Your Fabric Stash – Does it Serve You Well?

Hi Everybody,

I’ve been thinking about fabric stashes and what makes a fabric stash useful and worth having. I’m quite organised with my stash. A local sweetshop owner doesn’t like to throw away the plastic boxes that the sweets are delivered in, so he gives them away to people like me who like to hoard things in boxes. I keep them all on the shelves of a bookcase.

Most are square boxes organised by colour, fabric type and theme. I have boxes of blacks and greys, whites, cream, pinks , reds and so on for colours. These are mainly prints though I have a single box of solids and one for charm packs which include a good range of shades. I have boxes for muslin, linen, white cotton, batik, double gauze, grunge fabric, organza, Liberty prints, plaids and tartans.

I also have boxes based around the themes that crop up most often in my work – kids,  cats and dogs, birds, skies (clouds, rain, snow etc), Celtic themes, Christmas and novelty fabrics like text.  Then I have a few long thin boxes for threads, trims and embellishments, paper templates and that sort of thing.

What I don’t really have enough of are spots, stripes, grids,  tone on tone blenders and the sort of broad striped fabrics that make interesting borders and bindings. I notice over and over how useful it would be to have a choice of these and yet I never buy them because, if I am going to spend some money, I want to spend it on something I get excited about rather than something useful. This is a bit silly because these fabrics lift and enhance work in interesting ways.

I also don’t pay much attention to tones. I am always looking to have dark, light and medium tones in my work, only to find most of my stash includes prints that are much the same.  This is where charm packs can be useful because they do ensure you are buying a range of tones.

Moda ‘Boat House’ Charm Pack with a typical range of light and dark fabrics.

I began my stash because I wanted to create appliquéd fabric pictures and embroideries, so I bought various background fabrics in natural linens for that purpose but I didn’t really have the skills at that point. There was much to learn, so I put those aside and starting quilting because I had done some of that years before. I thought it would be fun to make baby quilts so I spent many happy hours designing cot quilts and buying the fabric for them.

Fabric bought years ago for a baby quilt with a dog theme.

As I made  one I planned more and bought more fabric for them.

Fabric bought years ago for baby quilt with a cat theme.

I also bought fabric that I thought would be fun without any real idea of what I was going to do with it.

Novelty Fabrics: I have too many.

I bought too far ahead and without clear purpose. I am now faced with having to start those USO’s (unstarted objects) soon, to get them done and out of the way, reducing them in size or adapting them in some way,   using the fabric for different things or selling it. It’s feels wasteful and and is holding me back, as I now want to do more ‘arty’ things with fabric – to  print and paint my own fabric, add layers, surface stitches, explore needle lace, fabric weaving –  and that is a long way from where I began.

So, now I am going to interest myself more in a range of tones and textures: stripes, grids, solids, linen looks, and tone on tone blenders and before I buy  will consider their purpose in relation to the project I am doing next or the possibility of them having multiple uses in the future. Now and again I might splurge on something if I see the perfect fabric for something I plan to make soon but I won’t do that often. Buying way ahead of time wasn’t a good idea. I had no idea how much making and exploring fabric and design would change me. But maybe it’s not like that for everyone.

In hindsight, I think the thing to do is to buy bearing in mind what you are into at the moment and not too much of it. Know that you may change your mind and ideas in the not too distant future. There is often a feeling that if we don’t buy a particular fabric now it  will be gone, and often it is, but we should be able to let it go. There will always be something that will work, if not today then a little later, and it might even be something better. I found this to be true.

I wonder how you manage your stash. I bet you’ve been more sensible than I have.

Strangely the fabric I most want to buy plenty of I can’t find, and that is genuine tartan in a medium weight cotton. I can find polyester cotton but I don’t like to  mix that with my cottons (am I being too fussy? I feel that the cotton will shrink whilst the poly-cotton will not) ; I can find brushed tartan which is too fluffy;  wool tartan which is too thick for EPP;  cotton shirting which is too thin and floppy; and plaid which, though lovely, is not authentically Scottish and can’t really replace a genuine tartan. So, if you know of anywhere I can buy medium weight cotton genuine tartans (not fashion tartans) please let me know. I would like so many of my designs to include tartan but it seems it’s not to be. Instead I have to concentrate on Scottish themes, incorporate a broader variety of  ‘tartans’ and plaids  occasionally and tell myself that not everyone loves tartan, so maybe it’s ok.

Acorn classic fabrics kindly sent me some swatches but they are shirting material and may be too thin. The swatch in the photo is the Gordon tartan

This week I have been working on the top of a new quilt which I have called Hill and Heather. The design is an altered version of a traditional quilt block called Purple Sage. I may add more embroidery to the trees on the far right and left, as they look a bit sparse. Then I can set about turning it into a little quilt.  Making this has taught me to think twice about using circles in little patches because if they don’t match up, it shows.

My husband is away, sailing on the tall ship ‘La Malouine’  to the Isle of Man, so I have a week to myself with fewer interruptions and I’m hoping to get plenty of new work done.

Tall ship ‘La Malouine’

Till next time……

‘Over the Orchard’ & 5 Lessons Learned

The Glen

One of my saved projects, a small quilted wall hanging called ‘The Glen’ with Scottish themed fabrics from Lewis & Irene.

I bought stacks of fabric years ago for quilt patterns that I was longing to make but wasn’t brave enough to start immediately, as I didn’t have the knowledge, skills or even the tools that I have now. In a sense I’m glad I did buy the fabric then, because it costs twice as much now but, at the time, I couldn’t imagine a day when these patterns would not seem challenging enough, or that I might want to create my own designs.


My plastic box of multiple saved ‘To Do’ projects  

Now I am playing catch-up, trying to make up to twenty quilts in traditional designs (Attic Windows, or Courthouse Steps blocks for example) when I really want to be experimenting with a whole range of new approaches and realising my own ideas .( Lesson 1 – Don’t plan (and buy) too far ahead).

I suppose I could disregard the patterns I bought and use the fabric for other projects but I am not drawn to the same types of fabric anymore, either. Now I might select more solids than prints;  choose more muted shades as backgrounds for appliqué and embroidery;  buy linen and linen blends, tone on tone or textured fabrics;  work with layers (perhaps of muslin or cheesecloth); try new approaches to quilting like Bengali Kantha and Japanese Sashiko; experiment with vegetable dyes, create my own prints and incorporate paints, coloured pencils, inks and crayons into my designs. And I find that I am moving away from mini quilts and table toppers to fabric pictures and wall hangings that tell my own stories. (Lesson 2 – Realise that your tastes will change as your knowledge base grows.)

I don’t want to waste any of those early projects and fabrics that I have set aside (I still like them and can learn from them) so I have decided the best way forward is to tackle  one traditional quilting project, followed by one new experiment, until all the saved fabrics and designs are gone but I have also reserved the time to try new things. I am certain that I will come across a quilt pattern that I am desperate to make from time to time but I will never buy for the future to the same extent again.

In my last post I was playing with embroidered faces. In this post I am re-creating most of a pattern from a book called ‘Quilts Baby!’ by Linda Kop. It’s called ‘Over the Orchard’.

I will incorporate more or less the same colours but I plan to add different appliqués and give it a different title. Maybe it will end up being called ‘Over the Hills’ or ‘Across the Fields’, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it, somehow.

I was so busy following the pattern that I didn’t look at the picture very closely and after I cut out all the pieces from my saved fabrics, I wish that I had. The pattern tells me to gather “1/2 yard of at least six light-coloured cottons: light orange  light teal or blue, and off -white. And then 1/2 yard of at least six dark-coloured cottons: grayish blue, orange and teal.”  These are to arrange a frame of squares of varying value around the quilt. So this is what I started to do:


Beginning the outer frame of squares

However, when I looked at the picture again, there seemed to be many more off-white or creamy colours around the frame than suggested by the directions (Lesson 3 – Study the pattern and the accompanying picture together before you begin.) My frame of squares was much brighter, and though I had tried to put different values next to each other (dark light, dark light, all the way around), the end result was more vibrant than I wanted it to be, and with nothing like the same difference in value suggested by the picture in the book.

My squares were basted around paper pieces but not sewn together, so at this point I could have removed some of the colours and put in more off-whites, creams or pale yellows, but I didn’t really want to cut up more fabric when I couldn’t be sure if it mattered hugely, or not. I decided to run with what I had.

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The inner border is now sewn to the squares except at the lower right hand corner, and the horizontal strips are sewn together but not to the frame.

When I had sewn all my squares together, I started on the inner border. Some of the long brown rectangles should be 15″ pieces. I didn’t have any paper that long, so I had to split the measurement into two pieces. I think that works OK because there are other smaller sections in the same border.

When I started to put the horizontal strips in place, I decided to remove the darkest shades I had originally placed there, to soften the look. I am hoping this means I can add the odd dark colour to my appliqués without feeling I need sunglasses to look at whole thing. It is still going to be a bit over-bright though, don’t you think? (Lesson 4 – Think more carefully about differences in value when you begin to gather your range of fabrics and colours)

The next step is to sew in the solid inserts between the horizontal strips. The pattern suggests using linen but I imagine that will look far too heavy against the surrounding medium weight cottons, so I have gone for a similar weight of cotton with a linen texture. I think this will give a better result.

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My appliqués will all be different from the quilt in the book: a different design of house, a different range of trees and a different flock of birds (yes, they are supposed to be birds). It’s fun to be able to follow a pattern and to put your own spin on it. It helps you to maintain what you loved about it but it’s not an exact replica.


Possible appliqué shapes from my stash of Tree templates

One idea might have been to use plaid fabrics and use the appliqués to suggest a Scottish landscape. (Lesson 5 – Give some thought to making possible and potentially more interesting variations on the same theme, instead of rushing to replicate the original.)

Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out. There are plenty more projects in that plastic box for future lesson learning.

Till next time….

Spring Things

IMG_7539The bluebells were out early this year and there seem to be more of them than usual. I love seeing the haze of blue in the wood behind our house and how they have spilled into much of our garden.

June is not far away and it feels too hot to work hard in the garden now and soon the buggy things will be out and about and ready to feast on me, so apart from a couple of hours in the early mornings, I’m taking a break from all-day gardening until September.

I have dragged some old planters chairs that were in our cellar into one of our greenhouses, so that I can sit and enjoy the garden whenever it is very windy or when there are too many biting insects to risk sitting still outside.


Last year I spent so much time trying to generate stock and meet deadlines for a shop and craft stall that the summer disappeared while I was looking out of the window and wishing I could be out enjoying the good weather. I decided that wasn’t going to happen this year, that I would spend every lovely day outside from March until May and then some of every lovely day outside after that. Everything else would have to fit in between. This is what I have done, so there has not been a whole lot of sewing going on since my last post.

Last week I trawled through my fabric stash and unearthed my ‘works in progress’, or more accurately, my ‘works planned’. Hmmm, I seem to have quite a few of those. I found patterns I liked years ago and bought the fabric to make them, which is good in that fabric is much more expensive these days, but not so good in that my tastes have changed and I am itching to do more challenging things now.  I guess I need to get on and get them finished, perhaps alongside something new that is smaller.

There are some new ideas that I have been dreaming about; a project that involves a series of images that use folded and manipulated fabric stitched in place. I have made some drawings and now, although I have no idea if this will work the way I want it to, I can’t wait to try it out.

I also made this drawing, as a free embroidery design for you, if you want to give it a  try.


Last week I had a complete re-organisation of my fabric stash. I found that a sweet shop nearby has stock of Haribo sweets arrive in square plastic boxes and that the owner is happy to let me have the boxes as they are emptied, rather than throw them away. This means I can sort, subdivide and store fabric to my hearts content, and it stays clean and easy to find. I have scrubbed the insides of the boxes but I love that when I lift each lid a sugary, sweetie smell still wafts out.

The only trouble is my study/writing space is turning into a craft room. There is hardly any leg room left under my desk because the space is full of stacked, fabric-filled sweetie boxes and my bookshelves are gradually being taken over.

I also managed to complete a couple of mini projects during April and May. The first mini project was a small embroidery ‘sketch’ for Mental Health Awareness week. It was to flag up the problems caused by depression/anxiety/agoraphobia and how sufferers are often housebound, trapped by their own fears.


The second is a tiny wall hanging for an artist friend, Lisa Hooper, which is a copy of a driftwood sculpture she made, of an owl. Here is her lovely driftwood piece, on the left, and my fabric variation on the right. I just have to pop a label on the back and then it is ready to post out to her, to wish her luck when her studio opens its doors to the public later this month.


This blog  started out as a journey in English Paper Piecing but I see that it is gradually turning into much more as I explore the different aspects of working with fabric that interest me. I am certainly on a journey and learning all the way, and although my love for EPP will always be a part of it, I can’t resist the desire to experiment and maybe surprise myself.

Until next time….