I have a big, huge, overwhelming yarn stash. It happens. I’m not the only one. That’s why so many people write “stashbuster” patterns, and I just made two of them that actually did make a tiny dent in my stash. Many months ago I was attracted to a pattern for a crocheted and felted rug made of bright flower motifs, but I didn’t use the pattern. It was in German, which isn’t a disqualifier because I have been self-studying German on Duolingo for years and probably can work out a simple crochet pattern, but I got put off by the process the EU requires for looking at European websites. Nevertheless, the idea of a felted crocheted rug stuck with me, using the bulky and super bulky wool leftovers from very warm sweaters I have knitted in recent years. Eventually the pattern I was fated to make came to me: a free pattern by Julie Yeager called Rainbow Scrap Rugs, which was composed of a center circle made of concentric rings, surrounded by a ring of smaller circles, with improvised triangular shapes filling the gap, and ending with a large circle of more concentric rings. The idea is to use up random leftovers of colored yarn and black-gray-brown yarn.
Around the same time, a German designer named Steffi Groll invited me to test knit the English translation of her Hipster pullover pattern, which Steffi designed as a stashbuster project. This is a dropped-shoulder pullover knitted top-down with short rows forming a diagonal line from the shoulder to the hem below the waist, with horizontal stripes. Then the wrapped stitches along the diagonal line are knitted as diagonal stripes that shape the garment by means of short rows at one side and decreases at the other. Steffi’s sweater has long sleeves and a ribbed hem, which I omitted from my version. I accepted Steffi’s invitation, but I didn’t have an inspiration about an organizing color scheme for my leftovers or even what kind of yarn to use for it. I worked on other projects that were already in progress while I fretted over my concept for Steffi’s design.
I got a start on the rug, because the yarn I wanted to use up was easily at hand, along with a very large crochet hook that I had won as a prize for winning the People’s Choice award in Melissa’s annual Happy Hooker Happening, with my Hippie Bus.
Winning that crochet hook was a story. I got into a cyber war with my nearest competitor in the Happy Hooker People’s Choice contest, who figured out how my army of supporters was gaming the system, then mobilized his own army to fight me with hundreds of votes in the final hour of the contest. It was very exciting. But my supporters were outraged that his unremarkable entries might beat out my magic bus, and they clicked and clicked and clicked until Melissa finally pulled the plug with me ahead. It was thrilling. But too much excitement for me, I’m never doing this again. All I wanted from this contest was a massive crochet hook, and Melissa gave me six, some of which could be used as bludgeons. For this project, I used the smallest of the hard-won hooks, 5 mm. I fished around in the bag of bulky and super bulky yarn for the yarn for the first in the ring of circles, and there I found the solution to my Hipster problem.
For no good reason other than the convenience of a long-ago, forgotten moment, at the bottom of my bag of heavy single ply yarn were leftovers of cotton and cotton-linen fingering weight yarn from previous summer tops. I’m sure that my original reason for throwing them all together into that bag was just to get them out of the way, but now that I was looking for a way to organize my Hipster test knit, this random grouping of colors and fibers turned out to be very compatible, and my dilemma was solved. I supplemented these yarns with a couple of cotton or cotton-like 1980’s bouclé and bumpy-texture yarns of unknown provenance from my First Knitting Era. I told Steffi that I was going to make her pattern as a summer top, without sleeves or ribbing, and she agreed to that plan.
Now I had two stashbuster projects going simultaneously. My leftovers of the super bulky single ply yarn I had used in Mrs. Maisel’s Coat and Flowers Springing From the Ashes didn’t go as far as I was expecting, but Melissa had just inherited a yarn stash from a downsizing knitter and gave me some huge orange yarn and some chunky tweedy purple yarn that were very compatible with the orange and purple dominance of the yarn I wanted to use up. The pattern started with 11 circles, which would be connected as a ring of circles around a center circle that would be crocheted after that, and I used the designer’s numbers to make the both the inner circle and the surrounding circles. Eleven circles turned out not to be enough to fully surround the inner circle, which had 126 stitches in the outer round, so I made a twelfth circle. By now I was digging way down into the deep stash of the ages, back from my First Knitting Era during the 1980’s and 90’s, to find any yarn of any weight as long as it was a wool that would felt, and I combined two, three, four strands to get the weight I wanted. The center looked a little louder and brighter than I liked, but when you have loud and bright yarn that you want to use up, loud and bright is what you’re probably going to get. I hoped to tone it down with the neutrals for the shapes that would fill the spaces between the circles in the middle of the inner and outer rings.
In the meantime, I was making progress with my Hipster. I had never knitted a construction like this before, and I was having some trouble understanding where the line-by-line instructions were taking me. I worked on it while sitting at the back table at Lovelyarns with Melissa, and I did a lot of thinking out loud while I worked to understand what I was supposed to do. There was terminology that wasn’t standard in English-language patterns, but I don’t use patterns enough to know right off the top of my head what is standard. Actually, I’m not a very good test knitter, for that reason. Also because my learning process is an idiosyncratic mixture of audio, visual, and experiential, and when I use a pattern, I have to struggle for a long time to translate it into a holistic image that orients me and enables me to understand the numbers and abbreviations of a typical knitting pattern. I seem smart, but first I’m dumb as rocks, for a long time, before I start to get smart. But you know who is a great test knitter? Melissa. After I had gotten past my initial rocky start and had gotten into the rhythm of the short rows forming the diagonal line traveling across the body from the right shoulder down to the left side of the body, Melissa asked me to send her the pattern. It was giving her an idea for a way to show off some of the yarns she stocks that weren’t selling the way she wanted them to. Unlike me, Melissa interprets knitting patterns for a living, and unlike me, she recorded her notes on the file as she worked so that she could give Steffi useful feedback.
My Hipster was a couple of weeks ahead of Melissa’s. I was expecting the short row/decrease shaping of the diagonal half of the sweater to balance out the initial horizontal half, but as I got quite deep down into the final stages of knitting the body, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. The left arm hole was a couple of inches shorter than the right arm hole, and the hem was decidedly asymmetric.
I liked it, but I assumed I had badly misread the pattern, because there was no mention of asymmetry in the pattern description and Steffi’s photos looked pretty symmetrical due to the hemmed ribbing and the long sleeves, both of which I was going to omit in my version. But Steffi assured me that the asymmetry was a planned feature of the pattern, and I hadn’t misread it. My sleeveless version with a simple rolled hem particularly emphasized the asymmetry. Melissa was getting to the formation of the front of the left arm hole when I had this epiphany, and she decided that she wanted her version to be symmetrical. So she frogged back and rejiggered the shoulders so that the shoulder points landed at the same place on either side. She did some other modifications to lengthen the short side of the body to produce a symmetrical hem.
At a certain point in my knitting, my numbers started to deviate slightly from the numbers Steffi specified in the pattern. She told me not to worry about it, so I didn’t worry about it. When I got to a point on the final part of the garment where there wasn’t anything left to decrease on the one side and no more room to do short rows on the other side and both end points were roughly opposite each other, I called it a day. On the purl side, I knitted a roll of stockinette to finish the bottom and did the same up at the neck. I decided I liked the purl side and the knit side equally, so I had to be especially attentive to weaving in the ends so that they didn’t show on either side. The ends hanging down along the diagonal line were worked into the purl side, which hid them better, and I turned the ends hanging down from the edges of the arm holes into a fringe. The ends seem to read better as fringes when the garment is worn purl-side-out.
As for the rug, I was now no longer following the pattern. The pattern’s scheme for joining the smaller circles to the concentric-ring center didn’t seem applicable to the geometry of my rug, so I went free-form and groped my way to improvised shapes to more or less (but especially less) fit the triangular spaces between the big circle and the little circles. I was doubling and tripling the yarn for these shapes, which gave me some nice organic combinations of color and texture. Since I was beginning to run very low on my browns, grays, and blacks, and also because I liked the look, I used yarn with a strong value contrast for the center and outside of each improvised shape, which made them look like round stones set into mortar. Some of the shapes didn’t fit very well. I hoped that felting would squash them flat. I also hoped that felting would make the joins a lot firmer than the porous connections resulting from the whip stitch the pattern recommended.
The outer ring was going to use up whatever yarn I still had on hand, for aesthetic as well as practical reasons. I didn’t have that much of the bright colors anymore, but I also liked the folkloric look of partial rounds of the brights surrounded by combinations of the brown/gray/black yarns. Pioneer and peasant women also had scraps they wanted to use up, so I’m part of a long tradition. And I really did use up every bit of a lot of this yarn. The back was a furry forest of ends, and I used them to tighten up the wobbly joins. Any bits that were too short to find their way into a stitch, I pounded into the fabric with a felting tool. I pounded a little too energetically, I broke a bunch of the needles with my enthusiasm. The hot pink outer edging was made of a thick, rope-like single ply yarn that Melissa got from the most recent down-sizing knitter and gave to me. I lashed it to the crocheted work with x-shaped stitches in black yarn.
Finally it was ready for felting. I had trepidations: it was enormous, 68″ diameter, five pounds of yarn. I was worried that it would be more than my washing machine could handle, or that it would shed a ton of fluff that would gum up the works and cause my washing machine to explode or something. I asked my Ravelry group how I should proceed, and someone suggested putting it into a comforter cover to wash it. That worked fine! My washer has lived to tell the tale. It shrank down to 54″ after the first felting. But one of the purple hexagons, the one between the pink hexagon and the orange hexagon, was very loose and holey and was bulging out among the compact pieces around it. It hadn’t really shrunk at all. So I threw it back into the comforter cover and the washing machine for another go. Now it had reduced to 44″, but that purple hexagon hadn’t shrunk at all. Look at my fingers poking through the stitches.
Rather than attempting a third felting, I decided to sew the gaps closed. I spent a long time sitting on the floor with a tapestry needle and yarn, weaving the yarn into the stitches and making the piece the same size as the others by tightening up all the gaps between the stitches. Then I dry-felted the ends into the fabric with my felting tool. There was also a loose round using this same yarn in the outer ring, and I tightened all those stitches too. In addition, there were some lumpy spots in the improvised shapes that didn’t flatten out during the felting, so I went over the rug with a steamy iron in hopes of making them flatter. I wasn’t completely successful, but the rug will still function as a cozy and decorative item that will find its place somewhere in my daughter’s new home. As for the lumpy bits, someone on my group said that when she was a child, she would have loved using the circles and elevated areas of a rug like this as terrain for imaginative play. Interesting thought! I know a three-year-old boy who is obsessed with toy cars and trucks and might enjoy a crocheted and felted mat with race track rings and hills and volcanoes and ponds…
After I finished my Hipster, I found I still had quite a lot of the solid-color cotton-linen yarn I was using in it, as well as a substantial amount of linen yarn left over from other projects or bestowed on me by Melissa. I decided to use it for another summer top, the Floribunda pattern on the cover of the August/Winter 2022 Pom Pom magazine. As of now, I have made the front left top, the front right top, the back left top, the back right top, four motifs for the sleeves, and the first of four lower front pieces. To my surprise, I’m finding that my yarn is actually finite and I’m starting to run out of some of the colors, although according to the numbers, I should have enough yardage to get to the end. It might get quite monochromatic as I near the end, though.
This is a new concept, that yarn might be a finite commodity and that stashbusting is actually possible. Tell that to the two sweater quantities of yarn I’ve bought since embarking on these projects.