Quilt Fearlessly

Curating Your Perfect Fabric Museum (Stash 101)

I’ve been a fabric fan far longer than I’ve been a quilter. My mom’s stash was always fun to peruse, just to see the pretty colors, patterns and surface design. I started off sewing handbags and totes after college just for fun, but it wasn’t until I became a quilter that I started wanting all the fabric. I actually told myself initially I would only buy fabric when I was going to use it for a specific project. That didn’t last long. I was in a new town where I didn’t know anyone, had a corporate job with a good income, and I treated myself to fabric more than I probably should have in the 2010’s. That is how I came to have my fabric museum.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I left my corporate job and salary for a deep paycut and a job I sincerely love working for the Austin Humane Society. Gone were the days of treating myself often and suddenly I had to learn to quilt from this stash I had accumulated. There are so many things I would have done differently 10 years ago to build my stash so I thought I’d share what my personal mistakes were, and provide a bit of a guide for you to start or continue your collection. A lot of it is obvious “fortune teller advice” but hopefully there are a few ideas that help you decide what path you want to take when it comes to curating your fabric museum. There are so many different ways to do it and things to think about!

LESSONS LEARNED

Buying fabric because it was a good price and not because I loved it

This is by far my biggest mistake. When I first started quilting I had no stash. This quickly became annoying when needing something for a project I was working on. I had to either drive to the fabric store (which generally weren’t open during the hours I wasn’t at the office) or wait on shipped fabric, delaying whatever project I was working on. I like a deal as much as the next person and soon I found myself buying a yard here and there of sale and clearance fabric that was “okay” and that “might be useful someday” instead of focusing on fabric I was gaga over. Those were always the fabrics I would donate to our local creative reuse center whenever Austin rents forced me to downsize. 

I would have been much better off buying one yard of a fabric I loved that I would use versus 3 yards of miscellaneous “okay” fabric.

Buying fabric because it was pretty even though it wasn’t the style of fabric I liked to use in quilts

It took me a while to figure out what kinds of fabrics I like in quilts. It actually took a long while. In the meantime I accumulated a lot of gorgeous fabric that looks pretty on a shelf, but it doesn’t fit the style of quilt I like to make. (side note: the fabrics all make lovely quilts, they just aren’t right for the style of quilts I personally make). I’ve always gravitated toward solids, but do use prints on occasion. I don’t use prints often enough to justify the amount I have, and I don’t use the type of prints I have almost ever. I’m a sucker for a good focal fabric (think bold, modern, colorful floral) or novelty animal fabric (my cat/dog/flamingo stash is absurd). I never use those. Ever. Not because I don’t love them, but because I like really bold graphic quilts and those fabrics are super busy and don’t visually communicate the overall design and aesthetic I’m going for. In my early years I actually wound up designing a quilt specifically for a focal novelty flamingo fabric because I needed to use something from my stash.

I would have been much better off if I had figured out what kinds of fabrics I like in quilts sooner, and once I did, stuck to basics and blenders, while occasionally treating my fabric museum to something I couldn’t live without.

focal focus fabric

Examples of focal fabrics from my stash above. Flamingo focal fabric quilt I designed below. 

focal focus fabric flamingo quilt design

Not paying attention to the variety of colors in my stash

I haven’t always had my fabric displayed on comic book boards in color order. In the before days of random fabric purchases I would buy sale fabric like we talked about earlier, and never thought about how much of one color I had versus what colors I was lacking. I bought a lot of pink. A lot. I hated purple for a looooong time (sorry purple lovers!) and have only recently started coming around to it. I have three pieces of purple print fabric. Three. Honestly, I’m kind of okay with that because I didn’t love it for a long time, but a wide variety of colors would have been smarter to accumulate for future use. In the past I also noticed I lacked red fabrics that weren’t too holiday themed. I’m a jewel tone girl and my stash largely consists of pinks, teals, blues, yellows and oranges. My greens are also very lacking. I love to play with all the colors, so nowadays I wish I had a wider range, even if not all of them are colors I use frequently. That said, I’m glad I have a lot of the colors I do use frequently. I just could have switched it up a bit more.

So lesson learned: Stick with colors you love but don’t forget about having a wide range to play with.

CURATING YOUR PERFECT FABRIC MUSEUM

Now that we’ve looked at the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned, let’s look at how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did, and curate a fabric museum perfect for you! We are all going to have different choices, but that is what makes this part fun (other than the buying fabric part, that is super fun). 

The most important step is figuring out what you want out of your stash. Consider the space and setup you have to store fabric and figure out the stash’s purpose. This seems super obvious, but it wasn’t really at the top of my mind when I started out.

What is the purpose of your fabric stash?

  • I want to display a collection of fabrics I love 
  • I want to collect useful fabrics I might use in the future
  • I want to do a little of both
  • I want to buy fabrics I think will increase in value in the future (This is definitely a thing, some fabrics can be really good investments, but just like financial investments, it can be a guessing game, and definitely a long-term hold strategy) 

What kind of fabric do you like in an overall quilt top?

If you just want to collect pretty fabric, you’re pretty much all set. If you want to curate a useful stash it is really important to figure out what fabrics you personally like in quilts. This is SO HARD for a beginner quilter. This is really hard for experienced quilters. There is no magic formula and everyone likes something different. I struggled with using prints until the past few years. I was 100% the person who was paralyzed by print fabric and couldn’t figure out what was going to look good in a pattern. This topic is so huge I actually am going to devote an entire blog post to figuring out your quilt fabric style later this week. Subscribe to my blog to get an email when I post new content. Long story short though, look around on pinterest and social media for quilts you love. Take note of colors and the style of fabric that person used. Check out their posts for more info on what designers/fabric manufacturers they used. After you have done this for a dozen or so quilts you love you are probably going to see some trends, and that is what you should aim for when you’re picking out your stash! I love prints but I definitely prefer a quilt top that mostly uses basics/blender fabrics like the Love Letters Quilt below which I made in Moda’s Thatched fabric. That basics line has a wide variety of yummy colors and is always one of my top choices!

Love Letters Quilt in basics blenders fabric

Color, color, and more color

We’ll get back to figuring out what fabric you like in quilt tops, but there are other things to consider in the meantime. First, and this is one of my favorites, is color. What colors make your heart sing? What colors do you not love? What color combos are your favorite? As I mentioned before, having a well rounded stash to pull from is super useful, but it definitely makes the most sense to collect what you love. Keep an inventory of what colors you have in your stash, and make a note of things you are missing so when you see fabric you love you remember to buy in the colors you are lacking and not just the colors you always buy. Variety is key.

How much do you buy?

Once you decide to buy a fabric the hardest part is knowing how much to buy. My advice is to look at what size cuts are required for patterns you like to make. If fat quarters are enough and you don’t want leftover fabric, go for that. I tend to err on the side of caution and buy at least half a yard of any fabric I like. Then I know I’ll be covered for that unicorn quilt pattern out there that requires ⅜ of a yard. I also use comic book boards to wrap mini-bolts of fabric and you really need at least half a yard of fabric to fit around the silver boards. If a quilt pattern is scrappy a half yard will almost always be enough and you’ll have some leftover to play with in the future. When I absolutely am in love with something I’ll buy a yard or two. Then if I find a quilt pattern that uses only a handful of prints, I know I’m set. It is rare I’ll buy more than two yards, but in cases where I want to hoard something for backing fabric I splurge. I also buy a few yards when I find a unique basic/blender fabric I know will get used in multiple quilts. 

Even though I buy 1/2-1 yard of fabric each time I get something it doesn’t stop me from being scrappy. I’ve made several Full Hearts quilts (below) and I like that I can use a small cut of the fabric and have a bunch leftover when I’m done for future projects. It makes “scrappy” a bit cumbersome, but I think the results are worth it!

full hearts quilt pattern variations

Do you buy an entire collection or prints here and there?

This is a hard one. There are so many beautiful collections, and for a lot of quilters it is really hard to pair fabrics up from different collections/designers/manufacturers. Collections are built to look good together, and if you can make life easier, why not do that? I do have one tip if you like to buy an entire collection. Once you decide on a collection check out the fabric manufacturers website to see what basics/blenders they have available that look good with that collection. I often find that I need to throw in a few basics with any collection to balance out the color and graphic styles. Collections are often built with a lot of focal/feature fabrics and not necessarily enough basics/blenders to tone down the busy-ness of the prints. Some manufacturers will list their basics any given line, others you have to hunt for it. I hope to do some posts in the future about the basics/blenders different fabric manufacturers offer. There is a lot of good stuff out there if you know where to look! I’ve spent a lot of time looking. 

If you aren’t one to buy an entire collection and you want a well-rounded stash to pull from I recommend you figure out what style fabric you like so that the pieces in your stash look good together. If you lean modern/geometric, a majority of your stash should reflect that. Go back to the step where you figure out what kind of quilt tops you like and take note of your fabric preference. My biggest piece of advice for the style quilt top I like is that you should pair busy fabrics you love with basics/blenders that aren’t as loud.

My Cat O’Lantern quilt below is one example where I actually used just one line for a pattern. This pattern is fat quarter friendly so it was perfect for one of Moda’s extensive precut fat quarter bundles!

cat olantern fat quarter friendly quilt sample

Fabric Museum Printable

I hope some of that was helpful for folks just starting to build their stash. I am going to try to blog more about lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years, just keep in mind what is true for me won’t be true for everyone! Make things work for you and gather knowledge to help you make decisions. That has always been my quilty method and I love knowing other people’s strategies and preferences. There is so much great information out there from current blogs, and old blogs. Go down some rabbit holes and soak up all the quilty knowledge out there. I think that is part of the fun!

I made a little free printable for you to brainstorm and document how you want to plan your fabric museum. It comes in multiple colors and is ready for you to print and fill out! Keep it handy when you’re fabric shopping so you stick to your goals and whatever plan you decide on. You can grab the printable here.

fabric museum goals printable

ORGANIZING YOUR FABRIC MUSEUM

There are a million ways to organize your fabric stash, but I thought I’d go ahead and let you know how I organize mine. I have IKEA Billy Bookcases, both the wide and skinny versions. I find they are perfect for my fabric that is wrapped on comic book boards. I use these silver comic book boards (affiliate link) that you can pick-up at any comic book store or amazon. I wrap my fabric and pin the ends in place with a satin pin like these. I’ll try to post a tutorial soon showing how I wrap my boards, or perhaps an Instagram reel if I can figure out this video stuff! You’ll have to buy some extra shelves for the bookcases to maximize your space. Each bookcase needs five total shelves for fabric boards, but I think it only comes with three or four. I prefer the skinny bookcases because it makes organizing and pulling fabric a bit easier than the wide version. I bought some fabric bins on amazon to use on the bottom row of the bookcases. I have animals and faux hardwood floors, so it can get dusty and I don’t want my fabric on the bottom shelf to get dirty so I use the bins for precuts or projects.

As far as sorting goes, I have my white/low volume prints and blacks on the top row. Below that is a long row by color. I have dots together, stripes together, and my textured fabrics like speckled and grunge together. Beyond that I have a holiday section for Halloween and Christmas. I also group by collection when I have multiple prints from a collection. Once they are used up the remaining fabric gets moved to the color portion of the wall. I keep all of my original Cotton + Steel and Ruby Star Society fabrics together for easy picking. It’s a work in progress but for now it works! I have a separate bookshelf for my fat quarters and precuts that still is in need of a little organization.

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