Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thrift, and knitting, and stashing.

In case you've been living under a rock (or are outside North America, in which case you're entitled to a lack of interest), the Rhinebeck fiber festival was this weekend. It's one of the country's largest festivals, full of vendors and farmers and knitters and spinners and weavers and other textile-related craftspersons. It seems like half the knitters whose blogs I read, headed there to max out their credit cards and wear fancy sweaters and network and pack their car with all the yarn they can carry.

Several OTHER people on the internet have come out against this orgy of delight. The excess of a house full of yarn bothers them. Crafting in general and knitting in particular is thrifty, the thinking seems to go, and so spending big piles of money on yarn goes against the grain.

I've been brooding over that for most of the weekend, the idea of craft as thrift, and you know what? I think it's mostly crap. I can run out to Wal-Mart and pick up a sweater for ten dollars. There is no way I could possibly knit something that cheaply, unless I were to buy said ten dollar sweater, unravel it, and reknit it. And of course that doesn't factor in the time investment. (There are people out there who do this - buy sweaters, unravel them, and use the yarn in new projects. That IS thrifty. More power to them. But they are a very small percentage of knitters.) Sewers, yeah, if they're clever, they can save money on clothes by either re-working old clothes or hitting major fabric sales. Knitters? Not unless they're using acrylic. Maybe not even then.

There are other crafts, embroidery and painting and scrapbooking and quilting, and on and on and on. Sure, most of them started off as ways to save money (quilting in particular), but in practice, in 2007, that doesn't often happen. Most quilters these days go out and buy new fabric, they don't make up something from their old clothes or worn blankets. Embroidery and painting both cost money, and always have. Scrapbooking? I won't even get started. But it's a money pit.

This does not mean that we don't occasionally save money. I do these knit doilies as gifts because I can produce an heirloom for $5. But it still doesn't factor in the time it takes to knit the thing, and I will never make anything remotely like money off them. The Blue Shimmer, last summer, was knit with pure merino wool yarn I got at one cent per yard. It still cost me about forty dollars. While you'll never find a ten dollar sweater like it, you WILL find a ten dollar sweater that you could wear instead.

We do what we do, because we love to create. It's not to save money. It hasn't been about saving money since World War Two, at the latest. I think active minds have a need to create, almost up there with breathing. It's what humans do. For those of us who use yarn as our medium, to make our thoughts take form, it's no different for us to buy yarn, than for a painter to load up on paints and canvas, or a sculptor to have piles of material laying about. It's a comfort, to have it near to hand, to look at and brood over, to decide what we want to make with it, change our minds, and decide again.

Mind you, I don't actually have THAT much yarn piled up in my house; three sweaters' worth sitting about. If you take away all the odd balls left over from twenty years of knitting projects, that's about all there is. Just a small emergency pile. You know, in case I get the urge to cast on for the Geometric Star at three in the morning. (You never know.)

There's also the flip side of the economic issue - we may not be saving money, but we're keeping an awful lot of small farmers and artesians in business. This new knitting boom, in the last ten years, has sparked the start of an amazing number of businesses. And it's the stashers who keep it going as much as the more active knitters do.

So, while I may secretly think that people with whole rooms of fiber are just a little nuts, I don't see anything ethically bad. It's like an artist with a lot of paint. Nothing wrong with it. Someone will knit it up eventually.

Even if it is your great-grandchildren.


Bells said...


My thoughts: sometimes the orgiastic stuff does bug me ever so slightly. A certain podcast, which I do quite like, seemed to be ALL about the stash enhancement. While I love buying pretty sock yarn as much as the next sock knitter, I do sometimes like to hear about what's being done with it, not just that it was bought.

I still find some aspects of what we do thrifty. A bit like your doilies. I'm making socks for many family members this christmas. A lot of it is coming from the stash and is also going to save me the misery of wandering around the mall for hours. Both very good reasons to make stuff.

Louiz said...

There is a money saving aspect, I think - in that you know what you're going to make someone and how to do it, and not going to trudge round the shops looking for something else.

And don't forget the environmetnal impact of insulating your house with yarn!

LadyBills said...

Being a broke-ass college student has made me feel a little held back on the knitting front. How much time do you want to invest in something you can only spend $10 on (not including delicious finds)? I've done the unraveling of the sweaters, and while this can be stunning, coming across the unworn, un-serged, quality sweater is like a gift directly from god.

Tell you this much, I improved on my technique quite a bit from trying this and that over and over in some shit yarn instead of investing fully in projects. As for the stash - truly just sickens me. We all love beautiful yarn, but what good is it in a basket?

Caroline said...


amy said...

It's the social aspect, too, isn't it? I would have loved to go to Rhinebeck just to be around other knitters, something I don't get in real life. I'm planning to go to NH Sheep and Wool in May, and to that end, I'm knitting what I have right now, knowing I will want to buy some special items I can't get in stores.

I'm a SAHM in a one-income family with a budget. (BUT. I have much less "spending money" than I had when I was a "broke-ass college student" working three jobs and paying my own rent, etc. If we're bringing broke students into it, I would like to see SAHM discounts at all the stores that offer student discounts--I live in a student-heavy area--because they all have more spending money than I do.)

But. You were talking about stash. Any craft requires materials. When I was an art student, I needed supplies. I didn't go out and buy just enough charcoal for the current project, or only one kind of white paint. Also, we all prioritize what we want to spend our funds, limited or not, upon. For some people, yarn is more important than, say, brand-name clothes, or fancy hair cuts, or going out with the girls every Friday night--whatever it is. I don't see how it's anyone's business to proclaim what other people should be spending their money on. And really, that's the end of the argument for me.

CoffeeLady said...

Perfectly said!!

Sarah said...

Sci-fi fandom has an acronym: FIAWOL ("Fandom is a way of life.") On the other hand, FIAGDH ("Fandom is a g** d**ned hobby.) I feel like it's sort of the same way in "knitting fandom", if you can call it that. For some, it's a way of looking at the world, of making a living, of forming social groups. For others (I include myself in this), knitting is just a hobby, albeit an expensive one.

Alwen said...

I tend to stash up to the point of guilt. That is, I'll buy yarn until I start to guiltily feel that I'm not using what I DO have, and then I'll stop for a long time, like last year's stash diet.

(I'm one of those sweater-unravellers, about 75% done with an angora & lambswool sweater this weekend.)

But then, I also have a floor loom, and they can eat up yarn in big hungry gobbles, much faster than I can knit.

I was just thinking about this in the grocery store the other day, looking at the lace knitted sweater on the woman ahead of me.

Donna Lee said...

Like Amy, I think what folks spend their money on is their business. I do not have a huge stash in my house. I have several skeins of sock yarn and enough yarn for two sweaters. I don't need to hoard yarn but I like to have enough for whatever next project I have in mind.

Laura said...

I definitely have a stash, but I am also a sort-of-thrifty knitter: I shop around, compare prices, and buy nice yarn at decent prices. Even if it means buying from Australia and shipping to Ireland - still can't believe that was cheaper!

I love the expensive yarns, but have a hard time shilling out for full-price Rowan, for example. It just seems expensive. I am the proud knitter of a number of garments designed by a brand, but knitted in no-name yarn.

Ooh, you got me back blogging again with this one!

NeedleTart said...

Let's not forget that saying one can buy a $10 sweater at Engulf and Devour is talking apples and oranges. One would have to compare a hand-knit sweater (made from fine fibers, and made to fit the victim, um, family member, giftee) to something from the most up-scale store. Try buying a $10 sweater at Eddie Bauer's (and even that's not really upscale enough).
Also figure in the entertainment value (thanks to the Harlot).

Terby said...

I think in some ways that the longer you have been knitting, the better you are about not stashing excessively. I'm still in denial of how quickly I can actually knit. I have too much yarn stashed, I admit it. It's not a massive collection, but more than I need. Some of it was done because I saw a really good deal that I couldn't pass up (store going out of business), or thought I saw a good deal. The more time I've spent knitting, the less crap I don't know what to do with, and weird experiments have entered my home. If I could give away a bunch of it, I absolutely would. Just point me in the direction of someone who would enjoy it.

Julie said...

I've been lurking quietly away here for quite some time, sagely nodding in agreement or being enlightened by some of the topics raised in your blog. But this one has me de-lurking myself.

I agree with you! We live in a capitalist society and part of the benefit is having the ability to buy what I want with my hard-earned cash. I don't harm myself or others with my stash and in fact, I think I may have single-handedly put the children of my LYS owner through university and paid off their mortgage!

That being said, I also contribute some of my hard-earned dollars to charities, good causes, and the occasional homeless person.

If others feel that it is inappropriate to spend so much on yarn, they are free to spend their dollars on something else.

Sheepish Annie said...

I don't go to many fiber festivals. But, when I do, I tend to spend quite a bit. For me it is more about having access to things that I can't just pick up at the store or get locally. Ordering online is great...but there is something wonderful about getting to touch what you buy. There just aren't many chances for me to do that on a regular basis.

Fanushka said...

I personally think that it is unfortunate to see other people worry so much about how much yarn I may have in my house. It is not so much about being self righteous than about maybe a hint of jealousy??. I don't care how much yarn anyone can or cannot afford. I make enough money to buy yarn that will last for many years of wearing and washing. I for one refuse to invest weeks of knitting with a bad yarn, that will turn to crap after a wearing or two. That to me is not very wise. When I make something for my kids or myself, I want to wear it with pride and to know that it will be with me for a long time.

I do have a large container filled with yarn. Some have been purchased with the intention of creating a certain item, and either due to lack of time or maybe the item turned out to be different than I thought, the yarn sits on the container waiting for other projects. I also look for sales on yarns that I KNOW I will use eventually. That being said, what he or she says, does not play any role on my ability or inability to purchase yarn. I wish we could all concentrate on important things, rather than why is the grass greener on the other side.

Amy Lane said...

Huzzah! You hit every good thought I've ever had about stashing. And it's okay if you think I'm ever so little bit crazy.

Stell said...

thrift as craft, nice title, and yes I agree with much of what you say, but I also think there is thrift in keeping old techniques alive, not that I'm thinking of end of the world or collapse of civilization, but without craft practictioners nothing new comes about. Designers and makers and crafts people and artists, all need those skills. There is thrift in the using of ones time to create that which would be otherwise unaffordable. My mother sewed for economic necessity, both for work and for her kids, and we had wardrobes with garments my friends envy-ied, that in a way was thrift, the making of something better from inexpensive things, the 'better' is the key to thrift for me. Better than the $10 WM sweater. My mil kept rubber bands, that wasn't thrift that was weird. we can't cost in our time, if we have time to spare it contributes to the thrift.

Jilly Bean said...

Oddly enough, there was recently a similar discussion in the LiveJournal Punk Knitters community, although it was more geared to whether owning a stash was "punk" or not.

As someone who has a decent-sized stash, I kind of agree with the "stash as art supplies" perspective. Most of the stuff in my stash was bought with some sort of project or goal in mind, at a time when it was at a price I could afford. I do however try to keep myself from buying things just for the sake of buying things, which can be hard to do at a 70%-off going-out-of-business sale!

historicstitcher said...

Yeah, I'm a little behind in my reading, but hey - I'm here!

I just wanted to chime in. I have stash. Not a room, but not a plastic bin, either. I have enough yarn that I can "shop" in my stash before going to the store when I find a pattern I want to use. Being a spinner, too, I have a constantly-growing pile of handspun yarn waiting for projects.

That said, my stash is my raw materials. I don't knit for the finished object, most of the time. I knit for the experience, the joy, the keeping my hands busy, the process. The finished object - most of the time I can take it or leave it. Often I give it away.

Knitting is my entertainment. I often describe it to non-knitters in terms they understand: yes, I paid $24 for the yarn for a pair of socks. How much did that movie, soda, and popcorn cost? How long did it last? For the same $ cost, I get far more entertainment from my yarn than someone with a more...ethereal...hobby.

My stash is almost completely composed of yarn I purchased at discount or because I absolutely wanted to work with it. And I will get to it. I don't knit as fast as I'd like, but there is a loom in my living room that eats an awful lot of yarn!

I refuse to leave a mess for people to clean up when I am gone. That might be morbid, but I've seen the aftermath of the death of a packrat. More than once. It can take years (and then some!) to clean up the "stashes". If a pile of quality yarn is the only stash I leave behind, then I'm OK with that. I'm not OK with leaving the equivalent of rubber band balls.