How to Grow a Stash

Warorot Market Place, Chiang Mai
July 18, 2016
Book Review: Light & Layered Knits
September 10, 2016

Everyone has a stash of some kind. For some people, it’s shoes; for others, it’s gardening tools. I grew up in a family that traveled a lot, so there wasn’t much chance to collect things. Unlike other girls, whose mothers would stash the dolls in the attic when they outgrew them; my toys would disappear forever. There was never any arguing or tears. While we were at school, my mother would gather up all the toys, save a few, and get rid of the rest. When I came home, I would ask where my toys were and she would say, “I was tired of the clutter, so I took them to the Salvation Army.” There was no point in protesting or crying, they were just gone.

This should have taught me not to hold onto material things. And for years, I didn’t keep anything I didn’t use on a regular basis. What I did hold on to was books. A book could be read and even if you never took it off the shelf again, the story was in your head. But I didn’t just collect books; I devoured them. At one time I had a library card from every city I had ever lived in, and there were many. I loved the idea that I could read any book any time I wanted. I loved the big libraries with lots of comfortable places to read and I loved the small town libraries in quaint old buildings where they knew your name. By my mid-twenties, I was bitten by the craft bug and realized that I couldn’t buy every craft book I wanted. Then I began to build notebooks with photocopies of the best patterns and projects from books and magazines. I was still stashing, but with a purpose.

You could say my first stash was my home library. I learned to be prudent and only bought books that I knew I would want to look at over and over. I built up a good collection of art books, knowing that those books seldom get reprinted and never at the same price. Gradually, the books had to be divided into reference books and books for reading.

The secondary book stash was for sewing and crafting. My mother had begun teaching me to sew by hand by age nine and one of my first jobs as an adult was working in a fabric store. It was a family owned store in North Hollywood, so we got all kinds of customers in there. North Hollywood is in the San Fernando Valley where mostly working people lived. Hollywood and Beverly Hills were just over the pass through Laurel Canyon and Studio City was just inside the Valley next to the Hollywood Hills. So, the customers ranged from bargain hunters to costume designers. I had to up my game quickly. Beginning customers expected sales people to help them read the patterns and professionals expected us to know all the stock, fiber characteristics, and care requirements. It was an education itself.

“How does this relate to your stash?” you may ask. Of course, I got a discount on fabric, but there was something else few people had a chance at. There were still paper patterns then. They were as important to the yardage business as the fabric itself. There were four major pattern companies at that time; Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue. They all had seasons and collections, just like in a department store, and patterns got discontinued several times a year. We were not allowed to sell discontinued patterns and—you guessed it—employees got to take patterns for themselves before the rest went into the trash bins! Stash number 2 –Sewing Patterns!

mc4249The sewing patterns were lighter than books and easy to store. I knew I could alter any pattern to get exactly what I wanted and I never bought a pattern for years. Eventually I moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered thrift stores. It was just the beginning of a trend for shopping at thrift stores.

Originally, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul were where you went if you were very poor and couldn’t afford clothes. At first clothes were given away, but eventually they realized there was a market for used clothing. Formal gowns and tuxedoes were big ticket items because few people expected to wear them more than once. And the donations were often high-end labels that the average person could not afford. Once the charity stores started opening retail locations, other people saw the opportunity and small vintage shops started springing up everywhere. Portland, Oregon was a mecca for vintage clothing in those days. Now the trend to dress in period clothing everyday caught on and it became a hobby and a quest to find vintage treasures. I was never a period dresser, but I soon discovered that these shops usually had a few boxes of old patterns. I began scouring every thrift store for buried treasure. By collecting old patterns, I could find styles that suited my own body type, even when there wasn’t a thing in the stores that would fit anyone who didn’t have a body like Jean Shrimpton or Twiggy. (Early supermodels from the 1960s & 1970s.)

By this time I had a house with a sewing and craft room and plenty of shelf space. All good things comjoys stashjpge to an end though and mine ended in crisis. I got divorced, sold my house, and went back to college. Of course, there was considerable downsizing. I chose to get rid of furniture first and kept the stash. All through college I could justify the books and patterns because the former was growing with my education and the latter was saving money on clothes. It was still cheaper to sew than to buy retail, especially if you wanted quality. Nowadays, sewing is a luxury and reading is mainly done on line.

But the demise of my stash was a slow thing and involved years of travel and a gradual shedding of material possessions. There was still crafting, a lot of travel, and with travel came adventure. Now I can fit everything in one closet. I usually ship the books and put the tools in a checked bag. But I’ve been known to put the entire stash in checked baggage and ship the clothes. You can make new clothes or buy them, but it takes years to collect the books and tools. I do try to keep the supplies stash small. Yarn and fabric take up space and it forces me to finish more projects before I can buy more supplies. Yes, there have been adventures, so stay tuned!

Joy Harmon
Joy Harmon
A crafter, a traveler, and a scribbler

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