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Three Tips for Using Your Precious Stash

June 25, 2020

Do you have a ‘Precious’ stash? I’m talking about capital ‘P’ precious – that box of yarn, fabric, fibre, or craft supplies that you love so deeply you can’t quite bear to actually use them. You could be working with the most beautiful, sensual, high-pleasure materials that you have carefully squirrelled away. Why aren’t you?

a rainbow of skeins of handspun yarn

With the world feeling more than a little upside down right now, maybe it’s time to crack out your best vintage and really savour the beautiful things you have at hand. Rummage through your stash of precious yarns, fabric, paper or fibre, and get started making with the special materials you love to bits but are reluctant to use.

a stack of floral and graphic printed fabrics
I collected these precious Liberty cotton lawn prints since moving to the UK nearly 10 years ago. Since this photo was taken, I have cut into each and every one of them, but it took guts to make those cuts!

Oh, but it’s too ‘Precious’ to actually use

Sometimes I will bring home a yarn, fabric, or fibre that seems too precious – too beautiful or unique to risk damaging, to dare to take it into my hands and transform it. There’s always risk in making – the risk that your skills won’t be up to the material, that you won’t do it justice.

skeins of handpun on rocky ground
Handspun yarn is very precious to me, so I find it difficult to get started using it. These skeins were a special gift to myself during a difficult moment three years ago. Eventually, I did make one of these skeins into a Beloved bonnet for my little one.

Before I began designing knits professionally, the cost of some supplies made them a luxury for me, and I was nervous about ‘wasting’ or ruining them. Now that I design knits for a living, I literally must cast on for my livelihood. Even so, I still find myself hesitating to use precious items. But to do my work, I need to use all my materials and accept that mistakes are part of the creative process. Skeins may be ‘wasted,’ but the time I spend learning to work with them is never a waste. And whenever I make the leap of confidence and cast on, the joy flows freely!

children running away along a forest path, one wearing a dress in striped and floral fabrics
Fabric brings me so much more joy when it’s used and worn than it does hidden away in boxes.

So what are you waiting for?

I often get stalled by uncertainty, feeling that I’m not quite ‘ready’ enough to dip into my precious stash. But over the years, I’ve found a few tricks that help me cast on or make that first cut.

1. Realize it’s wasted in storage, where it can’t bring you pleasure or improve your life

I like to remind myself of this often, so it feels like I have a responsibility to get my most precious materials out of plastic bags and into daily use.

Smiling kid in a striped sweater in the forest
Now that these precious materials are out of boxes and onto the wriggly body of my kid, I get to enjoy their beauty often! All project details can be found here.

During my recent wave of comfort knitting, I made a Flax sweater (free pattern!) for my little one, Neve. I combined the leftovers of a handspun yarn with coordinating mill-spun and hand-dyed colours. It was such a joy to work with this precious yarn!

2. Recognize that every project teaches you

I have to remember that I’m actually doing myself a disservice when I avoid working with my precious stash. I tell myself: ‘If you don’t cut into that stack of wool tweeds you’ve been collecting since you moved to Scotland, or if you don’t get started knitting with that sweater’s amount of single-ply Noro yarn that you bought on Vancouver Island back in 2016, you’ll just never learn how best to use those materials.’

stack of woollen tweed fabrics in earthy tones
I really love woollen fabrics and have collected them over the years, with various bag, trouser, and jacket projects in mind. While I did make lovely tweed jackets for my kids, I haven’t yet had the courage to cut out a project for myself. But I must learn to take my own advice!

I also try to remember that when I make a mess of something on my first try, I am likely to learn a lot and be more prepared for my second, third, and fourth attempts.

Fluffy batts in deep greens and soft yellow and pinks
These lovely batts languished in my attic for three years, waiting for me to feel ‘ready’ to do them justice. Finally I pulled out the wheel and spun them up, and I haven’t had so much fun making (and learning) in years!
a pink, golden, yellow two-ply yarn

3. Remember that the point is pleasure!

The primary purpose of the hobbies I do with my hands is my own pleasure. After all, there are less expensive ways to get things. There are easier ways to give gifts. There are more practical ways to clothe myself and my loved ones. But if you’re like me, making beautiful creations with your own hands is what brings you pleasure – and working with precious materials makes it even better!

~ Emily

two child shirts hanging on a wall
These darling children’s’ shirts were made from fabrics I consider precious. I was resistant to getting started, but they are ultra-adorable on my little ones. This pattern is from an excellent book called Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids, by Ruriko Yamada.
Two smiling kids in kilts and button-down shirts


15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2020 5:27 pm

    When I was hired for my first job, teaching at a Sacred Heart school in a wealthy neighborhood east of Seattle, I use to pass a lovely fabric store. That was 1976 and I was not earning much. I knew about Liberty scarves from shopping in Victoria, BC, and had two of them. That shop introduced me to Liberty cotton lawn, and I began collecting quarter-yard pieces. In the 2000s, I finally made my mother a small quilt from Liberty cottons. I made my granddaughter a blouse.

    I still buy a quarter-yard piece when I can. A former student brought me back two packs of small pieces on her last trip to London. So. These are all in my stash, waiting for an event to deserve them all.

    • August 27, 2020 10:53 pm

      This is a lovely story! Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your next project!

  2. June 29, 2020 10:07 am

    I’ve just begun to knit little baby hats with some washable hand-spun for a friend’s grand baby. I’ll ask them to hand-wash, but who knows once you give it away! The hats are so cute with those pretty colors. I’ve also used my cherished and beautiful yarn in stranded knitting hats for myself. It’s too pretty to sit on a shelf. Your youngsters are the best models, and I appreciate the info in this post.

  3. June 29, 2020 5:31 am

    OMG those kilts! Beyond cute. And that houndstooth is screaming to be made into something! But your post has inspired me to use my one mistake purchase of $35 skein and knit it into a shawl. I’ve waited too long.

  4. June 26, 2020 10:58 am

    You are so right! I have precious things, or find a project that I love only to find that I have too much yarn in my stash, so can’t use it. Right?
    I have made some small inroads during lockdown though!

    Clicky Needles

  5. vdweg permalink
    June 26, 2020 8:22 am

    Hello,

    Through the link Manage Subscriptions I tried to change my old mail-address into the new one, but that was very complicated on WordPress, even had to make my own account there and would be charged !, so I decided to ask you to change it for me.

    Thank you! Love your tutorials and am still puzzling which yarn to use for the Love Note Sweater :D

    Kind regards, Elsje van de Weg

    >

    • June 29, 2020 12:08 pm

      Hi Elsje – I couldn’t find subscriptions under either email address so you can go ahead and sign up with the new one!

  6. June 25, 2020 11:20 am

    I have a stash too, trying to figure out what to do with it

  7. Nicky permalink
    June 25, 2020 9:55 am

    Great article. I have been building my stash for so long now that pretty much everything in it is beautiful and precious. I got rid of the other stuff ages ago! I started using stuff more after I found a moth had eaten bits of my most precious fibre. It seemed such a waste – an expensive yarn that lived in a box and was then ultimately thrown away. It could have been knit into something beautiful and used or gifted and actually enjoyed. I have never ruined a project so badly that I’ve binned the yarn, but here I was binning yarn that had never been used. Ridiculous.

  8. rogue1 permalink
    June 25, 2020 9:47 am

    Those kilts! So cute.

  9. Katrina permalink
    June 25, 2020 9:03 am

    I read this and kept glancing at my wall of yarn where a few skeins haven’t been touched for fear of messing them up. I’m going to find a project for them. I will! Thanks for the nudge.

  10. Anita Jamieson permalink
    June 25, 2020 7:41 am

    Thank you for all your posts. This one on using stash is particularly motivating

  11. June 25, 2020 7:40 am

    I think it’s easier to knit up something with my precious yarns than it is to cut into special fabric. Usually you can take a knitted object apart and re-use the yarn.

  12. Elizabeth Ann permalink
    June 25, 2020 6:19 am

    Oh my gosh I love Liberty of London fabrics!
    I also have precious yarn that I have yet to cast on, if I could knit faster maybe I would use them sooner! I guess I need courage to cast them on!

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