Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The point of a quilter's stash

There's a whole mythology in quilting about 'the stash' - how much you need, how much you use, it being the resource and 'paintbox' of quilters.

I'm on a long road towards a room becoming a quilting studio, and as part of this am thinking about sorting stuff out, sending into the universe stuff I don't need anymore or am not going to use any more, what to keep, what not...

I'm as much of a fabric addict as the next quilter - it's lovely stuff. It makes my heart sing.

But as I think about how I use fabric now, it's not the same way I used fabric even five years ago. Over the last three years or so I've probably made close to 100 quilts: but they've barely made a dent in the stash. Probably because they mostly haven't called on it...

I find now that what I'm tending to do is buy in a more project-focused way. I'm not sure if it's entirely do with so many of those 100 or so quilts having been magazine projects. But I'll see a fabric I like that sets off an idea, and buy it and around it to fill out the idea. Or will buy some of a range with the idea of working them together into a quilt - or maybe just buy a charm square pack of a range I like, so I have a skerrick of each. Or occasionally a fat quarter collection of an entire range that hugely appeals to me. I don't tend to buy one thing, and then dive back into the stash. I have in the past, but if I'm truthful about what I do now, I don't use the stash so much now. My buying is much more project-focused. The bought set goes into a plastic project box with a sketch or notes or some sort of detail of the design plan, and then it's there as a waiting project, all there.

And here's the thing: you actually don't need metres and metres of fabric to make a quilt. I've just done a quick skid through a recent patchwork magazine, and for pretty much any project in there, 8m of fabric was plenty for the top. That's 8 metres, or 16 half metres, or 32 fat quarters. And that's for a larger quilt, around 90in square. If you're making a smaller one, say 45in square, you only need a quarter of the fabric - 3m if you're being generous (3m, 6 half metres, 12 fat quarters...). Partly because of having a blog, I've sometimes taken photos of the fabric cut out for a quilt. It's never a huge pile... There's one collection of brights I have, a whole lot of different fqs, and I've now made three quilts from that lot, and still have enough for at least a couple more.

I've also been thinking about how many quilts one actually makes in a year. My mental number for this year is about 20 at most (I'm letting life be a little less hectic). So, realistically, how much more do I need than the fabric for those 20 quilts? I know perfectly well that it's gorgeous to have a choice of 20 different blues, and I do enjoy using a wide variety of fabrics in a quilt - much rather do scrappy than a quilt with only a few fabrics in it. But how much do you need beyond what you need? A friend who's a much stronger chucker-outer than I will probably ever be, remarked that maybe even the fabric, now, for twenty quilts is too much - you're bound to buy a bit of fabric here and there during the year, why not leave room for that rather than having the twenty and anything you buy being extra?

It interests me how many crafts have an element of accumulation - I think, and I don't mean this rudely, that scrapbooking towers above almost any craft I can think of for feeding the hunter-gatherer instinct with the most astounding array of Stuff - even more than quilting. I'm sure it's equally true for more male-oriented crafts, another woodwork tool, another train set accessory, another widgeyfidget for the car, whatever.

And I guess for me I'm reaching a point of wanting to think over that accumulation, consider my stash, and consider a way forward. I could say, I'll not buy any more fabric this year - but then again, I might want a charm pack of something or other, a little of a lot, because I like a particular range or I want something modern in my quilts. According to a recent survey, dedicated quilters in the US buy 100 yards of fabric a year. Or maybe, enough for a dozen quilts. But do they make a dozen quilts?

The whole 'one-day' thing is quicksand. I'll buy this fabric for one day (done that). I'll buy these bargain fqs at the show because they're beautiful and I know I'll use them one day (done that too). How much of a quilter's stash is 'one-day' and yet it never truly sees the light of day?

Holy fabric's another one. The fabric to die for, too good to cut into. You know what? I'm not near so seduced by Robyn Pandolph's Folk Art Wedding fabrics as I was back in 1998. The bits of it I like best now are the ones I CUT INTO and USED (gosh, how scandalous! how blasphemous!) not the fqs I have no doubt are still in the stash, somewhere. I had bits of the whole Amy Butler Charm range, and was brave enough to cut into them, and the quilt's on the bed right now, making me happy. Much happier than a bunch of stored fabric.

I've seen a few other quilters - not many - downsize their stashes (and have sometimes been the beneficiary of this) and have admired their strength. It's hard to let go of something in which you've not only invested money, but time and thought and your taste and hope for how you would use it and what it would become, how it made you feel, what you would design, what you would sew, what it would finally become.

Last year I went through a whole lot of other stuff in the house, and gave what was worth giving (eg. books, homewares, clothes) to Vinnies/Salvos/the local op shop/Goodwill/Oxfam, call it what you will, while the rubbish went into the bin. Have I missed any of it? No. I really haven't.

So I wonder, if (and I'm still at IF, this is a process!)I went through my quilter's fabric stash, and pared it down to something more resembling the reality of how I quilt now, in 2007, I wonder how much of it I would miss. I know good places to send it to - the local community quilts group, the Quilters' Guild of NSW community quilts group, the Crowle Foundation (http://www.crowlefoundation.org.au/how_you_can_help.html). Places that would deal with it as quilt fabric (not potential rags!) and be able to make it into quilts that would make a difference in the world. More of a difference than keeping fabric, year after year, for one day that will probably never come.

So as I'm thinking all this out, I'm curious - do you really truly use your stash in the majority of your quilting? How much would be over 5 years old, say, and not really touched? What is your 'holy fabric'? Do you find yourself entranced by the new, and without meaning to, forgetting the old? I remember seeing pictures of a "Biggest Stash" competition a while back. I know mine would not have qualified (thank God) but I really don't see the humour in, "She who dies with the most fabric wins". Wins what? How sad would that be, to not use that in which you invested your money and hopes and imagination? Do you spring clean your stash? Would you? Could you?

(I originally wrote this to an online quilting group to which I belong, and then thought hmm, that's a blogworthy rant, that is. Put it on the blog too!)


Ali said...

I have quilting to thank for starting me on the process of aquiring a stash. Blogging has increased it greatly somehow. But enough is enough now, and part of the joy for me of sewing something is reducing the pile of unused fabric.

I will not allow myself to get into scrapbooking precisely because I know how much I would be compelled to accumulate.

candyschultz said...

For me, absolutely, the stash is necessary. I make almost exclusively scrap quilts these days. I love seeing all the bright fabrics and it does beckon me into the studio. But that is just me.

Di said...

What a great post. It really is something to think about. It all comes down to how you buy your fabric these days. If you only buy for specific pojects - then I doubt the stash would ever get used and maybe it's a thought to give some of it to a great charity where you know the fabric will be made into quilts. If you are the type to set aside a few weekends where you only make quilts from your stash - then hang onto it. It all comes down to personality - can you let go of it or not. My main issue is space - I just don't have the room to keep everything and I can't cope with an overflowing cupboard...so I love having a good clean out of my stash and sending it off to the charity of my choice.

Feeling Simply Quilty said...

I would say that is a most blog worthy rant, and I have to agree and include myself in your findings/unearthed stash ideas. I have bought enough fabric to reach end to end to the moon. This is the year for me to whittle it down to from here to Jersey...I live in Kentucky, so that's a lot closer than the moon...smile. I have weighed myself and part of my stash, at the same time, so if I complete something from my stash, I lose weight, if i lose weight, I lose weight, it's a win, win for me.

candyschultz said...

Actually I think it should be changed to "she who dies with the most quilts, made by herself, wins". I won't win that competition but I am having fun.

Anonymous said...

I have the beginnings of a fabric stash, since I only started quilting late last year. I do know the pros and cons of having a stash, however, as I still knit and spin, and have amassed a large amount of yarn and fiber from those activities. I read somewhere that it's called SABLE--STash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. Ha ha.

- MJ

Carmel said...

I enjoyed this posting when I read it on the online group this morning and I did wonder if it was also going to be on your blog!
I found it very thought provoking and it's a great conversation generator.
I've been thinking about my stash ( x2, seeing as I have one in each location) a lot lately and recently posted to the same group about using them up. So it was good to see your thoughts as well.

Tracy said...

Loved the post ;) My stash was built because the nearest quilt shop was 500km away in Alice Springs. Now i live "south" and close to a quilt shop I'm finding I don't have the urge to hoard fabric like I used too. I still won't get rid of the stash :D that would require too much strength.

Feeling Simply Quilty said...

Just wanted to let you know, I read your rant to my quilt group, Northeast Quilting Friends, and we are all on board with using up our stash. I've even made stash busting pledge cards, and we are going to say our pledge every month and show and tell what we've completed.

Thanks for the inspiration!

phyllis said...

I have noticed this hunter gatherer mentality in a scrapbooking group I belong to online. Some will buy an expensive tool and then post "What do I use it for?" Very odd, but I find myself getting projects and then buying the tool and never using it again. Nice bit of rationalization on my part . . .

I've learned to stop.