Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From Stash Busting

Well, not everything

Being a writer, the whole ebook thing is hardly recent news, but I’ve only recently started reading digital books for pleasure. I’ve been reading books on screen as part of my work for years, helping writer friends by reading their manuscripts and providing feedback. In fact, some years the only books I read were manuscripts, because for a few years there I found reading very difficult.

You see, I have chronic upper back issues that make reading while sitting up for more than half an hour painful – sometimes for days afterwards. The bigger and heavier the book, the worse it is. Physiotherapists tell me I should lie down to read, and I’ve found the Book Seat helps a lot, too.

Some years back I had some kind of chronic fatigue thing set in, and every time I lay down to read I’d fall asleep. I also found it very hard to concentrate on anything for long. I barely read anything for a couple of years, and then even though I slowly got over the fatigue I found it really hard to get back into the habit.

Still, I’ve been gradually regaining my reading mojo. Last year I read ten books. Ten! This year I’ve read that number in six months. I may never get back to my 50+ books a year habit, but things are improving.

Unfortunately, there was a lag between the drop in my reading habits and the drop in my book buying habits. I have quite a big to-read pile of print books. In fact, my to-read pile is a to-read bookcase. And on top of that I admit to ‘hiding’ unread books among read ones in my other bookcases.

Like many people, now that I’ve decided I like reading ebooks, I can’t help looking considering those print books a little differently. I still prefer to read print books. They feel and smell nice, are easier on the eyes, I think a house full of bookcases is immensely comforting, and they don’t vanish the next time you update your iPhone software.

But reading them hurts.

So the other day I went through my main fiction bookcase and removed everything I hadn’t read yet. I added them to my to-read bookcase and counted a total of over 100 books. Oh dear. If I continue to read at a rate of ten books a year, it’ll take me ten years to read them all. And only if I read what is there and nothing new. There are always new books to read: books by friends, new releases by favourite authors, books Paul reads and recommends, books publishers send for me to read and provide quotes for.

I don’t want to take ten years to read these books and I need the space they take up. But how am I going to get through 100 of them any faster than that? Well, thinking about this, it occurred to me that there must be some wisdom in all that yarn stash busting I’ve done. So I listed the ways I could apply it:

First: cull
The easiest way to reduce yarn stash is to simply sell it or give it away. In fact, a stash bust can be an excuse to get rid of yarn that you don’t really like, but have been feeling obliged to hang onto for some reason. I got ruthless in the same way with my books, getting rid of the series by writers I met once or used to chat with on a forum, but never got beyond the first book (or chapter), the sympathy buys, and the guilt purchases. Sometimes having spend my hard-earned cash on these books is support enough.

Then there’s the bargain yarn. I’ve been as much of a sucker for bargain priced books. And gift yarn. Most of my ‘gift’ books are freebies sent by the publisher, and I need to remember that I don’t have to read them.

I will also be applying the ’50 page rule’. If a book hasn’t hooked me by the time I get to page 50, out it goes – and the rest of the series. Heck, if the first chapter has me wanting to claw my eyes out or rinse my brain, I’m not even going to continue to chapter 50.

Second: prioritise
There are definitely yarns that I’ve been dying to knit. Some I’ve been dying to knit for years. Same with the books. They went to the top of the pile. As did ones by friends that I want to read. There are also some books that I bought for research purposes. I’m intermingling them with the others, so I’m not reading all research all the time.

Though the ones I’m least interested in are at the bottom of the pile, from time to time I’ll pick something up to see if it passes the 50 page rule. If it doesn’t, then at least I can remove it. If it does then I’m reading a good book, so there’s nothing to lose.

Third: restraint
A total ban isn’t always practical. When stash busting I usually make exceptions and, looking back at my last Knit From Your Stash rules I can see plenty of parallels:

I will not buy more yarn/books except…
Yarn for weaving – Books for research
To make gifts – Manuscripts for friends or to provide quotes for
Extra yarn to complete a project – Ongoing books in a series I’m hooked on
Yarn from a special yarn store – To support a specialty bookshop
If I run out of yarn while on holiday – If I run out of books on holiday
Yarn given to me – Books given to me
Charity knitting – Books with proceeds going to charity

Fourth: encouragement (cheating)
Seeing a tangible reduction helps me feel like I’m getting somewhere. With yarn stash busting there’s one big ‘cheat’ that I don’t mind resorting to: I count the yarn by grams not meters. Mostly this is because some yarns don’t list meterage, whereas I can always weigh it. The ‘cheat’ within using this system is that the heavier weight yarns knit up faster so if you knit them first you get a satisfyingly quick initial stash reduction.

With books I’ll be counting each tome, not the pages. So reading the shorter books first will make a bigger initial impact. But there’s still an advantage in reading bigger ones. They’re more likely to be the first of a series, and if I end up disliking it then I could get to cull 3-7 books.

Fifth: Rewards
I don’t like to set time limits on a yarn stash reduction these days, instead I give a little cheer whenever I get the stash down to a set round number of kilos. Call me crazy, but that’s reward and motivation enough. With books the aim is to read more of the books I already own as well as make space, so I think I’ll be pleased whether I read more of them or simply end up with more space free on the to-read bookcase. For the next six months I’ll see what works better, then see how I want to proceed next year.

The Devil in the Retails

You know how it goes. To buy something hard to find (in my case, ink for a fountain pen) you end up at a big shopping mall. While you’re there you discover a sale on at a shop that’s closing down, and an intriguing new stationary chain, and suddenly you’ve swapped some of those thin rectangles of plastic (paper if your local currency is low-tech) for some pretty stuff.

I didn’t know there was a Borders at Doncaster. Well, not for much longer. It was having a closing down sale. Along with some novels and a book on art, I picked up these for 20% off (which probably equals 5% off considering that Borders prices were usually hiked up by 15% to begin with):

The finishing techniques one actually contained a few tips/techniques I didn’t know, so definitely worth getting. The other two ought to be polar opposites – classic vs latest fashion – and yet I found more than a couple of patterns inside both that I thought I might actually knit.

The stationary store was like Smiggle and Ikea got together and had offspring. Cute things, but lots made out of pale wood, pastel colour schemes and prices so surprisingly cheap for this sort of thing that the words ‘mass production’ and ‘third world sweatshop’ whisper at the back of your mind. I couldn’t resist these:

Today I found Interweave Knits Spring issue at my local newsagent. I asked him what happened to Interweave Knits Winter since I hadn’t been able to find it in the five or so newsagents I usually look for it in. He looked it up and discovered that, while they’d been ordered, the stock had never arrived. So I wasn’t imagining things. That issue never did show up locally. Which is annoying because I usually only buy the autumn and winter issues.

Trying Something New

Yarn magazine mainly because it contained a tutorial for making baskets out of scraps of yarn and raffia. I reckon these baskets are made with the same method. I decided to give it a go, using loom ends and some thick acrylic yarn my Mum used to make a hooked rug out of in the 70s.

I didn’t like the method. The main pro was that I could use up loom ends, the main con was that the constant joining in of a new bit of yarn and the sewing was time consuming. I kept thinking that I could probably do this using crochet, with one continuous strand. Then yesterday I saw a book reviewed over at Craft Leftovers that looked like it might be about that sort of thing. As I always do, I ignored the link to Amazon and went looking for it on Fishpond.

It is there, though with a much less appealing cover. I spotted something called Google Preview and discovered that it shows you the first quarter of the book. Unfortunately for the publisher and author, that first quarter contains all of the technical instructions. I only wanted to confirm that the method was the sort of think I was thinking of. Now I don’t need to buy the book at all.


Anyway, I looked at my macrame supplies and there were two thicker kinds of rope that would work well, in natural and black. What to crochet them together with? I grabbed some linen thread from my bookbinding supplies. It was originally purchased for weaving, then turned out to be great bookbinding thread, and now it’s being used for crochet basketry:

I’m really pleased with the result. It’s faster than the sewing method and I like the look and feel of the ‘fabric’ it’s making, which is flexible enough to mould into shape and stiff enough to hold it. I’m not sure what I’ll make this into. A bowl? A matching pair of waste paper baskets for the bedroom? A trivet for the dining table? I can see potential for plenty of projects: table runners and place mats, lidded boxes, carry bags…

And there is so much potential for using other materials. I’m thinking it might look interesting to match the black rope with the leftovers from the Peri Peri Floor Rug:

I could be even more adventurous, and substitute the rope with strips of paper or card, fabric, wire, or even electrical cord. The crochet thread could be any kind of string-like thread, from yarn to thin wire to audio tape. Most of these things have been tried already, somewhere.

The book went onto my wishlist at Fishpond. Though I don’t need it, it did have some good project ideas in it. If you’re curious, follow both the link to the Fishpond page (and Google Preview) but also the Craft Leftovers review.

One Piece Wearables & Canvas Remix

I ordered these two books from Fishpond recently, having seen them both on blogs.

One Piece Wearables is a book of garments made from one pattern piece (and the patterns are supplied within a pocket in the cover), using ties or elastic and avoiding zips and/or buttonholes – though I did spot one zipper. Having one piece of fabric make up a garment is meant to keep the process simple for new and time-poor sewers. I’m not entirely convinced that the patterns always achieve that, but most do and, well, you don’t know until you try them out. The book uses illustrations rather than photographs which is nice, but while some illustrations are well done, others aren’t as successful and it detracts a bit from the book overall. There’s also a theme of men fawning over women that’s a bit cheesy. Still, the approach of the book is interesting with a range of patterns to try, and there are definitely a few garments in this that I’d like to make.

Canvas Remix is a book written by Alisa Burke, an artist whose blog I follow. I’m drawn to her bold, painterly style with its graffiti inspired spontaneity, and the book explains her techniques well and has a range of tutorials for fun projects. I want to explore the layering demonstrated in this book, but I can’t decide whether I want to produce fabric to make things with, or paintings. Maybe both. I’m thinking that, either way, it has all the satisfaction of playing with texture and layers that attracts me to art journalling, without the journaling part that doesn’t interest me as much.

Russian Book Bag – Finished!

The last few stages of my book to bag conversion involved attaching the magnetic clasp, hand sewing the base to the sides, removing the tape from the handle (there was tape sewn onto the braid so it could be sewn to cushions, etc.) and sewing it to some cotton tape. Then the gluing began: first the cotton tape to the spine and then covering it with lining:


Then finally gluing the bag body to the cover. To my relief, the magnetic clasp lines up perfectly. Here is the finished bag:

Front view, closed:

Front view, open:

Back view, closed:

Overall I’m very happy with it. The process was rather fiddly, but I’ll happily go through it all again because I have to make a bag for myself out of the cover with the chain-mail bikini-clad warrior woman. As for the other two… we’ll see. I need to streamline the process a bit more. I reckon I could eliminate some of the sewing.

Russian Book Bag WIP

Before I even saw Playing With Books, I’d come up with the idea of turning some of my excess foreign edition books into bags. In particular, these Russian editions, which have wonderfully cheesy covers:


(BTW, there are no chain-mail-bikini wearing women or Nordic-looking warriors in my books.)

I found a few tutorials on the net. All, as well as the instructions in Playing With Books, have you use a hardcover book cover as the body of the bag. This means the width of the book defines the size of the bag and how much you can fit into it. I had other ideas:


I pictured the cover becoming the back and flap of the bag. This meant that the the bag could be wider than the spine at the base, and I’d gain a bit more space inside. It also meant the bag would be a bit more secure. I’ve always referred to bags that are open at the top as ‘pick-pocket’s delights’.

I found some fabric for the lining and exterior – both which I’d conveniently already made some book cloth out of. And card to stiffen the bag and elastic for the sides:


Cutting the pages out was easy:


I cut two cardboard panels the size of the book and a base that looked ‘about right’:


Then I cut out fabric and lining, adding some pockets:


A bit of glueing and sewing later, and I’d got to this point:


When I had to stop, because I needed to buy a closure and a handle before I could continue. These I now have:


I’m just waiting until I have the time to put everything together. Then I have the perfect event to wear it to, this coming September.

Smaller is Better

Though my book pear looked fine in photos, in person it was much too bigger-than-life-sized. So I cut the template into two smaller fruit shapes, then carved up the big pear.


I like these even more!

Funny thing about representing objects at a different size to reality. Smaller than life size is fine, possibly cute. But if the representation is going to be bigger than life size, it kinda needs to be a LOT bigger. Just a little bigger looks odd and unsettling.

Book Sculpture

The first Playing With Books inspired project I finished (but not the first I started) was a sculpture of a pear. First I cut a template:


And got cutting:


It was a relatively thin book, but as I got toward the end I found there was a little bit of creep from the line imposed by the template. On a thicker book this could be much harder to compensate for. When I finished, I fanned the book out:


Opening up the book took more work than I expected. The spine was very well made and resisted being bent back on itself. The instructions were for a paperback book, and while this is a paperback it has a spine construction more like a hardback, with stitching and glue rather than just glue. But after much folding and bending I got it to open fully:


I dabbed ink along the edge of the pages before gluing the front and back pages together and clamping them while they dried. I’ve since added a little twig as a stem.

It came out rather large for a pear. The instructions recommended making the template the full height of the book to avoid having to cut through the spine. I think two smaller pears would have been better. But the full height would be fine for a vase shape. I may cut this one up again. Depends if I can unstick the front and back pages without damaging it too much.

There are plenty of other shapes to try. I like the idea of a fairy ring of mushrooms. I also like the topographic effect you can get by cutting sections of pages in an unopened book. Perhaps with added castle…

Playing With Books

Warning: Look away now if the idea of cutting up books bothers you.

I’ve mentioned now and then that my day job is writing books. Some of them have been translated into other languages. Most of the time I get copies of the foreign language editions. Sometimes I get far more copies than I have time to find homes for – or else I only have one or two from a series and it seems unfair to lob them one someone when they can’t get the missing book/s. The growing towers of boxes filled with books has been getting to be a problem lately.

So when I spotted this book on a blog I got very excited:


I lost my reluctance to cut up books waaaaay back when I worked for a travel guidebook company, where we sometimes chopped up books to make them easier to work with, and where it was recommended that travellers cut out the sections of a guidebook you didn’t need, to reduce weight in your luggage. (The books were sewn and glued so that they wouldn’t fall apart if you did this.)

Also, working in the book publishing industry, you learn that millions of books are pulped each year. Turning a book into art or practical items seems a better destination, compared to that.

I also lost any delusions that old books have value after talking to an antiques valuer. Most books have little or no value as collectables. Some do, of course, so when in doubt it’s best to check before hacking up a book. (Unfortunately, the prettier the book the more you want to cut it up, but the more likely it has value as collectable.)

Anyway… you can’t really see it in the pic above, but there are a LOT of bookmarks in the book. Here are just a few of the projects that I want to try:


Envelopes. I also want to make cards and gift tags.


Mats made of rolled up pages. I can see place mats and a table runner in my future. Maybe coasters. Maybe even covers for a bookbinding project.


Various ball-shaped ornaments. I might do more non-Christmassy Christmas decorations this year.


And – I’m sure you’ve seen this before – books cut up to form sculptural objects.

I spent most of the last weekend trying out projects in the book. I have four of them in various unfinished states, and one completed one, so there’s going to be plenty of creative blog fodder in the coming weeks.