After years of interacting with quilters of all levels, I have learned that many of us have stash fabrics that we love, but we don’t use them. The reasons may be different for everyone.
Often, the fabrics have a personal history attached to the owner. They are bits and pieces inherited from grandma or they are dad’s old work shirts. Maybe, it’s a piece of Provencal cotton picked up on vacation in Southern France or it’s a hard-to-come-by piece of Japanese vintage kimono cotton or silk. Or perhaps it is yardage from your favorite quilting fabric shop that is now out of print, so you are waiting for the “perfect” project to come by for it to be included.
When we don’t use up our special fabrics, they are ultimately going to be wasted. It’s unlikely that anybody else will ever love them as much as you do.
Collecting Fabric Stash
Personally, I have several “super special” stash of fabric. I started collecting fabric when I was just around 11 to12 years old. I would be sent alone on the bus into Oslo (Norway’s Capital) to visit the orthodontist once a month. Close by the bus stop was a small fabric shop that specializes in Provencal fabric. In a basket by the counter were little bags of remnants that I could barely afford with my allowance. I would carefully select a bag with the most tantalizing mix of color and pattern in it and bring it home. Mind you, I hadn’t really learned to quilt at that age. But I sure wanted the fabric!
For 35 years, I have been hoarding these little French remnants. Too precious to use, too small to really make much of, they have remained in my “super special” pile and are waiting for the perfect little project where they can be shown off.
Over the years, the special fabric pile has grown tremendously and now includes a rather substantial pile of Liberty of London Tana Lawn fabric, Japanese Taupes, authentic Scottish Tartans, as well as vintage and antique Japanese kimono silk, vintage Japanese indigo, and other treasures.
How to build up a fabric stash for quilting?
The availability of online shopping platforms today, such as Etsy and eBay, makes unusual fabric treasures easier to find now than they were 10 years ago. This way, you can easily build a quilting stash. When I started collecting Liberty fabric 15 years ago, I had to hunt for remnants on eBay. Now, I can be a member of a fat quarter club and have a whole stack shipped to me every month! Look for vintage kimono silks on Etsy and you will find amazing things! (And yes, you can quilt with kimono silk).
How to use up fabric stash?
1. Use your stash fabrics to make scrap quilts where you can include small quantities of them. You don’t have to use up the whole piece. Cut a little strip or square to delight yourself and those around you. Log Cabin Quilt layouts are a perfect way to start to put your treasure trove of fabric gems to use. The log cabin quilt layout allows you to only shave a strip off your fabric to include in a block or two so that you may still have some of your fabric treasures left for future projects. The 7-inch log cabin paper piecing template is a great option for incorporating special fabrics.
2. Make interesting quilts using your special fabrics. Look at the Yellow and White Log Cabin Quilt below. It is one of my favorite quilt projects. The bright overall yellow feel and the white reminds me of my grandfather’s yellow glass veranda when I was a kid. But the quilt delighted me even more up close. I have included two of my “super-special” Liberty of London Hello Kitty fabrics in it! The quilt doesn’t read like a novelty fabric quilt (not my style at all). Hello Kitty is tiny and not found in every block. But, she is there peaking her tiny head out from some of the 1/2″ wide strips in these blocks. You will see her if you go on a discovery through the quilt, which uses about 60 different fabrics including a yellow Provencal from my early foray into fabric purchasing.
3. Preserve the fabric and its story by adding it to a quilt. When I was about 9 or 10, my mom made me a log cabin quilt with large and irregular blocks. She was a garment maker and not a quilter. And she used the fabrics in her stash. It was leftovers from making clothes, old garments, which were cut up, as well as bits and pieces of leftovers for making curtains, etc. I don’t think any yardage was purchased for this quilt. Amongst the fabrics included was an antique blue and red plaid. It was woven in a mill where my great-grandmother worked for a brief time in young adulthood. Without the inclusion of this fabric in the quilt, I would never have known this story. Instead of existing as a piece of fabric in my mom’s stash, it became part of a quilt I brought with me everywhere I lived up until today. If you want to leave a story with your quilt, consider making a fabric label for the back describing the story of the fabric included.
4. Use your fabric while it still feels special. Fabric can sometimes be like the new and expensive dress you bring home from the department store. It is so pretty and special that you put it in your closet for special occasions only. Three years later, it can be a bit out of style and has dust on the shoulders and it doesn’t fit right anymore. When you bring home the “super special” yardage from the quilt shop, use it while you still think it’s the most beautiful thing you have seen.
Don’t be afraid to use your favorite stash fabrics. In the pink and midnight blue quilt below, I have included several of my favorite Liberty of London fabrics in small quantities. I still have some leftovers. But by incorporating them in this paper pieced log cabin scrap quilt, that has a life they would never have laying in a pretty pile on a shelf.
How about you? What do you have in your stash that is too precious to use?
(This article was written on April 7, 2020, and was updated on October 28, 2020.)
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