Making the Stash Work

From reading posts, comments and emails, I get the idea that some are feeling like they should be stash busting just because . . but they don’t really feel committed to doing it.  Don’t!  There’s nothing wrong with just buying whatever you want when you want it.  Stash busting has to be right for the individual.  If it doesn’t feel right; if you don’t feel excited about taking on the challenge, then don’t do it!  Next year or the next year, you may feel like it’s the time for you to do it.

There are so many variables involved in stashbusting.   Some that come to mind are:

  1. The size of the stash – I suppose this is one variable can make the biggest difference.  Just because you have a big stash doesn’t mean you have a good stash as far as what you can work with.  To be able to work successfully from the stash, you have to have the fabrics you’re able to work with.  Putting together quilts using fabrics or combinations of fabrics that you don’t like wouldn’t be much fun.
  2. The type of fabric you have – If I had tons of big floral prints or sweet florals, or wild geometrics, I wouldn’t be able to do a thing.  I mostly work with tone on tone fabrics.  I can make quilt after quilt without ever using anything but tone on tone fabric.  It may not work for you.  You may not even like my quilts but that’s what Iike and I find by having lots of tone on tones, I can make most anything work together.  I also find that tone on tone fabrics don’t ever seem dated and out of style.
  3. Your flexibility – If you’re making a quilt using the colors exactly as shown in the pattern, you may have a hard time busting the stash.  If you insist on using the perfect fabric, you may have a hard time busting the stash.  Here are a couple of examples:

This was my Labor Day Challenge piece.  I started out with the yellow print and used tone on tone fabrics to go with it.  I ran out of the yellow print before the borders were finished.  There was a time when I would have searched high and low for more of that print and maybe stuck the whole top aside, and hoped to one day find more of that print.  Instead, I just pieced in some tone on tone that matched and was done with it.  This quilt will never be an award winning quilt but it will go to a child in an orphanage and they will love it.

This is the top I finished Sunday.  See the purple border next to the lime/purple stripe?  Click on the picture and make it larger.  It isn’t the perfect shade of purple!  It’s actually closer than it looks in the picture but there’s a Moda Marble that is perfect but I didn’t have enough of it.  There was a time when I would have put the whole thing aside and ordered more Moda Marble.  But, this quilt is going to my niece’s 11 year old daugher. (What do you call her?  My great niece?) She is going to love this quilt.  I doubt her mom or my mom ever say . . that purple really doesn’t go with that stripe.  I’m happier that I was able to improvise than I would have been had I ordered the perfect purple.

In order to successfully bust the stash, we may have to change the way we look at fabric selections.  We don’t want to make anything ugly but what is perfect anyway?  I’m betting if 20 of us had taken that lime/purple stripe into the quilt shop to match with a purple, there would have been 20 different selections . . maybe none quite as far off as what I used but who’s to say what’s best, what’s second best, what is barely acceptable and what just plain old won’t work?  Only the individual making the top!

One more thing . . do not allow your stash to paralyze you.  It will do it if you allow it.

  1. If you’re trying to pull fabrics to make a certain pattern and nothing is working . . give up!  Walk away from it and try again another day.  Choose another pattern, or choose another focus fabric or change completely the colors your trying to put together.  If it’s a pattern you have to make and nothing from the stash is working, go buy what you need.  Don’t spend days or weeks stewing about something that isn’t going to work.
  2. If you no longer love your stash and yet you feel you can’t buy fabric because you have a stash and therefore you’re not quilting because you just can’t make a quilt from the stash . . what are you thinking? Every day that passes is a missed sewing opportunity.  Piece the stash into small tops for donation to NICU; make lap quilts for old folks homes or veterans homes or for your local police or firemen to donate to those they come in contact with that can use them.  Donate the fabric to a senior citizen home or to some place where people will use it or at least it will no longer be holding you back.

When I left Louisiana in 1997, I had a good bit of fabric that I knew I’d never use.  I gave some away, and honestly, I tossed some. It was very freeing.  From that point on, every piece of fabric in my stash is loved and I can’t wait to use it in something.

Think about how you can make your stash work for you  . . do no be a prisoner of your stash!


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    Judy you do the heart good… I have been busy tracing 9 Baltimore blocks onto Heat and Bond but just cannot decide what fabric to use.. so with your suggestion I’m going to the first quilt shop sale I can find and buying new fabric !! Trouble is the three quilt shops I have near me are all closed until Jan 5th ! Better start something else… Happy New Year Happy Room Diana

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    The only thing wrong with my stash is that it is old & dated….except for the tone on tone stuff which I still love. Most of the fabrics are colors or at least shades that no longer appeal to me. Or prints that don’t blend with anything else. And some are just plain ugly. I must have liked them at one time but, boy, my taste has sure changed. So I will be stash busting along with you during 2009 by making donation quilts and piecing backs from the old stuff. I also plan on making a couple of the really scrappy quilts I’ve always wanted to make such as Postage Stamp and a scrappy basket pattern. I can use small pieces of those old fabrics combined with new stuff and have the variety I need. My old stash doesn’t have enough variety but with some judicious purchases to fill in the blanks I will feel it is much more usable. So my reports of fabric OUT and fabric IN may be almost equal! As long as I end the year with less old stuff and my stash hasn’t grown too much in size, I’ll be happy. Thanks for the encouragement, Judy.

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    Evelyn says

    I like to think of it as stash usage and rotation! I like fabric. I like NEW fabric. But at one time that fabric on my shelves was the new and exciting purchase – so I try to use it -at least a tiny bit of it here and there. For the past few years I’ve looked specifically for scrappy patterns that will help me use many of the fabrics I have on hand – and then I buy the borders/sashing/backings. And I must say – I’ve made a BIG dent in that fabric. But I don’t just trudge onward – sometimes I just have to have a new fat quarter tower or some brand new all co-ordinating fabric. New purchases infuse a bit of energy into my quilting!
    Cheers! – Evelyn

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    Loretta says

    Great post, Judy. I, too, intend to use my stash first this year, though I don’t blog so I haven’t officially signed up. If I need something to go with what I have, I’ll buy it. What you said about charity quilts is so true. I work in a veterans’ home and ALL quilts are sooooo appreciated–one man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure.
    Happy New Year to you, Vince and Chad.

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    My problem (or one of them) is that I had to have a new dress for the prom even though I had a closet full of new dresses. I’m getting over that. The stash is getting used first when I pull for a project. But I’m addicted to fabric, and I get all excited seeing possibilities when a new lines comes out. That’s okay with me. I just need to concentrate on using the stash first and rotating it out of there!

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    June Piper-Brandon says

    My Liam would love that yellow quilt. His favorite color is yellow. He’s been moaning for months now that the Masserati dealership we pass every day on his way to school sold “his” yellow lamborghini (he’s not even old enough to drive yet-but he can dream). We play a gamein the car called “yellow car” where we get as many yellow cars as we can (kind of like punch buggy). Gotta love him!!

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    Mary Jo Jones says

    Your theory on stash was very well said…as usual. For most of us that have been quilting for quite some time our stash is perhaps out of control. I do appreciate going into “my store” on a snowy day and finding most of what I need to quilt with. I, too, have been known to give away fabric that I have no intention of using…there was no purpose in it taking up space. Keep sharing your thoughts…you have so much to teach us!

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    pdudgeon says

    i hear you too! i have a quilting friend who is paralyzed by her stash. can’t use it but also can’t throw it out and start fresh. after offering to help her organize (which was turned down) i left her with it and went on quilting by myself.

    meanwhile i have organized my stash so i know where i’m going with it. i love your inovative ways of using what you have to get the quilt done. if something isn’t working for me i find another way or another size or another use for the quilt. I’ve done that on my curent project. the original pattern is nothing like what the finished product will be, but the important thing is that it will be finished and i will have used my stash.

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    My stash had become an albatross around my neck. I still have a pretty good sized stash, but last year I cut it half and not by sewing. I gave a good portion of the kids fabrics to Firehouse Quilts and sold a lot of it. I got no where near what I paid for everything, but I’m pretty sure the fabric and books went to good homes. The money also helped me get through a rough year.

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    I agree that giving away fabric you will no longer use is freeing. Give it to your guild’s charity quilting committee. Chances are that they will use most of it. If not, they know how to make the most out of every scrap (or know someone who will) – If you don’t have a guild – find a local guild and donate, donate it to a school – teachers will love it! Don’t keep it in your stash if you will no longer use it… pull it out so you can make room for more!!

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    Liz says

    Yep, I think I fall into the “paralyzed by stash” category. But, I am working on it.

    I just read a great book on color – Color Mastery by Maria Peagler. It gave me ideas as to how to look through my stash and reorganize it. I’ll pull out the “dogs” to put on a separate shelf and commit to use it or lose it by next December, Then, organize not only by color but by value and intensity. The book encourages you to do the color wheel exercises using your stash, so perhaps new arrangements will inspire me to whip out a quilt.

    I also checked out the scrap user system mentioned by others (Bonnie of Quiltville). Ok, some of those dogs and florals might just look better in 2″ strips. So, I’ll work on that.

    Finally, some of the quilting blogs show different things to do – I plan to make many grocery tote bags out of some of the “dogs” to give away and use. Sitting on the ground quilts (Oklahoma red soil) – no problem. Potholders that I won’t feel bad about staining and burning, etc, etc, etc..

    Gees, I am ready to get back ome and hit that stash closet….

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    I’ve already pulled a box of fabric I’m not in love with anymore, and I will use, give, or throw it away before the end of 2009. Having it right under my desk makes it easy for me to glance through it first for possibilities… as to buying fabric, sometimes I feel like I’m buying what I WANT when later I’ll have to come back and buy what I NEED. I do use the fabric I buy as a want, but shouldn’t I just wait for needs? Maybe I have a guilt complex (grin).

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    Judy, you’re preachin’ to the choir. When I make something I shop the stash first & usually find a good share of what I need. But I don’t feel guilty about buying the rest & if I see something I absolutely love, I buy it. I do have a lot of “seasoned” fabrics and a lot of hand-dyes I don’t really like so I’m going to start piecing backs ala Bonnie Hunter. And if I know I will absolutely never use something I’ve found I can donate it to the Lutheran ladies. One of them has a marvelous color sense & puts together beautiful quilts. I almost bought one at the craft fair made out of my donations & one other fabric. 🙂

    I feel sorry for you, being dragged all those stores. And, I have to smile at Vince’s love of shopping, Chad’s too, kind of unusual in a man. Warren really isn’t much for shopping except when Bomgaars or Alco has a sale on jeans or t-shirts. He has stacks of those, & socks & underwear. His eyes really light up when he sees those sales!!

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    I think flexibility is key but also for me, the fact that I love scrappy quilts helps a lot. I rarely have to have one perfect shade of fabric – occasionally but not often. My mom likes much more coordinated quilts so she struggles a lot more to use what she has.

    I’ll continue in 2009 to work on using my stash but I always allow myself to purchase fabric if I just love it (fat quarters) or if I need a particular piece for a quilt. My goal in 2009 is to do more piecing…the majority of my time in 2008 was spend quilting.

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    I really tried this year, Judy. I really did. In 2009 I’m going to try harder! I want to use up a lot of what’s here so I can replace with new stuff. This place is bulging with Moda! LOL

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    Well, I love the look of freshly folded fabric, but I don’t know that it looked all that bad in the first photo. LOL
    Glad you got to sew and had a great NYE.
    I finished a binding and label, so I finished the Old Year quilting and hope to do some today.
    Happy New Year

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    WOW what a stash!! looking nice…. I also remember when I first started quilting I was taught to ‘blend’ colors not ‘match’….so I like the different purple…..I think we are too fussy about matching and have lost something without the mix…..just my thought….I was a seamstress for years and was taught to match and was told when I started quilting to forget that and just blend….I am for getting back to that…..Have a wonderful 2009….and stay warm it is 8 degrees here at 1:00 and the chill factor is way below 0 degrees….ugh!!! Good day to work in my sewing room….