In August, I set a goal for myself that I would use up all the fabric in my stash before buying anything new. This wasn’t too crazy a goal – at the time, I only had about 10 pieces of “usable” fabric in the large translucent watertight bin under my desk. By “usable”, I mean fabrics I actually intend to cut up and use for projects. There are some vintage fabrics I have that I bought because I found their prints to be unique enough that I wanted to own and hold onto them, but aren’t practical for my wardrobe. Currently, I have 3 of these. Not excessive, in my opinion. I consider these collectors’ items.
Since it was the end of August, I also had 4 pieces of fabric I had aimed to sew up for the summer months, that I just couldn’t get in by September. These I also didn’t consider currently “usable”, because I wouldn’t want to sew them over the winter months.
So for two months, I didn’t buy any new fabric. Honestly, I didn’t. I had my eye on some fabrics, though, so I slowly built up wishlists on Club Tissus and Etsy, intending to make some big and excessive purchases when my fabric ban was over. Then in October, a very special vintage Liberty of London fabric went up for sale on Etsy, with the owner telling me they wouldn’t hold it for me for long. I decided to make an exception to my ban and ordered it. The same happened with another vintage fabric on Etsy. Then in November, Shop La Mercerie in the US had the perfect dark teal viscose crepe for sale – and with only 2.5 yards left in stock only days after it went up, I acted fast and bought that too.
I told myself that these were all exceptions – special fabrics that would be gone if I waited around till after I used up my stash to buy them. After all, I wasn’t buying fabrics that I could really get at any time. But then when Cyber Monday sales came along, I broke down and bought many of the fabrics on my Club Tissus wishlist.
My fabric ban had obviously been broken. But I had been realizing something – and slowly realizing it long before I broke down and made a big Cyber Monday purchase.
The goal of using my stash was destroying my creativity.
I am the kind of person who likes to clear things out and check boxes and cross things off lists. If I have a stack of library books that I finished but still have a week to return, I like to return them right away – get the books off my shelf and check off the box of getting them returned. I work that way with a lot of things, probably to a point where it’s a bit weird.
I realized that in using up my stash, each piece of fabric used was a box I could check off. And I literally do this – I organize my stash using Evernote, and every time I finished a project, I would go to my Evernote notebook and delete the note, feeling an immense feeling of very fleeting satisfaction.
I was no longer using my stash for the fun, joy, and creativity of it – but rather, the short satisfaction of ticking a box. Once you tick all the boxes, I told myself, you can buy all the fabric you want. All the fabric on that wishlist. You can even order something from Europe and pay the 30€ shipping. I would also get the satisfaction of writing a blog post about how I was probably the first person in history to use up her stash for real.
But all that came to a crashing halt when I made that Cyber Monday order. I had failed at my goal. At the same time, though, I realized I was finally allowing myself to consider my stash more carefully. I had been starting to rush to think of ways to use up my fabric, and was no longer taking the time to let it simmer, to let the creativity come forth and give me new ideas. When I broke my fabric ban, in just a few short days, I started thinking more slowly and creatively about what I wanted to make, because I no longer had my reward to rush to. I had bought these gorgeous vintage fabrics and was forcing myself to think of what to make with them so I could hurry up and use them and replace them with more fabric.
I am currently at a point where if I had not bought fabric over the past two months, I would actually be one fabric piece away from completing my goal. It’s fabric to make a skirt – it could potentially be finished in one day. My infamous Cyber Monday fabric hasn’t been shipped yet, so I can’t sew it. My special exceptions fabrics haven’t been washed yet, so I can’t sew those either. I realized that once I sew that one piece of fabric in my bin, I will have no garments to start sewing. I never truly considered what it would be like to get to the end and have nothing to do about it.
And what happened is that I slowed down. I started to think of ideas for the vintage fabrics that I hadn’t thought of before. I started thinking more about what I would truly enjoy wearing, not what would use up the fabric fastest. I also started to think more about selfless sewing – a baby quilt I had been meaning to start since August, baby clothes for my niece and nephews, Hannukah gifts for loved ones… All things I avoided because I felt they would slow me down in achieving my (selfish) goal. I feel less pressure to make all the things and to finish a certain number of projects in a week.
I also began to understand that, at least for myself, I don’t need to worry about stash guilt (honestly though I don’t think anyone should worry about stash guilt). I’ve seen so many people on Instagram who have closets full of fabric and share them with pride. Stashes that make you wonder how they’ll use it all before they grow old and die. Me? I have a stash I could count on one hand.
You would think my little tiny stash is a lovely, considered, minimalist stash. It isn’t considered, though, and it should be. I am beginning to be less impulsive in my fabric buying habits. I have had too many fabrics in my stash that I bought because I loved the fabric, and when I used them, I didn’t end up loving the garment. When I made my latest purchase, the one that broke my ban completely, I went through each fabric and told myself what pattern I would use it for and how I would style that garment. I asked myself what occasion I would wear that garment for and if it went with other clothes in my wardrobe. If I couldn’t answer all those questions, I deleted that fabric from my cart.
I’ve learned that for me, there’s nothing wrong with having a fabric stash if it has pieces I want to use. My previously impulsive buying habits, though, had been leaving me with a stash full of fabric I wasn’t excited about sewing. I do like the idea of keeping my stash small, so that I can keep tabs on what I have and allow ideas to simmer without feeling overwhelmed. Sketching those ideas out helps, too.
I always thought that having no stash meant no stash guilt, and that that’s what would make me happy. It turns out though, that just like with my wardrobe, I need a to have a curated stash. And if my whole wardrobe ultimately begins with my stash, then doesn’t my stash need to be just as intentional?
So I’d like to ask you, dear reader, do you feel stash guilt? Do you think of a garment first, and then buy the fabric, or vice versa? Do you purchase fabrics impulsively or with purpose? How do you fill your life and home with textiles you love? I truly believe there’s no shame in having a large stash or buying fabric impulsively – but ask yourself these questions, and ask yourself if you’re happiest building your stash this way or you wish you’d do it differently. After all, fabric is such a huge part of our sewing practice, and if your stash isn’t making you happy, it won’t make your sewing happy either!