Top tips for building your fabric stash

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There is one thing that many of us love just as much as sewing patterns and this is buying fabric. You stroke it, admire it, rearrange it and gaze longingly at it when you should be getting on with something else. There is nothing quite like the delight of discovering “the fabric you can’t live without” and saving it for a yet-to-be-released pattern! We’ve been asked quite a few times about how we decide on buying fabric, especially when you don’t have an immediate sewing project in mind.

Although it is difficult to resist a fabric you love, building a meaningful stash of sewing fabrics will help you create a wardrobe of handmade clothes that will make you happy. It will also help reduce your need to destash quite so often, saving resources. Plus it will increase you creativity and productivity. Here are our top tips for curating a dressmaker’s stash.

1. Fabric Destash

All good things start with a declutter and a sort out. It’s a good idea to go through your existing stash and really look at what you have. If you didn’t see it on our blog earlier this year, check out our wardrobe Spring clean for lots of tips that also apply to destashing.

A few things for this are key, first the refreshments, whether it be tea, cake, sweets or even wine. Also get those tunes on, we have some pretty good playlists if you need something to get the destash started. It’s also the perfect time to catch up on your sewing podcasts, so why not try Love to Sew or Stitcher’s Brew.

First go through all your fabrics and think whether you see yourself wearing it. If not, we have lots of tips here for recycling your textiles or why not organise a fabric swap? These can be great fun and you can get lots of tips here about meeting up with other sewists or why not suggest it to a local sewing group near you. A good test on deciding whether or not to keep a fabric is how long you’ve had it in your stash, if it’s over a year or two are you really ever going to use it!? Also look at the quality and condition. As you progress as a maker you might find you don’t like sewing with certain fabric types anymore. In our community we are also renowned for keeping all our left over fabrics from projects, are these really big enough to make anything with? If you are stuck for ideas for these pieces, check out our top patterns for stash busting that need less than 1m!

2. Get it sorted

Now you’re left with (perhaps!) considerably less fabric. How do you make sure it doesn’t get lost at the back of the shelf never to be seen again? Try using our handy fabric stash library cards and labels to get all your sewing fabrics organised. It’s really useful to label them with length and type etc. You can then easily look at your list next time a sewing pattern takes your fancy and see if you already have something suitable to make it with. It’s also a great habit to get into as soon as you buy any new fabric.

If you have the space try to group your fabrics in either fabric type, colours or length as this will also help you to see your collection more easily.

3. Identifying your style

The key to having fabric in your stash you want to use for new projects is to identify your own style. This is no easy feat and is definitely worth spending some time on. It is also something that evolves throughout different stages of your life and you would benefit from revisiting it every now and again.

There are some great resources in the sewing community to help you with this. Some of our favourites include The Wardrobe Architect series on the Colette blog, which is really comprehensive and helps you look at different aspects of your style and wardrobe. The  Curated Closet is a fantastic book that both Kate and myself have really enjoyed working through. Check out one of my boards above that I created for Autumn/Winter 2017 using their tips and ideas. It’s worth keeping an eye out for their new workbook coming out later this year too and we can’t wait to get our hands on it! If this all seems quite overwhelming, why not start by thinking about a capsule wardrobe. Elena of Randomly Happy’s blog, has a whole section of posts about this which is really helpful.

4. Making a list

Once you’ve worked through the key elements of your style, identifying fabrics that would be suitable for this is the next step. We have a blog post about fabric types as part of our Pattern Tutorial series which will help you decide what sort of fabrics could work. We would also recommend the Fabrics for Fashion Swatch book, which has samples of over 125 fabrics for you to stroke. The key point is to identify what style of fabrics you like. These will often be different depending on the type of garment but make some notes using the questions below as a guide.

  • Colours – in what percentage of your wardrobe do you want to see plains vs. prints and in what specific garments?
  • Do you like texture on your plain fabrics? Perhaps this is only ribbing for sweaters or are you a pleats fanatic?.
  • What type of prints do you like e.g. stripes,  plaids or florals etc?
  • What scale of prints, spacing of patterns and directionality suit you?
  • Think about fabric widths too – if you love making circle skirts, you probably need to be buying these fabrics in 140cm widths.
  • Fabric types is really important. Do you have sensitive skin or only like the feel of natural fibres? Are you a newbie maker, in which case more structured cottons would be easier to sew than drapey materials?

In the example in tip 3, I concluded that the tops I want to wear are 3/4 length sleeve box shirts/blouses and round/boat-neck t-shirts. I want my shirts and blouses to be made from plain material in light colours and from drapey fabrics. For the t-shirts I like stripes and thin plain fabrics, which would be most suitable if made from cotton and viscose jerseys. Interesting when I then looked at what fabrics I was buying, they were most drapey but more than half were prints!!!

5. Buying fabrics you will use

Next is the really big challenge, actually going into fabric shops or online and buying what you want rather than impulse purchasing something you can’t live without! A key element to this success if taking the list with you from tip 5, it is invaluable and will help stop you straying.

If you find a fabric that meets your criteria then how much should you buy? As a rough guide we would recommend for 140cm wide fabrics 2.5-3m for a dress (4m for a maxi dress), 1.5-2m for a blouse, 1m for a cami top and around 2m for trousers. This really depends on the style of the pattern you end up using, the size you want to cut out and of course the width of the fabric, so if it’s 115cm you may need more.

In a fabric shop its much easier to find out what the fabric you like is made from, how it will sew and the scale of patterns and shade of colour. Shopping online is much more tricky. For new online fabric stores you haven’t tried before or for fabrics you are at all unsure about, we would recommend asking for a swatch. This is a service most online fabric shops provide and often it is free or you only pay for postage. It really can make sure you avoid a costly mistake. Some online fabric shops also offer a swatch club, where you receive regular swatches of in fabrics in stock.

If you are every looking to match an existing fabric in your stash with another one, create yourself a swatch buddy to take with you. You can do a DIY version of this yourself by cutting out a small swatch of your fabrics say 5cm x 10cm and attaching it to a large safety pin. If you have a few fabrics you want to match, take them all with you attached to your safety pin.

The most difficult thing to do when trying to curate your stash is to shop sensibility in a fabric sale. We’ve all been there, you just feel you must have it because it’s reduced and you might never get the opportunity to again. In these highly excitable times, refer back to your list and try to resist anything else!

6. Co-ordinating your supplies

An additional step in the stash building process is to try and co-ordinate your haberdashery or notions. This means that you can get cracking on your project in no time and will always have the right colours and sizes. A few key items to keep in stock are:

  • Threads – black and white/off-white are always useful but also pick a few other of your key colours identified in tip 3.
  • Zips – do you make dresses or trousers or both? Try to keep in stock a number of natural and co-ordinating zips in the right lengths for projects you might make. 22″ is ideal for dresses and around 8″ for trousers.
  • Buttons – this is a bit more tricky but over the last few years i’ve narrowed down my colour preferences to wood, metal and white. These three colours all work really well with the colours I like to sew with so I rarely have to dash out to my local shop to stock up.
  • Hook and eye’s – store these in black and white as they are handy for all sorts of projects.
  • Overlocker threads – if you do use an overlocker, having around 2-4 thread colours is really helpful. I have white, black and off-white whereas Kate has white, black and navy. We find most of our projects are covered by these.

7. Actually using your stash

A healthy stash is one which actually gets used! To find inspiring new sewing patterns to match with your fabrics you can search our massive sewing pattern database with over 8000 patterns from over 125 designers. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing what other people in our community are making and we have lots of sewing pattern reviews for your to peruse too.

If that doesn’t get your creative juices flowing then do check out some of our blog posts on that perfect pair of trousers, a spring jacket, a shirtdress for summer or a coat for winter.

With all these ideas you don’t want to forget any, so why not start a sewing bullet journal to schedule your makes and record your progress. Check out our vlog here for lots of tips on how to set this up and free downloadable sewing-specific templates!

8. Checking in

And finally, every now and again it’s a great idea to run through this process again. Perhaps you might feel like doing it every year in January, every season or as you are going through a life change such as the menopause or pregnancy. Either way, by trying out some of these tips you are sure to end up with a happy stash that you enjoy building.

Why not join our bustling Facebook group to share your building process or ask for advice?