Friday, 16 September 2016

Stash Happens: building and maintaining a workable fabric stash

Let’s talk about something near and dear to every quilter’s heart – fabric. Regardless of our personal style or favourite colour, we all seem to be inexplicably drawn to cotton fibres the minute we take up quilting. And as soon as we become dedicated quilters we express our dedication to the craft by buying fabric. And more fabric, and more fabric, and a little more fabric, until we’re looking for new storage options and pushing STABLE – stash totally above and beyond life expectancy.

All this is well and good and keeps the industry going (which means they’ll keep making more
fabric, woohoo!), but if you buy random fabric with no particular plan in mind, you may find that
you end up with an unmanageable stash that’s creatively stifling and totally overwhelming, and that wasn’t the intention at all.

Take a moment to think about how you quilt – that is, your personal style. For example, I like scrappy quilts with tons of different prints mixed in, but I tend to stick to one or two colours in each quilt. Kristy, on the other hand, will find a fabric line she loves and a pattern she loves, and marry up the two. And Lara, swings a little both ways. Each of these are perfectly valid ways to work with fabric, but they require different approaches to purchasing and storing.

Single Ranges
If you fall in love with a range of fabric, buying a quarter or half yard bundle is a very convenient way to get the whole range. You’ve got the makings of a perfectly coordinated quilt right there, ready to go. One thing to note: only buy fabric ranges you’re totally in love with. Trends come and go in the online quilting world and particular designers get hyped up – but it is totally okay to decide you don’t like whatever the current big thing is and pass it over. Don’t succumb to peer pressure or you’ll most likely wind up with a stack of fabric you’ll never use.

Pre-cuts are very useful and time-saving if you like to make patterns that require certain sizes of fabric, and they are a fantastic way to get a tiny taste of an entire fabric range. However, they can be limiting, so fat quarters are usually a more economical and versatile way to buy unless you’ve got a specific pattern in mind. It’s no surprise that Moda named their pre-cuts after sweet treats; they’re the quilt shop version of candy at the supermarket checkout.

Single Colours
This is my personal preference, I look at the blenders in each line and if I fall in love with a print I’m likely to buy it in every colour possible. This means that when I decide I want to make a quilt in a particular colour, I already have plenty on hand and I’m not relying on sourcing what’s in the market right now. I made a quilt last year in blues, aquas and greens and I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed that I didn’t have to shop outside my stash for the 100 prints required.

Remember to only buy the colours you know you will use. Hate orange? Don’t buy it. Love hard-to-find shades? Snap them up when you see them. Your stash doesn’t have to represent every colour of the rainbow if there are colours you never use. Just remember if you’re involved in bees or block swaps you may have to use colours you hate, so you can choose whether or not to keep a few of those
colours on hand or to just buy them as you need them.

Note that those multi-coloured prints that feature all your favourite colours in them and look very useful usually aren’t useful if you work by colour. They will end up shoved at one end of your stash. Look for prints that are a single colour plus white, or have very small amounts of other colours in them. Because I keep a large variety, I prefer to buy small cuts – a quarter to half a yard – of each print.

If you aren’t colour confident but want to build up a colour stash, look for blogger or shop curated colour bundles in lots of online stores – this takes the guesswork out of choosing particular fabrics.

Solids are a staple in most modern quilter’s stashes. If you make a lot of scrappy solid quilts you may like to keep small yardage of a variety of colours on hand. It is useful to label your solids with the manufacturer and colour name so you can order more of the same later on.

Because solids are always available, you don’t need to stash in the fear you won’t be able to get that fabric later on – this is why it’s often more economical to buy solids for a specific project in the exact quantities you need. It is worthwhile investing in a colour card by your preferred solids manufacturer so that you can match colours.

You may want to keep a bolt of white and grey, or other colours you use often, in your studio – if nothing else, owning entire bolts of fabric makes you look like a serious quilter.

Low Volume
Low volumes fabrics are prints with very little colour in them, usually they have white, cream, grey, beige or pastel backgrounds and they are very useful as neutrals. They’ve become increasingly popular with modern quilters in the last couple of years. If you like the low volume look it’s useful to buy them in half yard quantities and build up a stash that you can use in lots of different projects. Again, lots of quilt shops put together low volume bundles to make finding them easier.

Novelty Prints
These are a bit of a love-them or hate-them type of fabric. They are brilliant in small projects like pouches, and lend themselves perfectly to fussy cutting, but they are harder to work with in scrappier quilts as they love to steal the limelight. Only buy novelty prints you absolutely love and only buy them in small quantities unless you have a specific plan for them.

Storing Fabrics
I will admit to being very fussy about how my fabrics are stored. They are folded uniformly by colour and it is very easy to see what I’ve got. I started using the ruler fold method where you fold over a 6 ½” wide ruler, which works brilliantly. I’ve had to modify and now I fold over cardboard so that I can fit two piles of fabric on my IKEA Expedit shelves. Some people like to use comic book boards as mini bolts, which is beyond cute. You can store your fabrics on bookshelves (not in direct sunlight), in plastic tubs, in drawers – whatever works for you. As long as your fabric is easily accessible and you can maintain your storage system, it will work.

Again, store fabrics the same way you quilt. If you choose fabrics based on colour, sort by colour. If
you know you want to use a whole bundle together, store it together.

Scraps can be wonderful reminders of quilts past,or a perpetual challenge. They are like bunnies, multiplying when you turn your back. To tame your scraps you need to use them, and to use them you need to know what you’ve got. Throwing them all in a basket is the equivalent of storing your clothes in a pile on your wardrobe floor – totally impractical. I discovered that when I stored my scraps by colour in small plastic tubs that I started using them much more. I also recommend pressing scraps before you store them as they take up less space that way.

If you don’t like making scrap quilts and you don’t use your scraps, give them to friends who will use them. It. Is. Okay. They are not your children.

Backings, Borders and Bindings
You will always need larger quantities of fabric for backings and borders. If you are making a quilt from one fabric range it is worth buying the exact quantities you need for borders and backings while the fabric is still available. But otherwise, unless the fabric is an absolute steal, keeping large quantities of fabric on hand can be expensive and take up heaps of space. If you prefer scrappy quilts it’s better to buy backing fabric as you need it.

It is well worth spending the time organising and maintaining the organisation of your stash. Doing this makes it easy to discover what you need and prevents unnecessary purchases. Be willing to play around with your stash management until you find the perfect solution to your needs.

What our Facebook friends say
We polled our FB likers and discovered heaps of methods of buying fabrics – this is why you need to match your stash storage to the way you buy fabric and how you quilt.

Jenny: I buy fabric I love. I usually buy a whole range in either FQ bundles or half yards.
Alyce: I've done a lot of different things over the years! But I've settled into half yards of colours/blenders as my standard purchase method.
Janine: I buy what catches my eye; usually I get fat quarters or a 25 cm strip.
Kathy: I buy much less now than 15 years ago. I love FQ bundles and pre-cuts. My stash is ridiculous but oh sew fun!
Emily: I like bundles – FQ or 1/2 yard bundles.

- JK

Got a stash photo you’d like to share with us? Use #makemodernstash on Instagram!

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