Friday, 10 February 2017

Sew Your Stash

We’re going to make a sweeping generalisation here and assume that if you’re reading this, you’re a fan of fabric. And that you take pride in your stash, which may contain more fabric than you could possibly turn into quilts in the next year (or five). But despite all this, you will more than likely buy more fabric for the stash over the coming year. Can I see a show of hands?

Here at Make Modern, we are huge fabric lovers. We buy it, pet it, sometimes even sew with it. But a lot of it goes straight to the stash, where it stays (in some cases, in OCD colour coded glory). In previous posts, we’ve talked about maintaining a workable stash and organising your scraps. But all of that is null and void if you don’t actual USE the fabric you’ve got, which is why we’re talking about sewing your stash.

It seems simple enough… buy fabric, then use it. But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes we snap up the must-have bundle of the moment while it’s still available or we buy something for a specific project but don’t get around to sewing it up. Sometimes the lure of a big sale sucks us into buying things we don’t really need. Often we deem certain fabrics too precious to cut. All these factors contribute to having a stash that is bigger than any one quilter can manage. End result: you’ve got so much fabric that it’s guilt-inducing and overwhelming. This is why it’s important to take a long, hard look at your stash and actually use it. A commitment to sew from your stash isn’t as strict as a fabric diet, but it does force you to look to what you already own and be a little creative with your supplies.

organise your fabric
It goes without saying that if your fabric storage is in a state of disarray, it’ll be harder to sew from your stash. We’ve covered this extensively in previous issues so won’t go into too much detail now, but it is important to get that stash in order. This is your first plan of attack. Once your fabric is in order, it’s time to do something much more fun – pull some fabrics! Even if you don’t have a particular plan in mind, take a few minutes to pull some fabrics that work together. Explore new colour schemes. Mix and match things you wouldn’t normally put together. Pull out your treasured bundles. Take pictures of your fabric pulls on your phone and store them for later inspiration, then when there’s a particular project you need to make, you can pull up your pictures and see if you’ve got the perfect fabric selection already thought out. This is a great exercise to help you really understand and appreciate what’s in your stash.

ditch the ‘precious’ attitude
We all have precious fabrics in the stash. Maybe it’s out of print and valuable. Or it’s something you truly adore. Sometimes, the very thought of cutting into that fabric is terrifying. But here’s the thing: the purpose of fabric is to cut it up and use it. Take a look at your most favourite fabrics and come up with a plan for them. Make it something special just for you. When you’re sleeping under a quilt featuring your favourite fabrics every night, then it’s going to be more special than having that fabric on the shelf. The same goes for using fabric for things like home accessories, cushions or kids quilts that might suffer a lot of wear or tear. We’re not saying you turn your Liberty stash into potholders, but other than that, almost anything in your stash is fair game to become useful items around the home. If they wear out eventually, that’s okay – just make more (from the stash) and remember the joy you had using things made from your favourite fabrics and how much nicer they were than store-bought.

use your resources
Your stash extends beyond your fabric collection. It’s also threads, floss, zippers, buttons, books and magazines. All of these are valuable items that cost money, so make an effort to use them up. Before you race out and buy a zipper, button or thread, look in the stash to make sure there’s nothing else you can use. It’s useful to be a little resourceful in your fabric choices too. Sometimes you can alter a pattern to use what you have on hand. Perhaps you have a project that requires two yards of a low volume background print – before you race out and buy two yards of a single print, consider whether you could use the four half-yard pieces you have in the stash. A bit of lateral thinking can get the stash down fast, especially if you have a lot of small cuts of fabric. It’s likely you’ve bought a few patterns or books that you haven’t made a single project from yet – it’s time to look at them and plan to marry some of your hoarded fabrics with your favourite patterns. Win-win.

reduce temptation
If you buy fabric because it’s on sale or you see the latest ranges online, then it might be a good idea to avoid temptation. It sounds counter-productive, but it’s also a good idea to keep a stockpile of essentials like sewing machine needles, rotary cutter blades, neutral thread, interfacing and batting on hand. Every time you go to the local big box retailer to pick up more needles or a cushion insert, odds are you’ll go past the quilting fabric section, ‘just to see’ what new fabrics they have in. It’s much harder to avoid temptation when all the pretty bolts are looking down on you, begging to be bought.

make small stuff
Make a commitment to use your stash for more small projects. Whether it’s for gifts, swaps, home accessories or just cute things for yourself or your kids, small projects don’t require a lot of fabric, so you’re likely to find everything you need for a particular project in the stash. They’re also quick, which means you can make more of them, using more fabric as you go along.

embrace scrappy
Your quilts don’t have to be perfectly matchy-matchy, some of the greatest quilts contain a huge collection of prints. Scrappy quilts are the perfect way to use up your scraps and small cuts of fabrics. If you’re worried about things getting too scrappy, infuse a common feature into the whole design, such as white, low volume or a certain colour.

piece your backs
We love pieced backs, they’re almost like a whole other quilt! Buying backing is a big expense, so instead look at what’s in the stash. If you’ve got some fat quarters or half yards of fabrics that work well with your quilt top, why not create a scrappy back for your quilt? You’ll use up a lot of fabric this way and save yourself running to the store for more.

give yourself leeway
One thing to remember about sewing from your stash is that you’re not on a fabric diet. If you need extra fabric to round out a fabric pull, that’s totally okay. If you have to buy yardage of a background, go for it. It is a good idea, however, to only buy new fabric for the specific project you’re working on right now. When you fall into the trap of buying fabric ‘for the stash’ or the next five projects on the list, that’s when your plans fall apart. The key is to plan a project, shop the stash first (while being resourceful and thinking laterally), then buy any extra stuff you need to complete the project. Of course, if you have absolutely everything you need for another four projects, you do need to ask yourself if the project you’re buying for now is really your top priority (sometimes it is, but often it’s not).

use it or lose it
Let’s face it. Sometimes we outgrow fabric. Our tastes change, or we wonder why we even bought
it in the first place. There’s no shame in admitting you won’t use certain fabrics, but there’s no point
keeping them in the stash to remind you they weren’t your finest purchasing moment. A fast way to thin out your stash is to destash fabrics you know you won’t use. Need help destashing? See #9 from our 2017 New Year's resolutions for quilters post.

You may remember the feature we did on Leasa from (on IG as @projectleasa) back in Issue 4 about how her innocent little new year’s resolution hashtag started a stash sewing movement. Well, the good news is she has just kicked off the 3rd year of #sewmystash and everyone's welcome! Read more and join in here. See you there!



  1. You really hit the nail on the head with many of your comments. I have to straighten the "mire" in my sewing room, it is actually hard to find anything in there! I will do better today. I will persist...:)

  2. I am limited to the amount of fabric I can store in my small unit. So I am now only buying fabric for a particular project. I will of course check my stash to see if I have any of the fabric I need for that particular project first. Then only add to it secondly. But one of my goals for this year was to buy no new fabric's and instead finish UFO's first. Well I have to admit it, I've already broken that rule with buying the latest Tilda fat 1/8 bundle recently I just couldn't help myself as a late christmas present to myself and welcome back to sewing & quilting due to De Quervain's Tenosynovitis and no sewing for six months.

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