how much do i buy?

i am asked by new piecers, "How much fabric do i need to buy for a stash?" after they realize my answer "As much as you can afford" is a joke i explain how i approach fabric purchases. there is nothing worse than starting a quilt and as you shop from your stash, you keep coming up short on your yardage.

i tend to make large quilts (large queen size to king size) so when i buy for my stash this is how i go about it and it works or me. i don't make quilts from one collection exclusively (unless it takes my breath away) and i've stopped buying pre-cuts.

background- when i purchase fabrics that i think i'd use in the future as a background (solids and nice subtle creams) i buy anywhere from 3 to 4 yards. this is plenty fabric to amply use as the same background through a whole quilt. i have a color card of all Kona Cotton colors and buy as i need it. i tend to pick my background after i pick my prints that i want to use it help carry my 'theme' i am aiming for...i like to use solids for backgrounds as it gives me a place to showcase some quilting...the only exception to this that i can think of is pure white- i'd buy a bolt of it....

borders- i'm not a fan of piecing my borders and cut my borders along the length of the fabric. my king size quilt is usually around 100"+ in either direction, so i buy 3 to 3.125 yards. some piecers are not comfortable having that 3 yard by 13"+ inch piece- i use that to make the backing wider or stick it back into my stash as there is usually enough left to use it for another quilt's inner border.

binding- i usually buy 1 to 1.5 yards for binding. i cut mine on the bias, so this is usually stripes...

stash- i use to buy fat quarters then i realized that it wasn't enough fabric for my purposes. i know that there are uber books that are full of quilt patterns using fat quarters- i'm not including those in this....also- check the price of a fat quarter in your LQS...let's do the math, if a fat quarter is, say, $2.75 and the fabric per yard is $8.75/yard it is more economical to buy a half yard at $4.40 (two fat quarters would be $5.50). i buy half yards of fabric i like. i tend to use more tone-on-tone fabrics for my piecing (they are more versatile), so i will buy a yard if i find one i like. i've been piecing for a while now, and i know that some colors (salmon, acid lime green, good oranges and periwinkle) are hard to find...if i find one i like i will buy 2 yards. i love LARGE scale prints, so i tend to buy 2 to 3 yards of any i like...

backings- i have a 'rule': i do not buy backings at full retail price. i acquire my backings from the sale rooms of my LQSes...when i go to a new quilt shop, the first area i visit is the sale bin/room then i hit the batiks :) i try to aim for 6.5 yard pieces. if i need a larger backing (say for a king that requires 9 yards) i just grab a three yard border piece from my stash. another thing to keep in mind is the 'print' of the fabric. i like my quilting to show on the back of my quilts, so i tend to buy fabrics that read as a solid and in a completely different color than the thread color i intend to use. if you do not want (or care) if the quilting shows, buy a busy muli-colored print. those 40% off coupons from the chain stores help with my backing yardage acquirement's too. yes i buy from Joann's and Hancock's. i feel the fabric- if it feels 'right' then i deem it fit for the stash. i don't buy fabric i can read a newspaper through from across the room. at my joann's i've started to see a better quality fabric on the shelves, not to mention that they do have the closeouts from some well known fabric producers...i found a fat quarter pack of Heather Ross me, i spend more at my LQS a month than at the local chain stores.

when buying fabric, you need to know what 'holes' you have in your current stash. i haven't met a green i didn't like and my green drawer shows it. my hole in my stash is my yellows, oranges, and purple. in batiks it is pinks. when i fork over my money for fabric i want it to have a home in the stash. i also know (and am comfortable with) my style of quilting. i know when i see a fabric what i would use it i buy accordingly.

another thing i keep well stocked in is Magic Sizing. i average a can per quilt. i'm not a starch fan, and i have silverfish...every time i go to walmart i buy about 4's only a buck per can...and yes, i've been to wally world at 2am cause i've run out...i'm not a pre-washer either, so i keep Shout Color Catchers on the washer... oh, and i use alot of freezer paper...oh, and i keep a bolt of Pellon fusible stabilizer for all the totes i make...anywhoo....

i would like to add one more soapbox-y thing- support your local LQS...i would miss Tiny Stitches, Little Quilts, and Intown Quilters if they closed. it is my treatment for a bad day (if chocolate doesn't work) petting fabric always makes everything better. a LQS is the best resource a quilter can have in their back pocket. i understand that not all have a disposable income, but something is better than nothing. Besides the local guild, they are great for classes...

now, having said all that- i am embracing the improvisational fun that comes from making from stash. let's say i have a turquoise that i love for binding...i need a yard, but i only have 3/4yd...i'm more inclined to pull another fabric that is in the quilt (usually an orange or lime green or both) and piece it into the binding to make up that 1/ i have become more open to possibilities in my piecing that adds 'playfullness' to my quilts (thank you to my wonderful friend Jess for teaching me that)

hopefully this will help shed some light on buying fabric to stash. Davis always says that a man is only as good as his tools. let's twist it to fit this situation: a quilter is only as good as his/her stash...i can justify anything when it comes to fabric :)


  1. I love reading and learning from you. Great tips!

  2. Well done!! Especially the part about cutting your borders from the length instead of the width. That is why we, as quilters, have such "friendly" borders.

  3. I read your post all the way through because so much of it sounded like what I just wrote to someone else. Well done.


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