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 QuiltyΒ (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.Β 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.” orΒ “Well, yes we need a new car but that’s 1500 yards of fabric…”