In my kitchen, I’m a creative cook. Jim often teases me about my “concoctions,” dishes or full meals developed to use up ingredients on hand. Usually they turn out pretty well — not much food gets thrown away at our house! Some cooks create a menu and then shop for ingredients. I enjoy looking at what’s available first, and then building my plan around that. To make that successful, staples need to be at the ready.
And that’s how I like to quilt. While some quilters are inspired by a pattern or image and then shop to fulfill it, I like to survey my stash and then decide what to make. I shop my stash first. Only after using what’s there do I head for the stores.
My stash is not making me happy. I’ve said that before, and it’s still true.
Quilters love fabric. Some quilters love fabric so much, they buy more of it than they will ever use. There is a great yahoo group called “Stashbusters,” devoted to helping quilters push through their stash and their projects. A local shop has a Sunday group called “SABLE,” or “stash acquired beyond lifetime expectancy.” Too much stash can seem like a burden, leaving a quilter full of regrets for poor choices of quality or color or even era. It’s hard to sort through, hard to store, and easy to forget what’s there.
I don’t have too much stash. My stash problem is of a different sort.
SEWING FROM STASH
While many people have boxes, bolts and bins hidden on shelves, in closets, and under beds, all of mine is in the top part of ONE cabinet. I can tell when the cabinet is getting fuller and emptier. But unlike Old Mother Hubbard, my cupboard is far from bare.
Three layers of plastic tubs fill the armoire, holding pieces sorted by color. Browns, blues, greens, pinks, reds… Besides those, there are two more tubs with some odd pieces. These tubs hold everything I consider big enough to fold. It’s not a very precise definition, and frankly I don’t hold to it very well. Scraps could live in this cupboard, too, but instead fill a drawer of a plastic drawer bin, under my cutting table.
One of the things I love about sewing from stash is the push to greater creativity. Figuring out how to make things go together, what blocks I have yardage to make, whether they’ll need to be scrappy or not, are all creative decisions that are different than when sewing from new yardage. Scrappy quilts make great use of stash, with small amounts cut from many fabrics. Other projects, though, call for more cohesion in color or pattern, making it harder to quilt from stash.
IS YOUR STASH MAKING YOU HAPPY?
What kind of fabrics did you buy when you started quilting? That might depend on era, and it might depend on your budget. Today’s new quilters, younger women, seem to be developing cults around “modern” designers. They rush to buy collections, often in bright happy colors with high contrast. I wonder if they’ll look at the remnants in five years and feel like their stashes are dated by then.
What you are using now? How is your quilting different now than when you started? Are you still weighed down by prior purchases? Do you buy differently now for your current projects?
Do you long to change your style? Have you used Civil War repros for years but wish to change to bright pastels? Does your stash reflect the direction of your art?
To progress as a quilter, deliberately move your stash toward the art you want to make. What should you do with the “old” stash? Use it, sell it, or give it away. Free yourself from caring for things you no longer need. Remove reminders of projects you know you will never make, and the guilt that goes with seeing them all the time. Reduce the time it takes to dig through stacks of fabric you don’t even like. Allow your creativity to expand when you are not weighed down sorting, folding, and storing the old stash. When you are no longer moving around the old, you will have time and space to try something new.
My stash is NOT making me happy.
I have the wrong stuff.
I’ve especially noticed the problem with my reds, one of the colors I use most. Over the last couple of years, my reds have devolved to the point that they feel all the same — there is little variety. They are RED, some red with fine designs, some red on red, some just red. But they are RED. Not enough variety, even in range from orangey-red to purplish-red.
When I want to choose from my color palette, I don’t have enough to choose from, and it’s hard to make my quilts feel fresh and interesting. I want to continue to evolve in how I use color and shape, but my limited stash is making that harder to do.
Another issue is with prints, and not just in my red bin. Some prints just have too much color contrast to feel useful, except as feature prints. They don’t work well cut small for patches. And I don’t love them enough to use them as focal points.
SHOPPING FOR STASH
I am not a shopper in general, and that carries through to my habits on fabric shopping. Rarely do I shop for stash, just because.
Most of my purchases are for specific projects. Often I don’t have a fully developed project plan, so I buy what I assume is “too much,” and pieces I might not use, knowing anything left will help fill out my bins. If the piece is designated for an unpieced border, I buy enough so I can cut the full length along the selvage. Again, remainders go to stash.
If it is a stash purchase rather than a project, I generally buy a half yard. Either way, I end up with relatively small amounts of any given item in my bin.
I’m ready to change my stash. For the quilts I am making now, these smaller pieces don’t work well. When I buy for stash, I plan to start buying one yard cuts, rather than half yard. This will give me more flexibility for design decisions.
Also, I’m ready to start using happier colors, paler but also brighter. I don’t love high-contrast prints, so a lot of the new designer lines still won’t suit me. But I do like defined lines created by contrast between patches. Perhaps this means more purchases of solids and tone-on-tones, but in a greater variety of color and value. They can serve as the staples around which I build my art.
These changes will help, but I’ll need to budget more time and money to move my stash forward. Fresh colors will provide inspiration and opportunity, allowing me to evolve as a quilter.