Stash Guilt

By Jane Hardy Miller

I've been thinking about the fabric stash phenomenon lately, mostly because I'm trying to work from my own and minimize my fabric purchases. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't work.) This is partly due to age, mine as well as some of the fabrics', and partly due to space. My own stash has seemingly of its own volition subscribed to the Storage Corollary of the Peter Principle: The amount of stored goods will expand to fill all available space. So I'm trying to make quilts from some of the fabric I have. Luckily I make a lot of scrap quilts so the smaller pieces that I can't bear to toss at least have the possibility of future use. But that's not really the problem; the problem is that even scrap quilts require a unifying factor. Sometimes that can just be value placement, but sometimes you need more of one fabric, and when you're consistently working from your stash you use up the bigger pieces first. The biggest pieces, those large enough for backs, are the easiest to use because the backs don't have to actually match the tops—they just have to sort of blend, and "sort of" can be a very loose term. But the ¾ to 1 yard pieces disappear fairly quickly, or at least are whittled down into smaller, less versatile chunks. In time theoretically all the fabric will be tiny pieces, but even then I could make postage stamp quilts.

Urban Elementz Basix Collection Urban Elementz Basix Collection

So really the problem is that I like to buy fabric. And who among us can say that this is unreasonable? Gray became my favorite color the last time it was popular,in the 1980's. But it was only a brief spasm of popularity which was followed by 25 years of my traveling friends presenting me with pieces of gray prints from every quilt shop they visited. Now that I can get gray versions of almost any print available, should I say, "Oh, no thanks; I have enough?" Not likely. Same for fabric with writing or characters: I've been collecting it for years, but only now is it easy to find. For a long time the majority available could only be classified as novelty prints. Any quilter will agree the present availability totally justifies my recent purchase of 17 half-yard pieces of light fabric with writing for the background of a scrap quilt. And since all the 1¼" darker squares were from my stash, it all evened out anyway. Right?

I worked in quilt shops for about 25 years and taught quilting classes even longer, so I've known a lot of quilters and had opportunities to observe their purchasing behavior. In all those years of quilting and watching, I can only remember one quilter who bought the fabric she needed for her intended project, made the quilt, then went on to the next project. No stash.* So this means that statistically I can be pretty sure that a fabric stash is the quilting norm. But somehow no matter how often I tell myself that I'm well within the quilters' bell curve of stashes, as much as I list the reasons I need all that fabric, I still have stash guilt. What am I supposed to do about that? I'm working from my stash as much as I can, I'm making as many quilts as I can ... I think I need a trip to the quilt shop to alleviate my anxiety.

*Although I don't know what she did with those odd quarter yards and pieces that were left from the previous projects … did she throw them away? Make potholders or coasters? Was she working on a secret scrap quilt? That would be totally out of character and anyway how many other projects would she have to finish before she had enough leftovers to even consider a scrap quilt? Maybe she gave the leftovers to her friends, not to be confused with hoarders, who did have stashes? I had no idea. Eventually I became so curious that I asked my friend Vita, who knew her better than I did. Answer: She used the leftovers for small applique pieces. In addition, Vita knows one other quilter who only buys for the project, so probably there are more than I realize. Apparently I just don't associate with them.

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