New year’s resolution: organize your stash!

Martingale's Knit & Crochet Friday

How to sort your yarn stashAs you know, the new year is an excellent time to start fresh. Many people are resolving to make changes like joining the gym, spending more time with the kids, or keeping a cleaner house. Maybe you have a few resolutions of your own for 2013—and if you’re like us, those resolutions might include one or two about organizing (and using up) your yarn stash.

Luckily, wrangling your stash isn’t as much of a chore as some resolutions. All you need is a free afternoon and a pile of yummy yarn. Sounds like fun! If you’re not sure where to start, begin with The Yarn Stash Workbook by Laura Militzer Bryant. Laura’s book is chock full of useful information about sorting, swatching, and pairing patterns with your stash yarns. It also includes great scrap-yarn knitting projects, from scarves and sweaters to home accents and accessories. Plus, Laura includes great strategies for completing patterns when you have almost enough yarn. If your resolution for this year is to get that pile of impulse yarn-buys organized and put to good use, The Yarn Stash Workbook is one of the best yarn-stash busters you could own!

To get you started, here’s an excerpt from the book about sorting yarns by color and weight before sorting by type. So pull out your stash, and begin the new year right—with yarn!

In the Beginning: Sorting Your Stash

Laura Militzer BryantThere are several things to consider regarding your stash. Quantities, yarn types, yarn weights, and colors will vary tremendously, and all have to be taken into account. Begin by setting aside any yarns of sufficient quantity for a whole project. These yarns can be sorted according to gauge, and suitable patterns found or created. Evaluate them for weight and type, and record that data. Carry a record with you on trips to your local yarn shop or bookstore; as you look at new pattern books, you’ll know what you have at home that might work.

More problematic for most of us is the rest of the stash: sale yarns in odd amounts, leftover bits and pieces from projects, yarns missing labels, and unusual or odd skeins that we just had to have because we loved them! If you’re like me, you have all the above and more. The first thing to do is sort according to yarn weight. Although at one time yarns were referred to by names such as “fingering,” “baby,” “sport,” “DK,” “worsted,” “bulky,” and “chunky,” those names best described smooth, plied classic yarns. The yarn industry has come up with a new system for identifying yarn weight, one that takes into account the novelty textures available today.

Yarn weight chart
See the entire Standard Yarn Weight System chart at

Although many older yarns, and some new ones, don’t carry these designations, you can easily sort yarns into yarn weights by looking at the suggested gauge. For any yarns that are not labeled, make your best guess by comparing them to other yarns, or better yet, swatch them so that you really know. Notice that flat ribbon yarns tend to be in a lighter weight group than one would think from looking at the width of the ribbon. That’s because most yarns are round, not flat, and the ribbons will roll when knit, causing them to be much narrower in a stitch than they are when laid flat. Since there is a range of suggested gauges instead of one set gauge for each weight, we can also consider subcategories; for example, slightly thinner size 5 versus thicker size 5 yarns. This is more important when substituting yarns for an entire project and less so when sorting yarns that can be used together.

Now, within each yarn-weight range, the yarns should be sorted by color. My approach has been formed by my art training; I studied color using the methods of Josef Albers, an important artist of the Bauhaus School who emigrated from Germany to the United States prior to World War II. He was less concerned with color wheels and schemes than with using our eyes to really see. While one does need to have a sense of the color wheel, as in being aware that yellow and blue make green, more important than slotting something into a scheme based on the wheel is learning to judge color weight. Albers referred to color weight rather than value because color weight takes into account such things as saturation and intensity, rather than merely the amount of black or white in a color. So instead of light and dark colors, we refer to light and heavy colors. It’s an odd quirk of the English language that the word light is the opposite of both dark and heavy.

Unsorted yarns and yarns organized by color
Left: Colors randomly juxtaposed. Right: The same colors arranged by color weight.

When you look at any two colors, the lighter color will seem to advance while the heavier color recedes. It is as simple and as complex as that. Artists spend years training their eyes to detect fine nuances in weight between colors, but our purposes don’t require anything that sophisticated. A simple understanding of light to heavy is all we need. Take a look at the first photo above: a collection of every color under the sun. It is hard to make any visual sense of it. The lightest and the heaviest colors stick out noticeably, and the middle colors get lost. Very heavy shades tend to look generically dark, while the lightest colors lose their personalities and fade to neutral. All in all, it’s a bit of a mishmash. I find it hard to imagine making any visual sense of this!

The second photo shows the same yarns arranged roughly from light to heavy color weights. Notice that highly saturated colors fit in next to duller ones. Our eye moves over the range smoothly; the colors are a nuanced wave, with few specific tones popping out. Subtle shades of pale colors are apparent. Deep tones take on richer hues. Notice that yellow is inherently light, so only the heaviest gold tones are in the middle areas and all other yellows are at the light end. Now we can evaluate and choose colors successfully.

Color Weight Affects Pattern

Let’s look at stripes when different color weights are used:

How color weight affects patternA. The colors are as far apart as you can get—black and white. The stripes are very obvious and kinetic.

B. A rich, slightly multicolored red from the middle of the colorweight range is substituted for white, and although the stripes are still obvious, it is much easier to look at. We are very aware of the richness of the color.

C. Another multicolor from the same middle area of the colorweight scale is substituted for the black, and the effect is much less “striped” and more about the colors, which tend to brighten and intensify one another.


Here is another example, in a chevron stitch:

How color weight affects pattern 2A. Two yarns are in two-row stripes. One color is from the heavy end of the scale, while the other is from the middle. The stripes are very distinct and graphic. The heavy color appears almost black.

B. The middle of the swatch replaces the middle color with a multicolor from the heavy end of the scale. The stripes are much less obvious and we have an awareness of rich color. The color weights are so similar that the striping is almost hidden.

C. A third, slightly lighter, multicolored yarn is added to the two colors in swatch B, and the stripes are worked in one row each. Some lighter notes are added and the stripes are visible but not overwhelming. The heaviest color actually shows up more, and it helps define the chevron.

The Yarn Stash WorkbookThese are the most important lessons one can learn about color in knitting:

  • If you want to emphasize pattern, pick colors from different areas of the color-weight scale.
  • If you want to emphasize color, pick colors from the same area of the color-weight scale.

So now that you’ve organized your stash by color and weight, are you ready to keep playing? You can purchase The Yarn Stash Workbook by Laura Militzer Bryant as an instant download and save 40% during the month of January. You’ll be on your way to organizing that stash, knitting those stash-busting projects, and—the best part—making room for more yarn!

What are your fiber-related resolutions for 2013? Share yours in the comments.

7 Comments (leave a comment)

  • to put more "fibre" in my diet…especially knitting socks fibres…

    —Darlene Krystal on January 4, 2013
  • As a quilter with tons of thread and fabric, including yarns, I organized my stash and threads by color and texture. I have everything from stackable plastic cases with lids to threads/yarn inside drawers. I live in Florida and with our high humidity, nothing gets damaged. For my resolutions this year is to strickly avoid making any. We all know, resolutions are broken within 20 minutes or one month after making them. I will, however, make a bigger attempt to put away the things, I’ve used, after I’m finished with them. Who knows, with that positive outlook, I might actually achieve all the previous New Year’s Resolutions I’ve broken.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on January 4, 2013
  • My resolutions for 2013:
    Don’t produce any UFOs. Don’t start a new project without finishing the former.
    If you don’t feel comfortable with your work – rib it! There’s a better use for your precious material.
    Happy new year!

    —hamamama on January 4, 2013
  • This book couldn’t come at a better time for me. Although I sorted my stash several years ago, it’s time to do so again and get some of that yarn moving. The nice thing about this book is that I could use it for weaving as well as knitting!

    —Fran on January 5, 2013
  • I love this article "Organizing Your Stash," so timely with ideas I can relate to. My fiber-related resolutions:

    1. Sort through and then organize what’s in my cupboard.
    2. Use it all up so that I can start all over again!

    Christine on January 5, 2013
  • Loved this site. Don’t often leave comments when visiting a site, but your’s seem to have "heart". Loved you sharing the "mystery" of yarns, weight’s, etc. That helped a lot in determining how to organize my stash. The problem with mine is I have a lot of red heart (as it was cheaper and what I could afford before I graduated to better yarns.). Just wanted you to know that I enjoyed your site. hugs

    —Linda on January 5, 2013
  • Wow! Great way to organize my yarn stash. I definitely will learn to knit socks this year!

    Becky in Georgia on January 7, 2013

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