My Stash is NOT Making Me Happy

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.


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.


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.


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.


18 thoughts on “My Stash is NOT Making Me Happy

  1. Mary K

    I can say that I don’t really have that problem. I have been collecting since 1979 (I was in high school) and I still like the Calico fabrics. I do wish that I had bought more civil war fabric when I had money to spend, but that is a want not a need.

    Since I make scrappy quilts, they all go together and I have been given left overs by everyone. Some small crumbs and some yardage. Recently it has been 1 yard or more of florals. The kind that was popular Durning the “watercolor” phase. I didn’t have much of that either because I didn’t care for them at the time. Now I do.

    It helps to have people our groups that you can swap with. That is were I would get a variety of the type of fabric I wanted at the time. I would buy yards out one kind, them cut it up into usually fat quarters them swap out to get different fabrics. That was the easiest way in the beginning. Now I don’t need to.

    I also share my stash since I have been gifted with a lot of it. It is a win win situation with me and I don’t feel guilty because I spend my money and time on things that I enjoy. Everyone else chooses what makes them happy. So can I.

    If you need something feel free to let me know!


    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Sounds like you’re in the sweet spot, still using things you enjoy. I love scrappy quilts and you’re right, pretty much everything works or can in some quilt. But I haven’t made many of those lately. Now I’m making these medallion quilts and would like them to be a little more cohesive. My bits and pieces are a little too small sometimes!

      Thanks so much for the offer. I need to think a lot more about what will push me forward. And thanks for stopping by today.


  2. Barbara Arnelien

    I have fabric in the “sable” list..I love everything I have purchased & love getting gifted with others left overs..I recieved a large bag last year..the biggest bag from king size pillows..I have used so much of it..and the backgrounds for 1 large quilt & using another “pieces” for my Med. backgrounds..Yes it takes longer, but I really love the challenge..I just love FABRIC.


    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I love fabric, too! And I agree, I like the challenge of using bits and pieces. Since my stash is small and I’d like to keep it about the same size, I just need things that work better for me than they do right now.

      You’re lucky to have a great stash, the cheapest store there is!

      Thanks for coming by.


  3. Kathy Aho in MInnesota

    Wonderful post! I know what you mean because I saw it happen so often in scrapbooking and in quilting. I am just building UP my stash right now returning to quilting in 2013 after a 15 year break to mainly follow my other hobby scrapbooking. Now I am teaching sewing and quilting to others on tues nights and we love scraps! Let me know if you want to outsize any of yours or patterns! LOL We pay postage! Keep on with your goals and make your stash what you love!


    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thanks, Kathy! Mine is small enough that most flings would just be a piece or two to my small group or big guild. It’s fun to think about where I want to go next, don’t you think?

      THANKS. And how’s your medallion coming? Have you had a chance to get started?


      1. Kathy Aho in MInnesota

        I have added a small 1.5 inch reddish border to my panel rectangle to frame it a bit and now want to find some time to make flying geese all around that. Our town is/was known for it’s geese population staying over winter here in town, Likely to paper piece them and will share when that border is in, Hoping to get to it next week. Company coming today and thru weekend, Love to hear how everyone is doing and following along with all the progress is fun,


  4. pamelajeannestudio

    I’m very unhappy with my stash. After collecting darkish, traditional fabrics for the last 20 years, I suddenly don’t like them any more! I want the new, bright, fresh stuff (which I have been adding to my stash the last couple of years.) I feel really guilty about all the other fabric. I don’t want to give it up, though. I imagine I could make some nice charity quilts. In fact, I could probably do that full-time for the next few years and never run out. I think I need some grandchildren to sew for. Then maybe I’d get some of this fabric out the door.


    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I do like grandchildren! 🙂

      snarkyquilter has a comment below with some great ideas of how to use it. I’m like you, though. I’d like to work with lighter and brighter. Partly I think that’s just fashion. Partly, though, I wonder if our older eyes just find lighter colors easier.

      As for donations, my local guild has more than enough fabric right now, so they’re not actively seeking more. But the Mennonite relief store likes donations of yardage. That’s where we take our guild books when we are done with them.

      Thanks for popping in today!


  5. snarkyquilter

    Having helped friends stage stash “interventions” I get what you’re talking about. It’s just so hard to let go of that fabric you bought 8 years ago. So, here’s some possible remedies that I’ve used:
    -Donate nice fabric that no longer fits you to your guild for fat quarter giveaways or fundraising sales. My guild has occasional sales of fabric, notions, etc., to raise $ for the guild.
    -Slap it on the back of quilts. This is liberating and can use lots of fabric. Just follow modern quilters and sew hunks together.
    -For multi colored print fabric try cutting it into strips for use in log cabin quilts, bindings, etc. You can get some cool effects once you let go of the subject of the print.
    -Overdye it if you’re into dyeing. Recently a friend dumped a bunch of outdated prints into a bucket of black dye. The results were rich and subtle. Overdyeing might be a solution for those reds that are so similar – try black, orange, purple, etc.
    -Resolve to purchase new fabric on a replacement only basis. Right, like that’s going to happen.

    My personal weaknesses are sales (it’s only $4 a yard!) and the inability to throw away scraps. Of course I sew the scraps together to make new fabric so I can rationalize that.


    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Fortunately I don’t have rooms full of older fabric I hate! 🙂 And most of the pieces are not large, so they can and will be used over time. Or at least most of them will.

      For those I actually don’t want (and I can think of a couple — a poison green whose color I like but whose texture is awful!), they might work as backs or certainly as donations. Bindings are a very good solution, and there would be some satisfaction in slicing to the small side, wouldn’t there? 😉

      I won’t resolve to only replace, as my stash is fairly small anyway. If I want something, I get it.

      Thanks for the ideas, and for stopping by today!


    2. dcaughel

      Thanks for the feedback. Suddenly you girls have provided options and ideas to remember. While I’m thinking of Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, I’ll put some ideas into play. Thanks Debra🇨🇦


  6. Pingback: Adventures in Overdyeing | Thrift Store Crafter

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