How to Build Your Stash (Without Breaking Your Budget) Part 2

If building a stash followed the same casting as a play performance, solids would be considered the “walk-ons,” low-volumes and blenders would be the co-stars, and prints would be the stars of the show. 


Prints are the scene-stealers, the main attraction, the seductress of the quilting world.  I mean, what’s not to love?  All the colors, all the beauty, all the cuteness is packed into prints.  These are the fabrics which beckon you from across the quilt store floor and whisper “Buy me…you won’t regret it,” in your ear.  Prints are the fabric which can cause you to whip your cash or card out and buy five yards without an ounce of regret.      However…unless cultivated carefully, prints can also be the blatant liars of the quilt world. 

When I began purchasing my stash, I was immediately drawn to prints.  I found myself purchasing yards and yards of printed fabric, only to find I couldn’t make a quilt out of all those prints.  They didn’t go together.  I needed solids and blenders and low volumes to make my quilt work.  Remember this graphic from last week?   

Way too many prints in this quilt. It needs some supporting fabric players to calm it down.

A quilt without the supporting extras and co-stars doesn’t work very well.  Part of having a usable, successful stash is to have enough blenders, low volumes, and solids to pull together with a print and make a quilt.    However, far from being a super-star diva, prints do bring a lot to the quilt table, both in appearance and flexibility (if you know how to use them). 

First, prints come in a wide variety of scales (the sizes of the prints) – they can run the gamut from tiny prints to large ones. And it’s a good idea to have a selection of all sizes.  Most of the time, small or medium sized prints will work in almost any quilt except for perhaps miniatures.  The larger sized prints may take a little more work.  If those larger prints are cut into smaller pieces for blocks, they tend to lose their integrity – you can’t really make out what the print is because you’re literally only seeing a tiny bit of the print.  Many times these large prints can work as terrific focus fabrics – the fabric which pulls the quilt together.     

Personally, I tend to use larger prints for One Block Wonder quilts, Stack and Whacks (if they have the repeating print needed), and as the center of a block, such as the Square-in-a-Square. 

In this quilt, the print focus fabric is used in the center of the stars and in the border.

I can fussy cut the print to really showcase its beauty. I also use them for borders.  

The same quilt with the same print focus fabric. This time I added more fussy cutting to the borders in order to really showcase the print fabric.

While normally I like to add more zing to my borders with some additional piecing or applique, if the quilt has no more plans than to live on the back of a couch or on the floor as a play quilt, I tend to make those borders out of a solid piece of fabric.  A larger print can serve as the focus fabric and pull everything together nicely.   

Second, it’s a good idea to vary your style of prints.  I am automatically drawn to floral prints. I love flowers.  However, it’s important to think out of the box.  Florals are great, but so are geometrics, novelty prints (prints with animals, cartoon characters, etc.), themed prints, and prints with fruit.  And if you mix them, they can be unbelievably beautiful together.  This may be easier to do than you realize if we can get over the mental hump and stop thinking that only “like” prints can go together – such as if a quilt has floral fabric, fruit has no place in that quilt.  However, let me show you a couple of little quilts I made:

  This yellow part here – it’s a banana print.  

You have to train yourself to think outside the box.  Try different prints together.  Audition them before you cut anything out.   You may be surprised at how some seemingly incongruous fabrics play well together.    Before we leave prints, let me offer a couple of purchasing tips I use:

  1.  When buying fabric on a website, be sure there’s some kind of measurement indicated to give you an accurate idea of how big the scale is.  Sometimes the size is in the fabric description.  Other times there’s a ruler at the bottom of the fabric swatch to help.  My favorite websites allow you to enlarge the pictures, so you have a really good idea about the scale.  I have discovered I have no problems with purchasing small and medium printed fabric online.  However, I need to see larger prints in person.
  2. Pay attention to your favorite designers.  Most of them design several similar pieces of fabric at one time.  These are called Fabric Families.  Often these families will have coordinated blenders, solids, a large print, and several small and medium prints.  Even better, many times they will continue to use the same dye lots for several years in a row, so even the fabrics you purchased several years ago from your favorite designer will work with the newer lines.  Kansas Troubles is such a line. 
  3. Use your prints to help you find your solids and blenders.  Remember what I told you about the information on selvedges in the blog about solids?  Use those colored dots to help you find your solids and blenders.  Purchase a couple of each.  This way if you use your print scraps in another quilt, you already have some fabric which coordinates. 
  4. Revisit your prints.  Tastes change, times change, you change as a quilter.  What worked for you a few years ago may not even be a blip on your radar screen right now.  For instance, when I taught school, I had a lot of fabric school-ish prints on them – apples, handwriting, even chemical equations.  I used those in a few of my quilts.  A few years after exiting education, I no longer wanted them.  It’s a great idea to review your prints from time to time and purge what you know you no longer like and know you won’t use.  Give it away, sell it, or donate it.  It will also allow you to see what prints you’re still in love with and want to use.  Then you can review your solids and blenders to see if you need to add to them, so they coordinate with the prints. 


Now let’s talk about the James Bond of quilting fabric – the blenders.  Blenders are those unassuming fabrics which are really the secret agent of quilting.  They can take your solids and prints and make your quilt go BAM!  So what exactly are blenders?  They are any fabric with tone-on-tone prints, very small prints (so small the fabric can almost read as a solid), or a print that is close enough together that it literally “blends” when seen from far away.      At this point, you may be wondering why blenders are so important?  I think it’s because they do exactly what they say they do – they help blend the prints and solids in your quilt.  They provide visual texture to your quilt in such a way that nothing else does.  Texture may not have ever crossed your mind when you think about quilts, but quilts need texture to make them visually interesting.  We tend to think of texture as something we can feel with our fingers – such as linen or velvet.  The fabric in most quilts is smooth, it has no tangible texture.  Blenders do add texture, but it’s visual  not tactile texture.  And personally, I think it’s much easier to pick out my blenders once I have my prints and solids determined.  Most Fabric Families have a blender or two in them.  If you’re on a budget or don’t have a lot of room to store a lot of stash, purchase the blender yardage called for on your quilt pattern.  However, let me also add a couple of purchasing tips about blenders.

  1.  Most Fabric Families and your favorite designers have blenders.  If you like a particular fabric family or a designer, purchase several yards of their blenders you like the most.  Like I’ve said before, many designers/manufacturers will use the same dye lot for several years with their fabric, meaning the fabric you purchase today will probably work with a few fabric families developed years from now.  Ask me how many of my quilts have Kansas Troubles fabric in them. This is what I call investment fabric purchasing.  What you buy today will definitely be used up.  You may want to purchase these blenders in several colorways. 
  2. If you quilt long enough, you’ll find a favorite blender line.  Trust me.  This happens to be mine:
These are a few of my favorite blenders from the Folio line produced by Henry Glass.

I have this line of blenders in several different colors.  It is a tone-on-tone, but there’s enough difference in the shades and tints to give the fabric some motion.  If you’re like me and do discover a favorite line of blenders, you may want to begin with 1 ½-yard cuts.  There will be certain colors you use more than others and when you repurchase those colors, you will want to increase the yardage amount. 

  •  If you’re not sure what to purchase at a fabric sale, look for at a quilter’s yard sale, or pick up off the free table at guild meeting, go for the blenders. They don’t disappoint and will be used.

  Blenders also work well to tone down scrappy quilts and play nicely with any quilt that has small piecing.  Sometimes they can even be substituted for solids – which really adds depth to a quilt.  When analyzing what fabrics to use in a quilt, ask yourself if you can substitute a blender for the solid.  The results are truly awesome and add real zing to your quilt.  Blenders add unexpected sparkle to any quilt and serve as strong supporting characters.  They soften the transition between solids and prints, too.  Besides tone-on-tone prints (which are my favorite blenders), seek out subtle and micro prints, tiny polka-dot fabrics, and even super-small checks. You will not be disappointed. 

Low Volumes

Finally, the fourth type of fabric needed in your stash are the low volumes.  What are low volume fabrics?   Low volume fabrics can be described as basically subtle white, cream, neutral or pale colored print fabrics often with a delicate self-colored pattern or subtle design and are usually selected to offset the much brighter palette of colors available in many fabric lines.

  These fabrics are important because they, along with some sashing, offer the eyes a place for visual rest.  A few years ago, I showed you this quilt:

  The 1718 Coverlet.  This quilt is entirely English paper pieced and I’m sure it’s truly a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but it drives me nuts.  Why?  Because it’s too busy.  There’s no spot anywhere for the viewer to pause and take a rest.  If it had a few low volume fabrics or some sashing, there wouldn’t be a problem.  These low-impact visual spots also do something important besides letting your eyes take a break.  These visual resting areas add to the beauty of the quilt.  They help the eye interpret the design clearly and allow the eyes to roam and be led.   

At this point, especially if you have a plethora of solids in your stash, you may be asking if it would be okay to use a white or a cream solid as your low volume fabric.  It absolutely is!  However, a low volume print is very versatile and will add depth and dimension that a solid cannot, while still supplying the needed visual rest.   You also may be asking this question:  If a blender is a tone-on-tone and a low volume is a tone-on-tone, is a blender a low volume or is a low volume a blender? Yes and no.   A low volume print is any print where the print seems to bleed away when seem from a distance.  It’s similar to a blender but differs in that low volumes will be light and soft in color – think whites, creams, sage, blush, etc., in subtle prints.  Blenders can bring the rainbow and be eye-shockingly bright.    In other words, a low volume can be a blender, but a blender is not always a low volume.   

If you need to add low volumes to your stash, and you have some storage room, three-yard cuts are great to have on hand if pieced quilts are your quilt patterns of choice.  If applique is your technique of choice, you may want to purchase more – especially if you lean towards large background blocks.  While you’re shopping for blenders and low volumes to add to your stash, keep in mind that either or both of these are great things to add to your cart if you need a specific dollar amount for free shipping.  Both blenders and solids will be used down to almost their last inch.  However, before we leave low volumes behind, let me issue a couple of words of warning:

  1.  If you decide to make a quilt out of all low volume fabric, be sure to include enough contrast.  If you don’t, it will appear there’s a “void” in the quilt.  If you’re a seasoned quilter, you’ll know to pick enough different colored low volumes to make contrast happen.  If you’re a newer quilter, purchasing a whole collection of low volumes in coordinating prints may be the best way to approach the quilt.  This helps ensure you’ll have enough contrasting fabric.
  2. A design area and your camera phone are your BFFs.  Lay your fabrics out on a design wall or the floor (a larger space allows you to see more of the fabric) then back away and look at them. If you notice any “voids,” move the fabric around and see if you can remove them.   Then take a picture of it and look at it.  If there’s an area which looks as if there’s a hole (because all the super light colors are together in one spot), move the fabric around again.  Keep doing this until all the voids are gone.  If, no matter how many times you shift your fabric, you keep having voids, you may need to pull some of the fabric and replace it with other low volumes.
This would be a great low volume quilt. The blocks are simple, but the way they’re positioned forms a secondary pattern. There is enough color contrast to be interesting and avoids any “voids.” I’m not sure I would leave the borders this color, though.

  Now let me pause and bring you this public service announcement: 

Remember, there are no real rules in quilting.  

Which means my stash may look vastly different from yours.  I primarily applique and have pretty much passed on making large bed quilts any longer (I used to make two large bed quilts a year until I had given everyone a quilt I wanted to).  If I piece, I tend to make twin sized or smaller quilts, table toppers, or wall hangings.  All of this means, I have smaller cuts of fabric, but I have a lot of low volumes, blenders, and prints.  I have less solids.  While I think it’s important to have some of all four in your stash, the type of quilter you are (or will become) will determine what percentage of each is in your fabric hoard.  My piecing is much more structured than my applique.  For instance, I tend to use my prints as my focus fabrics either in the large pieces of my blocks or incorporate it in the border (or both).  Everything else is either smaller prints or/and blenders.  I may or may not use a solid.  If I do, I generally try to find an over-dyed solid and use it as a “zinger” (something scattered across the quilt top to add a bit of sparkle).    With applique, I want to convey feeling, emotion, or mood.  All bets are off when it comes to my applique quilts.  I can throw everything at them I need to in order to achieve the outcome I desire. 

  The more you quilt, the more you try different techniques and work with new patterns, the more your quilting style will show itself.  You’ll discover which techniques you like the most.  You’ll discover your favorite quilting colors and fabric designers.  It may take a few years, but you’ll fine tune your stash and your quilts to be completely those of your design.  Fabric shopping will become more efficient and effective.  Stepping into your quilt space to make the quilts you want to make, the way you want to make them will soothe you and free you like nothing else can.  

Before ending this week’s blog, I’d like to give a shout out to Castle Rock Quilt Club in Castle Rock, Colorado. They invited me to be their Zoom presenter last night. We talked about the history of quilt shows and had a blast! Such wonderful folks and beautiful quilts! Thank you so much Castle Rock Quilt Club! Hopefully we can do it again!

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!  

Love and Stitches,  


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