Learn to Quilt: Building a Fabric Stash

This  post is part of my Learn to Quilt series. You can find all related posts {here}.

quilting economics

Welcome back to my Learn to Quilt series. Today we are talking about a subject where I am definitely an expert – building a fabric stash! The main thing to remember is to buy what you love, even if you don’t have a plan for it. That may not always work if you’re quilting on a budget, but we covered some tips on that in our previous lesson. For this post, I’m assuming that you have some cash to spend and you’re looking to invest in quilting fabrics. 😉

QUALITY

Quality is not something that concerned me when I first started quilting as I thought fabric was pretty much all the same. I was incorrect. There is wide spectrum of quality in commercial quilting fabrics, but you’ll mostly be purchasing from one of two places: Your Local Big Box Retailer or an Independent Quilt Shop (brick and mortar or online).

Fabrics from big box stores tend to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum. You can find nice/decent quality quilting fabric at big-box stores, though so don’t count them out completely. Some top quilting fabrics manufacturers actually sell to these big box stores and many of these stores also carry higher quality lines (let the price per yard be your guide on that). Low-end quilting fabrics are rough, thin, and fray easily. You might even see errors in the printing process.

Fabrics from Independent Retailers/Quilt Shops are on the high end of the spectrum. These are the fabrics I recommend that you work with, even if you are on a budget. Here’s the reason…quilts take many hours to make and they are a piece of art. Use the best materials you can afford and you will have a more beautiful and longer-lasting finished product.

Moda Pre-Cuts | My Studio

PRE-CUTS

Pre-cuts are a great addition to any quilting stash.  For a full list of the different pre-cuts and a description of each, check out this printable from Moda. Note that pre-cuts vary by manufacturer (in number per package, types offered, etc.). so don’t expect them in every fabric line you fall in love with. Pre-cuts can seem expensive at first glance, but when you consider the number of prints offered compared to buying yardage, they’re actually a great deal. Plus the fact that you have so much less cutting to do is a time-saver that is hard to put a price on.

For a new quilter, there are a few pre-cuts I recommend over others. Start with the Layer Cake. They are 10″ square and super versatile for all kinds of projects. The size also means that you get a good chunk of each fabric so you can really see the design. Check out layer cake patterns from the Moda Bake Shop {here}.

How many to buy? Just one layer cake plus some yardage will make a good-sized quilt top – even up to a twin or full size depending on the pattern.

Moda Pre-Cut Goodness

Strip piecing with jelly rolls is also one of my favorite kinds of sewing, but you’re working with long pieces (44″) and they’re relatively narrow (2.5″) so I’d wait until your 1/4″ seam is perfect before tackling a jelly roll project. You’ll be happier with the end results that way. I know this from experience because my first quilt was made with a jelly roll. I didn’t even own a 1/4″ foot and I struggled piecing those strips. Nothing matched up because I didn’t have a consistent seam allowance.

Check out jelly roll patterns from the Moda Bake Shop {here}.

How many to buy? Just one jelly roll will make a lap quilt. I recommend the Jelly Roll Race pattern as a way to get started sewing with Jelly Rolls. Really fast and really easy.

charming

And last, charm packs and mini charm packs are both useful and cute.  These cuts are a nice way to get a sampling of a fabric line without committing a lot of your budget to it. Charm squares measure 5″ and mini charms are 2.5.”

plume charms.

How many to buy? Charm packs and minis are a small amount of fabric.  To get the coverage of a layer cake, you will need 4 charm packs or 8 mini charms, but you can make a quilt top with just one charm pack and yardage (see photo above). Unless you are working with a pattern that tells you a specific number of charms, I would say buy just one of each .The point with these pre-cuts for me is to have the full fabric line, even if its in small pieces.

BUNDLES

When it comes to bundles, these are usually fat quarters or sometimes fat eighths. These bundles usually include the whole line or just one colorway from the line but be sure to read the details so you know what you’re getting. The bundles can be made up of different cuts, as well: 1 yard, 1/2 yard, fat quarters, and fat eighths. Bundles like these can be a great way to build your stash. Instead of going for bundles that contain fabric from just one line, I’d say go for mixed bundles. You can find a lot of these on Etsy and there are some shop owners who are great about mixing different collections. I recommend Westwood Acres, Stash Modern Fabric, Fabric Shoppe, and Fresh Modern Fabric. A fat eighth or fat quarter bundle is plenty of fabric for any quilting project, but if you are buying basics like stripes, polka dots, or solids that you can use in multiple projects then 1 yard or half yard bundles are the way to go.

YARDAGE 

I used to buy a ton of yardage. I would cruise those sale bins on my favorite Etsy shops and just rack up. But the problem is that online shops typically sell their sale items in one yard cuts, which is way too much for quilting, Unless we are talking one of the three Bs (background, backings, and bindings), half yard pieces are the biggest size you should buy. I would even go so far to say stick to fat quarters.

When it comes to the three Bs, you will need yardage and sometimes lots of it. Look for versatile prints like polka dots and stripes, small scale prints and dark neutrals like navy and gray. All of these are good choices for the three Bs. Here are some guidelines for buying yardage:

YardageGuidelines

All of these estimates are based on standard 45″ wide quilting fabric, but if you’re making Queen or King size quilts USE WIDE QUILT BACKINGS. They make 108″ wide fabric just for this purpose.

WHAT MAKES A  COMPLETE STASH

I’ve given you a few tips on where and how much to buy, and now let’s talk about what to buy. If you have no stash at all, this should get you on the right track for building one.

Color. I like to have the full ROY G BIV rainbow array. My challenge colors are yellow (because there don’t seem to be that many nice yellows out there) and purple (because it’s my least favorite color). I especially try to look for yellow when I’m shopping, but purple can suck it because I’m not going to make a quilt with a color I don’t like. Again, this goes back to buying what you love. If you only love warm colors, just build your stash on those. The only color I think you must buy is white because nothing pops like colorful blocks on a field of white. There are other neutrals that you might use, too (gray, brown, navy) but those are taste-specific. Quilts with white backgrounds are universally appealing.

Value Value is the relative lightness or darkness of your fabric. Relative to what? Well, to the other fabrics you’re working with. If you read a lot of blogs, you’ve probably been seeing lots of “low volume” quilts/fabric stacks. What they’re really referring to is the value of the fabrics. Here are two rainbow bundles I pulled from my stash:

Value

It’s pretty easy to see the value difference between the two. The balance of light and dark is what gives your quilt interest or allows you to add depth. Most patterns and most quilting teachers will tell you to select a balance of light and dark fabrics, but low-value quilts can be incredibly beautiful, too. Be sure to add a wide range of values to your stash.

Scale. This refers to the size of the print on your fabric. When buying quilting fabric, it’s a pretty safe bet that the prints will be appropriately size for quilting. Scale is something you will have to consider when you are actually selecting prints for a project, but for stash-building, go crazy.

Themes There are lots of different categories for the prints on quilting fabrics. At the most basic level, you have reproduction prints and contemporary prints. Reproductions are referred to by era (Civil War or 1930s, but people who are really into those fabrics break it down even further). Other themes are geometric, stripes, florals, shirtings (very small scale prints), calicoes, text, polka dots, and novelty/conversational prints. A wide variety of themes will make for an interesting stash so be open-minded. At the same time, though, be balanced in your choices. Don’t always go for the bold print because that bright floral will lose its boldness next to ten other bright florals. And don’t forget about solids! Every stash needs a good selection of solids.

TIPS FOR STORAGE AND ORGANIZATION

For me, being able to fondle and gaze at my fabric stash is a big part of the enjoyment factor. It’s important to me to have a pretty space to sew in, and fabric is the perfect decorative item. Keeping that in mind, most of my organizing tips are also display-friendly.

Wall storage units like this vintage shelf are  perfect in a sewing room:

studio: Aug 2012

You can see what you have and it’s easy to access it. Use plain jars for storing notions and even smaller pre-cuts. I hide less attractive items in my closet:

studio: Aug 2012

I love ArtBin containers for storage. The slim ones are good for my in-progress projects because they’re large enough to fit finished blocks as well as fabric and patterns (or even a book with your pattern). I use deeper ArtBin containers for storing some of my scraps (I have a scrap storage system that I’ll cover in a later post).

Slim ArtBin Container
Deep ArtBin Container

My favorite storage solution is this CD shelf from Pottery Barn:

fat quarter storage

If you fold fat quarters just the right way, they fit perfectly into CD-sized containers so search your house for those or your favorite organization store.

I used to store my fat quarters in CD bins from Target but I didn’t like not being able to see them. These were a good solution. though, and may work for you if you have deep shelves.

Fat Quarters/Half Yard Bundles

I hope you’ve gotten some good information from this lesson. I could talk about fabric and organization all day. I love both!

See you on Thursday for Lesson 6 – Learn to Quilt: Scrap Management.

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10 thoughts on “Learn to Quilt: Building a Fabric Stash

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the yardage chart! That will come in handy !!!

    I never know how much yardage to buy unless I’m following a pattern so I’ll run out :/

  2. Julie says:

    In my rather large closet, I use sectioned shoe hangers for storing my fat quarters. They hold a lot and stay really orderly.

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  4. Stephanie says:

    I am want to do a crazy quilt. I have all of the fabric scraps to do so but I was wondering if there were some ideas out there of how to build an embellishment stash up? I love the randomness of buying remnant grab bags and was wondering if there is an online resource for embellishment grab bags? Thanks for you help. And I love the CD holder for my fat quarters.

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  6. Lyric says:

    All I can say is, “Girl, I wish”! Your stuff is SO beautiful. I’m sewing in an old park model trailer. My goal – to make it cute for as you say a creative area should be inspiring.

    Simply counting my blessing for even having a sewing area, LOL.

    On to read more of your blog. I’m enjoying myself.

    Cheers,

    Lyric

  7. Anne says:

    Wow, what a great article, thank you, I love your CD storage solution for your fat quarters… might have to steal that idea…

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