Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Topic Tuesday: Building a Stash

Occasionally I have a few ideas that don't really fit my regular posting schedule. I'm not planning to do this series every week, but I will pop in whenever I can. This week: building a stash for quilting.

Maintaining a good quilting stash is trickier than building a good knitting, fiber, or sewing stash, because the latter 3 are much more project-focused where the individual parts are usually not meant to be used together. For the occasional colorwork project, i generally buy yarns at the outset rather than putting together yarns already in stash. Quilting is different in that combining fabrics is sort of the point. Yes, you can build a stash by buying complete lines but i have a strong tendency to avoid doing that because the resulting quilts often look a little flat and boring to my eye.

I read a post recently about doubting yourself when making choices that are reflective of your style and i started to realize that i don't really have something i would claim as "my style" per se. i have tendencies, it's true. i tend to like bright colors and lots of color mixed with neutrals, like white, grey, or navy. but when i look back at my quilting history, there is no distinctive style that pops out at me, unless you want to call the vague designation of "modern quilting" a style.

What i do like is variety. i like to make lots of different quilts in different color schemes, some calm, some bold. i endlessly sketch out ideas and when i'm ready to execute, i like to have the right fabrics on hand so i can dig in instead of having to wait. for me this necessitates having a well-balanced stash at the ready. while i am drawn to "ooh shiny!" as much as the next person, i try to identify holes in the stash and get them filled so that I won't have limited options when inspiration strikes.

Retro Flowers Scrap Vomit Quilt

my first consideration when fabric shopping is always color. i think that we all have our favorites in terms of color and pattern. some fabrics are just easy to acquire. i actually have recently instituted a rule that i'm not allowed to buy blue fabric because i have overwhelming amounts of it in the stash. blue is my favorite color but it also seems to be one of the more readily available colors on the market. I don't dislike green or purple but i hardly ever buy them because it's hard to find good prints that i like in those colors. See this range versus this one for example. Green in particular: the past few years yellow-y greens like lime and chartreuse have been popular, while i am much more fond of kelly greens or bluer greens. maybe the ascendence of emerald will bring more options in the future. I try my best to have a little bit of every color and to also have a range of values and tones of each color. i find that fat quarters are useful for those colors that i don't like but also don't want to be without. in the scrappy quilt above, having a range of colors makes for a more interesting quilt than if i had limited myself just to my favorite shades.

QAYG Duvet Cover

Having a range of values is also important to a stash. When I made my duvet cover, i realized that i have very few dark fabrics in the stash because i'm just not drawn to them. i also used to have very few light fabrics, but i have made several additions to remedy this. I have even made some purchases of fabrics that i don't necessarily like because I think that they will be helpful in terms of adding balance. Taking advantage of sales is a great way to inexpensively build your stash with prints that don't leap off the page screaming "buy me" but might be helpful down the road. i plan to use these low-volume prints if i ever feel the urge to make another low-volume quilt for example. for this sort of thing i like to buy half-yards, especially if they are on sale.

Hawthorne Threads order

An example of broadening your horizons to great effect is this do. good stitches quilt. a couple of the blocks i received were not to my personal taste and i didn't think they were going to work in the quilt that i had envisioned. but when i arranged the blocks and stitched the top, those blocks made the quilt a much more intriguing composition and overall it really worked in a way that i hadn't expected.

do. good stitches

Another thing to keep in mind is scale. small-scale fabrics are the most handy. they look good no matter how tiny you cut them up. for these types of fabrics that would work in a variety of projects, i like to buy at least one yard, but i'll buy 2 or 3 if i know that they will get used constantly. although it is not at all exciting to look at, i ended up buying several yards of the yellow texture print on the bottom and i've used it in so many different things that i couldn't possibly keep track. i tend to be really attracted to large-scale multi-color prints, but i usually save them for things like bags, aprons, or quilt backs. they can look really busy when cut up as quilt tops. this is one thing i feel confident about saying that while nice, it is definitely not my style. Large-scale multi-colored prints can be useful to create a color scheme for a quilt. I sometimes start with a backing fabric and choose colors from that to use for the top.

i stash a very large amount of neutral solid fabrics (white, off-white, khaki, navy, chocolate, light/med/dark grey, and black) in a variety of textures: cotton, cotton/linen blends, and linen. I usually buy at least 4 yards and in some cases up to a bolt. i'm pretty sure i've only made one quilt with colored sashing, and if i were to do so again i would buy fabric for that specific project. i love using neutrals as background fabrics. i also buy scrap packs or small cuts of solid colors. i like to mix in coordinating solids with prints in my quilts, and i've made a couple of solids only quilts but my go-to method is using prints with neutrals.

Sparkling Diamonds Baby Quilt

if you have trouble picking fabrics for a well-balanced stash, or if you're like me and you have some habits that are hard to break, consider joining a fabric club. The Pink Castle Fabrics Stash Stack Club was one of the best purchases i've ever made. opening up a packet of monochrome blenders in the mail each month was not always exciting but the stacks have been tremendously useful. i've used the fabrics from the club in so many things, including a quilt made solely from club fabrics. I don't mean to sound like an ad for PCF but seriously--take a look at past bundles if you want ideas on how to build a stash.

Amy Butler Swing Bag

my last tip is not to worry too much about having a great stash with the most rare special fabrics. i don't really like the way the industry is set up to make you want to hoard fabrics because they're only available for a short time. the key is to remember that something you love is always going to be available so if you can only afford to buy a few fat quarters of that new heather ross don't stress about using it. you or the recipient will love whatever you've used it for and something else will be just around the corner.

What about you? How do you build your stash? Do you have any tips that I may have left out? I know that a lot of people enjoy working with precuts and clearly my perspective isn't the only one. Please share your ideas in the comments!


  1. I agree with everything you've said - I approach stash building in much the same way. I love your attitude toward 'special' fabrics, but I have to admit I'm a massive hoarder and have become a bit of a collector of certain hard to find prints :o)
    I really enjoyed this post!

  2. Good stuff here! I think you are right on when you talked about adding something unexpected. It's easy to make a quilt with the colors you are "comfortable" with but the quilts that really stand out are ones that have that extra zing of an unexpected fabric in them.

  3. I am with you and have a pretty balanced stash so that there is an assortment to choose from. You are great at choosing colors; congrats on your win at Stitched in Color! Yours was my favorite!

  4. It is nice to have a well-balanced stash. I have no strategy with building my stash other than to get what I like. If I like it, I'll find a way to use it, even if it takes me a while!

  5. This is a great post - I definitely agree with a lot of what you've said. I've found I've been a little bit too practical in building my stash, and have stayed away from large prints even though I'm initially drawn to them, because I know they are harder to use. I am now actively looking for large scale prints to fill in gaps in my stash. I also do like you and keep an eye on my stash to keep it balanced, and buy fabrics I don't love but think will be useful when they're on sale.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I must admit in the past I fell into the trap of buying an entire line of designer fabric whether I liked it or not. I now find myself with a large stash of fabrics that I don't quite know how to handle. I've decided that in the future I need to be more focused on stash building: usability and balance. Thanks again for the great post! I'm a big fan of both your work and your blog!

  7. What a helpful post! I am always interested to hear why others buy what they buy. My stash is all over the place (in terms of style) because I am drawn to so many different types of quilts and fabrics. I've almost never met a fabric I didn't like. My problem is getting it organized by color - ugh, that will be a monumental task!

    What is the pattern used in your do.good.stitches quilt? I think it looks like a great way to use up some of my stash that I'm no longer in love with :)

  8. It is interesting to see how people approach their stash. I have recently realized that my stash is filled with polka dots. Until I had spent some time organizing it recently, I had no idea there were so many! By the way, I love the Sparkling Diamonds quilt.



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