Clearing the decks

Suzie Blackman
Thursday, 15 March 2018

A few weeks ago my friend Nadia put out a call for sewists and knitters to help her with a bit of research for a new venture – a course in decluttering your sewing (or craft) space. Nadia is not just an amazing and talented quilter and sewist, but a professional declutterer and organiser (it makes me very happy that that is a thing, and that professional help is available for me if my ‘problem’ gets really out of control), her business is Clear the Decks. My knitting supplies are fairly well organised (because they have to be), but hands up, I have a sewing clutter problem. So, being a suitable subject I volunteered to help. I filled out a short questionnaire asking how I feel about my creative space, an activity of listing my current and planned projects and my level of enthusiasm for each, and deeper questions about what motivates my knitting and sewing – not something I have ever given much thought to. At the end of the exercise the instructions state I had to cross off any projects that I had a low level of enthusiasm for, which is oddly difficult to do.

Nadia has now turned her research into a super podcast called Declutter and Organise Your Sewing Space, which you can find on iTunes or listen to online. The series goes deeper into exploring the reasons why clutter happens and how the process of decluttering is not just getting rid of things, but importantly, also changing your mindset.

I am working through the postcast at the moment, so I have yet to come to many of the exercises. My activities so far were instead sparked by the research exercise, which immediately got me thinking again about my knitting projects, and maybe I do have knitting clutter afterall: mental clutter.

The queue

My Ravelry queue was the first port of call for HMS declutter. It’s the place where all my knitting aspirations live, a happy place, or so I thought. I was a little horrified to discover it ran on for five pages (almost 150 items). Looking at it with fresh eyes, my queue had become a dumping ground for patterns I like (or liked), not project ideas I have enthusiasm for. The items in my queue fell into three categories:

  1. Things I genuinely want to make and am excited about and can see myself achieving – these can stay.
  2. Things I felt like that about at some point but I no longer care for, for example a garment I just wouldn’t wear now.
  3. Things that were added because maybe they included an interesting technique or stitch pattern, but I never wanted and should never have queued.

Although this was one of the subjects of the questionnaire, it wasn’t until I went through my queue that it really clicked that my motivation for knitting is simple: To have colourful, warm, soft, cosy, flattering, unique knitwear for me to wear (or for others). I have been keen on putting people into boxes, but I am definitely a “product knitter” and not a “process knitter”. I like new and challenging techniques, yes, but because of the interesting and beautiful garments I can make with them. Reams of stocking stitch are not boring to me if they give a finished garment an elegant simplicity. The projects that fall into group 3 of my queue are all “process knitter” projects, and realising this I lost no sleep about removing them. Examples: Fancy lace socks – I don’t wear them, I like wearing plain or ribbed socks; shawls of every kind – how many shawls does a person need? I have a few, including my Doodler which I’m fond of, but I have no need to knit another right now; short/crop-sleeved things – I just don’t wear them, my arms get cold.

Armed with these new rules for my queue, I have managed to get it down to 45 items – still too many I know, but one needs choice.

The WIPs

Culling hypothetical projects from a queue is one thing, but actual WIPs – things I have already invested time, effort and yarn in – is a different thing entirely.

A quick look at my Ravelry notebook shows several WIPs I have no enthusiasm for picking up, either because I have fallen out of love with the resulting garment, it’s not going as I’d hoped, or I’m not enjoying the process of making it. And yet, I feel held hostage by these stagnant WIPs ad infinitum, unwilling to either pick them up or unravel them. To some extent I have learned to block them out when I go to my Ravelry notebook, but they are always lurking, making me feel bad and adding to the mental clutter.

Having realised that I don’t have to finish projects I am not excited about, now is the time to have a clear out: finish or frog. Scrappy DK scarf – your time is up, you will be returned to stash to become a modular blanket someday. Bright turquoise cardigan – you don’t suit my skin tone and I messed up your sleeve, your beautiful yarn will instead be fabulous woven.

Others I will finish, like the knitted Domokun I started designing on a whim in 2014, that will now make a fab cuddly toy for my 1-year-old daughter. It’s small and achievable.

Knitted Domokun toy

My Cauldhame sample in muted colours I started because I thought it would be good to have a sample in muted colours. I have found this project hard because although other people seems to like this a lot, they are not my colours.  Though I do need another sample, and there are no shortage of friends and family willing to take it off my hands, so will grit my teeth and finish it. Hopefully soon.

Cauldhame sample

But the project I chose to finish before casting on anything new was my big, blue, bouclé cardigan.

This project began, like most, with so much enthusiasm. I had tried on an oversized bouclé cardigan in Weekday on a trip to Sweden and loved the soft pastels, but unfortunately theirs were designed for much shorter humans and just didn’t look right. The perfect yarn was the very affordable Drops Alpaca Bouclé, so I wasted no time and cast on. I used Barbara G Walker’s Top Down Raglan recipe, but so eager was I that I knitted it from memory because I had lent Knitting from the Top to a friend. That was mistake #1. Mistake #2 was that I knitted the majority of it when I was heavily pregnant so I couldn’t really try it on to understand the fit, and fit it did not.

Drops Alpaca Bouclé

Unfortunately, with a bouclé yarn like this there is no option to unravel. And besides, it was almost finished (just needed the pocket linings). I bravely picked it up, knuckled down for a few evenings, and soon it was done!

Finished bouclé cardigan

No, it doesn’t fit at all – it’s enormous, the buttonholes are badly placed, and that’s not an optical illusion, the pockets are lopsided. But it is just the ticket for snuggling up in (and it has pockets!).

Finishing it happened to coincide with an uncharacteristic cold snap in London, which should never be underestimated as a motivational factor for my knitting, especially this project, since Alpaca Bouclé may just be the warmest yarn on earth. I wore it in my unheated studio the day I took the photo below, and I can honestly say that I wasn’t that cold during my four hours of dyeing that day.

Studio in snow

View from the dyeing bench. We opened the doors because the air inside was actually cold than out!

The stash

The third and final thing that got a bit of decluttering was my stash. My stash is really very well organised, and (as far as I’m concerned) it’s not excessive. It is 90% photographed and catalogued on Ravelry, and is all sorted by weight into cubbies on my shelves, no clutter in sight. I have no trouble finding a particular yarn when I need it. That said, there is definitely yarn in there that I no longer want or need.

Having dequeued a number of projects that had stash yarn associated with them there were some obvious candidates for rehoming, and it just so happens that I recently discovered that Anna of Wild and Wooly LYS provides just such a service: The Stash Depot. It’s simple: bring in your as-new unwanted yarn, customers can buy it cheaply and you can earn credit to spend in the shop. Yes, it would be possible to get more money for the yarn on eBay, but if that was as low in effort, I would have done it already.

Without really trying I found 17 balls of yarn I no longer feel enthusiastic about. These went to the stash depot a couple of weeks ago, and I hope will have earned me enough credit for a new book on my next visit.

What next?

Having identified what it is that excites me about knitting, I genuinely feel different about it. I feel energised about current and future projects, and also liberated to let go of projects and ideas that don’t meet those criteria. I also feel a bit sense of achievement (and cosiness) for having finished a big WIP.

I still have a lot to do to really be disciplined about finishing projects, and sorting through my stash. I’m looking forward to working through the rest of the podcast – so far it has been incredibly worthwhile in unexpected ways.

The author

Suzie Blackman

The dyer, designer, photographer, creative technologist and maker-of-things behind It's a Stitch Up. She lives in East London in a home filled with colour, fluff and house plants.

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