25 November 2009

Organising or index cards & envelopes

In either a tweet or a FB status update, I noted that one of the problems with creating databases is changing sort strategies.

It isn't a big deal when the sort is purely theoretical and/or bits and bytes but if you change the sort strategy of tangible items things are more complicated.

Actually, it is only more complicated if you're the one who actually has to find the items, see if the sort still makes sense or just find shelf space.

Several years ago I embarked on a stash sorting exercise that pretty much divided yarn by fibre content and colour.

I didn't go into great detail defining what was in each bin and although I tried to get as many like things with like things I wasn't too concerned when not every hank of yarn X found its way into the bin containing the other hanks of yarn X.

Over time yarn came and went from the bins. Some bins became sparsely populated, others saw little change and still others saw overcrowding and wait lists. More bins were added to the original collection but that only delayed, and in some cases exacerbated the underlying problem.

The pure amount of yarn I had grew and my handle on the inventory was much too LIFO with the first in stuff becoming the lost, forgotten or can't find. My FILO was First In LOst and my FIFO was First In FOrgotten and that just wasn't working for me.

The studio still has a certain amount of constant chaos and the "go back bins" will always be with me as I find that I didn't catch all hanks of X when I put the other hanks away or as I pull a hank or two of X for a project and then need/want to put it back with the rest of its kind but don't feel inspired to move other bins around to put a single hank away.

Add the active and not so active WIPs, things blocking, swatches "seasoning" and things waiting to be photographed. . . I'm just trying to not let it get too out of hand before restoring some order.

Originally in this year's October re-org, I was excited about repurposing some diskette labels to better document the contents of each yarn bin.

For some bins containing lots of hanks of a just a few sorts of yarns this idea had great promise but as I got into bins where there were more types of yarns with fewer hanks each and/or finer gauge stuff, that scheme was not working.

Enter old school index cards, a little new school Ravelry and alcohol.

Up first, old school index cards. One of the big failings I saw in my previous stash sorting scheme was that sometimes, especially as yarn got used up, it made more sense to combine the contents of bins with a little less attention to fibre content, colour etc. but labeling and relabeling as things changed was a pain and not enough of a priority to keep current.

So I started thinking old school and physical cards for physical items. The idea is a simple one with each bin having an envelope and each envelope containing an index card for each type of yarn contained in the bin.

That way, if I decide to shuffle yarn from bin to bin, I can shuffle the cards too. In addition, even if I can't see all the yarns in the bin, I can pull the cards and see detailed info (yarn name, mfg, weight, yardage per hank, # hanks, dye lot & colour) on the contents.

The original frugal plan was for me to make the envelopes and use old business cards but it wasn't quite coming together. Enter Warwick's. I was just wandering through on the outside chance that I'd hit the shop when a friend was working and when she wasn't I wandered into the stationery section for inspiration.

Half 3 x 5 inch index cards and gift insert envelopes are the perfect old school answer. A 3 x 5 card is too big/wasteful for the info I need and a business card too small. The gift insert envelope will hold the half 3 x 5 cards nicely. For day to day functioning, I leave the cards sticking out but in the event of a move, the envelopes can be closed to keep the cards secure.

Each bin has another old school marker or two. The lids of bins I own are clear, blue and green so each bin has a C, B or G yard sale sticker and then a number. There's no hidden coding in the lid cover, the number or the colour of the index cards this information is purely for navigation and physical retrieval.

On the database side of the house, I relied to some degree on the kindness (and compulsiveness) of others and went with the Ravelry new school option.

When I joined Ravelry, I had little or no interest in doing an inventory of my stash using their tools. I didn't see the value but once I started doing the reshuffle this year, it all came into focus.

Because of the work of others, the Ravelry database, contains essential information about a lot of commercially available (and previously available) yarn. This means that if a yarn is in the Ravelry database, I can tap into that information to create my own database of my yarn inventory.

With my yarn inventoried, I can more readily figure out if I have enough of a particular yarn to knit a specific project. A good example of this was when I was trying to decide what I was going to use to knit my version of Santorini.

Classic Elite Sand was in the database so all I needed to do was list how many skeins in what colour/dye lot and automagically, the 22 skeins showed me that I had 1694 yards -- more than enough.

The stash database includes a field for location so all my inventoried yarn is coded with the bin labels. This makes reuniting orphaned skeins & hanks much easier.

I can also download the table/spreadsheet of my inventoried yarn and sort/manipulate it to meet my needs in ways that are not yet coded into Ravelry.

And the alcohol? A long time ago, I discovered the value of using the divided boxes that wine and liquor comes for storing stemware and other fragile items. They work just as well and are a much cheaper option than buying storage boxes.

Those same boxes are also great for storing yarn that come not in hanks or skeins but wrapped around a rigid cardboard tube -- think Rowan Linen Drape, Lang Opal, DMC Cebelia, etc.

I haven't gone inventory mad on those quite like I have with the bins but eventually the plan is to have each box have a key with what yarn is contained in each section. For now, it is easy enough to know what yarn's where just by glance.

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