Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The fabric stash of doom

This is my nightmare
I am not, ordinarily, a person who is hugely excited by shopping or acquiring things. In fact, just the opposite -- I often have these crises where I feel like I just have too much stuff, too many things that I don't need and serve no productive purpose. I don't like knick-knacks, I don't collect things -- I don't even like the idea of collecting things. I'm by no means a minimalist or an ascetic, though. I do have a lot of books, partly because I'm an academic and books are kind of part of my job, and partly because reading is my major form of entertainment other than sewing, but I don't collect them exactly. My books are beaten to hell, and I only keep what I'm likely to re-read. It's just that I like to re-read a lot of my books. I would hate to collect first editions, where you can't read them in the bath and have to keep them in a special cabinet and only look at them once a year.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is: I am not really a big collector of stuff. Or I wasn't, right up to the day where I decided to start sewing, and then suddenly I started collecting things: fabric, first and foremost, but also notions like buttons and thread and trim. I've been sewing almost exactly two years now, and I've gone from having my sewing machine and a little box of fabric to having eight tubs of fabric, two boxes of patterns and pattern magazines, boxes of notions, an overlocker, a sewing box full of thread, and what feels like a million other things. It's SO MUCH stuff.

The worst offender is the fabric. I have just over 200m of garment fabric and about the same amount of home dec remnants and quilting fabrics that I use for bags. It's a huge investment in monetary terms, it takes up a huge amount of space. I started a thread on PR because as I've been getting ready to move I actually put all of my stash, previously distributed around the house, into one place, and the sheer size and scale of it filled me with horror. As a result of the thread I had a PM conversation with another PR user about stash and hoarding, and as part of it I tried to describe my dream fabric stash, which I am reproducing below for the sake of posterity (and actually, so I remember I said it).

The first thing to say is that, OK, look, I doubt my little "collections" of clothes I've taken to making impress anyone but me (and I am fine with that) but I am LOVING making my little diagrams with the descriptions and putting together little capsules of clothing that go together. Initially I sort of felt it was a bit stifling, but then I realized the problem was I was trying to look too far ahead. I am quite happy to be working on one collection and planning the next, but if I try to look further out it all feels overwhelmingly like work, like I have a schedule and I have to stick to it or else the sewing productivity police will come and beat me up.

At any rate, when thinking about how these collections and the idea of stashing fabric interact, this is what I said:
Mostly the way I've been [putting together my collections] is figuring out one item that I really really want to make from a specific fabric in my stash, and then co-ordinating other clothes around it. ... I'm finding it's almost as entertaining imagining my "collections" as it was to fabric shop, and I am drawing mainly from my stash plus just a few extra things.

As a result, my stash preference is probably not just "one project ahead". I like the idea of having a few fabrics in my stash that I've bought just because I see them and love them to pieces, fabrics that can become an "inspiration" fabric for a collection. That would satisfy my desire to browse fabric shops, but it also means I should limit my purchases to things that really are different and special and inspiring.

So my ideal stash (which is not at all what I actually have!) is probably as follows: some amount of amazing, unusual, gorgeous "inspiration" fabrics -- something really special that later become the cornerstone of a collection. Plus, whatever fabrics I need for the collection I am working on at that point. Based on my experience to date, that is probably about 15-20m of fabric in total, depending on what specific items are in my plan.

And finally, probably [I'd also have in stash] some things I am getting together as I plan the next collection, so that when I finish the current one I have everything I need for the next one.

What I DON'T want to do is stash fabrics that are e.g: really boring and that I am always going to be able to go out and pick up at any time, like basic fabrics in solid colours (cotton, or wool, or jersey); lining fabrics; or fabrics that aren't really inspiring and also don't fit with other things I already have. The last one is probably the most important: I either want to buy fabrics where they are truly something special, or else that are immediately functional for something I will be making in the next few weeks. At the moment, I have quite a lot of fabrics that don't really speak to me all that strongly and also that I don't know when I will use, and that to me is really quite wasteful and depressing to have around the house.
In my two capsules so far, my cornerstone fabrics were (a) the brown crocodile woven I made into a skirt for the Earth and Spring collection; and (b) the floral print I used for the skirt in the Wedding Belles collection. However, when I look at the rest of my fabric stash, I'm disappointed by how few such cornerstone fabrics I have in amongst the 200+m I have stashed. There are some, don't get me wrong, but there are far more very ordinary fabrics. Some of them are kind of building block fabrics: they're good, useful fabrics, but nothing special. There are some that it makes no sense for me to have in stash at all. I can buy plain red jersey anywhere, why did I feel the need to buy 3m and hoard it? It's a really nice colour and all, but it's not special in any way.

After confronting my epic fabric stash, I initially told myself that I was not to buy any fabric, at all, for the rest of 2013 except for (a) one tiny piece of white sateen I need for a knock off of that blue and white skirt and (b) lining fabrics. However, I'm going to add one more clause. On a "one in, one out" basis, I can buy cornerstone fabrics -- really amazing, special, inspiring fabrics that are going to make special amazing garments (insofar as my sewing skills hold up to that description) -- but it has to be a really mindful purchase, not just a random grab from a fabric shop. Other than that, I really do want to reduce my stash. I'd like to finish the three years in Ireland that I am about to embark on with a totally different sort of stash, one that is much closer to my ideal. Or, that is what I think right now. Ask me again in 6 months if I still think that!

Above all though, I want to let go of worrying about any particular fabric I use and whether the pattern I pick is the right one, or how sad it would be if I ruined the fabric. There will always be more beautiful fabric. I'm in the privileged financial situation that ruining one piece of fabric is not going to really have any effect on my wallet. And above all, it's far more fun to sew fabric than to hoard it and have it hanging about the house in tubs.


  1. Totally off-topic, but do you have any recommendations for a pattern for a cross-body bag? Preferably one that's free on the internet. My mom asked me to make one, and I don't even know where to start.

    1. I am always happy to talk about bag patterns, off-topic or not!

      Sorry to state the obvious, but: you can make almost any bag cross-body by using either a longer fixed position strap (useful to know exactly how long your mum likes her bag strap in this case) or using a slider and loops and making an adjustable strap. So, at the complicated end of the spectrum you could, with a little ingenuity, use the free Blossom Bag pattern (, omit the shoulder straps, add a simple strap attachment on the sides, slider and loops, and do a cross body bag in a barrel shape (in fact, now I've described that I kind of want to make that for myself!)

      Much easier, there's this "slouch bag" free from Stitch magazine - -- which is a simpler pattern to begin with and all you would have to do to make it cross-body would be make the strap longer. I usually make a cross body strap around 125-175cm long, depending on the height of the recipient. If your mum is very short, she might not need that long, on the other hand if she is very tall, she may need it longer. Remember to cut your strap on the straight grain or use strapping or else it will stretch weirdly.

      Um, I have loads of other links for free bag patterns and/or PDFs of free patterns that have since gone off line, but I probably need more information to send you the right ones. Do you know what sort of shape/size/style of bag your mum would like other than "cross body"? :D

    2. My mom just asked for 'you know, whatever, something small to throw a few things in' which is not helpful at all. I think she means something like this:

    3. ... Mums. Not the best with descriptive language. My mum asked for a hand-made gift recently, specifying "one of those things you roll, you know?" No, Mum, I do not know. Turns out she meant a jewellery case.

      OK, possibilities:

      You could do a Pheobe bag on a long strap: -- you could always do a quick and dirty zipper install (cut the lining pattern just below the curve at the centre, add seam allowances, and then install the zip sandwiched between the two pieces.

      You could easily play with the pattern to get a non-quilty version of this bag (again, a longer strap would be required) if she likes a flap-over bag:

      If you're feeling very brave you could attempt this hatbox shaped bag: (I can't whole-heartedly recommend the pattern maker, but her stuff is doable)

      Another pattern maker whose patterns I don't like all that much but who has some free patterns that you could modify:

      Other than that, a lot of the patterns that really look like the photo you have to pay for, normally not more than about $7.

    4. Thanks for all the suggestions. I might try to get some more explanation out of my mom on what she wants, because it seems silly to guess.

    5. Yeah, it would probably help if you have an idea what she wants, as far as size, closure and so on are concerned at any rate.