Attempting Strategic Stash-busting

Now that you've caught up on your yard work, finished that decade(s) old project, cleaned out every closet in the house, tried all the new recipes in your "someday" file, repainted the bedroom, finished all your house projects, and reduced your WIPs (work in progress) significantly, or just caught up on your Netflix shows, you're probably wondering what to do next...after all we've got at least a couple more weeks of solitary activities on the schedule.

Many of us are turning to our stash - be it yarn, fabric, or craft supplies in general. And we're wondering how we can best use what we have. How can we use it well and get the most out of it? What kind of things can we make with our seemingly mismatched collection of supplies?

First of all, we're only going to tackle yarn today. I can't help you with your fabric or basic crafting supplies... well I could, but we each have a different collection of miscellany. For example, mine for some reason, contains a lot of paint and bits or ribbon, fabric, and metal findings?! Regardless of what makes up your personal stash of crafting and art supplies, knowing what you have is essential to utilizing it most efficiently. That topic, organizing one's stash, could be a blog all on it's own! And depending on the size of your stash, organizing your stash could take a few days (possibly even weeks!) on its own! So like I said, we're just going to cover yarn today. 😊

Everyone has their preferred storage/ organizational method. Some are so elaborate they could rival the dewey decimal system, others are pretty simple but still effective.

Mine leans towards the simple but effective method. But again - it's effective for me. Others might find it confusing or jumbled. I use clear plastic snap top bins and organize the yarn inside the bins by quantity and then weight. For example, I have one bin that's nothing but those half a ball or less left over bits from a project. This is my "scrap" bin and it can be a fun bin to dive into from time to time. Within this bin, there are separate zip-top style bags for each different weight of yarn. Other bins contain half used units, full units with their half used counterparts (left overs from other projects where my estimation was grossly exaggerated) and some bins contain sweater or larger project quantities of yarn.

No matter how you store your yarn, eventually you're going to come across a ball, skein, half a cake, or a jumbled mess of yarn without a label. Knowing the fiber content can be important, but just as critical, if you plan on using it with other yarn(s) is knowing what weight category it falls into. (For more information about yarn weights, check out this website or visit this older blog.)

So, how do you determine which category it fits into? If you can't tell by looking at it, some people can, the easiest method is the WPI method.

WPI is the abbreviation for Wraps Per Inch. It's a method used by spinners to determine what weight yarn they've made. (Weaver's use it too, as they often work in "coverage area".) Think about it - if you're making your own yarn, you need to know how to make a yarn for a particular project or how to use the yarn after you've spun it. If you've ever been to one of our spin-in's you may have overheard a conversation or two about how fine or thick we're spinning based on what we want to do with the end product, or what we're attempting to make.

Using the WPI method, a spinner can easily figure out if they've made a Fine, Medium, or any other weight yarn. Measuring WPI is quite simple, and makes it a relatively easy way to figure out what weight that unlabeled yarn in your stash is too!

Simply put, using a ruler, pencil, knitting needle, or WPI tool, you wrap your yarn around the object and then count how many times you wrapped it in 1" of space - kind of like measuring a gauge swatch. Wrap the strands so they bump into one another, but not to tightly either. This gives you your yarn's WPI. Also, just like a gauge swatch, it's often recommended you measure a larger distance, maybe 2", or take the measurement a few times to be as accurate as possible.

Basically, the more you can fit/wrap in an inch, the finer the yarn, makes sense, right? This can be a bit subjective, depending on how tightly your wrap your yarn; so this isn't an exact measurement, but it will get you close enough to help narrow down the weight of your mystery yarn. Again, because it's a tad subjective based on how tightly you wrap the yarn, it's recommended you take the measurement a few times.

As you can see in the chart above, different sources list different WPIs per weight, so it's not foolproof; and there are some overlaps around the "edges" of the weights. Basically, if I'm measuring commercially made yarns, I'd lean towards the Craft Yarn Council numbers, if I'm measuring handspun, I lean more towards the Yarnitecture numbers (Yarnitecture is a newer book written to help spinners learn to spin the yarn they want. It's a handy reference for any spinner, and yes, we do carry it at Darn Yarn.).

What if you want to figure out the approximate yardage of your mystery yarn? Again, we turn to weaving and spinning methods. Grist is a weaving term, spinners use the abbreviation YPP (yards per pound) to designate essentially the same thing. There are all sorts of complicated math equations out there to figure it out. But basically, if you know your WPI, and therefore have a general idea which yarn weight classification your yarn falls into, you can roughly estimate your yardage by physically weighing your mystery yarn.

Just like WPI, there's a bit of leeway here, as you can see from the above chart. But is can still help you learn a bit more about your mystery yarn.

Yes, you will need to do some math, but I'm sure you can do it! You will have to use a postal or kitchen scale that gives ounces or grams and convert your measurements to pounds. I like to use ounces 'cause I know that 16 ounces = 1 pound; but some like grams better. And sometimes it simply depends on the scale you have available to you. Don't panic, there are all sorts of online conversions available, simply search for grams to pound conversions or ounces to pound conversions.

For example, let's say I have 1.5 ounces of a yarn that's roughly worsted weight.

1.5 ounces divided by 16 ounces in a pound = .09375 pounds

900 ypp worsted weight x .09375 = 84.375 yards.

So I have +/- 84 yards of mystery yarn.

Now that you've roughly figure out what the weight and yardage are, you might want to try and determine its fiber content. This can get a bit tricky. There are all sorts of resources out there with various tests - including setting things on fire! Google anything like "what is my yarn made from" and you'll get things from throwing snippets into the laundry, to bleach and flame tests. Yes really, flame tests - how it melts or doesn't melt, ash residue, and even the color of the flame!

But what if like me, you really don't care to set off smoke alarms by setting fire to something that's possibly plastic, you don't feel like wasting bleach on something like this (I mean really, right now, there are better uses for it?!), or waiting for a load of laundry to see what happened to a snippet of yarn in a pillowcase? What if you just want a "best guess" so that it'll likely work well with another yarn or for a particular project?

Smell it. Yep. Take a good sniff. You know those jokes about being overwhelmed by yarn fumes? Turns out, there really are yarn fumes! Animal fibers, even well processed and dyed will often still have a faint animal smell. Acrylic, nylons, and polyesters, sometimes even bamboos and rayons, have a faint "plastic" smell. And silk - well silk has a smell all it's own. I don't really know how to describe it, but it's truly distinct and not everyone finds it pleasant.

Look and feel it. Tug on it. Compare it to other yarns of known fiber content.

Animal fibers, plant fibers (cotton, flax/linen, bamboo), and man made fibers all take dye differently. This can help determine if it's a blend of fibers - if the yarn's plies are different intensities of the same color, making it tweedy or light/dark looking, it's possibly a blend of two different fiber families. They could have simply dyed the two plies differently, so this isn't a hard and fast rule, but it can help narrow things down.

Regardless of "softness", animal fibers are often squishy when compared to plant fibers. Linens and cottons can sometimes feel ropey. Bamboos, rayons, and nylons can feel slick, slippery, or silky - as can silk, obviously. Animal fibers tend to stick to themselves better than silk, plant, or man made fibers, so if that ball just constantly wants to unwind, or you can't keep it neat no matter what you do, it's more likely a silk, plant fiber, or synthetic. Certain animal fibers, like angora and mohair, are known for their halo - although many synthetics are "brushed" to create the same effect.

These aren't really hard and fast rules, after all, breeders are improving wool constantly, it's not the fiber it was just 10 years ago. Alpaca and other luxury fibers are becoming more available and affordable. Manufacturing processes are constantly changing, making many of the synthetic fibers great imposters and allowing for more blends - alpaca and cotton seems to be popular right now. Dyes and the dying processes are improving and changing too.

Overwhelmed? Don't worry. It's just yarn. Take a deep breath and relax. Once you have a better idea of what that mystery yarn is, what are you going to do with it? Most of the pattern websites have search functions. Ravelry even allows you to narrow it down by yarn weight and yardage. This is a great way to find projects for yarn in your stash - especially if you still have the labels and know your yardage and fiber content!

If you have a few yarns that are the same weight and work well together, consider something striped or color blocked. Seemingly plain shawl patterns often turn out strikingly beautiful when strategically striped or color blocked. Mixing up yarn weights and textures can often elevate a simple shawl or cowl pattern from ho-hum to one of a kind masterpiece too.

Fingerless Mitts and hats don't take much yarn - as long as you're not making a giant elf hat or working elaborate cables and patterns. You can often mix and match yarns with happy results when making hats too. Who doesn't love a plucky striped hat, or some simple checkered colorwork? And both hats and mitts can be made in a variety of yarn weights, and work up quickly, which is always a bonus.

Mismatched socks are popular right now too. If you have a lot of fingering weight yarns, consider mixing your yarns to make fun striped socks, mix up the toes, heels, and cuff, or just add a simple pop of color to your favorite simple sock pattern.

Only have a few yards and you want to make something more timely or useful? How about "Ear Helpers". Consider donating them to your favorite medical field employee or essential worker. Find this free pattern here. (Photo (c) Glenna Gordon). There are knit options out there too. This is also a way to use up some fun, but one of a kind, buttons.

Other items, like freeze pop holders, coffee cozies, mug rugs, small amigurumi, earbud pouches, dice bags, necklaces, bracelets, hair ties, and headbands all use small amounts of yarn as well. Ornaments, coasters, and embellishments can be a fun way to use up scraps. I've been using my scraps to make wine glass lanyards and crocheted flower pins. Dish clothes, mismatched granny square blankets, and scrap blankets are always a good way to use up lots of similar weight but mismatched colors.

The "Surprise" Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmerman uses scraps with a great, albeit unusual, outcome. (photo (c)saz) The pattern book, sized for adults as well, that contains this pattern is available at Darn Yarn. I've made a few of these, and the unique construction is worth trying at least once. If you want to make something for the new baby in your life, this is a great way to use up scraps and try something new.

Holding two (or more) yarns together can create a unique effect. This works best if they are two of the same yarn, or so different from one another that they create a different texture. It's also useful if you have a yarn that's difficult to work with; pairing it with an easy to work yarn can open up all sorts of possibilities. Often patterns pair a very fine, or light and fuzzy yarn, with a heavier, sturdier yarn.

Holding two strands together also works well if you need a heavier weight yarn for a pattern but don't have it - I've seen it successfully done with 2 DK weights to make a bulky, and 2 fingering weights to make a DK weight.

Some patterns are even written to use two thinner yarns held together! Like this raglan sweater, "Whatever" by Julie Knits in Paris. This pattern uses two fingering weight yarns held together, making a great "whatever" pattern! (photo (c) Julie Knits in Paris). Click here for the pattern link in Ravelry. Can you imagine the one of a kind sweater some of you sock knitters would end up with using this pattern!

Oh, and as a last reminder, we are still collecting hats for #hatnothate - so if you've got some extra blue yarn in your stash, why not whip up a hat or two? If you need more information about the Hat Not Hate organization, check out this blog post, or this one.

I hope all these tips and ideas help you find some inspiration or maybe get you thinking about ways to creatively use what you have in your stash.

It's probably fair to say that most of the yarn in your stash has a story - it was gifted to you, bought on vacation, you had to have that color, it reminds you of someone special, or is left over from a specific project. Now's the time to dig into your stash; now's the time to use it! Use it to the best of your ability. Use it with intent. Use it with care. Use it well.

Until we're back at the shop, stay safe and keep on stichin'


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