Usually, this is the time of year when knitting goes from a peaceful activity to a stressful necessity. The winter holidays all have dates and deadlines attached to them, so projects have a “must-arrive-by” date already defined. Because of the chaos of the season, most knitters are left with sloppy bags and boxes of leftover yarn, ball bands, piles of needles, and not many ideas what to do with the mess. Organizing your stash is always a work in progress, so it does not have to have a definite start and end date, and you can do a little bit at a time. Here are some tips for organizing and using leftover yarn after a furious knitting season:
1. Re-wind your unused yarn. If you have less than half a ball or skein, or if you pull your yarn from the inside of the ball instead of the outside, your best bet is to re-wind what you have left. You want to know how much of what you see is yarn, and how much is air. Be careful not to wind animal fibers too tightly; wool, alpaca, and the like have a memory. If you wind your yarn balls too tightly, your next knitted item will change shape after it is knitted, so wind it just tightly enough to stay secure in a ball. If you have kept the ball band, be sure to keep it with the correct yarn.
2. Group similar weights together. Try to organize your leftover yarn by weight, as best you can. While many projects are certainly made by using yarns of several different weights, it is best to start with all of your sock yarn in one place, your worsted weight in another, and your bulky yarns in yet another place. You will have a better view of yarns which would compliment each other on the same needles if they are stored next to each other.
3. Take notes. Even if you are not typically a list-maker, this will help tremendously with future projects when you go back to yarn you have not used in a while. You can do this with index cards, in a spiral notebook, on a spreadsheet, even on an iPhone app, or any other way of your choosing. Jot down the full name of the yarn on top, like this: “CASCADE 220 SUPERWASH.” Then, some useful information to include under the yarn would be what size and type of needles you used, your gauge if you made a gauge swatch, any challenges you faced, what project you completed with it and how much yarn you used, and what you liked and disliked about using the yarn. It could also benefit you to jot down the ball band info with the rest of your notes.
4. Start thinking. Keep in mind, you are not required to knit through your stash today. On days when you are in a knitting mood, but you do not want to actually knit, you can pore over your books and look through patterns on the internet to generate ideas. The first three tips will get you familiar with your stash while you organize it, so you are now ready to think about what you may want to do with your leftover yarn. Some projects which require smaller amounts of yarn are lace edgings, Christmas ornaments, fingerless gloves, coin purses, eyeglass cases, felted bowls, accessories (such as bracelets or headbands), washcloths, and coffee-cup cozies. When you plan your next few projects, you will already have your stash yarn at the forefront of your mind.
5. Start knitting! The most wonderful thing about yarn is that you are almost never commited to what project you start. If you want to try making one of the 55 Christmas Balls to Knit in the book by Arne and Carlos, you can always rip it back out and return the yarn to your stash if you do not like how it turns out. A great way to get through sock-weight and worsted-weight yarn is to make a garter-stitch stripe scarf. Just cast on enough stitches for a four- to six-inch-wide panel, and start knitting. You can choose colors that complement each other, or you can choose contrasting colors and be creative with where you place the stripes.
With a knitter’s penchant for purchasing just one ball of gorgeous yarn, and the ever-unanswered question of what to do with leftover yarn after a project, organizing your stash is an excellent way of familiarizing yourself with what you already have on-hand. Whether it is at the height of gift-knitting season or it is the slowest time of the year, our creative juices will flow even more freely with a wealth of small-project ideas at our fingertips. Organizing your stash saves time, prepares you for your next project, and ensures that not a single inch or gram of fiber gets wasted in a hopelessly knotted ball. There is no pressure; just get cracking at your own speed, one leftover ball at a time.