Why I love Ravelry (and knitting)

Baby surprise jacketI took over one of the spare bedrooms for my sewing and knitting and towards the end of last year, got it cleaned up and (mostly) organized. Like many people who hobby, be it sewing, knitting, or anything else, I stash. I stash yarn. I stash fabric. Given enough space and money, the stash would explode into the entire house and I'd have enough to start my own store. I know people (my sister being one of them) who don't stash. They buy for a project and then they obtain the materials for the project – which they then complete before moving on to another project.

That's so not me.

I do try to temper my love of fiber (and my love of acquiring it, whether or not I have plans to use it). I acknowledge that I might might be at the point where my stash could be SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) and therefore acquiring more is unnecessary and just, well, foolish. I have, therefore, vowed to work only from my stash this year, although I occasionally find myself standing in front of my fabric or yarn stash and wondering how it is I can't find what I want for a project.

So I embark on a determined course of not only working from stash, but actually finishing projects, another challenge for those of us who tend to lack focus.

The first step was to update my stash on Ravelry. If you knit or crochet, Ravelry is a wonderful resource. There is some debate in the Facebook groups I belong to as to whether it's worth the time to do this, or if time is better spent just knitting. It probably works better for some than others so I'm just coming at this from my own perspective: it's worth the time if you are a stasher.

First, the yarn stash. For me, a key component to actually using the stash is knowing what's there, and where it's at. You can't use it if you don't know what you have and where to find it. Like any database website (such as Goodreads, my other favorite), starting from zero is a significant investment of time. Once you've invested the time, however, maintaining it is not time-consuming. Especially if you've made a vow not to acquire more. Ravelry even has a field for where the yarn is stored. I store mine in see-through plastic containers that are numbered. I put the bin number in the location field in Ravelry, making it easier to find. The information can also be exported as an Excel file. (I did this and ran a sum on the number of skeins. I'm not even going to admit to the number.)

Second, the pattern stash. Knitters usually have lots of patterns, as well. Mine is a mix of digital and physical. I also went through the public library catalog to find as many pattern books as they have available. I added all these to my Ravelry library and created “sets.” The sets tell me where I can find the pattern: the public library, my own bookshelf, or the location of the digital file on my network. This is also time consuming, and older pattern books may not be in the Ravelry database or, if they are, they may not have all the patterns in the book or booklet. It's not perfect, it's just better. I add patterns as I acquire them.

I recently cleaned up my “favorites” in Ravelry. Favorites can be bundled, so I bundled them based on self-assigned criteria – use whatever makes sense to you. Now, instead of spending a lot of time browsing through the huge database of available patterns on Ravelry (as pleasant as that is), I can focus on things I have already identified as being of interest to me, ones for which I already have the pattern.

That moves me on to the Ravelry queue. I only put projects in the queue when (a) they are something I want to make and (b) I have stash yarn that can be used to make them. If it's something I want to make but I either don't have the yarn or I haven't yet identified a stash yarn that would work for the project, it goes into a favorites bundle instead of the queue. Seeing these might even motivate me to use the stash yarn more diligently so I can buy the yarn to make those projects. The queue does a couple of things for me: it allows me to focus on what I can start AND finish, using a pattern and yarn I already have. When I have completed a project, I can go to the queue and quickly select the next project to start. It also keeps me from using yarn for another project, because the Ravelry stash can be filtered for “queued” and “not queued.” I have, in the past, acquired yarn in sufficient quantity to make something like a sweater, then inadvertently used some of it for something else (usually something less useful than the intended project), leaving me with not enough yarn to make the larger project.

When I'm ready to start a project, I go to my queue and click “start project,” which moves it to the project section. That means I'm casting on! I'm now a believer in filling in the database with as much information as possible, since I did a very large swatch for a project, put it in the washer/dryer so I could get the gauge as it would be after washing – then cast on another project with the needles and forgot what size needles I'd used to do the swatch. I'd finish a lot more projects if I didn't spend so much time unraveling mistakes. For anyone who has WIPs (work in progress) that are so old they can only be classified as UFOs (unfinished objects), this is essential, unless you're willing to keep buying more hooks and needles to replace the ones lost with UFOs. My swatch was only a couple days old; I have no excuse except aging brain. I now fill in the needle size on my projects. (Fortunately, I was 95% certain I'd done the swatch with the needle size recommended on the yarn ball band.) Most of the time, I try to only have one project and finish the project before I cast on another. However, it does depend on the project. I am currently working on two because one is a seaman's scarf with a design worked from a chart; the other is a sweater with many, many plain knit rows. One requires concentration, the other doesn't (yet). I switch between the two to keep it interesting and based on what I'm doing while knitting. It's impossible to knit a complicated pattern when I'm with my knitting friends.

For me, Ravelry facilitates productivity and focus. I can search the database and filter it based on criteria I set. I don't like doing pieced projects, especially large ones. When I look at my UFOs, these sorts of projects comprise the majority (including one I started 40+ years ago, and should probably just relinquish as unfinishable). Given that, using scraps and single skeins requires more creativity – and the help of Ravelry. When working strictly from stash, the most important filter is the amount of yarn required to complete a project. If you're intent on reducing your stash, stay away from projects that require more yarn than you already have!

Forums and groups are another invaluable resource. I'm not sure I would've made it through the Baby Surprise Jacket pictured if it hadn't been for the Ravelry forum devoted to the topic. There's a wealth of experience and expertise available in those forums.

Of course, while resisting the siren call of adding to the stash, I also have to resist spending unproductive and unfocused time on Ravelry! I'm not curing my addictions so much as I'm replacing them with healthier addictions. I think.

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