Am I a Quilt Fabric Collector, Hoarder...Or Just a Typical Quilter?
Ever since I learned to sew as a pre-teen, I have loved playing with fabric. The colors, patterns, and textures of the fabrics leap out at me and engage the creative side of my brain. I can imagine different ways to use the fabric – quilts, clothing, decorative items like pillows or curtains, Halloween costumes, tote bags, and more. Let’s just say I’m obsessed with fabric.
Now I find myself, after many years, with a sewing room almost bursting with fabric – some pieces with designated projects in mind, others still waiting for a specific purpose, and leftover scraps from previous completed projects. As I ponder this fabric stash – mostly all-cotton quilt fabric – I wonder whether I am a collector who loves to gather beautiful fabrics that “might be perfect for a future quilt” or if I’m afraid to use the fabric and want to hold onto it like a hoarder.
Then I think of my quilting friends who have similar fabric stashes. Like me, they often pull fabrics from their shelves, bins, or cabinets for their next quilt project. Also like me, they might not have the “right” color or yardage amount of fabric for the quilt border or other component of the quilt design, so they head to the quilt store. Then in the store they are faced with irresistible fabric collections that they can’t pass up, so they buy some new pieces to add to their stashes.
So, I’m going to self-diagnose and call myself a typical quilter. And that designation is fine with me!
I’m still, however, left with a large quilt fabric stash that I confront every time I step into my sewing room. What should I do with this fabric kaleidoscope of colors and styles? Do I still like every piece of fabric, or will I never use some of it? How can I repurpose the leftover fabric scraps from my completed quilts? What strategies can I adopt to minimize additions to my stash? Do I want to pack up this much fabric again if we move?
The focus for me now is putting my stash to work. I’ve decided to not follow a common refrain among quilt makers (and quilt store owners?) that says: “She who dies with the most fabric wins!” Instead, I’ve been cooking up some ideas for better stash management, and I’m ready to start implementing them.
Do you have similar collecting (or borderline hoarding tendencies)? Are you content with your current collection or, like me, are you ready to whittle it down a little or a lot? Here are my plans for the next 12 months (December 2023-November 2024).
Taking Stock of My Quilt Fabric Stash
Photo 1: In my sewing room, there's a wall of wire baskets that hold the majority of my quilt fabric stash. / Photo 2: Fritz, my mom's black cat who is staying with us for a while, checks out the five wire baskets of batik fabrics. / Photo 3: Under each corner of my large cutting table, I have stacked bins with more fabric. / Photo 4: I store larger pieces of fabric and bags of UFOs (unfinished objects, aka quilt projects) on a pair of bookcases. / Photo 5: Flanking my flannel design wall, on which I'm organizing a layout of some quilt blocks, are more bookcases of folded fabrics, bins of scraps and random piles of fabric.
If I’m going to make any real headway with my quilt fabric stash, I need to know what I have sitting in wire basket drawers, tucked in plastic bins, and stacked on shelves. By taking a critical look at all my fabric, I can come up with ideas for how I want to use it…or not.
Group fabrics together for possible quilt projects. I can think about which fabrics would work together for some future projects. Because I enjoy working with several styles of quilt fabric, there are lots of ways I can sort fabrics: by theme (maybe kids, holidays or floral), by color combination (such as patriotic, brights, autumnal, or monochromatic pinks and reds or all blues), by fabric collection (a designer’s coordinating fabrics in the same color palette), or by design style or fabric type (including batiks, Civil War reproduction, or 1930s design based on feed sack fabrics).
Sort current fabric scraps. Dealing with leftovers is never a fun task – be it food or fabric! I have a couple large bins stuffed with various fabric remnants from past quilt projects. I’m too frugal to throw them away, but over the years I have mostly ignored them. Figuring out what I can do with these scraps will be a challenging task, but I know the sense of accomplishment I’ll feel at seeing an emptier scrap bin will be worth the effort. I already have an idea for a quilt I could make from these scraps (and other stash fabrics) – a color wash quilt design featured by Canadian quilter Terry Rowland.
Donate unwanted fabrics. I’m sure I’ll find some fabrics that no longer appeal to me or fit with the kind of quilts I like to make now. In the past, I have culled through my fabric and found pieces that I can donate. My quilting friend Kitty volunteers with a couple other friends to use donated fabric to make quilts for charitable organizations. (I’ll share her Scraps on a Mission story in an upcoming post.) I can also check with local quilt guilds, churches, school districts, or kid organizations (such as your local Girl Scouts council) about donating fabric.
Planning for Stash Quilts
Once I have some stash fabrics in mind for a future quilt project, there’s still some prep work to do before I start sewing blocks for a new quilt. Here are a couple approaches I plan to use.
Cut stash fabrics into common sizes for quilt blocks. Lots of quilt patterns use some common fabric pieces in the patchwork blocks – for example, 2.5-inch and 5-inch squares – so quilters often cut smaller pieces of fabric into these sizes. I plan to designate several stash fabrics for this cutting process, which I can also do outside my sewing room as I watch TV with my family. Then from these standard sizes, I can sew blocks into a super scrappy quilt, like Scrappy Happy Nine Patchy.
Gather easy and scrap-friendly quilt patterns. From my library of quilt patterns and books, I will look for designs that are easy to construct (so I can get more quilts done faster) and look good with a variety of fabrics. Having some patterns in mind makes it easy to select stash fabrics that work together for future stash quilts. Recently, I found the Movie Night pattern (from BasicGrey) that will be a perfect design for a variety of stash fabrics.
Photo 1: Quilt made from the Scrappy Happy Nine Patchy pattern -- a great design for scrap or stash fabrics. / Photo 2: Movie Night quilt pattern from BasicGrey -- another great design for scrap or stash fabrics.
Working on Stash Quilts
When it comes to quilting, I often fall back on my project management skills that I honed during my career. So, if I want to make sure I fit some stash quilts into my goals for the next year, the following scheduling tricks will be helpful.
Complete a stash quilt after other quilt projects. Although I have a lot of quilts on my to-make wish list, I don’t want to lose sight of my stash quilt goals. My plan is to have a stash quilt ready to work on (fabrics and pattern at least selected) as soon as I complete a quilt to gift or one of my UFOs (unfinished objects – quilts that are started but not yet completed).
Set aside a day or weekend for stash quilts each month. I can get a lot done in 30-minute or 1-hour increments, but dedicating a whole day or even a weekend to prepping and sewing stash quilts should increase my stash management productivity for the year. I can’t wait to see how much I can accomplish!
Set weekly or monthly goals to complete quilt-making steps. I think I love checking off tasks on a list as much as I love to make quilts. It’s a no-brainer for me to include goal setting in my stash management bag of tricks. Depending on how busy my week or month will be, I can tailor how many and how complex the tasks will be – maybe simple tasks like cutting 10 stash fabrics into 2.5-inch strips or sewing rows of blocks together for a stash quilt to more time-consuming tasks like machine quilting a lap-size quilt or cutting out fabrics for three future stash quilts.
Setting Goals to Limit Stash Acquisitions
When I go into a quilt store or browse online fabric sites, my will power holds until I pull the first bolt of fabric from the shelf, pick up a fat quarter from a basket, or spot a photo of an irresistible fabric on the screen. The dam breaks, and I’m off and running to add a few more fabrics or figure out a new project to start that uses that initial fabric choice…often leading to a larger fabric purchase. The following list of goals are ones I will consider following through the end of 2024.
Source as much stash fabric first for new quilt projects. When I see a new pattern in a quilt store or online, I typically start looking for new fabrics for it. Instead, I’m going to take that new pattern home and “shop” from my stash first. It’s likely that I can source at least some of the fabric from my own sewing room.
Buy only “filler” fabrics for stash quilts. There will undoubtedly be times when I can’t source all the fabric for a new quilt from my stash. So, I will allow myself to purchase new fabric to fill in the gaps. With this buying approach, I’ll buy only the amount of new fabric needed for a specific quilt project instead of fabric from the entire supply list on the pattern envelope. I will also reduce the number of new fabrics entering my stash without any earmarked quilt project.
Set a fabric-spending moratorium or maximum budget for a specified time. This approach is one of the most drastic steps, in my mind. I’ve heard of some quilters setting a year-long spending moratorium, so they can focus on their current projects, use their existing stash, and save money. I’m not sure if I will set a moratorium or maximum budget, but I fully expect my spending amount will diminish.
Complete a stash quilt before purchasing new fabric. By challenging myself to finish a quilt made almost entirely from my stash fabrics, I know I will see an opportunity to buy new fabric – if I really need it – as a reward. This approach works well for me.
Use at least one stash fabric in every new quilt. This stretch goal will remind me to not overlook the vast selection of fabric options I have sitting in my sewing room. If I don’t have enough of a stash fabric, I may be able to be more creative by using some other similar fabrics – such as different dark greens – instead of one fabric. Quilt patterns can often be adapted for a bit of scrappy fabric use.
Limit visits to local quilt stories and online sites. While I love supporting local quilt stores and will continue to do so, it’s best if I limit my visits to them! The same is true about “browsing” online quilt sites. Unless I have a specific fabric need for a quilt project, I will focus my time on completing quilts.
I’m excited to start this year-long stash management challenge next month (December 2023). I’ll have to spend some time outlining a high-level plan and then more detailed tasks for the first couple months. I would like to have my first stash quilt finished by the end of February – after I finish my son’s bed quilt.
Note: To hold myself accountable, I’m offering to send a short monthly email with an update on my fabric stash management progress, plans for the next month, and year-to-date stash management statistics. If you’re interested in receiving this update email, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think you can adopt some of these plans to manage your own “stash”? Or do you have other ideas for decreasing or using a large quilt fabric stash or other collections? Let me know in the comments below.