It’s raining here…again. I’m really trying not to complain, because I know when July and August hits this part of North Carolina, we’re going to be begging for it. But right now, I feel like Jamestown is trying its best to become the Seattle of the South. The ground is sodden. If we get any hard wind at all, this will not end well. Trees that are perfectly vertical at this moment will take a hard turn and become perfectly horizontal.
But enough talk about the weather. Let’s talk fabric.
For some months now, I’ve teased you with the prospect that I would share with you how I manage my stash. Please note at this point, this system works for me. It may not work for you. I would be the first one to encourage you to go to Bonnie Hunter’s blog or her books for tips. Scrapstashtic Quilts by Janella Macbeth is also a wonderful source. Scour Pinterest for ideas.
Before I retired from the field of education in 2010, I was truly the “Fat Quarter Queen.” I only worked on one large quilt at a time, usually taking about 18 months to finish it from start to the last stitch of binding. Between large quilts, I would make small quilts or small quilted items. By undertaking smaller projects and completing those, I did feel like I was accomplishing something. And those small ventures took small amounts of fabric – preferably fat quarters. So, by post-2010, I had accumulated an impressive display of fat quarters and very little yardage.
But that was about to change. Now I had more time to quilt and I had joined three local bees, was taking and teaching classes, and belonged to the local guild. I began making three to four large quilts at a clip and started purchasing yardage on a serious basis. Instead of my stash fitting on a couple of rows of a cast-off bookcase and a few Rubbermaid tubs, I had a small quilt store in the smallest spare bedroom in the house. After I moved my quilt studio to a larger room I put my foot down and declared the kids’ old recreation room was mine I realized that I had to somehow come up with a way to see everything I had so that I wouldn’t over purchase colors that I had too many of or under-purchase colors that I needed. It took about 18 months of re-arranging and trying different ideas, but the following are the methods that work best for me.
As far as my impressive collection of fat quarters, I didn’t want them to take up too much space, but I wanted to be able to see what I had. At first, I folded all of them and kept them in large, shallow, clear tubs. However, I ended up with several of those and they were bulky. And invariably the fabric I wanted was always in the tub that was on the bottom of the stack. A good friend of mine, Linda, gave me the solution. She purchased the 8 ½ x 11-inch cardboard inserts used for comic book displays and wrapped her fat quarters around them and then stacked them on a shelf like books. This was perfect. I did this to all my fat quarters (which took about two weeks, working at night while I was watching television or binging on Netflix), and they ended up taking about four shelves worth of space on a bookcase. However, since I can see what I have, I have used most of them and am now down to two and a half shelves. If you want to try this, I can tell you straight up that Amazon has the best price on these inserts. The only exceptions to this are my Feed Sacks and my reproduction fabrics. My Feed Sacks are kept in a tub all by themselves and I have two tubs for my 1930’s reproduction fabrics and one tub for my Civil War Era reproduction fabrics. Quilts that are made with these tend to use fabrics from each time period with little variation. Keeping them together speeds up the process of picking out fabrics.
Now what do I do about yardage? In my quilting world, yardage is any piece of fabric that I purchase that is more than one yard. If it’s just one yard or less, it’s wrapped around those cardboard inserts and shelved. This is important for two reasons. First, yes, I can see what I have. But also, if it’s on one of those inserts, I know that I have a minimum of a fat quarter and a maximum of a yard. If I am shopping my stash for a quilt and find something on those inserts that would work beautifully, I know that I have a limited amount of material to work with. If the pattern requires more, then I have to visit my LQS or search the internet to find additional material.
What do I do with more than a yard? If I can, I bolt it. And when wonderful stores like Hancock’s or Dragonfly were open, I could get their empty bolts for a song and dance (most of the time they just gave them to me) and wrap the fabric around the bolts and stack them against one of my walls. Since those stores are no longer in business, I flat fold my fabric and stack it in the bottom of my bookcase. Like my fat quarters, they are arranged by color, so I can see what I have at a glance. You can purchase empty bolts, but they average about $85 for 30 empty bolts. Thirty bolts would take up a lot of wall space, not to mention I really don’t want to sink $85 into empty bolts when I could use that money for other goodies.
For me, the bookcase was a great boundary option. I took the two bottom shelves out of my tall, narrow book case and used that area to keep my flat folds in. Anytime I purchase yardage, I must consider the fact “Will it fit into that area?” For that reason, I limit a lot of my yardage purchases. Yes, I still buy at least five yards of a fabric if I absolutely fall in love with it and have to have it. But on the whole, I limit my yardage purchases to stash staples – backgrounds, blenders, neutrals, and potential focus fabrics. This is smart purchasing. Just like most women have that one outfit in their wardrobe they can dress up or dress down, wear to a wedding or a funeral, these are stash investments. They’re going to be used. They generally are not a current “fad” color or the Pantone color of the year. They’re blues, creams, grays, greens, pinks, purples (of course), and a few reds. This philosophy also allows me to shop fabric sales wisely. Do I still make some impulse buy? Absolutely. I once purchased two bolts of a pink print because I just loved it. I have made four large quilts with it, used it in two wall hangings, and still have about five yards left. And I still love it as much as the day I bought it. The lady that checked me out at Hancock’s thought I was crazy. But I didn’t care.
Other than fat quarters, I don’t purchase a lot of pre-cuts. As I stated in an earlier blog, I have won a lot of jelly rolls, but can count the number of those I’ve purchased on one hand and have fingers left over. I have purchased a few layer cakes (10-inch squares of a fabric family or a color family). I think I have two charm packs that I’ve bought but have won three. I keep those in a clear, plastic tub and will peruse those if I need to make a quick quilt for a friend or relative. Word of caution here – watch those jelly rolls. Sometimes they are not cut straight. And I don’t purchase any additional ones if there’s not room for another in the tub. Discipline…I’m all about it. Not that I always follow my own rules….
So, we’ve covered the fat quarters, the yardage, and the precuts. What about fabric specifically purchased for a project? Let me be the first one to let you in on a secret about me – I’m a planner and a plotter. I know at some point in my future, I will completely retire, and my income will be limited. As well as having a solid financial plan for retirement, I also have a fabric plan for retirement. If I purchase fabric or find fabric in my stash for a pattern or project I want to make, all the fabric for that as well as the pattern, goes into a clear, plastic project box and those boxes are stashed in a spare closet. I also label each box with an index card, so I know what project is in it and not to pull fabric from those as it’s pre-destined for something else. And I have an Excel spreadsheet for these my logistics driven daughter should be so proud of her mom….
This covers everything but scraps. When I began quilting in 1988, I was taught to save every single scrap. And I did. Religiously. Because I didn’t know any better. However, after about five years I had a spare pillow case (that was serving as my scrap bag) full of scraps. I had so much I really didn’t know what I had. So, I went through it and made some decisions.
First, I love to applique. I kept the large, irregular pieces I could use. These had to be large enough to warrant making several applique pieces out of the same fabric (such as leaves) or one large pattern piece (such as a Sunbonnet Sue dress). The rest were discarded. Then I made a trip to the local Dollar Tree and bought a dozen or so small, plastic baskets. I sorted these large, irregular scraps into color families and filled a basket with each color. The mini-quilts I’m making as part of the guild challenge this year have all come out of those scraps. I haven’t purchased one inch of fabric, but I have made wonderful small quilts to decorate the entrance way of my home.
What about the other scraps? Follow my line of thinking here… first, I don’t purchase cheap fabric. I buy quilt-store quality fabric. And I hate to throw that away. That’s not good stewardship. I also love…I mean LOVE … making charity quilts for our local police to keep in the trunk of their patrol car or the local cancer center to give to chemo patients or folks I know that are going through a bought of sickness and need to know just how much I love them. So, if I have scraps left over that can be cut down, I do that. I cut those into 2 ½-inch strips, 2 ½ – squares, and 2 7/8-inch squares. The 2 ½ -inch strips and 2 ½ – squares I can combine. The 2 7/8- inch squares can be used to make 2 ½-inch half-square triangles. Other pieces can be cut into narrower strips to string piece. I have a clear, plastic box that each size goes into. When a box is full, I make a charity quilt. This way, no quilt-store fabric is wasted. It goes into a quilt that can be used. And I’ve cut my carbon foot-print. The only scraps I’m throwing away and that are headed for the landfill are really, really small ones.
This is my stash method. Like I said earlier, this works for me, and it took a lot of trial and error to find exactly what was the most effective. I encourage you to do the same. It’s important to be wise stewards of what we’re blessed with as well as be good stewards of what we have to discard. What works for me may not work for you and that’s fine. But I encourage you to explore, experiment, and find what does work best for you and your quilting.
Until next week, Quilt With Excellence!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam