Whiptips: starting a fabric stash

by kath_red on 20/09/2007

in News+Letters

Whiptips craft advice column for readers to ask questions or offer advice by leaving comments. Whiptips archive here. Questions to whiptips@gmail.com.

Hi. I’m just starting out in the sewing world and have found so many interesting projects to start with. I’m just starting to collect fabric and there are so many wonderful fabrics to choose from. My question is…how did you start your fabric stash? If you see something you love but don’t have any ideas about how to use it yet, how much do you buy?
Thank you for your help.


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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ali September 20, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I inheirited the backbone of my stash when my grandmother died, so it kind of started itself! But if I’m buying just because I like it, I would buy at least a metre to a metre-and-a-half, depending on how wide the fabric is, how much I like it, and how expensive it is. I don’t tend to make many small things though, so if you’re aiming to make small crafts or quilts, you could probably buy less. I also have a philosophy of letting the fabric dictate the object – so if there’s not enough of a particular fabric in the stash for a blouse, then it’s not meant to be a blouse, it’s meant to be something else.

And remember, once you start, you won’t stop. My grandmother didn’t use up her stash before she died, which is how I got started.


2 Sally September 20, 2007 at 4:57 pm

The only things I can think of are:
Go to second hand shops, find fabric you like (also cheap zips, buttons etc). You’ll often get outrageous amounts for $2.

Fat quarters are also really good, you can buy normally very expensive fabric for like $7. these sizes are perfect for bags/accessories/small pattern pieces.

Hope this helps


3 mariong September 20, 2007 at 5:26 pm

This is what I have done: I collected fabric because I loved it. This was not a good idea. Now I’ve got too much fabrics. I think it’s better to plan a project first.


4 beruta September 20, 2007 at 5:40 pm

HI! Yes, there are soooo many wonderfull fabrics!
If I don`t know what I am going to use it for, it depends on the fabric pattern, but I buy no less than 1 m, because it`s normal not to find that fabric again (at least in my city).
It also depends on what kind of stuff you make, I make softies, bags… and I don`t make quilts or patchwork, so for me 1m is the minimun.
Happy fabric shopping!


5 Joanie September 20, 2007 at 5:54 pm

If you are new to sewing you may want to start on simpler, smaller items like cushion covers, headbands, aprons, sachets, etc. I usually buy at least a metre (I’m in the UK) of something if I love it.

If you plan on doing patchwork or applique, start collecting fat quarters in colours and designs you like.

If you know what you want to make already, check the instructions for how much you need (clothing will usually require more than a meter.)

There are loads of places online to get patterns, instructions and tutorials, just type “how to make a __________” into Google. Or go to a fabric shop, find a pattern and ask for help determining how much you need

Also, if you see remnants you like at a good price pick them up for your stash and remember you can always re-purpose old clothes for fabric too!

Try and picture what you might use the fabric for before you buy – it helps cut down on pieces that end up lurking in your stash cupboard for years.

Hope this helps, happy sewing : )


6 Ru September 20, 2007 at 7:36 pm

I think a 1/4 yard if you might use it in a quilt, or several yards if it’s something you want to end up on your body?

I will say, I have rarely regretted buying fabric- It is your palette. No one would tell Van Gogh that maybe he should use up all of his burnt sienna before he picked up some more cerulean.

Plus, you just never know- I recently met a 10 year old who was starting his very first quilt. His family has limited means, and he was beside himself with joy when I let him browse and choose from my stash.

Maybe the fabric you love has a purpose you can’t even imagine yet…


7 bethany September 20, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Ah.. to be starting my fabric stash again, instead of buried beneath it!
I suggest that unless you simply cannot LIVE without it or it is An Incredible Bargain (thrift or salvage sale).. you should only buy what you have Plans for. And the amount?
If you are a doll maker or a quilter or and accessories lover a yard is great. If you plan on making clothes, buy a minimum of 3-5 yards..

But remember! There will always be new loves. And unless your house is huge, you may end up finding your old loves as troublesome as ex-boyfriends, as you need larger and larger places to stash your stash. ( I am up to a 9 drawer dresser, a big laundry hamper, and a pile the covers a chair.)


8 Ryan September 20, 2007 at 8:40 pm

I have accrued my stash entirely by accident, usually by planning on making clothes and never getting around to it. Typically I buy 2-3 yards (1 1/2 yards will make a midi length skirt, 3 yards is enough for most dresses) and eventually end up using it for several projects.


9 LittleMissMeshell September 20, 2007 at 9:22 pm

With quilting cotton prints I generally buy in half yards, as I make quite small things and love patchwork and quilts so I don’t need big pieces (I don’t make clothes for example), and if I really love the print I’ll buy a yard, I don’t think I’ve ever bought over a yard of one type, I like having as many different fabrics as possible!

But with things I get in real life such as plain cotton, linen, backing fabric etc. I’ll get a couple/few of meters, especially if it’s cheap.

I’ve found thrift stores to be a treasure trove of fabrics! As well as remnants bins in fabric and quilting stores. But mostly I buy online as I can get quilting cottons cheaper from America than here in Australia :)


10 foxydot September 20, 2007 at 9:24 pm

I’m a garment sewer, and I know that *most* dresses take somewhere between 2-3 years, so most times, if I find a great fabric at a great price, I get 3 yards. If it’s patterned and I’ll need extra to match motifs, I’ll get 4 yards.

My stash is pretty big now, and I have a huge stash of patterns (most purchased on sale) as well. Once in a while, I set out all my big fabric pieces and pick a pattern for each, line it all up, then pick out 1-2 projects to do. Since I don’t have a dedicated sewing area, I sew in spurts….a couple of projects, then I take a break and work on other crafts.

Now I have a friend who likes making period gear for SCA. If he finds a fabric he likes, he buys the bolt! Bit of an investment, but he’ll always have what he needs!

I love this idea of finding textiles and notions at second hand shops, but I’ve never seen any there. One thing I do look for there is XXXL straight skirts in fabulous fabric. There is usually enough fabric in large garments to make a completely different garment in a sewing size 12-14.


11 Anina September 20, 2007 at 9:27 pm

I used to buy 1/4 yard of everything I loved, but then ended up with a bunch of fabric I had no idea what to do with. I think you should have a project and buy fabric for it. Eventually you will have all kinds of fabric from all your projects, making your stash. If course, if you totally love a fabric….I’d recommend at least 1/2 a yard.


12 jude September 20, 2007 at 10:11 pm

thrift shops, discarded clothing from family friends and self, scraps from crafts, travel finds, i also use to be a fabric designer so i saved a lot of samples, lots of gifts from everywhere including fellow bloggers, hardly ever bought anything from quilt shops but i have from remnant shops and chuch sales and such. i use small pieces so any little bit of anything works for me. worn out dishtowels, baby clothes, jeans, curtains, carpets, always saving what i can.


13 ellie September 20, 2007 at 11:06 pm

I think of what I might use it for. I like big flowing knee length circle skirts, so if I think it would be a cute skirt I buy 4 yards. If I think I’ll use it for something around the house I buy 1 yard.


14 Maria Peagler September 21, 2007 at 12:06 am

The most cost-effective way to start a fabric stash is to buy fabrics you can use for multiple projects. While you may love a busy novelty print for a child’s project, how many other times will you be able to use that piece of fabric? I have fabrics that I consider staples of my fabric stash:
– checks
– plaids
– dots
– gradations
– batiks
– toile
– marbled solids
You can use every single one of the above fabrics in a myriad of ways. They would all look good in almost any quilt you want to make, whether it be traditional, contemporary, or an art quilt (I make all three types!). They would also be appropriate for purses, aprons, or other fabric projects you’d want to make.

Another piece of advice: when you really like a fabric, buy long. Buy an entire yard of it. You won’t be able to go back and find it when you want more, and you’ll surely use it all up. Otherwise, I buy 1/3 yard pieces.

Good luck and have fun!


15 Cherri House September 21, 2007 at 8:04 am

For a good cohesive stash start with your color families reds/blues / yellows/browns/tan/blacks. If you have the tendency to purchase the same looking fabric in each color family, take along some friends, give everyone an assignment, and say “pick me out three blues”, next friend “pick me out three yellows”, etc. Whatever they pick, you keep. I started doing this with my daughters, because everything I purchased looked the same. Seeing something with different eyes will make your projects sing! Also, a 1/4 to 1/2 a yard is a good quantity, improvise if you run out of a particular color for something else in the same color family.

Have fun!


16 Johanna September 21, 2007 at 10:54 am

I’m a quiltmaker and I’m in the “buy a fat quarter of what you like a lot” camp. If I like it a lot, I get a Fat Quarter. If I really really like it, a half yard or half metre. If I’m totally smitten and will hate myself forever if I don’t have a good chunk of it, I’ll get a whole metre or yard. But that’s not too often. I like a scrappy look with my quilts, so those small cuts are fine for the most part. Try to amass (scary word!) a good variety of colour, pattern and scale of print. And don’t forget some solids, too.

And small word of caution- if you are making quilts, don’t be to easily seduced by really cheap-o fabric. Often they turn out to be hateful and nasty to work with, and more headache than they’re worth. (I’m thinking of fabric I have purchased in the Fabric Department in a large chain store that rhymes with SmallCart…)

Happy collecting (and sewing)!!


17 nowaks nähkästchen September 21, 2007 at 9:51 pm

You don’t have do build a fabric stash, it builds itself by law of nature. :o)

You start a project and qhile youre still on it you see the pattern or the fabric for your next project and buy it. Then you find another thrilling thing you absolutly have to sew after the not-even-startet-project after the-project-your’re-on. Then there will be that fabulous fabric on sale you have to by for the colour, not to forget the unbelievable cheap end of season sale,… and so on.

After a certain time you will find your stash overgrowing your house/ appartment, you destash via ebay (most likly the really cheap things from the extremely lowe price sale, because it needs a certain experience to find the real bargain… ;-) ) promise never to buy more fabric than you can sew up… and will be going through the whole circle again. (Only that destashing will become more and more difficult, because you learn to buy smarter, avoinding colours/ patterns/ materials you do not really like and therefore it will be harder giving it away.)

Thats how stashes build. ;-)


18 Rebecca September 21, 2007 at 10:15 pm

I use my fabric for a variety of things, collage, chin colle in print making, embroidery (I HEART Jenny Hart and Julie Jackson) and weaving. I have sometimes made clothing, bags, and I did just make a doll’s quilt (my first quilt!). For me, fiber content is the driving force behind my fabric choice. I collect a variety of fibers (all 100% one content) but my favorite is my collection of textures of silks, particularly tussah. Tussah and raw silks have particularly nice weight and hold up nicely in a rug, omigoodness they really can take a beating and still look great! Linen is sturdy and a wonderful fiber also; the more it is laundered the better the ‘hand’, so I watch for old table linens (the ones actually made of linen) and repurpose those! My preference, when restocking my stash, is to make sure whatever I buy is 100% cotton or linen or wool or silk, never a blend. These are my reasons: Cotton tears in a straight line, once a leader ‘snip’ is cut, which is extremely handy. Silk and wool dye or re-dye with ease. Linen, especially in the case of stains, is impossible to over-abuse, although dyeing it is more of a challenge than the protein fibers (which is why stain removal is relatively easy-breezy with this fiber), and gets softer with each use. And when each fiber is on its own, I can be more assured of how it will ‘behave’, whereas when it’s a blend there can be no guarantee. After that, then I look for vintage prints. And I love searching thrift shops for interesting finds. Some of the thrifts near me have ‘half-off’ days, so I can really cash in! I don’t buy often, I just buy what I like, and I keep myself to my very strict guides of 100% one fiber content and I have to LOVE it.

My advice on however you choose your fabric, once it’s home wash it and fold it so it’s ready to go right when you want it, and not a moment later! Pre-washed fabric is essential.

I hope all of our submissions help you, not overwhelm you! You never said what you were making or how you generally work (softies, quilts, clothes, rag rugs, whatever). What do hope to do with your stash?


19 Leesa September 21, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Hi, don’t forget to look for fabric trims on sale also. I put cuffs on my kindergarten grandbaby’s pants/jeans & let her choose fabric ribbons to cover any demarcation of the let-down hem-line, when she has grown taller during the school year to the original hem. Embellishments are your personal ‘artistic’ signatures on your sewing projects. I also buy fabrics on eBay, that have photos of the cuts for sale. I no-longer buy fabric at Wal-Mart, be very careful to look at the crease/folds on the bolts prior to cutting & buying your yardage, I have had problems there this year. I have never had any problems when I buy my fabrics at fabric shops & sewing machine shops. Sergers are also a blessing to sew with!


20 Marnie September 24, 2007 at 9:22 am

Hi Violet! I’ve posted a couple of tips over at girl number twenty. (sorry, just too much on this subject to fit in here) Oh, once you start you won’t be able to stop….but that’s the fun of it!

And my serious tip? Get to know your fabric. Handle it a lot. On pieces of unknown content do burn tests. Pay attention to what happens when you wash it, when you dry it. Experiment! Ask questions at the fabric stores – most of the people working there love fabric and will be more than happy to talk about it!

Good luck!


21 Emiliy September 26, 2007 at 4:41 am

Buy what you love, but what love you buy!!!

If you don’t use it in a specified amount of time (my guideline is 2 years), put it back out in the crafter’s world, either at a swap or a sale… that way you don’t become too burdened with all the stuff you “should” be making with your existing supplies!!!


22 Miz Spike October 13, 2007 at 8:17 pm

My stash began with bits trimmed from clothing: too-long pants, long sleeves made into shorter ones. I bought fabric for projects that never got off the ground, and often it stayed. I’ve bought fabric at giveaway prices at 2nd hand stores, and been given copy-paper boxes full of fabric by people trimming their own stashes. Sometimes it is just trimmings from their own projects, sometimes it is 2 and 3 yd pieces.


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