the impression of order. Maybe that is why I like databases and records. It makes me seem organised when I actually struggle to be so in many parts of my life. And sorting my stash, either the actual fibres and yarn or the digital records of them, is very comforting in some way. I’m putting my world in order (not really); I’m involved with my craft (when I’m not actually making anything); I’m dreaming about possibility (rather than actually getting started).

I have heard some others say that they would be embarrassed or anxious if they put all their stash into Ravelry as then everyone who uses the site would be able to see it. It would be like confessing something. (I have no problem with you knowing the totals that I own. Go check my Ravelry page if you want to see.) I have often reflected on the sense of embarrassment or shame that can come from our collection of material things. We live in a world that lauds consumerism but many also sense a certain kind of freedom or virtue attached to living with less. However complicated our feelings might be about our yarn and fibre stash I am certain that stash will always be an emotional thing that points to issues and needs far deeper than a simple skein of pretty yarn.

I often watch my son gather things and make himself a little nest in a corner of a room in our house. Small toys or stuffed animals, cuddly blankets, a book and a pillow. I think nesting is a deep human instinct. We hunt and we gather. We associate all kinds of deep needs for security and comfort and love with the materials we gather. Everybody’s stash is different and we all feel differently about it but we all have feelings attached whether we have a little bit of stuff or many things. Reading the essays in Clara Parkes’ anthology A Stash of One’s Own I was struck by the variety of emotions that the writers discussed- personal and family history, memory, relationships, having enough or feeling abundance, freedom, grief, generosity, love, excitement, discovery, guilt, desire, inspiration, worthiness. Why do such powerful feelings become so closely tied to material things? I’m not entirely sure but I know that they do, for me and for every crafter I’ve ever talked to.

My friend Mrs M aka Meg once talked about her dislike of the word ‘stash’. She doesn’t like the illicit connotations of hiding or secretiveness that the word carries. (Just like I suppose we often hide emotions that we don’t think are acceptable.) She refers to the materials she owns as her wool pantry, a place where she stores her supplies for future making. I quite like the term. Have you heard her podcast, Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet? If you haven’t I would highly recommend it. She is a thoughtful and elegant lady who thinks deeply about questions of making and sustainability. I’ve learned a lot from listening to her. It makes me more careful and intentional in my purchases.

I want to strike a balance between respecting the materials I use by purchasing thoughtfully and not wasting what I own or treating it as disposable and at the same time not fetishizing them to the point that they become so precious they are never used. Good materials are costly. They took time and skill to produce. I don’t want to waste them. However wouldn’t it also be a waste if I acquire something like yarn or fibre but let my admiration for its beauty and possibility frighten me from ever doing anything with it? As the years go by and I continue making yarn and using yarn to make textiles my relationship to my materials has changed. Yes, it is beautiful stuff and I am just as much a sucker for gorgeous colours and amazing textures as any fibre person. Those materials can take my breath away. But I don’t always need to own it all any more. And what I do have I want to use, even if my skills do not match its potential or beauty. Owning the fibre is no longer an end in itself; I don’t just want to hold onto the precious pretty thing. The materials are a means to an end; I buy them in order to make things with them but not only that either. I buy them and then use them to make myself a better spinner.

Make it not just about how beautiful the materials are and what you imagine they could be. You may gaze upon something beautiful but you really know a material when you put your hands in it and start to see what it can do. Make it about how using the materials is a way to really learn about them. We don’t respect the materials by putting them up on a pedestal or enshrining some fibre as too precious to spin. We are growing as spinners and the only way to do that is to invest in the time and materials to learn to be a better spinner, to transfer that knowledge through your hands and into your muscles. Your hands can accomplish such interesting things! Every moment we spend working with our materials is an education. We will make better decisions and craft better yarns in the future because of the time that we have spent today with our fibres and our tools. And hopefully your experience and knowledge will also enrich others in our spinning community as we share knowledge and learn together.

I was talking the other day with some knitters and mill owners and yarn producers at a party. (It was a party for a bunch of knitters. Sooooo wonderfully geeky.) One mentioned how the mills that we have operating here in the UK that produce small quantities for small businesses are very busy as demand grows which is a great thing. It would be nice to have even more mills but that is very difficult. Not only is the equipment expensive and difficult to obtain, the biggest challenge is finding people with the expertise to operate those machines. When the bottom fell out of the textile industry here the equipment was sold off and the people were out of work and no one new was trained. And now there are very few people who know how to get started again. There is a famine of experience and knowledge. The embodied knowledge we gain through hours and hours working with our fibre is so precious and can only be gained with time and practice.

So that is what my fibre is to me- a beautiful thing in itself, a body for many emotions, a sign of the source and the farmer, a bundle of creation potential and the greatest teacher about fibre and spinning. How much film did a photographer have to go through in order to learn to take beautiful photos (before the digital age of course)? How many sheets of paper, framed canvas, pencil and paints do artists have to use in order to become great artists? How many pieces of wood will a carpenter work to truly learn to use saw and chisel and plane? A potter, a cook, a gardener, a writer, a weaver, a blacksmith, a knitter, a spinner…. We all use our materials and pay attention to them. In return for our practice and time and attention we get better each time we make the next thing. The material gives us the gift of knowledge, knowledge in our bones and our muscles. Thank you wool pantry! Thank you for clothing the body and thank you for making me a spinner.

Thank you Becca, for sharing your ideas around stash! Here is a second essay from Hannah, who’s Ravelry ID is Habiho:

A Treasure Chest of Yarn

My parents have always been very creative. When growing up, my mom had a crafting room full of supplies of different kinds: paper, beads, paint, flamingo balls, cardboard, books and magazines – all sorts of interesting things. It was all free for us kids to use and I always thought of it as the best shelves in the house. My dad’s creativity was more of a – “Yes, let’s build another level to the play house in the garden and paint it with all the left-over paint we can find in the garage” and “Yes, let’s save those two barrels full of dressing-up clothes in case we need them for an entertaining element at a camp or something”. So many opportunities. Under my parent’s bed, there were boxes of yarn. I was almost a teenager before I began to find those interesting. And then very quickly my mom became my yarn pusher. In the beginning I mostly knit dishcloths and the like in cotton yarn, but later she also hooked me up with great wool especially from the Faroe Islands and Norway. Eventually, I started buying yarn myself.

In my 20’ies, I got a large chest from my parents for my birthday. My dad and now husband helped me grind off the paint. Now my treasured yarn and fiber live in a treasured chest. From that chest flows a stream of imagination, creativity, dreams, tactility, color. I could continue. I dream of the things to make from all these lovely fiber. Things of potential. All the ideas to try out and all the things to learn. All the promises of hours of knitting and spinning lurking in my future. I look at the fiber and see techniques I want to master. And I look at the yarn and see sweaters and socks just waiting to be knit. I sketch and sometimes cast on. Sometimes the sketch changes or I find an old sketch, where the yarn is now living a new life in another sweater or sketch or dream of a sweater to be. Sometimes it feels like I have already knitted it in my dreams, and that’s enough. Sometimes I dream of knitting something, because the knitted piece would be a perfect gift for one of my loved once, and then my chest becomes a chest full of wonderful gifts just waiting to be made and spread joy.

My husband understands – his passion is baking bread. We somehow speak the same language. We share the frustration when something does not turn out as planned, but more often we share the joy of making, learning, and enjoying. He buys flour – I buy fiber. He is wishing for a flour mill – I am wishing for a new spinning wheel. He nurtures his sourdoughs – I squish my fiber. It’s all good.

The word “stash” is new to me. I’m not a native English speaker and we do not have a similar word in my native language. And honestly, I will keep calling it my treasure chest of yarn, because that is what it is to me.

Thank you to you both for kicking off this blog series! I hope I have more in the future to share with you all!

In the meantime,

Happy Spinning, Knitting, Crafting & Stashing!

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