Building a Fabric Stash

comments (5) April 19th, 2008     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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Here’s a selection from my ever-growing fabric stash.
As you’re building a fabric stash, consider your own personal color palette: it can help to guide your creative decision-making on a given project.
Here’s a selection from my ever-growing fabric stash.

Here’s a selection from my ever-growing fabric stash.

Photo: Mary Ray

A few posts ago, I started a conversation about fabric—especially those wonderful new splashy cottons you find in quilt shops. I’d like to continue along that thread with some more thoughts on selecting and buying fabric. I suggested that there were two ways to do it: buy only enough for the project you’re working on or buy what you like when you see it, and it will be there when you need it (more commonly referred to as “building a stash”). Some sewers are serious stashers, and their stockpiles could qualify as a small shop, while others are content with a meager supply. My own “collection” is somewhere in between (I think). I’m not immune to impulse purchases, but I try to follow some guidelines so that the fabric I have on hand inspires me to sew, is just what I need when I’m ready to start a project, and doesn’t overtake my space, leaving me with no room to work.

These strategies may be helpful for you, too:

Consider the storage space. I’ve discovered that most of the time I can’t remember I have it if I can’t see it, so I don’t squirrel fabric away. I store some things in labeled cloth boxes that sit on the shelves in my workroom, but most of my fabric is stacked and exposed. One of the dangers in having fabric stored away in hidden places is that you may buy more of what you already have.

Build a personal color palette. A few years ago, the cool thing was to “have your colors done” to determine which colors looked best on you. I think this is crucial to building a wardrobe, but I don’t think you need to let it drive you crazy. That same palette should guide your creative projects as well. Think in terms of warm versus cool colors. You’ll naturally gravitate to one or the other. That doesn’t mean you only have fabrics of one or the other in your stash, (I have mostly warm colors, but I keep fabrics that are outside of my palette to use as accents in my work, and even a small amount of those colors can make a big impact.)

When he assigned his students specific color combinations as a painting exercise, Johannes Itten—artist, teacher, and leading color theorist at the Bauhaus in the early 1920s—discovered that they found them discordant because they had their own personal conceptions of color harmony. He attributed these subjective colors to the “aura” of the person, relating their eye, hair, and skin color to the colors they were inclined to use (The Elements of Color, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1970).

Check out your own surroundings. You’re probably already building a personal palette whether you realize it or not.

A little goes a long way. I never buy a lot of any one fabric unless I know I’m going to use it for the back of a quilt—and in that case, I’ll most likely buy it when I need it. If you’re inclined to work on small projects such as wall quilts, baby quilts, pillows, and accessories such as the lingerie bag I showed last week, a yard of fabric—especially when you’re combining it with other fabrics—can go a long way. I’ve also found that some of my most creative efforts have been the result of not having quite enough of a fabric and being forced to combine what I had with another compatible piece from my shelf.

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Comments (5)

pumpkinniki writes: I'm gonna steal you away! If you could make sense of my messy studio...you aren't human! LOL

I am sooo extremely forgetful. So in everything that I own, I can either see it, or I don't even know I have it. (I can't even use the bottom drawer in my frige for this reason!) I don't really know my style, so all my fabric is different styles that don't even come close to matching...which makes it impossible to organize.

The crazy part is: I only BUY fabric when I'm working on a specific project. Most of my stash is really clothes that I plan to refashion because I love the fabric but it doesn't currently fit. And I hate clothes shopping. So when I need/want something new, I make it. I just can't seem to sort it into what I would MOST likely use. Because I just don't know.
Posted: 2:25 pm on July 25th
mamawof7at46 writes: Ok I admit I am a total fabric addict, it must be a run in my family my grandmother was one and my mother and my sister. My stash is big, my guy built me shelves in my basement sewing room (he is half polish and a boilermaker) what I ended up with was shelves hung from the celing about 7feet up so I have to get the ladder to reach them. Then he was kind enough to attach poles to the bottom of them made of pipe, so I could hang my fabric on hangers. The shelves look like they belong in a welding shop and could hold a thousand pounds. I store my bolts on the shelves and I hang my fabric on hangers on the pipes under the shelves, in groups by color I store smaller pieces in ziplock bags and pin them to hangers. The new huge ziplock bags are wounderful for stashing fabric, rag bags, and for clothing repurposing, plastic tubs are great but take up alot of room. I love to be able to look at what I have just like looking in my closet sure beats digging. I aquired most my stash when my boss bought out two small town fabric shops, the second one was a dream it had been there for over fifty years. The little ladies never clearenced anything or got rid of anything. My stash size exploded. It was the best treasure hunt ever, ya I have fabric fever and I'm not ashamed.
Posted: 9:35 pm on May 1st
Skymom writes: This is one of the most sensible discussions of stash management I've read! And it reassures me, because I do find that my stash is pretty much in a unified palette. However, I really need to do something about keeping it visible so I don't forget what I've got. Sometimes it seems easier to buy new than to sift through the existing stash--bad habit!!

Posted: 8:42 pm on April 27th
ChristineDesigns writes: My stash is probably considered a small shop. Not only do I collect fabric, but I also like to salvage used clothing, curtains & bedspreads, with the thought of turning them into something new. I like the idea of creating a personal color palette; however, since I sew for myself, home, and others, my fabrics range in style & color.

As for organizing my yardage, I use fabric rolls for my larger pieces & for the smaller pieces, clear storage bins (with kitty litter sachets to absorb any moisture). The fabric is separated by type (e.g. home decor, linings, cottons, velvets, etc), then by color. In order to quickly remember what I have, I have created index cards with a swatch of the fabric & yardage amount. I also find this method helpful when it comes to shopping for coordinating fabrics, trims, thread, etc. I can just take the index card with me to the fabric store, instead of rummaging through my stash & cutting a swatch.
Posted: 3:55 pm on April 23rd
MindlessPursuits writes: It sounds like my stash is probably about the same size as yours. It takes up multiple shelves in my closet. I used to have it all in clear totes but having to go through the totes to get to the right fabric tended to make me shy away from working with anything but what was on top so I finally took it out and shelved it where it was easy to get at anything I wanted.

Since I don't sew much for myself, I tend to purchase fabrics that I believe I can use for multiple projects. My biggest weakness though, is brocades, so I but patterns that are easily used for anything from crafts to corsets and that way I don't have to worry about my own personal color scheme as much!
Posted: 6:03 pm on April 19th
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