On Stashes and Snowstorms

Hello, newbie sewists. I have something to say to you.

I also have unrelated snow pictures (because I’m southern and this is a big deal!).

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With nearly two whole years of sewing under my belt, I’m here to share something that I wish someone had explained to me when I first started sewing.

As you browse and follow the myriad of sewing blogs out there, you will hear one word pop up again and again. It’s going to seem like a magical word, a word that will solve all your problems. But, I’m here to tell you, it’s not. You don’t need it. Resist the urge to force yourself acquire it.

What’s the word?

Stash

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I started following sewing blogs long before I actually started sewing. It seemed to me that these ladies were constantly exulting that they whipped up a pretty little dress using nothing but odds and ends from their stash. “I only spent $3.00!” they would proclaim. When I finally acquired my sewing machine, I felt like a chump actually paying money for fabric.

And it wasn’t just fabric–it was trims and buttons and zippers and elastic and any other notion you could dream of–these women had everything tucked away in their overflowing sewing rooms! Every time I purchased a zipper, I felt a tiny piece of my frugal soul die.

I needed a stash. I needed a stash bad. I needed to hoard patterns and fabric and notions so that I could be like those ladies with their magical stashes full of unrealized potential just waiting for the perfect opportunity to emerge. So, that’s what I started to do. Cheap floral fabric for sale at Fabric.com? Yes. I bought that. Ten Simplicity patterns for $10? Yes–ten please. And I’ll be back tomorrow for more. Will I ever wear these? Doesn’t matter! Patterns, patterns, patterns! I even bought a random assortment of bias tape and seam binding (which I had no clue how to use) and such from an Etsy dealer who was quite happy to be rid of it. I became obsessed with finding thrift stores nearby that sold “vintage” patterns for super cheap. Only once did I ever stumble across actual patterns from the 60s and 70s.

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And slowly, I began to accumulate yards and yards of bold, colorful fabric, hoards of “Big 4” patterns, and more seam binding than I knew what to do with. And slowly, the clutter started to weigh me down. I felt obligated to use up what I had already purchased, and it was mostly bad. I created floral dress after floral dress that I didn’t want to wear.

Something had to give.

When I started this wardrobe-sewing business, I began to realize that I had too much. I had too many things that I didn’t really want. Things that would never make outfits that I wanted to wear. I had long ago purchased cheap fabrics that looked cheap, trims that I would never use, and patterns that absolutely didn’t fit my style.

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First, I made a resolution: no more stocking up. No more hoarding. Fabric and patterns and notions would be bought intentionally, as needed. Also, I would use only those things I actually liked. Other fabrics would be given away.

Next, it was time to clean out the patterns. Since I’ve decided to focus more on simple patterns I can modify myself, I didn’t need the enormous pattern stash. And there were so many that I would never, ever wear. So, I purged. I purged with a ferocity that cannot be expressed with mortal tongue. And even after that, I purged again. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I got rid of about 75-80% of my pattern stash. About half of that went to my sister and the other half to Goodwill. Don’t worry–there wasn’t anything good left, or I would have totally offered it to my lovely readers 🙂

I also sorted through my fabric and made a nice little pile to donate. The rest I organized into three groups: knits and knit scraps for some future projects I’m planning, wovens, and woven scraps for bags/purses/crafting in general.

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Here’s the lesson I want to share: you don’t need a stash.

Having a stash is not a bad thing, but trying to force yourself to accumulate a stash is a bad thing. Don’t be lured in by cheap sale fabric. You will save more money in the long run if you buy only what you know you can use. Is it a terrible thing to buy a special cut of fabric without an immediate plan? Or a pattern for an evening dress that you may never get to wear? No, of course not! But, I really encourage you not to make it a habit to collect and collect and collect without concrete plans to use everything up. I’ve been there. It’s not a happy place.

Balance is the thing.

So, where you do stand on stashes? Is it good to have things “just in case”? Or better to buy as needed?

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32 thoughts on “On Stashes and Snowstorms

  1. This is a great post! What you said is very true! It’s better to have stuff you love and will use than tons of stuff just sitting around your house. A good stash comes in time.

  2. I am slowly letting go of my so called ‘stash’. It is a noose around my neck and it has caused me to stop creating…. the photos are lovely…I know it is a novelty in your part of the country…but here in the North, it is just winter 🙂 m.

    • Haha–I imagine the collective North just shaking their heads and chuckling to each other about the crazy South when we get a case of the flurries 🙂
      When a stash becomes a burden, it absolutely has to go!

  3. I know the stash envy! When I started sewing, I told my mother-in-law about it… and she cleaned out her stash and gave me two big bags of stuff. It’s not even fabric I would use, because she’s a quilter and doesn’t need much yardage for her projects. Now I have copious amounts of scraps that I can only use for pocket linings or small contrast details, so most will probably get donated! I had to open my big mouth…

    • It’s hard to resist, though, right? A quilter friend of mine gave me a whole bunch of very not-at-all-my-style quilting scraps when I started sewing. I think I actually tucked them away somewhere–I need to find those and send them to a good home!

  4. My ‘stash’ of fabric came on gradually, good intentions of things I wanted to make and then have not gotten around to it. I purge and limit my space. I see some people buy all the colors of thread, or all the patterns, or all of a series of something and wonder where do they put it? I agree. New to sewing, best thing is to work one project at a time and only buy what you need for the project. Nice reflective post. Thanks!

  5. great post! I love having a stash and will certainly maintain one as long as I have the room to store it, but I had also fallen foul of the buy-it-because-it-is-cheap bug, ending up with lots of stuff I didn’t want to use, and I can see how it could become oppressive. I will still purchase with no concrete plans in mind, but now I will only buy it because I love it (and if it is also cheap, so much the better).

    • That’s great that you know what you love! It makes it so much easier to buy with confidence even if you’re not sure what the fabric is going to become. If you love your fabric, you can feel inspired by your stash and not burdened. I think that’s what I was missing.

  6. I love this post, it’s so true! I also recently gave away all those fabrics that I know I will never ever use. now the stash is actually inspiring me again 🙂

    Your photos are also lovely, looks like a very serene world.

  7. I love having a stash and won’t apologize for that, but I’m tired of hanging onto bags and bags of scraps just because I feel like I should do something with them. Um. No. I got rid of several bags and it was a great feeling. I’m about to go through a lot of other things to donate as well.

    • New rule: No guilt in the sewing room. Isn’t it silly how we feel obligated to use every tiny scrap? I bet there’s a quilter or crafter out there somewhere who would be happy to get a hold of a bag of scraps. In fact, I’m going to go through my scrappy fabrics again and add anything I can to the donate pile (I have quite a large pile at this point). Here’s to guilt-free sewing!

  8. stash stresses me out. i don’t have much room to store it and since buying 5 pieces of fabric on sale (which i love and which will make 5 gorgeous dresses, and is good quality john kaldor stuff so was a proper bargain) i have been feeling really stressed out about it. i guess i’m not really a stasher! once i have these dresses done i’ll sort through the stash to see what else i want to use. buying cheap fabric because it is cheap just adds to the muslins pile really. i do wish i stashed zips and thread a bit more tho as it’s annoying not have have those when you want them!

    • That is true. I think if I were going to stash anything it would be zippers. And maybe interfacing. I might be super happy having full bolts of my favorite interfacings on hand. Oh, man–that is such a good idea!

  9. For garment sewing I try to buy fabric with a specific goal in mind. For quilting I am trying to build a stash because I like to combine a lot of different fabrics. I also buy prints that I am not particularly fond of on their own but I have found that I often do use these fabrics in quilts because then they can suddenly work because the colour is just right. I do have quite a large collection of buttons and zippers because I can’t get those very easily at local shops (in 1 store I once got a completely blank look when I asked if they also sold invisible zippers). Buttons I can only get at a market stall once a week and sometimes the stall isn’t there which is really frustrating.

    • I hadn’t really thought about it from a quilter’s perspective. Though, I have thought about trying some quilting–those cottons are just too cute to resist sometimes!
      Buttons are really hard to find and can be really expensive! I have quite a lot of buttons I inherited from my grandmother, but so many are just singles that I don’t often have enough for whatever project I’m working on. I think it may be time to sort through them all, keep the interesting ones, and donate the rest.

  10. So true. I had big plans to stash bust this year. Then I thought, I’m just not excited about a lot of these patterns and fabric. So, like you, I gave them away. Liberating! I still have a small stash that I’m planning to use up.

  11. As I have been sewing since a was a little girl, I absolutely have a stash. But maybe because I have been sewing so long, and most of that time with a very limited budget, I have never been tempted to stock up on fabric that I didn’t like, or that was cheap. My stash philosophy has always been to have basics on hand. I always have a stash of ribbing, basic colored knits, cottons, twills, denim and muslin. But I am a very practical sewer. My stash does not overpower my sewing room, but I can always go down and sew something up whenever I feel like it! 🙂

    • I like the way you think! So wise! If I were going to have a stash like yours, I would most definitely need white cotton/lycra knit–an entire bolt of it. Because I am constantly in need of a new white t-shirt or cami. (I have a gift for staining things.) Hmmm. . . I really like this idea. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I think you are spot on. I succumbed to that “I’m not a proper sewist if I don’t have a stash” mentality too. Not to the same extent as you, but I do have that thing of, if I don’t buy that fabric/parents/buttons now, than I will spend the rest of my life regretting it. And then, of course, I never use it because I get distracted by something shinier and prettier! I don’t have a lot of storage space, so it’s something I am trying to minimise. I can actually feel how much better you must have felt in getting rid of all that stuff! Space! Clarity! Room to breathe! Well done you!

    • Haha 🙂 Indeed! I don’t know that there has ever been a fabric that I regretted not buying–not really. It helps me to only buy what I have an immediate purpose for.

  13. Good on you for changing your approach!
    My latest approach (slightly flexible in extenuating circumstances) is that I only buy fabric or patterns as I am about to use them. And I can’t start a new project until I have finished the last one. So I pretty much have no stash now. It is liberating not accumulating stuff. And anyway I’ve learnt that I’m too fickle to still like something I purchased more than 6 months ago!

    • You sound like me! I’m always surprised when I actually like a fabric in my stash. And usually it’s because I had a brief sensible moment and bought something simple like chambray.
      I absolutely agree with your approach; that’s really what I’m trying to do as well. It makes me so much happier!

  14. I have to stop stashing! My biggest issue is buying fabric that I love then feeling the need to start a new project with it immediately. I have ended up spending a lot of money of un-finished projects. I also have bought way too much of a fabric that I like. Sometimes I have to remind myself that if I like a fabric there is a good chance I can find something similar down the road on the internet if I find something to make with it. Great post, and good timing for me as I rethink my future sewing adventures.

    • I’m glad you found it helpful, and I wish you luck in your “sewing adventures” 🙂
      You might want to sort through all your unfinished projects and figure out if you’re making things you’re excited to wear. In the past, when I’ve struggled to finish a project, it’s because I wasn’t really into what I was making. Just a thought! I hope you get it all sorted and find some motivation to finish your projects!

  15. I definitely think of my stash in terms of pantry staples: the flour, sugar, canned tomatoes and random collection of pasta equivalent for sewing. A couple yards of bottom weight fabric in a neutral color, enough yardage of a pretty, special fabric to make a basic dress and at least two blouses worth of voile or some other shirting are what I like to keep on hand. It gives me some flexibility in terms of matching projects to fabric, and it means that I always have the supplies if I suddenly get the urge to revisit a reliable, standby pattern. But I do agree that knowing what you like to make and buying fabric with that in mind is so very important for keeping a stash sensible. When you are just starting out, a stash doesn’t make sense. You still need to identify your “staples.”

    • That’s a perfect analogy! I’d never really thought of stashing “staple” fabrics and supplies until someone mentioned it earlier, but now I can’t get the idea out of my head. I’ve even started making a list of what those fabrics might be.
      You’re right–I certainly didn’t have the sense to know what sort of fabrics (or patterns) I really needed to buy when I was beginning to sew. I think when you’re just starting out, buying project-by-project isn’t a bad plan.

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