Theory Thursday: stash

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Today I want to take a break from talking about specific projects to talk about a more general topic: choosing fabric. I am convinced that this is the single most important aspect of a quilting project.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to do a fabric photo shoot.

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But really- think about it. When you’re shopping for a new quilting book or pattern, is it hard to buy it if the author’s fabric style is significantly different from yours? Think about the blogs you read: how many of them use the same fabrics you do?

When I made my first several quilts I went specifically to the quilt shop (ok, I’ll admit it was JoAnn’s at first) and purchased fabric for that project. When I started watching Quilty (I recommend it!) and reading quilting magazines and books I learned what quilters mean when they talk about their “stash.” A quilting stash is a carefully curated collection of fabrics that enable a quilter to make a project without going to the fabric store or hopping online (and then waaaaiting for the mail) before starting a project.

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Your stash is distinct from your scraps. Stash is generally a fat quarter or bigger. Scraps are smaller than that. I usually draw the line at whether the piece of fabric seems big enough to fold it. If it’s too small to fold into a neat square for my stash containers, it’s a scrap.

There are a couple of good reasons to stash. I am well-practiced at these arguments because I have had to remind my husband of them from time to time.

  • One of the reasons I believe in stashing is the inordinate variety of absolutely amazing fabrics that is available at any one time. If you like scrappy-looking quilts like I do, it can be really overwhelming to shop for 50 (or 150!) different blue prints and 25 different background prints all at once. It’s also hard to spend that much $$$ all at once.
  • On the other hand, despite the great variety there’s also limitations. Maybe you want to do a quilt all in stripes like this beauty. (Red Pepper Quilts again. Love her.) Could you do it with what’s available in stores right now? Maybe. But you’d probably have to make some compromises and include some fabrics that maybe aren’t your favorite but they’re striped so they’ll have to do. This is my point: if you have a collection of stripes you love and have collected over time in your stash, you are more likely to be able to achieve that amazing quilt you see in your head and not have to use any fabrics you don’t love.
  • Another reason I stash is because it’s so much easier to see what looks good together in person rather than online. Online coloration can be very deceiving. This is of course a good reason to shop local! But if your local quilt shop doesn’t carry the style of fabric you’re looking for, then you have to go online and that can lead to disappointment. If you are ordering fabric for your stash rather than a specific project, the exact shade is less important.
  • Yet another reason to stash: in my opinion it leads to more interesting quilts. Making a quilt out of a single line of fabric can be just beautiful. But sometimes it’s fun to challenge yourself to combine fabric lines in a way that someone else hasn’t done before. A good stash will enable you to do that.

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Now that you’ve thought through the reasons to have a stash, you might want some tips on how to build one. Here are just a few things I’ve been thinking about lately.

  • The easiest way to build a stash (especially in the earlier stages of your quilting career) is to identify a fabric line you love and order the whole thing. They will all coordinate and you’ll have a good start. Then research the designer of that fabric and find out if they have any other fabric lines available (maybe even on sale!). Very often a designer will have multiple lines available that compliment each other. In this way you can find your own favorites and have a good place to start when you are shopping. I have my favorites (Denyse Schmidt, Anna Maria Horner, Bonnie & Camille) that I always keep my eye on- what are they doing next? What’s on sale? What’s available on Etsy that might not be available in stores anymore?
  • But please please don’t forget to develop your collection of stash basics! These are things like neutral tone-on-tones, dots, and stripes. Rachel from Stitched in Color calls these “helpful” fabrics and has a great post on this topic. If I had all the money in the world I would have dots and stripes in every shade of the rainbow. Someday!

You know you’re a quilter when you consider other purchases in terms of fabric yardage. Walking through Marshall’s, “Oh that’s a cute top but I’d rather buy 2 yards of fabric.” or “Well, yes we need a new car but that’s 1500 yards of fabric…”

15 thoughts on “Theory Thursday: stash

  1. lol “you know you’re a quilter when…” My guild was recently discussing the dues increase that would happen to make us members of the nat’l MQG, and we were all, “look, that’s like 3/4 yard of fabric apiece, no big deal.” quilters are the best!

  2. hahahaha. laura! my guild had the same thoughts! and sarah, i think the same thing when i walk through stores. i will say, manicures and pedicures are almost a thing of the past now! such is my love of a good stash!

  3. I definitely feel the same way about other purchases being assessed in terms of fabric yardage. I also have recently moved from the ‘buying fabric for a project’ to ‘building a stash’ purchasing, but I have noticed that because I do a broad array of projects, the leftover pieces have started forming a stash all of their own accord! It is growing without me even realising! :^)

  4. What a great post! Being a scrappy quilter, I add to my stash by offering to take people’s old clothes off their hands and shopping at the thrift store. When I feel I’m lacking something for a particular project, then I may break down and go to the fabric/quilt store. But, darn, fabric store fabrics are so expensive, so I try to go without if possible…

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  7. Such a great post! Totally agree with your “you know you’re a quilter when…” I started keeping a stash for the same reasons you mention, especially the ability to start a project without having to shop first and to be able to put away favorite fabrics so that when you want them they are available. Still, sometimes I make myself come up with a plan before buying. Right now I want Briar Rose, but…

  8. Great post! When I started the simply solids bee I had no solid fsbrics in my stash. That was one reason to do that bee. I like having a stash of fabrics but I find I dont like to cut into my stash and I usually buy fabric for each project.

  9. Great post Sarah! Lol, I love your “You know you’re a quilter when…”! I totally agree with your reasons to stash – I love being able to shop my stash when I start a new project.

  10. Great post Sarah – I definitely agree with your thoughts. The whole finding a designer you love bit is interesting to me – that’s actually why I have any Good Folks at all – I only started quilting two years ago, but quickly fell in love with AMH and started looking at her older collections. A few Aussie online stores still (amazingly) had some Good Folks which I snapped up pretty fast – and then found more on Etsy and bought it when I could afford it :o)

  11. I do not agree with your idea of buying an entire fabric line to start building a stash. First of all, for most people it would be too expensive. Secondly, if you are a new quilter your taste in fabric could change next week! A stash is best built slowly, a few fabrics at a time over your quilting years.

  12. So true! When my husband suggests I go out for coffee and cake I think, but I could get a couple of FQs with that money. Same applies to my other craft supplies, a well-stocked craft studio means you can create on whim, without having to shop for something to complete a project.

  13. I’d never describe my stash as “carefully curated”, not since it comes mostly from thrift stores and estate sales, but I definitely agree with you that it can be impossible to go to the store and find the right fabrics for a quilt you’ve dreamed up. Right now, I’m collecting fabric for a scrappy red quilt. That should be EASY, but it’s not.

    Just found your blog for the first time, and now I’m following.

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