A Worthy Endeavour for 2015

Our quilt guild organized a studio tour of some of our members’ sewing rooms a few years ago.  One of the most exciting and prolific members opened up her cupboards to reveal that she had the world’s smallest stash – just a small pile of neatly folded fabrics in a small cupboard.  There were quilts everywhere, and a great many small wall hangings for sale. But no stash! I couldn’t believe it.

Lenny's stash - that's it!

Lenny’s stash – that’s all of it!

In my sewing room cupboards I have piles of old shirts, denim jeans, and old batting off cuts (too big to throw away, too small to use for a quilt). I have a bunch of unsuccessful quilt blocks from classes or experiments from years ago. I have kept yards and yards of selvages, and any piece of fabric that will cut a 1 1/2″ square. I’m not QUITE a hoarder, but I do hate throwing useful things out.  People give me old cotton clothing when they are downsizing.  It is overwhelming to open the cupboard door. Sound familiar?

I’ve been noticing lately that many of us are working from our stashes.  The stash busting started a few years ago with the Global Financial Crisis, I think – when we stopped buying so much new fabric.  Now we’re trolling not only our sewing rooms for fabric that we may have bought in better times and forgotten about, but also consignment stores for cotton clothing that we can cut down into quilts.  Happily, not everyone is doing this, or we wouldn’t have any quilt shops left!

At last week’s quilting retreat I used up some old ugly fabric (that chunk of Millenium fabric I bought in 1999 intending to make a 2000 piece charm quilt, and a skirt someone gave me because it was cotton, for example) on oven mitts that are bound for Ecuador with a friend who goes with a dental team to small villages there.  Her job is to sterilize the equipment and she is always burning her arms taking the trays out of the sterilizer. I also used up some of that leftover cotton batting (you know you can piece batting, don’t you?).  She didn’t care what they looked like and I was thrilled to be able to get this fabric I have no other use for out of my stash, and reduce the size of the bags in my cupboard.

Seven pairs of oven mitts bound for Ecuador.

Seven pairs of oven mitts bound for Ecuador.

I need to do more of this.  There’s a theory in the retail world that if you put a lower price on things, you can move the stock more quickly and replace it with something new.  I see this in some fabric shops – I’m thinking about places like Marden’s in Maine, where you can often find fabric for $5 and less per yard – and they get it. There are always new fabrics coming in and that keeps people coming back regularly.

What if we kept that in mind with our own stashes?

But it’s not only for the old ugly fabric. Two years ago I challenged two friends to make ten pieces each for a group art show we did last February/March.  One of my own challenges was to use up some of that “holy” fabric in my stash – too beautiful to use.  I gave myself permission to use anything I wanted on these pieces.  It was very freeing. I started in on my hand-dye bin and kept going.  That gorgeous piece of teal hand dye that I’ve been fondling for several years turned into this:



I can’t think of a better use for it!

What about all that denim I’ve been collecting?  I have two stacks of denim quilts blocks that I’ve put together for the next call for flood/fire/devastation quilts.  I must put them together one of these days and get them out of the house.

And the old blocks – not even UFOs because you’ll never finish them?  A few months ago my friend Wenche asked if we had any quilts we could donate for a local Alzheimers’ fundraiser.  I had just done a cleanout of my studio and offered my old blocks.  She took a couple and made wall hangings for the fundraiser!  Blocks that I couldn’t see any future for became colourful gorgeous wall hangings.

Wenche made with my block 1 Wenche made with my block 2

If I clear out some room, I’ll be able to fill it up with even more beautiful fabric!  And I won’t feel so overwhelmed with the piles of projects and little baggies of STUFF that are everywhere. Sometimes it takes some creativity to figure out what you’ll do with all of it, but there are ways – otherwise, why have you been keeping it? There are lots of books with patterns using scraps (although I think some people’s “scraps” are significantly larger than mine……), and lots of ways to use up old thread, binding, batting, etc.

I still go to the quilt shop – usually for specific projects or to replace a colour I am running short of.  But I MUST clear out my sewing room so it feels like a workable place. I think it’s a worthy endeavour for 2015.

Are you with me?  Do you have any good ideas?  Feel free to share in the comments.  I’d love to hear about them!


9 Responses to “A Worthy Endeavour for 2015”

  1. Brandy Lynn Maslowski Says:

    Hahaha…”Not QUITE a hoarder.” Honey, I’ve been known to say that too.

    • singingquilter Says:

      Brandy – we stayed with a real hoarder once in England, and I’m not NEARLY as bad as she was! You can actually walk the length of my house without bumping into piles of newspapers and magazines, and it’s only rarely you can scrape off a half-inch of dust…..

  2. Jan Rhoades Says:

    I love your post Cathy. Makes me smile though as I look around my sewing room right now. I haven’t really bought any fabric for quite a while…except for those bits and pieces for some charity quilts. Oh and the wide backing as my donation for aforementioned charity quilts. And the wadding which will go into those same charity quilts. The list continues.
    Of course, there are the ‘few’ fat quarters I bought in Tassie last year at the retreat, and a few more to finish off a project.
    But basically I was a good little quilter last year and used up heaps of scraps. I love, love, love scrappy quilts and our charity projects certainly help bust (some of) the stash. I used heaps of Christmas fabric from my stash last year and intend to do the same again this year.
    And yes, I join wadding all the time, especially for smaller projects. A great stash buster right there.

    • singingquilter Says:

      Hi Jan – Last Christmas I also made aprons for my family members. I was delighted at how much fabric they used!!!

      I think we should just buy batting and large pieces of fabric for backings now so that we can work our way through the scrap bag and stash.

      But what about all that wool yardage that someone gave me all those years ago?

      hugs to you! cathy

  3. crazyanneca Says:

    Actually, your stash sounds like mine except I save anything that is slightly more than 1/2 inch wide!! A tiny line of color would add some zing to a strip piece.

    I’ve been sewing batting together for years for my charity work but I am getting pickier with the width of the strip I save. I found a great product – Heat Press Batting Together – no relation, affiliation, etc. that is really handy for attaching the pieces.

    We give the smaller batting pieces to a charity that makes dog beds and stuff for the Humane Society. They also take any cotton piece 6″ or bigger for making crafts to sell.

  4. quiltlady41 Says:

    You have inspired me to use up my stash. This has weighed heavy on my mind for a long time. I am getting ready to move and have been thinking how selfish for me to keep all of this fabric. So, onward and upward, stash become something beautiful.

    Another way is to share with your guild. We are always making quilts for causes, and the braid quilt will certainly be neat with some of those scraps. In fact that is how I learned to make the braid quilt was at our guild. They turn out so pretty. I just gave my 22 year old grandson one for Christmas. And, they are easy to quilt. I also cut wof strips and make my own jelly rolls. Love making the 1600 inch quilt out of those strips.

    Dorothy Kelly Houston, Texas CPQGTX

  5. singingquilter Says:

    Hi Dorothy – There are so many wonderful causes, and they don’t always need whole quilts. I love your idea of making braid quilts with your scraps – braid quilts are so beautiful and GREAT scrap bag busters (which are different from stashbusters). And the 1600 inch quilts also are quick and easy.
    Thanks for your great suggestions!
    We’ll be back in Texas this fall!

  6. Jan Chis Says:

    My stash overwhelms me sometimes. I keep anything that is bigger than an inch -sad. I’ve got several bags of said off cuts – every so often I do some “Mile a minute” or crumb quilts. My stash of Thimbleberries fabric (off cuts from BOMs years ago) must have diminished slightly while working on my “Star and Plume” quilt but I will have to buy some fabric for the sashing. I was looking at it only yesterday and wondering what I could do with the rest of it – maybe a Log Cabin but I reckon there’ll still be some left. Oh well – they’ll have to become crumb quilts! I’ve got stashes of projects on shelves – all waiting to be done – I’m sure that when I get to some of them I’ll wonder why on earth I thought I’d like to do that particular quilt. Not only do I have a stash of fabric but also a stash of bag patterns – 50 at the last count! Is there any hope for me??

    Janet in snowy Cumbria, UK

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