Come with me up to my studio. I want to show you something. Do you see this?
This is one of my six bins of quilting cottons. I have a bin for reds, pinks, purples, blues, and greens and one for yellows, oranges, and browns.
Let’s open it up and take a look inside.
Maybe it’s not what you thought my fabric stash would look like? When I think of the fabric stash of a textile artist I think of this:
Fabric Stashy by Jeni Baker
Yards of fabric, each one squared off because there’s still at least a half yard left. The jaggedy edges are swept into the scrap bin.
But my fabric is all jaggedy edges.
The truth is, my fabric stash is composed entirely of scraps.
Part of this is due to the nature of what I make. I’m not a quilter. I don’t make garments. There are no draperies coming out of my sewing room. I make tiny things like owl feet and fish fins and those don’t require more than a few inches of fabric.
But part of this is because when I started keeping an honest account of my business’ net income each week I suddenly found it very difficult to buy anything. And it’s not just fabric. I’ve been squirreling away craft
supplies since I was a child and I figure I have at least some of everything I need. If I don’t have something I need, I just work around it, making do with something else. No 12mm safety eyes? I’ll use 8mm. No 8mm? I’ll make eyes from felt. Not enough brown fleece? This doll will be a blond. I’ll make it work.
The Creative Benefits of Plenty
Recently I’ve had two experiences that have made me rethink my thrifty behavior and wonder about its negative impact on my creativity. Three months ago I placed a wholesale order for 500 8mm black safety eyes. I intended to split the order with a friend who also sells patterns, and then sell my 250 in sets of 2 in my online shop. I already sell lots of different doll and toy making supplies and I figured eyes were a logical choice.
When the order arrived, though, I saw right away that I wouldn’t be able to sell these eyes. Although the eye part was fine, the washers were all imperfect. See what I mean?
And there was no refund to be had. The eyes were the product, but the washers were “a gift,” according to the supplier. I let my friend know she’d have to source eyes elsewhere and then resigned myself to owning 500 8mm black safety eyes with imperfect washers.
Then, in August, I saw a tweet from the fabric company, Timeless Treasures, showing one of their new prints. It was cute and I said so, and that led the social media manager to email me and ask if I might do a guest post on their blog. I pitched an idea. She liked it. Two weeks later a box of fabric arrived at my doorstep.
In the box were two stacks of fat quarter solids and a yard or two of five different flannels, maybe $100 worth of fabric? As I unfolded it all to put in the washing machine I realized: I’ve never had this much fabric in my life. I would never, ever buy this much.
For the last few weeks I’ve sat in my studio with this bounty. Eyes and fabric galore! And you know what? It’s had a profound effect on my creative process. I love using safety eyes and now, instead of portioning
out two precious eyes that I’ve carefully saved for just the right project, I’m free to use them whenever I want. I put them on Candace the Candy Corn. Then I shot a video about inserting safety eyes. I even put them on a recent free pattern, the Tiny Kitty. Knowing that I have more eyes than I could ever need
means I’m free to be more creative with them!
Right now I’m designing an Easter pattern for a magazine. It’s a mamma chick and her babies and it’s made from quilting cottons. I chose a few scraps of prints from my stash and then matched them with the exact shade of solid yellow I wanted. Why? Because I now have six shades of yellow! And I chose a lovely chartreuse for her wings, but not until I’d looked through a dozen different greens. The colors really pop and the toy looks great, much better than it might have if I’d settled for whatever scrap of green was big
Perhaps you’re someone who buys too much fabric and needs to slow down? I have the opposite problem. Now that I see how it’s hampered my creative work, though, I’m making an effort to thoughtfully treat myself and my business not just to what I need, but to what I want. Yes, creativity comes from making do with what you have and working within limitations, but it truly thrives when you have plenty of resources right at your fingertips.
This is a really interesting and timely post! I’m in the process of moving all my sewing and crafting supplies into a new space (My own crafting room! Hooray!) and I’m struggling with how much STUFF I have. Part of me wants to throw away scraps I’ve held onto for at least a decade in some cases, along with the random fabric, trim and other supplies I bought at yard sales etc, and the other part wants to challenge myself to use what I have. I’m thinking the answer is going to be somewhere in the middle.
I struggle too in balancing thriftiness and creativity. It’s even a bit harder, because I make upcycled creations, so I feel hypocritical if I buy anything but the most necessary supplies new. Sometimes having to make do with whatever I’ve got in my stash challenges me and spurs my creativity. Other times, I feel like I’m cheaping out. When my cousin sent me some of her leftover quilt squares, I too felt an infusion of creative possibilities.
Debbie Feely says
Good comments; thank you! For a while I bought fabric because it was half price and ‘would do’. I know the items in my shop that are make do, and I don’t really like them and they usually do not sell.
Last winter my husband supported my decision to pay more and buy a stash I really loved. Last month we made the decision to continue in that mode.
I was raised to be really frugal and it is hard for me to buy. But you are right, it really does affect creativity as well as the finished product.
Jen R says
I have a huge stash of fabrics, and love shopping and sourcing supplies as a big part of making things… I think that you’re right… when you have supplies you love and can feel free to use, it kind of frees you up to be more creative and consider lots of options… it just takes up a lot of cupboard space!!!
Michelle Mach says
Thank you for this post! I’ve been spending very little on jewelry supplies because I’ve started buying only things I consider “safe” (sure to sell). It’s definitely had a negative effect on my creativity. Sometimes those “wrong” supplies are just what you need to make a breakthrough.
Love this Abby!
Holly I am doing the very same thing! I keep everything that is quality (fabric, buttons, trims) from clothes being thrown out – a habit I learned from my husband’s aunt who was an amazing seamstress. That means lots of bins, but has been worth it with the price of sewing materials these days! Good luck!
Thank you, Brenda!
Abby Glassenberg says
Right, Claudia! Sometimes it takes an accident or a gift to make us aware that our creativity might actually be hampered by such thriftiness. It’s certainly got to be a balance, but a treat once in a while is a very good thing.
Abby Glassenberg says
Using what you love feels so good, too. It makes you proud of the finished product.
Abby Glassenberg says
Isn’t that so true, Michelle! Very well put.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I don’t have a lot of extra funds to buy fabric. Most of the time I get what is on sale or just get small bits of something special for a very specific project. But last week, I was working on a new bag design and stood in front of my stash of quilting cotton for probably 10 minutes just staring blankly before I found a few things that would “just work.” It almost put me off of the project altogether.
I really liked this article. I recently reduced my stash by throwing out tiny fabric scraps that I had kept thinking I would use one day and throwing out fabric I just plain didn’t like (just because someone gives you fabric doesn’t mean you have to keep it). I decided that although my mom sewed for thrifty reasons I sew for as a creative outlet. So I gave myself permission to use fabrics I like to sew with instead of feeling like I had to use every ugly, weird, and funky scrap ever collected.
I have a bit of a hoarding problem. I’ve amassed quite a crafting stash of everything throughout the years, from yarn to fabric to tech supplies, but I freeze when it comes to using it, afraid that maybe I’ll want it for something later. It’s a ridiculous “problem” to have, so I’m slowly working on using what I have instead of hoarding it all away, waiting for the holy grail of a craft project and fearing that I won’t have something later.
And aren’t safety eyes great?? They’re another thing I have tons of, just waiting to be used.
Caroline B says
I can relate to that Nicky – I do the same thing, hanging on to fabric and yarn in case I need to use it in the future rather than using it now. I think it stems from the days before the internet made supplies so accessible, when finding the perfect fabric or yarn was really difficult, especially when you lived in the sticks as I did. Now instead of resigning myself to never having that Japanese kawaii fabric shown in a magazine, I can just spend five minutes browsing the internet and with a click it is mine. Kind of mind-blowing really! My stash is now approaching the proportions of house insulation….
I love having a variety to choose from. That being said I’ve been trying to sew from stash this year. Doing that has shown me that I lack certain colors or scales of prints which helps focus my future shopping, rather than just always buying what I happen to like at the moment.
Your house will be toasty warm and pretty 😉
Wendi Gratz says
I think freedom can come from abundance, but sometimes creativity comes from tight restraints – like not having much to choose from or working to make sure each pattern piece fits in a single sheet of paper so no taping is necessary. I value both so it can be really tricky to maintain the right balance in my craft supplies – enough to find just the right thing, but not so much that there are no limits. 🙂 For me a milk crate of each ROYGBIV color fabric (plus two extras for black/white and browns/skin colors) works just about right – and fits exactly in the shelves under my cutting table. If a bin starts to overflow I pull out the pieces I’ve had for YEARS without using and donate them.
melissa q. says
Such a thoughtful post, Abby. I find, for me, it’s about some kind of balance between scarcity and abundance. Limitations are often really useful for sparking new ideas and new approaches but I can restrict myself so much that I get obsessed and then suddenly, I’m restricted and limited. I’m working to roll with the ebb and flow of it but this is a good reminder.
When I first started sewing two years ago, I had no stash so the first fabric I bought was a bundle of bolt ends (4 to 12 inch strips with the selvedge) from an online, modern, fabric shop. I didn’t know what any of it was but lots of people online admired my work because they recognized all the bits and were impressed with my “extensive” stash. I still have many of the scraps left and I developed a pretty good idea of what I really liked and what was really useful for future purchases.
Allison Dey Malacaria says
Hubby keeps telling me, when I sheepishly bring in just one more sweater to repurpose, that I need to have a lot to choose from. He says it’s like paint. More colors and types and the artist can choose without limit. Creativity needs stimulus as much as it sometimes needs quiet. Ah, the stash!
Lisa Winer says
I have a day job and am an artist and crafter on the side, and when I have a new idea and visit my local art supply store for supplies to actualize it, I feel I am honoring my creative self! Sometimes I’ll get home and put the idea on the back burner in favor of something else, but knowing that I have those supplies means my creative world has expanded and that I have what I need should the initial urge arise again.
Abby, I enjoy your newsletter very much, have little time to comment. On the pop up newsletter box, an option for, ” I’m already a subscriber,” which would stop the “popping up” would enhance my reading experience. Don’t know if it’s possible. Thanks for your hard work, intelligent and thoughtful information!