Sunday, 1 September 2013

Avoiding Cat's Cradle

Has this ever happened to you? Ok, probably your cat hasn't actually been suspended in mid-air like this, but it sure is true that cats love yarn. It's instinctual I think - they love things that roll (like that neat ball of yarn you just rolled up), they love soft textures, they love things that dangle, and they especially love things that twitch and move as if they're alive! Just like the yarn you're working with as you knit or crochet.

There are certainly times when I've had to stop crocheting because Nikko was in too playful of a mood and would constantly attack my yarn. Luckily though, that's pretty rare. Usually he watches me intently for a while, and gives a half-hearted swat at the dancing strand of yarn, then curls up in my lap or beside me (or on top of whatever I'm working on, of course!) and falls asleep. One of my in-laws' kittens, Cheeky, can be much more of a trouble maker - he will not only attack my yarn, he'll start trying to eat it, so that it gets all slobbery. Yuck! And his claws are much sharper than Nikko's are, so he can really do some damage to the yarn if he digs his claws in.

However, Nikko is not always an angel. About a year ago I decided that my yarn supplies were in terrible shape, and I started rolling up the tangled mess into neat balls of yarn. I came home from work the next day and stopped dead in my tracks. The apartment was covered in yarn! An entire ball had been unraveled around, over, and under every piece of furniture, as you can see here.

I spluttered in frustration, cursing, and Deep, who was sitting on the couch, looked over at me standing by the door looking aghast, and said "What?" He'd been sitting there the whole time, unaware of what my normally sweet kitty was doing to my yarn! And here is the culprit himself, looking very innocent:

So I spent the next 10 minutes crawling around the apartment rolling the yarn back up, which of course Nikko thought was another fun game!

I ranted about this incident to my friends at my stitch group that night, thankful that at least they understood my annoyance.

Then, I came home from work the next day, to find almost exactly the same scene, in a different colour of yarn!

Ok, I know, fool me twice, shame on me. I felt very silly, and so I vowed to find a better storage solution for my yarn and on-the-go projects than just throwing them into my reusable shopping bags.

Below is a list of what I have learned and done to keep my yarn stash and projects organized and useable. Whether you have pets or young children or spend any time around either, or just want to get your chaotic stash in order, these tips may be useful to you too!

Tip #1: Tie off all balls of yarn - no exceptions!

The first change I made after these incidents was that I now ALWAYS tie off the ends of any yarn I roll up - that way if he gets at my yarn, it can roll around without unravelling into a chaotic mess. I have also found that it helps to keep all of my stashes and projects in much better order - untied balls or skeins of yarn seem to just naturally become messy over time – it's entropy I guess.

Tip #2: Invest in a few cases and bags for your current projects, in different sizes

When this yarn incident occurred, I had recently seen someone knitting next to me during a boring work meeting (of course I was jealous because I hadn't thought to bring my crochet along), with her needles and yarn neatly tucked into a small plastic flexible case that closed with snaps, which she had said she'd picked up at a local dollar store. I thought it was a great idea, and I planned to keep an eye out for something like that, but at the time there wasn't any particular urgency to my search.

Now however, I had a mission! I spent the next week or two combing through every dollar store and bargain/thrift store in the city, looking for something similar.

It took me a surprisingly long time to find what I was looking for. I think it was partly because I was looking for the bag or case itself as a product, rather than something that a product comes in. I wanted a simple case that was clear so I could see what was in it (and easily find the right colour of yarn, or that invaluable tapestry needle), whereas most pencil cases and similar sized bags are opaque.

My first successful finds were a couple of cosmetics cases that work well for medium size products, like this one:

It's a nice size for carrying a couple of smallish projects in, or at least most of the supplies for a medium-size project like a baby blanket. It's also good for projects that require lots of colours, but where the completed portions don't need to be with you at all times, such as blanket squares.

The best part of getting this case was revealed on the the first night I had it: I put several balls of yarn that I was currently using into it, and had it sitting on the coffee table. Nikko came over to investigate, and immediately tried to get at the yarn through the clear side, and then the mesh side - it was hilarious to watch how confused he was, it was as though he had encountered a force field! Since this was only a week or so after he unrolled my yarn all over he apartment, I was extremely pleased to have foiled another attempt! Even if I hadn't closed the zippers, all he could do was reach a paw in and bat at them - he couldn't get the yarn out to make a mess. Triumph was sweet.

I was quite happy with this case, and it was certainly much more portable than the one and only (large) project bag I had before, but I was still hoping to find something really small and portable that I could tuck into my purse and have with me anywhere. I did pick up a smaller cosmetics case as well, but it was still a bit too bulky, and, let's face it, I always have several projects on the go, so several cases would be necessary.

Over the next couple of weeks I kept my eyes open, and I finally found the perfect solution in the "travel sized" section of the local Zellers (a store like K-mart for you Americans) - the bag that this little travel container kit came in. I picked up one in purple, then went back a week or two later for a green one, and more recently I picked up this pink one when the original purple one eventually developed a small hole. It's the perfect size for most small projects, or projects that have small components (amigurumi, phone cases, one blanket square, etc.). It's also lovely that it is clear, so I can quickly check if I've got all the necessary supplies in this particular bag before heading out the door.

It easily fits into my largish purse with plenty of room to spare for wallet etc. And if I pack it just right, I can fit it into my smaller MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op - a Canadian outdoor outfitting store) purse that I use when travelling. I've been known to take one of these little bags, with a small project in it, pretty much everywhere I go - concerts, meetings, conferences, doctor's appointments, on buses and planes...  

Once I had this revelation about looking for the bags products come in, rather than looking to purchase the bag itself, I started noticing them more frequently. Here is one I got at a dollar store – it also contained little bottles for travel sized shampoo etc. It's the smallest bag I have, and I use it mostly for storing various notions - safety eyes, needles, thread, extra hooks of various sizes, etc. 

A little while later I realized that I needed a larger project bag (but something a bit smaller than the original large project bag that I keep my biggest projects in). In particular for the times when I needed to bring lots of different supplies for one project, such as on road trips etc. I found this bag at the discount yarn/fabric/craft/everything-under-the-sun store that exists only in Ontario, Len's Mill Store. It's a great size for more complex projects, and I like that it has a range of pockets that can be used to keep track of printed pattern pages, scissors, hooks, needles, and any other notions. And as an added bonus, I can actually fit my computer in this bag if necessary (it's an 11 inch, very thin laptop), which can make it easier to keep everything in one place.

Here you can see that I have it mostly filled with many balls of yarn of all the colours required for the big wedding blanket project. This was the bag that I brought with me on the road trip across the country last fall - and it was enough yarn to keep me going for a couple of weeks until the rest of our stuff arrived on the moving truck.

Here you can see me making use of all of my small-to-medium project bags in preparation for visiting family over Xmas. Each bag contains one or more projects (mostly Xmas presents in the making), and the small one at the bottom includes all the assorted notions I needed for various projects. It was a little difficult to fit these all into my luggage, and several went into my carry-on, but it worked out really well, and I never lacked for yarn or supplies!

Tip #3: Invest in a few pairs of safety scissors.

I know, this tip doesn't really have to do with keeping your stash organized and away from pets and small children, but it will make your crafting life easier, so I'll include it anyway.

I don't know about you, but I always want to be able to work on my projects on the plane. Depending on the size and type of your project, that may not require scissors during the plane ride, but it's such a giant pain not to have scissors when you need them, that I try to be prepared anyway. I have picked up a few pairs of rounded "safety scissors" from dollar stores or wherever else I see them, and I always keep one in each of my different project bags. That way no matter where I am, and which project I'm working on, I always have a pair of scissors with me. And I can easily throw any project bag into my carry on, and know that I shouldn't get hassled at security.

Word to the wise: always be pre-emptive about bringing out the scissors and asking about them in a non-threatening way – and make it clear that you're happy to surrender them if necessary. To date I haven't had anyone take issue with these scissors, but the one time I forgot to get them out of my backpack it did slow things down as they had to pull me aside and dig them out and take a look. I think the rule is that the blade has to be under a certain length, and they can't have pointed tips, and safety scissors seem to always meet these criteria. Plus, they cost me about $2 so if they take them away, I'm not going to cry about it.

Plus - I recently found these amazing animal scissors at the dollar store - aren't they awesome?! They make me happy every time I use them.

Tip #4: Don't Slip into Bad Habits

Two nights ago, when I had 95% of this post written, I came home to find this unfortunately familiar sight in my living room:

Earlier that day I had been rolling up a skein of yarn into small balls so that they would be easy to tuck into my project bags, and I had gone out for the evening before putting the yarn away.  I had to laugh at myself. I obviously should have known better, but I had become sloppy, and my helpful cat reminded me of the consequences.

That's all for now, keep crafting!

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