The Stash

I’ve been wanting to write about “stash” for a while: those boxes, drawers, cupboards and bags full of fabrics and threads, half-finished projects, purchasing failures, patterns, kits, books and equipment that accumulate around embroidery and craft people. Stock that we so often find ourselves embarrassed by and apologising for. Creative textile people generate stash. Most of us end up with far more than we can use in lifetime (and still don’t have quite the colour or type of thing we want for the next project).

“I’ve got far too much stuff, I’m sorry!”

Stop apologising for stash. It’s a resource. It’s stock. It’s the educational toy you can play with to learn new things, try out new stitches and techniques. It’s the bits and bobs you can spare to get a child or a friend started on the hobby, or provide just the right thing for someone else’s project. It’s an emergency supply for when you can’t afford or can’t find materials to use. It’s sheer inspiration: textures, colours, weights, combinations: options that you can get to know and that will suggest uses and ideas and become part of your mental toolbox when you design. Riches to be quietly proud of, not some sort of waste that needs using up like kitchen left-overs. With a few exceptions, fabric and threads will stay good and stay usable for a long, long time. Enjoy it, look at it, play with it, learn it.

Okay, we all accumulate stuff that we now know we are not going to use: purchases that didn’t turn out to be what we hoped, unwanted gifts, things that we started and are now sick to death of, projects that Went Horribly Wrong. Pass that stuff on. Someone else might be delighted with your cast-offs. If it’s not good enough to pass on, throw it away. If it’s too valuable to give away but no use to you, sell it. Get rid of the junk and all the things that bring you down to look at them. I know it’s not always easy to part with an unopened kit, or a box of thread that you have spent good money on, especially if money is tight, but if the thing just sits there in the cupboard, glaring at you every time you open the doors, it might as well go. Keep only what might be of use, what inspires you: make your stash an exciting treasure chest, not a depressing chamber of horrors.

“It’s not quite right for that project, but I needed to use it up.”

As well as the apologies for owning a useful stock of stash, there’s this notion that we should strive to use it up swiftly and feel guilty if we don’t. “Stash-busting”, it’s called. Don’t ever feel guilty about not using stash. It can wait its turn. Feel happy if you start a project where a lot, or even all, of the materials can come from stash, that’s a part of its purpose. But I’ve seen unhappy projects where someone has forced unsuitable colours or materials together, just to ‘use up’ stash, and has spent hours working on something that isn’t quite right – they know it isn’t quite right, and it never satisfies. I have done it myself. It’s a false economy. Don’t worry about stash-busting. If something stays in the cupboard as a resource for forty years (and I have some bits that are probably older than that) so be it. Store it well, label it, take needles and pins out of fabrics to prevent rust marks. If you really can’t keep it all any longer, let some go to a new home. Don’t ‘use up’ the wrong thing and make your stitching unhappy.

“I’d love it, but I don’t have an immediate use for it, and I don’t want to add to my stash.”

This is the third one. You get offered materials by a friend or see something at a bargain price and can’t take the opportunity without a sudden rush of stash-guilt. I’m not talking about junk that you don’t want – the stash is a very good excuse to turn that down. I’m talking about good, useful stuff that will improve your stash. Never feel guilty about saying yes to that, even if you have to chuck out a bunch of less worthy things to make room for it. Your stash should become a better resource over time, more valuable and more useful. You don’t have to have an immediate purpose for everything. And do allow yourself to use up some of the treasure for experimenting, playing, trying-out. So that when you finally have the right project in mind for it you will know how to use it to best effect. In fact, when you know how to use it well, the right project might come to your mind of its own accord.

So here are three new responses for you to try:
“I’ve got a great stash here, it’s an endless source of inspiration and learning materials. Come and look!”
“I raid my stash for projects, but only if I have exactly what I need. I never worry about keeping things.”
“I’m always looking to improve my stash, and to make it more valuable to me.”

No more stash-guilt, no more apologies. Okay? Happy stitching.

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11 Responses to “The Stash”

  1. Ooh, I love this. I would add that my stash is much more inspiring now it’s mostly in a cupboard where I can see it rather than in awkwardly stacked boxes under the stairs. And I’m guessing the more organised you have it, the fewer times you buy stuff when you already have it. But I totally agree. It’s an inspiring resource and I love it.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Thank you, Lyndle. Welcome to the Tortoise loft.

      I need to get my own stash much more organised and cleared of junk, but it’s getting there. I wrote this post as much as a ‘mission statement’ to myself as a message to the readers.

  2. Helen Hall Says:

    I am trying to reduce my stash, but as I only knit and crochet, my stash is mostly yarn bought for specific projects. My main problem is that I was buying faster than I could use it, and as I don’t have much room to store lots of yarn, this was becoming a problem. I’m sure that with embroidery, you need a good variety of threads and fabrics, but when I already have the yarn to make 3 more sweaters, there’s no point in buying more until I’ve made some of the things in my To-Make queue.

    I think the most important thing, however, is that big or small you need to know what’s in your stash.

    • suetortoise Says:

      I do know what I have in there. Until I tried to “organise” it, I knew more or less where it all was, too. Now it’s something of a lucky dip!

      If I only did knitting and crochet, life would be a lot less cluttered. But I do so many different things and then there are The Books and The Stationery and…

  3. Kathryn J Says:

    I love your take on stash! It’s true we can become ashamed when in reality it is a resource to be proud of! I do like to have an occasional purge though: it reminds me of what I have, projects I want to begin or complete … and those that need to find a new home. I have sold a fair few items on eBay these last few weeks having finally decided I would not ever prioritise the Dolls House miniatures embroidery and sewing projects I once contemplated. Those items have gone to lovely homes where they will be enjoyed as they should. In the meantime, I have more space in my cupboards and in my head … as well as a little extra cash which never comes amiss! 🙂

    • suetortoise Says:

      Yes, that’s how it should be, Kathryn. I am sure your buyers were delighted with those kits.

  4. Hear, hear! *cheers* *claps*

    I know I often call my canvaswork “stashbusting”, but to be honest, that’s just an excuse to enjoy jockeying with colours and textures to get something pleasing within the resources available.

    Something like the puzzle of writing a sonnet, expressing ideas within the framework of metre and rhyme.

    And every time I try to rearrange my stash, I lose track of it a little bit more. But then, I go rummaging for something, and am delighted afresh by the Something Else I find in the process!

    • suetortoise Says:

      Working within set limitations is very inspiring, isn’t it? One game I play is to pick two colours at random and then chose a third to go with them, or pick three and choose two, and take that range as a starting colour scheme. It gets me just a little way out of my comfort zone and ‘wakes my ideas up’.

  5. dezertsuz Says:

    I like it! I don’t feel guilty about my stash. When I’m gone, my boys can divvy it up among my friends, and they’ll all have something wonderful. I don’t have much else to leave them. LOL All other reasons aside, it makes me happy to have scads of fabric and loads of embroidery threads, laces and beads. What price happiness? =)

    • suetortoise Says:

      That’s how I feel, too. Most of mine may all end up in a charity shop or a junk shop. I have had the fun of discovering wonderful finds in charity and junk shops over the years. I like to imagine someone else having the same pleasure from my stash when I no longer need it.

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