Stash Knitting. Using what I have.

I have. A lot. Of yarn. Two or three decent sized baskets of the stuff. Four years ago I don't think I remembered how to knit. I certainly didn't make anything with yarn. I doubt there were three skeins in my house back then. Today? There is an abundance. Observe:


A peek inside one of three bins of yarn in my craft room.


Soft and gorgeous hand-spun that I can't wait to use. I picked it up for me but Lupine has her eyes on it. Edited to say: Because I left it out after I took this phoot the kids just made the pretties trip line I've ever seen to capture Pete. I think its time to cast this one on before it all is used for mischief.


Four surprisingly soft, fine wools. The black is nice. I'm not sure about that '80's kelly green though. (Teal may be the only color I like less than this one for myself.)


Two small skeins of shiny cotton. Tank top or bodice of a dress for Lupine perhaps?


Three blues, one grey. Six big skeins. Sweater for Sage? (It's almost soft enough but not quite.) He just looked over my shoulder and vetoed that idea. Okay, maybe one for me. Overdyed with red to see what magentas/purples I could transform them into perhaps.


Another hand-spun that I love. Not sure why I hoard these. This one is baby soft. Cowl?


Four visually beautiful but texturally nightmarish hand-spun skeins. Like sandpaper on the neck I tell you.

And that's just the pretty stuff. There are dozens of half-skeins, plenty of my spinner-in-training yarn, and lots of other odds and ends.

I haven't been knitting for long. But in those few years I've become hopelessly addicted to yarn, knitting patterns, and the possibility they hold. This winter I've cast off nearly a dozen projects (many I have yet to share with you) and have more on the needles at any given time than I probably should. (I am not a linear project person. Five or six projects at a time suits me perfectly. It keeps things interesting.) Some of this winter's projects (my hat and cowl, Lulu's leg warmers) I bought soft new yummy yarn for, others (Pete's sweater, Sage's cowl, and my mittens) came straight from the stash.

Most of the yarns above I scrounged up second hand (rummage, thrift, various barters, and craigslist), a couple I have bartered for with hand-spinners at shows, and a few I've spun myself. I've lucked out and been able to build a stash for very little money. What a gift to have a box of useful yarn at my fingertips!

Which brings me to my dilemma.

I'm wanting to cast on a shawlette for myself this weekend and I was picturing something in a variegated pea green or perhaps a purple/magenta combination (my favorite colors for the past couple of years).

But, um, I don't have those colors in my stash.

Do I go to the knitting store? Or do I work with what I have?

This is what my sister would refer to as a "first world problem". And it is. For goodness sake I'm not unraveling my children's outgrown sweaters to make them a new one for next year. But oddly somehow that abundance is a bummer in and of itself. Because I don't feel like it's appropritae to buy yarn, yet I really want to. Because I have a magenta hat. A magenta scarf. And I thought: oooh! Magenta mittens. But then I paused. Because if I have dozens of skeins of suitable wool in the craft room, why exactly am I buying new? Damn ethics.


So I found two skeins of single ply black wool in the bin and cast on my mittens. Black is almost as good as magenta, right? And in fact, I love them – largely becasue these pretty mitts were essentially free and this season I'm trying to stay mindful of my budget. (The yarn came with many of the others pictured above from a rummage sale – $25 for a heaping large laundry basket full of wool yarn and roving. For you non-knitters – if you've somehow stuck with me this long – it's not unusual for a single skein of nice yarn to run close to that.)

So I've made myself a promise. I'm not buying new yarn for a bit. (I know. That was non committal. I'm going to try it on for a few weeks and see how I do. This is a big leap you see.) I'm going to work my way through a bit more of what I have first, even if that means changing the projects on my to-do list.

And to you I ask: what would you do with a milk crate full of scratchy wool? I'm open to suggestions.

What's on your needles? Do you buy new for every project or are you a frugal/thrifty stash builder? I'm all ears.

45 thoughts on “Stash Knitting. Using what I have.

  1. Tameka says:

    I love wool, but it makes me itch. But I can wear it only if there is a barrier between my skin and the wool. So maybe you could make a sweater or other garment; wear a t-shirt to prevent the wool from contacting your skin. Or you could give it away. Or make dishrags. I’m learning to knit and right now I’m working on a scarf. I’m also a frugal/thrifty stash builder, but will buy if I don’t have anything I want to use.
    Happy Knitting!!

  2. Willow says:

    dyeing is always a good way to get re-excited about yarn or fabric. or you could ply your yarn with another coulour to thicken it and re-vamp. and scratchy yarn is always good for placemats or bags, soft containers, pillow covers, doll clothes…

  3. Michelle says:

    What I want to know is how you became such an accomplished knitter in such a short time. I have been knitting forever it seems and in the past few years went from knitting only slippers and scarvest to hats and sweaters but I still feel intimidated by reading some patterns. My last project was to be a spring sweater for myself and after reading the pattern I meekly put it away and cast on a sweater for Athena. Again. I have to get past that hump I guess.

  4. Rachel Wolf says:

    I have a trick! Two actually. 1) I never read ahead in any pattern. Ever. Because if I pre-read I have no idea how to do it. But if I knit my way to the tricky spot and I say, SSK, S1 PSSO? What the heck is that? And then I look it up. And watch a video. And suddenly I know how. and 2) Im process more than product so if I have to rip something out it is rarely a big deal.

    Those are my tricks. 🙂 Happy knitting!

  5. Heather says:

    You could make a throw with the scratchy wool and then back it with some yummy fabric….just a thought! I too have WAY too much yarn…I have vowed to not purchase anything new until my stash is depleted a bit. That doesn’t mean I don’t get to go through my neighbor’s wonderful boxes of alpaca now and then…She trades me for chores— :0) Just think of all the fun you will have shopping for yarn once all your current yarn is used up! Have fun! Oh and I currently have a wonderful sweater coat on my needles—I casted on during the winter Olympics in 2010…here’s to finishing (eek) by the end of the summer Olympics…meh…maybe by the next winter Olympics :0)

  6. Jillian says:

    What about felting with the scratchy yarn? There are some great patterns for felted tote bags, hats, and even ukulele cases (my son loves his!).

    I’ve been working through my stash as well and it’s finally dwindling. I just ordered a bunch of Peace Fleece as a treat. 🙂

  7. Jenna says:

    Though I’m new at this I thought about the felting option too. What about a shoulder/tote bag/purse or something for the kids to take into the woods to gather bits of treasure?? I have some horribly scrathy wool myself rescued for a song from Goodwill…and I think that’s how it will be used.

  8. Anne Marie says:

    Are you on Ravelry? Maybe trade some of what you have for some of what you want. This is my year for no new yarn or knitting expenditures. The only exception is Brown Sheep yarn since it’s local and my sister carries a supply in her little bookstore in our little Nebraska town.

  9. Robyn says:

    i agree with the felting scratchy stuff idea. i know your kids are over this age, but i felted up some great waterproof bed pads and change pads for my little one…maybe give them as gifts…

    and i go back and forth between trying to be conservative and use up my stash…i love saying, “look i made this for free!”, and then buying what i really want and justifying it like, “i’m supporting someone else’s handy work/dream” (like for when i buy something from a local store that is owned by a nice family trying to make a living…or when i buy Lusa products 🙂 ). i use this logic with books too. i usually go to the library, but i also don’t feel at all guilty spending money on a great book that my kid or i will enjoy and read more than once, because i’m supporting the author of the book.

  10. Teri says:

    Hi Love this dilema! Have it myself…sometimes I just have to get that new skien of yearn but then again I am always trying to figure out something to knit with what I have! Sometimes I try to remember what project I was going to knit with some of that yarn:)

  11. Amanda says:

    I have this same dilemma with fabric. One compromise if you really have a certain color in mind is to search a thrift store for something you can unravel. I believe you have done that before. We have a company here that does that and I think it is such a cool idea!

  12. Amanda says:

    I have the same problem! I have vowed not to buy Any more yarn until this year’s New York sheep and wool festival! (that’s not till October, so it will be quite a challenge!!). I have a ton of very scratchy wool in my current stash and I plan on making a rug with it, I’m thinking the one from mason-Dixon knitting outside the lines. Also (because I really do have a ton of the stuff!), a felted bag. Have fun stash knitting! 🙂

  13. elizabeth jeanne says:

    I am also trying not to buy yarn! BUT!! I think the doors of that “new” yarn shop are going to open and all bets are off!! I am along with all these folks on felted things, and then I say… RUG! something zigzaggy? fun fun fun!

  14. Julie says:

    I “earn” my new yarn purchases by using the stash yarn I don’t like anymore for charity projects. It is lovely yarn but it is from another time and place in my life and no longer applies to my needs. Spending a few hours a week to make items for babies or disadvantaged places gets it out of my space and makes a difference for someone else.

  15. sarah says:

    trivets! wow! i’d never thought of that, but i’m really excited about that suggestion. thanks, julie! i, too, have scratchy yarn whose drape i don’t like at all. trivets would be perfect. thanks!

  16. Emily says:

    I saw a really cool pattern for felted oven mitts over at the Purl Bee. And change pads/mattress pads? What a great idea. I am totally going to do that for my new babe.

  17. Melonie K. says:

    I’m a brand new knitter – using knitting boards actually, I haven’t graduated to knitting on needles, or to crochet, but that’s the end goal. Right now I’m on my 6th project, a scarf for a friend that is almost finished. I was just pondering this today, as I have built up a little bit of a stash and working on the current project made me want to head to the craft store for more skeins of something fun. I was able to contain myself this time and not go in, even though we drove past twice while running errands. *mournful sigh* LOL

    My promise to myself as my husband drove past and I sat silently was that I will use around half of my stash before I go buy anything else. Luckily for me I just received a sock loom and two big skeins of sock yarn that I’m looking forward to learning how to use – so that and a little tote I have in mind for my daughter’s birthday will help things along.

    I just hope no one posts in my local group that there is a new shipment in at the LYS until then. 😉

  18. Jacinda says:

    There is now way we buy new wool in this house – way out of our price range. We pick it up from thrift shops, barter and have even been known to unravel a few oversized sweaters that were going super cheap at Spring Fair.
    My next step is to gain confidence in dying wool since quite a bit of my wool have fairly muted, earthy tones.

  19. Beth says:

    I like your sister’s comment, but I also feel the heaviness, too. You could sell/donate grab bags of yarn/fabric from your stash. That clearing out feels SO GOOD! We all ebb and flow…having some materials around feeds us and is good for when we or the kids are ready to create NOW…but we all have our own “too full” limits. When some of the yarn comes in in bundles, I say we’re allowed to use some (the ones that call to us) and pass others along. One man’s trash… When I pour myself into a project, it is important that I love the materials I’m working with (or that at least my child does!). I’ve learned this lesson again and again. But I also have these ethics and the LOVE of making something for free (and it isn’t just in the making…but also in the wearing of something that I didn’t spend a bundle on)…so I really do feel this struggle. Please do keep us posted on how you resolve this for yourself this time. I see it as the challenge of trying to live simply vs frugally.

  20. Karla says:

    I LOVE looking at yarn, but it can get expensive so I try to only buy it when I have a specific project in mind (unless I find a good clearance deal). I usually check my stash before I head to the craft store, but since my supply is pretty limited it’s likely I don’t have what the pattern calls for. 😛

    Sometimes using a color other than what you had planned can force you to be creative, or you could try a few different yarns for a funky effect, but if you really wouldn’t wear the color to begin with then why bother.

    I just made a couple really cute striped elf baby hats with pom poms – one of them red a white and the other orange and purple with a multicolored sock yarn doubled up with each color.

    You could host a giveaway for your stash, and THEN go buy what you really want!

  21. Julie says:

    You have some beauties in your pictures. I have made slippers with scratchy yarns that go over socks so they’re warm (and slippery!) without irritating. Honestly, it might be liberating to donate some of that stuff to someone you know would use it rather than feel guilty about not using it. I have the same attitude about my stash but then I make something I don’t quite love and regret it. Not always, but sometimes. If you ever have a chance, I recommend a tour of Blackberry Ridge mill — it’s fascinating. Your children might, too, though mine would cringe at the noise if they ran the machine. Then you feel great about spending money on yarn, as a bonus.

  22. Rachel Wolf says:

    I’ve unraveled two sweaters and have two on-deck currently. What an amazing process. Old back to new. And yes, new wool is pricey. It’s been great to have this stash to be sure.

  23. Mary Jo, Five Green Acres says:

    You can list all of your stash items as “willing to sell or trade” and include a price, including (or not) shipping in the description. I just offed a whole pile of alpaca that haunted me. I buy a lot of yarn that way too – one can search stashes specifically.

    Having just purged a full half of my fabric stash, I’m a firm believer in passing on things that I don’t love. Sending them out into the world, by thrifting or whatnot, creates some fantastic thrifting karma (yay!) and lets these materials get into the right hands. Because someone out there is waiting for something you have but only feel obliged to use. And we only have so much time. Clearing out the “don’t love” parts of the stash opens up so much room for the MAGENTA and PEA GREEN and whatever would make your heart do flip-flops.
    I’m in almost the same boat with my own fiber stash, so I’m enjoying the creative challenge to work with what I have, but I also have a boatload of fiber backed up waiting to be spun, so there’s the promise of new loveliness spurring me through the less-shiny skeins.
    Whew. Good luck.

  24. Kyce says:

    Oh I feel ya. And will join you in making do with the stash.
    But, sometimes the stash has to go down with a little help. If you don’t want to make potholders out of the scratchy stuff, or don’t like some colors, or anything like that, then pass it on! Someone will be psyched to find it at the thrift store, and will someday be writing this post themselves…

  25. angie says:

    Oh I have a very big stash myself, and my goal this year is to do some knitting with it. I love what you’ve done, actually going through and seeing what you have and what could be made…thanks for the inspiration, maybe I’ll do that today.

  26. susan says:

    I just learned how to knit exactly one month ago today, so I am just building my stash. I found a bunch at the goodwill two weeks ago, nothing great but good enough for practicing!

    Oh, and black gloves are a great idea cause they never look dirty!

  27. Gloria says:

    First – I really enjoy your blog. Very different from the other blogs I read and super inspirational. We parent differently and I enjoy hearing your view points. I love knitting and had to comment.
    So I agree with other commenters – it is almost impossible to finish something you aren’t totally digging. And I agree with your sister – using what you have is important. So important.
    When I have leftover yarn I try to do the following:
    -sock yarn – make beautiful baby booties and store them up for gifting to loved ones. They are quick projects.
    – worsted – try some color work with those colors. As you mentioned, the process is where the fun is at. Maybe your color work inspires something amazing and maybe not (Legwarmers, hats, mittens, etc).
    – I love the pom pom ball garland.
    – Practice some crochet or knitting by making long strands of lace or flowers. It is super fun and I use them to wrap up gifts to others. They can reuse them too.

    Keep up the great writing. I really enjoy it. PS. Your babies have some gorgeous eyes.

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