I used to have NO fabric stash. I was the opposite of every quilter I knew but the idea of buying fabric with no pattern in mind stressed me out. Ohio has SO many quilt shops and I lived within 5 miles of three different shops! In fact, within an hour I lived near 13 quilt shops so I never felt the need to have a stash. I would find a pattern, buy the fabric, make the quilt and then go buy a backing. I would quilt the quilt or send it out and then buy the binding. It worked beautifully until 2020 and everything shut down. I had almost no fabric to sew (I had just started writing patterns) and all the online shops were taking 30 plus days to fill the massive amounts of orders.
I decided that I needed to have a stash to draw from especially as I got more into pattern writing. I still struggled with keep extra fabric because I had trained myself to think of a stash as quilts that needed to be made. My husband, however, helped me to re-frame that mindset and not see the fabric as a task list but instead as a resource. It would be a place of inspiration to draw from. This definitely appealed to me and slowly I was okay with buying more fabric but it was still not an actual “stash”.
It wasn’t until we moved to Indiana where I was an hour from all the quilt shops that I began to really take stash building seriously. I needed to be able to select fabric when I felt inspired or when I needed to bind a quilt. I wanted to have solids available when I needed “the right grey.”
What do I Keep in My Stash?
I keep solids, backings, layer cakes, charm packs, stripes for binding and 1/2 yard or more of lines I like. Of course FQs are a staple in any stash and there are two ways I collect those: line and singles.
This list has thus far been what I have realized works for me. It will be different for every quilter. Some traditional quilters will never need another solid besides white or black. Modern quilters might mostly have a stash of solids. Let’s go through the list
You can see I have a large selection of solids. First, I always buy 5 yards of basic colors that work for backgrounds or sashing like white, black, grey and navy. I often order those colors from a few different brands so I can match specific lines. It has gotten to the point where I might even order an entire bolt of a few basics like white or black. I find it helpful to have a warm white and a pure white in addition to several greys.
I have also been getting a few of my very favorite solids in half a yard. It is usually enough to use as accent fabric in patterns and then I am not having to wait for for fabric to arrive for the “right yellow.” Some of these solids are from colors that I didn’t think matched well with the quilt I had in mind.
I have learned that it is especially helpful having a variety of backings available. There is nothing worse than finishing a quilt top and wanting to either quilt it right away or mail it off and I dont have backing. I typically use Cuddle Luxe by Shannon Fabrics more than any other kind of backing. It is so soft and warm and it is my favorite backing to to use. The types of backings you keep depend on what sort of quilter you are. I make TONS of seasonal quilts: Halloween, Christmas, etc. So I keep a few seasonal backings on hand. I am still actually working on adding to my backing stash because this has proven so helpful. So the question then is how much do I buy? I don’t usually make extremely large quilts but stick to the lap size/large throw size. I find that four yards is usually enough for most small throws/ lap size quilts and five yards is enough for large throws. So if it is a kiddie print-I get four yards; if I can foresee it as a picnic quilt backing-five yards. If it is a Christmas print that I am very excited about, I absolutely get 5 yards like these two from Art Gallery Fabric’s new Christmas in the City line.
Pre-cuts: Layer Cakes, Jelly Rolls and Charm Packs
I learned to quilt using pre-cuts. I learned from the pre-cut tutorials from Jenny at Missouri Star Quilt Company. For years I only bought pre-cuts. Pre-cuts are fabrics that have been pre-cut to specific sizes-: Layer Cakes are 10″ square, Jelly Rolls are 2.5″ WOF strips and Charm Packs are 5″ squares. They typically are made from entire lines so it is a much cheaper way to get all the beautiful fabrics in a line. I also loved that they were SO FAST to quilt with since they often had quick patterns on Missouri and usually featured fun tricks.
When I first started quilting, I didn’t want have to pick anything that goes together. I found it very intimidating even though I was really good at decorating and fashion. The designers of fabric lines make sure the entire line matches and looks stunning so its an easy way to get started with learning about fabrics. Eventually I realized that picking fabrics was not any different than putting an outfit together. I just had to find what I thought looked good together. At first I tried to mimic popular quilters’ fabric pulls and would hate them. Eventually I realized it was because I didn’t LIKE the pull not that I could not do it. The bright modern prints or electric soilds just aren’t my taste and that is okay. I learned that darker muted colors are more my style and I have also found a love of some traditional fabrics. Of course my favorite fabrics are seasonal.
Stripes for Binding Fabric
I LOVE a striped binding. It is such a fun whimsical way to finish off a quilt but it can also be a really classic design. I love a striped binding so much that I decided to start collecting stripes. But how much to buy for a binding? I usually buy a 1/2 yard since I mostly make lap sized quilts. 3/4 yards are more than enough for larger quilts, so if there is a stripe I particularly like-I go 3/4 yard so I at least have the option to use it for a binding.
How Much Do I Buy from a Line of Fabric?
This is probably the question I get most often now and the one I struggled with the most. If I am not buying a pre-cut and I don’t want to spend the $75-150 on a Fat Quarter Bundle-what do I get? There are a few things I have learned along the way
- It is not necessary to buy the ENTIRE line.
- Lines often come in multiple color-ways and not everyone is going to like all the colors offered. So it is okay to pick only the colors you like.
- Some lines are quite large offering 32 fabrics. I have learned over time that with those really large lines, I often only use some of the fabrics and then have a lot left. This is where picking and choosing color-ways that appeal to me comes in handy.
- Quilt Shops often curate smaller FQ bundles for these really large lines
- It is okay to vary the amount of fabric purchased from a line. Here are my go-to guides for amounts:
- 1/2 yard minimum from each print I love
- 2-3 yards for prints I think would make an excellent background (especially if it is a low volume fabric)
- 4-5 yards for backings
- 1/2 yard to 3/4 for a binding
Fat Quarter Bundles or Singles?
This question too once plagued me. If I have no idea what I am going to make do I buy one or two FQ or the entire line? Should I buy single FQs from Quilt Shops? These answers depend on what sort of quilter you are. Once again I realized that many modern quilters DO NOT like to use an entire line and would rather have their own custom pull-totally unique and often very eclectic. Their fabric selections, as much as the patterns they write, are their trademark. I was always in awe watching the fabric pulls quilt designers came up with from their stash alone! I have found that it takes time to build a stash of singles that facilitate the ability to do a good pull at a moments notice. As I continue quilting, I have enjoyed doing individual fabric pulls but as my single stash slowly grows, bundles are a great way to get an instant quilt. I really do like to use entire lines because it is easy and I enjoy all the details fabric designers put into making different prints go together (they are designers after all).
How to Organize Fat Quarters: By line or Color?
I am a bit TYPE A (haha-if you have followed a while you know I am a LOT TYPE A 🙂 ). I set about asking quilters with stashes, large and small how they organize their stash. Some do and some don’t. Some just stack and some organize by color. I have found organizing in two ways is helpful to me for now but as my stash grows, I am sure my organizing will evolve.
- Bundles are kept together. If I bought the bundle because I liked the whole line, I keep it together.
- There was a local quilt shop in Ohio that only organized their fabric by color. At first this made sense to me but whenever I wanted to get an entire line-I had to search through all the blues, greens, etc and try to find where they might have placed a print. It made searching for a whole line impossible. A year later, I dont want to comb through my entire stash to be sure I found all the fabrics in a line I want to use.
- Singles and some bundles are organized by color
- I have just started my singles collection in the last six months so there is not a lot to organize yet but I intend to keep those organized by color. Scrap quilts are a favorite but sometimes a quilt just needs one or two other colors so it is helpful to have a stash of singles that can be used.
- Some bundles I buy because of the color range and not necessarily because I want to make a quilt from the line such as low volumes or curated bundles from online shops. These are the bundles I separate and will organize by color.
- Curated color bundles from online shops are fantastic and stress-free way to build a slow and steady stash. These quilt shop owners are amazing at pulling singles together and I often find they are just the ticket to building my purples or greens up.
- Solid Bundles in one color are kept together.
- I recently discovered (and purchased a blue) that Art Gallery Fabric has curated bundles in specific colors: Blues, purples, etc. These are going to be a staple in my stash. I plan on buying a solid bundle or two a month because more often than not I just need one FQ for the right color in a block and the grey or blue I have just is not the “right” tone.
- Low Volumes are a must
- I never knew what Low Volumes were when I started quilting but as I delved deeper into quilting, I started learning all the jargon. A Low volume are prints that are mostly white or neutral at least and have small designs or patterns. They are meant for a background, sashing or quiet compliment to bold colors.
- Singles and yardage: It is helpful to have a good stash of Low Volume singles especially if working with a scrappy quilt. It is equally helpful to have a few (2-3 yards each) of Low volumes for backgrounds for entire quilts.
- Curated Low Volume Bundles are a great way to build your Low Volume Stash
It is a Process
The number one thing I had to learn was it takes time to build a stash. I went on a mission to build a stash at some large quilt shops in Indianapolis. I was totally lost and could not decide how to build a stash in one day. I learned that it does not happen that way. So my new rule is slow and steady. Often I would look at lines or curated bundles and think “if only I had time to make a quilt from those now or even a use in mind” and never get them. Now if I am really excited about a bundle or a line-I get it and it just gets added to the stash.
That said, just like with my closet-I follow one simple rule so I don’t end up with a stash full of “so-so” fabrics.
I MUST absolutely LOVE this fabric. It has to be something I can’t stop thinking about. It has to be something I would be bummed if it sold out tomorrow. I don’t buy the lines or the fabrics that I think it could work or maybe someday I would use it. It is surprising how much easier the decision to buy or not to buy becomes. It ensures my stash is only filled with fabrics I absolutely LOVE.
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comment and I would be happy to answer them!
I love all your thoughts on building a stash. When I was a younger quilter I bought everything on sale so when I got older & retired I would have lots to pull from. But looking at it now so many fabrics I don’t like so they just sit there waiting. Thinking I need to put together a donation stack. Thank you for all the inspiration! 😘
Andrea Sims says
This is great information thank you for sharing. In addition I would love to know your thoughts on yardage to buy for possible boarders?
Andrea Sims says
I would measure what width of boarders you prefer for a few sizes and then stock those. My guess is at least 2 yards for large and 1 for smaller quilts.
Kathleen McLaughlin says
Some great advice! Having built a stash for years from single fat quarters, I’m only now starting to keep backgrounds, backings, and bindings in reserve for future projects. I’ve also learned to buy immediately if I absolutely love a fabric because chances are when I go back for it it has already sold out and then I have to pay higher prices on Etsy IF I can find it at all!