A handy little guide with the best ways to store yarn for knitting and ideas to organize your stash
You started knitting, over the last couple of months you acquired quite a huge stash, and now you are wondering how to store yarn and keep it out of harm’s way? Or is your stash so large that you are looking for ideas and tips to organize it in a better way? Well, then you came to the right place because in this very comprehensive guide I will talk about all the vital things you need to be aware of in terms of yarn storage.
If you look around Pinterest or Instagram, you will find a lot of posts showing you beautiful walls, cupboards, and shelves full of colorful skeins. Of course, this may look very pretty and will make you feel like you were living in a yarn shop. Still, in most cases, storing your yarn out in the open is NOT a good idea.
Instead, there are quite a couple of things to consider to ensure the long-term safety of your precious knitting supplies. I’ll list them all first, and then we’ll go through each little aspect in greater detail. Depending on your living circumstances and the size of your stash, some of these points may or may not apply.
Yarn should be stored in a way that…
- pets, children, or an unsuspecting husband don’t have easy access.
- vermin or insects have no chance to nest in it.
- mold cannot spoil it.
- direct sunlight cannot bleach out the dyes.
- half-used skeins do not become tangled.
- permanent pressure doesn’t break or weaken the fiber.
- it’s easy for you to find what you need for a project.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
1. Airtight boxes – the best place to store yarn
Personally, I always store my yarn in airtight boxes (I buy these here on Amazon). They come in all sizes and shapes and depending on your storage place (more below), you may want to get bigger, smaller, or flatter boxes (like for under the bed). It’s essential, however, that they are airtight and have a properly sealed lid.
Why? Well, any small little opening may allow both moisture and insects to crawl inside. And you probably don’t want that. Now, you might be tempted to use plastic bags instead. They are certainly cheaper but they will never be 100% airtight. Long term, this means anything that wants to get in, will get in.
Storing your yarn in boxes will also prevent it from getting dusty. Do, however, consider that yarn also produces dust. So, when you have a wall or cupboard full of yarn, every little movement in the air will make it shed microscopic bits of fiber into the air – aka dust. Besides, if you keep your yarn on shelves, your cats, dogs, or children may wreak havoc in a moment of inattention. A ball is such a nice toy, after all!
Some people might also use ziplock or vacuum bags. But you do have to understand two things: First of all, soft plastic will get brittle sooner or later, and some larva can actually eat their way through thin bags. If it’s just for a month, why not. But a lot of knitters store their yarn for a decade until they use it.
Also, these vacuum bags crush and pressure the fibers. And that may damage them. Most yarn is spun from animal hair and you have to treat it more or less like you would treat your hair. You wouldn’t want to crimp your hair for a year straight, right?
The breathability myth
If you scroll through the internet, you will frequently read that yarn needs to breathe. This is, the way I see it, a misapprehension. What is true is that a lot of natural fibers (think sheep wool but not acrylic) can store up to 30 percent of their weight in water without feeling wet. A lot of people will have observed a similar effect after they straightened their hair and then walked out into the humidity and 5 minutes later their hairdo was all curly and frizzy again.
And when you store internally damp hair in a closed environment, it traps this moisture, and this can lead to mold. Likewise, storing dry yarn in a plastic bag that is not airtight in a humid environment will ensure that the yarn will eventually absorb moisture through every small opening – creating the perfect environment for all sorts of fungi.
But that doesn’t mean your yarn needs to “breathe”. If you keep your yarn out in the open, this just means it will adjust to the ambient moisture. In a dry environment that’s of no great concern but it’s definitely nothing you want to do in a humid climate long term. Because even if there will be a dry day tomorrow, the mold can get in today.
The proper conclusion is thus: Always make sure your yarn is dry before you store it. Adding silica gel bags, rice, or any other sort of dehumidifying agent to your boxes might be a good idea. And that’s all it takes to prevent dry rot and similar problems. When seen across a decade or so, the seals of most boxes will often still allow tiny traces of moisture to seep in.
2. How to keep insects (moths/carpet beetles) out of your yarn
Pest control is another important thing you need to consider when you are looking for the best way to store your yarn. Wool is the most delicious meal for clothes moths. And if you store yarn in a basket on the ground, carpet beetles might find it a perfect nesting ground.
Now, keeping your precious stash in airtight boxes is certainly already an excellent start but long term it’s probably not enough. First of all, moth larva can wiggle their way through the tiniest little crevice. There’s also the chance that when you buy yarn, it can already be infested – especially if the yarn comes from a yard sale, through an auction, etc., and not directly from the spinner.
So, as a good precaution, you may want to consider putting new acquisitions into a zip-lock bag and putting it into the freezer for a couple of days. This will kill off any blind passengers.
On top of that, you may want to consider adding lavender (either in a little sachet or using a spray) to your boxes. Cedar cubes can also be an option. Moths really don’t like the smell.
3. Store your yarn in a dry, dark place
Now, as I detailed above, moisture might still seep through the seals of your boxes long term. So, I definitely recommend storing them in a dry place. This means no damp cellar but also not an attic where vermin may be an issue. If your cellar is dry, or your attic clean (and not downright boiling in the summer), then by all means, go ahead.
On top of that, you definitely have to consider that direct sunlight can bleach out a lot of dyes – especially plant-based dyes. Make sure that you keep your precious skeins in a more or less dark place. Now, no need to go overboard with this. If it’s a corner in a north-facing room, then I doubt you will have a problem.
Here’s a word of caution concerning breathability. Make sure that you don’t store your boxes in a way that they obstruct the natural airflow in your apartment. A sheer wall full of boxes might lead to mold behind them. Too many boxes below your bed might block the airflow and the moisture you sweat into your mattress during the night might not be able to dissipate into the air quickly enough, etc. It won’t affect your yarn, but having mold in your apartment/house is probably not what you want either.
4. organize your yarn for quick and easy access – 5 ideas
Apart from sticking to these few rules, I detailed above, you also might want to store your yarn in a way that it allows both easy and fast access. Just throwing every new skein that you buy into the next box might not cut it long term.
A) Organize your yarn by fiber > yarn weight > color
Another issue I have with most of these cute little yarn shelves is that they organize yarn by color. It certainly can look pretty but how practical is it? For example, if you look at all of my knitting patterns, very few of them call for a green yarn. A pattern typically calls for a certain yarn weight or fiber. Like fingering weight sheep wool yarn or so.
And likewise, the best way to organize your yarn is by fiber. So, put all of your sheep wool yarn into one box. All of your alpaca yarn into another box, etc. When you don’t have enough of one fiber to fill one box, do a mixed box and then stick a little label to the outside that tells you what’s inside.
If you have enough sheep wool yarn to fill more than one box, then separate the skeins by yarn weight. So maybe one for fingering and another box for DK weight and worsted sheep wool yarn. And if you still have more than that, then you can start to organize by color.
There are two reasons for this system and this order:
- It’s a lot easier to determine the yarn weight of a fiber than the content. With the wraps per inch method, you can easily guess what yarn weight any mystery yarn is. But it takes a lot of skill and experience to tell a dyed baby camel yarn apart from an alpaca blend or so (you’d have to burn some scraps and analyze the smell, the remains, etc).
- Yarn weight is not standardized. So, what one company might call fingering weight, another might call size 1, and another a lace yarn. And even when they all mean the same thing, the gauge of these threads can still be different, or the producer prefers a different gauge.
Depending on the size of your stash, a different classification might make sense. For example, I also have some boxes full of yarn from one yarn manufacturer because I use that yarn for very specific projects (e.g. I use Wollmeise yarn for almost all of my little flowers and pumpkins).
B) Every yarn needs a label
Most yarn you buy will come with a label with the most important information (here’s how to read yarn labels). It’s very important that you keep that information. You wouldn’t want to knit socks with a pure sheep wool yarn. Only a blend with nylon will ensure the long-term durability of these heels. This means:
- For yarn cakes, store the label at the center (or in the outer layer if you do center-pulls). That way, you can always easily access it.
- For half-used skeins, you can adjust the size of the label with a bit of tape to ensure it still fits.
- If you lost the label, make sure to attach a little piece of paper or cardboard with the essential information right away using a little pin. In that manner, you can also attach the label of yarn wound into a ball.
C) Use hair clips to secure tails
Most knitters will have a scrap box. Meaning a box full of half-used skeins. A wild mixture of colors and yarn weights. And if you move these boxes, the ends will eventually come loose and create a tangled mess. Instead, use hair clips to secure the ends for easy storage. I think this tip is so genius that I even included it in my list of 10 expert knitting hacks.
Tip: When knitting, you can use the same hair clips to secure the cast-on tail so it doesn’t get in the way.
D) Cakes, hanks, skeins, balls – does it matter?
Yarn comes in different shapes – either because you buy it like that or you actively wind it that way. So, what’s the best way to store your yarn? Should you all wind it into cakes? If you ask me, it really doesn’t matter.
Out in the open, a lightly wound industrial skein probably offers the most breathability. But when you keep it in a box, the minute differences don’t matter – as long as it’s dry, to begin with.
Yarn cakes have two advantages: They are easy to stack and you can knit from them right away. Still, I personally wouldn’t wind all my hanks into cakes by default. Why? Well, if you want to trade, sell, or gift that hank at a later date for whatever reason, it’s going to be so much easier as long as it’s still in its original form.
It might look neater if your whole stash has the same overall appearance but – setting the look aside – I can see to practical advantage.
5. Cataloguing your yarn
A lot of knitters have a huge stash. There’s even an acronym to describe them: SABLE – stash acquired beyond life expectancy. So, there’s not just one box of yarn under the bed and another at the top of the closet. And in these cases, having a system for these boxes alone might not suffice, you also might benefit from having a catalog for your inventory.
Sounds fancy, but basically that’s just a little booklet or file where you document your stash. If you have Excel or a simple inventory app, that’s all you need. Ravelry also has an option to catalog your stash. Here’s the data you could file:
- Name of the yarn
- Brand of the yarn
- Fiber composition
- Yarn weight
- (remaining) Yardage/number of skeins
- Stored in (box name/number)
- (Amount paid)
- (Acquisition date)
And then, before you start a new project, you can always go through your catalog and check what you have and where to find it. Of course, there are also apps and websites that you can use to the same effect.
Warning: A catalog is always only as good as the one keeping it. So, if you don’t update it meticulously, it’s more or less worthless.
Last notes & storage ideas
I trust you understand that this article should be seen as a list of options. Maybe you aren’t living in a place with high humidity or a place where moths are an issue. Then buying expensive airtight boxes might be a waste of money.
Or maybe your stash isn’t very big, then you will probably gain little from keeping a catalog. And if you only knit with one kind of yarn, then my proposed organization system might not be applicable in your case. So, kindly use your common sense and apply what seems reasonable in your case/circumstances.
I’m sure you also understand that it’s totally okay to keep the yarn for your current work in a project bag or basket – whatever you prefer!
But there’s one last thing I would like to highlight. Whatever conclusion you come to, consider treating your finished objects the same way. It makes little sense to go above and beyond to protect your yarn from moths, only to keep the finished sweater as feast for them in your wardrobe.
So, typically, I will put my knitted winter garment in the same boxes during the summer months when I don’t need them. I typically wash them before storage and add a bit of lavender to the box.
Also, you might have noticed that I am not a big fan of these fancy little craft room ideas that have you using your precious yarn as a decoration element. I mean, typically, you put your cooking ingredients into the fridge/larder as well. But, if you enjoy the idea, then, by all means, go ahead. This is a hobby and it should bring you joy! And only you can decide what does and what doesn’t.