Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dude! Check Out My Stash!

Love Your Stash
It's not surprising that most quilters accumulate a fabric collection. Every project generates a certain amount of scrap fabric, and fabric gets purchased for projects that never quite manage to happen. Plus, since people who quilt have a lot of of native enthusiasm for fabric in the first place, it's not too startling that most quilters occasionally -- or frequently! -- buy fabric just because it's pretty, it speaks to them, and they'd like to use it in some future project, someday.

What is strange about stashes is the love/hate relationship that so many quilters have with their collection. I have seldom heard anyone boasting, reveling, or simply sharing the joy of owning a lot of really beautiful yardage. By all appearances, most quilters love to hate their stash, and hate to love it. Within the community, quilters constantly joke -- and I mean constantly -- about their "addiction" to shopping for fabric, about their concealment of fabric purchases from spouses, about their fabric storage problems, about their need to get rid of fabric or "go on a fabric diet." Fabriholic and stashbusting are well-worn psuedo-words in the culture.

There's a nervous undercurrent to all of this joking. Talk about the stash comes with a little edge of... something. Guilt, I think. Fabric costs money, after all, and there seems to be a sense among the (mostly) women who quilt that it's a questionable use of money. A sociologist would probably say that women have been conditioned to feel ashamed of spending money on their own activities, rather than on their husbands and children. And she might be right.

I can't relate. I love my stash. My feeling about having a large fabric collection (which I was inflicting on Rebel just this morning) is that there's nothing wrong, if you've got the dosh and the space, with keeping supplies and materials on hand to fuel and support your creative endeavors. "As an active and proficient craftsperson," I sloganized, "you should be proud of having the essentials of your craft on hand!" That's my view, and I'm stickin' to it.


I am lucky to have a small room that I can devote mostly to quilting (although my computer stuff, our household businessy stuff, and other various odds and ends share the space). It is perhaps a little more, um, rough-hewn and utilitarian than most quilt studios. Here's what it looks like.

The heart of my stash, pieces from 1/8 yard to 1 yard, is held in twin IKEA "Robin" dressers. With 8 perfectly-sized drawers apiece on smooth sliders, they feel like they were custom-made for fabric storage. Safely away from sunlight, folded fabric can be stored vertically, like index cards. A little strip of every piece in the drawer is visible at a glance. I have two drawers apiece of blues, greens, purples, multicolored prints, and batik prints, one drawer apiece of rusts, reds, aquas, and solids, and a two-drawer sequence of black-and-whites, yellows, browns, and oranges. Within the drawers, fabrics are roughly organized by value. It sounds more finicky than it really is.

The "chifferobe" (a word I have never heard uttered by anyone except my mother) in the other corner holds special sets: African fabrics, 2-inch wide strips, a group of batik half-yards that my big sister gave me for Christmas, and the tie-dyes I made last month, for instance. There's another crate for extra storage on top of it, and a little stereo on top of that, but I had the "Four Seasons" pieces set up for reference when I took this picture.

Turning to the right, you find my studio closet. There is a shelf for musical equipment, but also four little bins for scrap pieces (cut squares, uncut blues & purples, uncut greens & aquas, everything else) and about a dozen shoe boxes holding (among other things) juvenile prints, cut denim squares, unused blocks from old projects, flannel scraps, 4", 4 1/2", and 5" squares, and good-for-nothing-but-machine-quilting-practice fabric. (This is also where the household mending goes.)

Pwew! Had enough? But wait. Because oodles of unused space was left under the roof when our house was built in 1906, I was able to cut a door into the left-hand wall of the closet, lay down a plywood floor, and wall in the attic space behind it to create a storage room. It's not all fabric storage space, naturally, but there's room for these tubs of batting and larger flannel pieces. Quilt books and magazines go on the bookshelf on the right.

Finally, two tubs of large pieces, 2 yards and longer. I keep these separate in case they need to be backs, or to be the dominant fabric in a quilt. A third tub is usually here as well, full of the non-quilt fabrics that tend to wash up at my feet, everything from stretch synthetics to upholstery fabric to fake fur.

If you are doubting the wisdom, or sanity, of holding on to this much fabric, here's a lil' anecdote: This morning, I started cutting fabric for Niece #1's graduation quilt. I'm going to need, among other things, a couple hundred 3 1/2" square blocks for this project. That's a lot of work, so you can imagine how pleased I was to discover in my stash a stack of around 100 blocks already cut to 3 1/2" square! They have been waiting for this moment ever since I abandoned the project I originally cut them for. In 1994.

Thanks for taking the tour. I'm proud of my stash. You be proud of yours, too!


Rebel said...

O!M!G! Well, that's quite a stash you've got going there! I do have mixed feelings about my stash, on the one hand, I love fabric, I love buying fabric, I love cutting it up into little pieces and sewing it back up into big pieces. But on the other hand, I do feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of fabric I have stashed here and there.

It's not entirely guilt, I don't have a husband or kids I should be spending money on - and I spend *plenty* on Sally. Part of it is not having enough storage space (I'm so jealous of your entire craft room PLUS a craft closet!).

I guess the guilt comes in because owning something purely for the sake of having it seems soooo self-indulgent (and western/materialistic/capitalist etc). It's one thing to buy something for a practical reason "I'm going to use that for this project" but another just to have it around.

But you know... most of the quilts that I've made end up being given away anyway! So I'm going to take a cue from you and stop feeling guilty about it. Well, I'll try anyway.

gl. said...

nice! it's like being on the open studios tour!

meggie said...

I enjoyed your tour of your (very neat) stash. I don't feel guilty really, as I have acquired a lot of mine from garage sales etc, but I so feel I should not be spending more, while I am in this 'hiatus' of creation.
Fabric has a strange magic fascination for so many people. One of Life's Free Treats! (except it is not always 'free'! LOL.

Lisa D. said...

I'm also proud of and love my stash. The only times I feel guilty is when some well-meaning relative says "When will you ever live long enough to use all this?" That's just plain mean! I have a 7 y.o. daughter that is chomping at the bit to start sewing and I think she will be more than happy to help me use my stash! The question is - will I be able to share?

Feed Dog said...

Any guilt I felt over my stash has been washed away by the longing I feel for it while it languishes in storage. Only a couple more weeks now!

Thanks for showing your studio. It's good inspiration while I hatch my own evil studio plan...

Andrea said...

Nice to see what other quilters have got. I too love my stash. Fabric is expensive here in UK so I never hesitate if I see something at a good price. I think I'm in danger of being kicked off the stashbuster list cos I'm sure I'm buying more than I use. I only have 4 years of stash though so have a long way to catch up with folks who've been quilting for much longer.

Michael5000 said...

@rebel: I hear what you are saying.

AND: I'd argue that GUILT about having possessions simply for the sake of having them is more characteristically "Western" than is having possessions simply for the sake of having them.

Everything in my collection, of course, is intended for eventual use....

@lisa d.: Yes! Stashes are very transferable, to kids or friends or new quilters or whomever. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, somebody will use it all, eventually.

@feed dog: Ooh, bummer. I wish you and your stash a swift and happy reunion.

@andrea: Fabric is expensive most places. I had a nice run of free fabric gravitating to me during the late summer; unfortunately, that seems to have tailed off. I've picked up free bricks and free firewood over the last few weeks, but no more free fabric....