Acquiring Fabric {building a stash} Part 2


Here we are for the second part of my post on acquiring fabric!  Last week I talked about the different colors and types of fabric you want in your stash. You can read the first half here.

Today we'll  talk about the practical side.  Where, how, and how much.

First we'll talk about WHERE.   Where do you buy fabric?  I think the ideal place would be fabric shop just down the street.  They would have a huge selection quilting and apparel fabrics, lots of notions, books and patterns, helpful staff, and all at a reasonable price with huge sales now and then!

The chance that you have something like this nearby is quite slim, I'm thinking!  That's why we have to shop around at many different places to buy fabric.

I think that buying fabric in real life at a store is the best option.  You can see and feel the fabric and you have a better chance of knowing that it's some thing you like.  Really, the only reason I buy online is because my brick and mortar shop options are limited, and online prices tend to be more affordable.

So, selection and price are the two factors that make me choose online shopping a lot of the time!  There are many, many online fabric shops!  I'm not going to list my favorites now, but I'm hoping to have a comprehensive list of some great shops in the near future.

So the one disadvantage to shopping fabric online is that the swatch you see on your computer screen can be misleading.  Here's what I do.  I look for actual photos of that fabric, rather than just a flat computer generated swatch.  This means that I do a google search on the name of the particular fabric I'm eyeing.  Hopefully someone has already sewn something with this fabric so that I can visualize the scale, color and texture.  Also there are some shops that take actual photos of their fabric, and this is very handy to look at!

Are you concerned about the quality of this fabric you are ordering?  If you order from well known fabric companies like Moda, Free Spirit, Westminster, Robert Kaufman, Michael Miller(and many many more of course) You're basically guaranteed a consistently good quality.  The regular price of quilting cotton these days is US$8-$10, so that can be a bit of a guideline.

Brand new quilting cotton is not the only fabric you can use for quilting!  I love using vintage fabrics as well.  If you have some thrift stores nearby, you may find some real treasures.  Etsy and Ebay also have lots of options, although you are dealing with possibly higher prices and the risk of not knowing the feel and quality.



I guess I kinda covered the HOW above, where I talked about finding actual photos of the fabric you're looking at.  I think most of us know a little too well how to hit the Add to Cart button, so maybe I don't need to go into that one!



So let's touch a bit on HOW MUCH?  I get this question quite often.  I'd say that my method has definitely changed over the years.  I think I've got myself about figured out by now, so the way I do it is tailored to the way I think.

I buy mainly half yard pieces.  I find them to be a useful size for the quilting I do.  I also buy some quarter yards or fat quarters from shops that have them available.  I almost never buy more than a half yard when it's a fabric I've never seen in person.  I've been disappointed by thinking a certain piece would be perfect for a quilt back, plus it's on sale!  And then when it arrives, it's just not quite how I pictured it.  Or maybe I still like it, but it's just not something I'll use that much of.  When I find myself loving a 1/4 or 1/2 yard piece, when I cut into it almost right away and start to worry that it's going to be used up soon, then I consider buying more.  ( I said consider)  If over time I find it to be a versatile fabric that I love the color of, and know that I will use more, paired together with finding it on sale somewhere, then I might purchase 2-3 yards.

The photo above shows examples of fabrics that I have repurchased because I found myself using them and know I'd use them more.  A couple of them are basics (like the bottom three) I never found them on sale, but I knew I'd use them lots, and I do.  The next two are not necessarily 'must-haves' but I found them on a great sale and knew from experience that they were prints I liked, so I bought a few yards.  These kind are pieces that work well for quilt backs.  The geometric green print second from top is my all time favorite green print.  I find it hard to find the perfect shade of green, and this is one I love, so I can't imagine what I'll do when it's gone!  And the very top print is just one that I loved because of it's vintage look and I had to have more before it was gone!


The funny thing is that really my favorite cuts of fabric are the fat quarters and quarter yards.  They just seem more special, I can have more variety of fabrics, and I find myself using them sooner.  For some reason I don't find myself cutting into large 1 yard pieces when I'm making patchwork.  I've learned that there will always be another piece of fabric that I love just as much, so when this one is gone I don't need to worry!

On the other hand, you simply DO need some larger chunks of fabric.  Maybe for sashing, or a pattern that has a lot of one background.  And for quilt backs of course.  Here's the thing: I never choose backing or binding till my quilt top is complete.  So it is nice to have a bit of selection when that time comes.  I like to have a few Ikea sheets on hand for larger quilts.  I also always have a few 56" wide voiles on hand since I love the feel of them on the back of a quilt (plus they're a bit wider)

Ok, I must run now, although I could talk longer!  Any other thoughts or comments, please feel free to add and I'll try to reply in the comments below!

54 comments:

  1. I LOVE that 3rd picture stack of fabric!!! Do you know the names of the 1st, 3rd, and 4th fabrics in the stack? Also I have a question. I've been wanting to do a quilt with my stash of chicopee and using low volume pieces as the background. Do you keep creams and greys/whites separate or do they blend ok when it's all said and done?

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    1. While you're at it you could tell us the name of the 5th fabric, too :)

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    2. I think the 5th must be from the Architextures line from Carolyn Friedlander.

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    3. Laurie, I'm not sure if you're counting starting from the top or bottom, but I'll just list them all. (starting at the top)
      1. Moda, American Jane ABC 123
      2.Free Spirit, Denyse Schmidt, Hope Valley
      3.Free Spirit, Erin McMorris, Weekends
      4.Free Spirit, Anna Maria Horner, Innocent Cruch
      5.Robert Kaufman, Carolyn Friedlander, Architextures
      6.Moda, Sweetwater, Mama Said Sew
      7.Robert Kaufman, yarn dyed linen in black

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  2. I really like your posts about the stash building. I think we fabric nerds can never read too much about fabric, hee hee. I mainly buy half yards, too. And I also buy more if I love a fabric.
    My problem are the fat quarters: as soon as I cut the first piece from them I fear that I might use them up too soon. I still have to tell myself that it is not the end of the world to use up a fabric. Sigh. :-)

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    1. I know, I love seeing other folks' fabric purchases! And I hear you about the fear of using up a special fabric. The thing these days is that they're producing more 'special' fabric than what I can use, so I'd better not save it!

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  3. I love all the fabrics you have pictured! I feel very lucky to live right around the corner from a quilt shop and to have another favorite just 30 min away. The one farther has every fabric you can imagine and then some (it is seriously amazing and overwhelming all at once!). If I am in love with a fabric that is full price I buy a half yard, but if it is sale I buy at least a yard. Both stores have great sale rooms. The one puts anything with less than 2 yds left into the sale pile, so new lines can be found for just $5!

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    1. That is amazing, Carolyn! I want to move there!

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  4. Your fabrics shown are gorgeous. Unfortunately like you I don't really live close to a shop that sells great fabrics, well not for quilting anyway, so the internet is my preferred source. I agree that it is hard to know what to buy and often I haven't got a clue how it is all going to look and that's just for general sewing, let alone the idea of a quilt, but that's why I am here. I have however recently bought all the fabric for a quilt I hope to make one day, but first things first, the basics. Looking forward to the next session. Thank you for all your time doing this quilt along, I appreciate it. xo

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  5. Please do a section on the type of thread that is best to use. I used a thread once (don't remember what kind) that didn't hold up well and about 2 years after making the quilt it was falling apart at the seams already.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning that, Kim! I'll talk about it in my next post.

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  6. I really like this line... "I've learned that there will always be another piece of fabric that I love just as much, so when this one is gone I don't need to worry!".
    SO TRUE! I used to hoard and not want to cut into certain pieces of fabric, but I've found that with new fabrics being released almost constantly, I always find something I love just as much!

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  7. I WISH quilting fabric cost $8-10/ yd. Everything I see is $10-12/yd and even more!

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    1. You're right, I should have said $8-$12.

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  8. In Australia quilting fabric is $22 a yard from shops!!! This is why we buy online from abroad. The sales are also not that great. So imagine that! :)

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    1. I can almost feel your pain! Shops in Canada generally charge $16-$18/meter. They're not overpricing, I think it just costs more to get the fabrics here.

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    2. You are absolutely right Jolene! When I put in my first wholesale order I was shocked to see that my cost price was the same as common sale prices from American online shops :0

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  9. I also buy mostly 1/2 yard cuts and keep thinking whether I should start buying 1 yard cuts. Glad to know 1/2 yard strategy works for you too. Love all your fabric choices. Your quilts made me like brown, thanks :)

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    1. I guess I tend to like scrappy quilts, and also Gwen Marston's philosophy that if you run out of one fabric, just substitute with a different one. It adds character!

      And brown... it really isn't 'in' right now, is it? Guess I just like the vintage warmth of it.

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  10. My local quilt shop is $16/yard whereas when I buy online I seem to be paying $11 for prints and $7 for solids. Even when I factor in shipping it just makes more sense.

    Also, the selection at my local store veers pretty old fashioned and I just can't find the fabrics I want to play with there.

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    1. Exactly! (are you in Canada too?) The recent shipping hikes has been a bit of an ouch, and I've definitely cut back on purchases a bit since I need to use my stash anyway. It's still cheaper to buy online though, even with shipping and the occasional customs charge.

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  11. I'm a Canadian who shops online because of the price and because the local quilt shops don't really dabble in modern/contemporary fabrics. I'm extremely fortunate to live very close to the US border and I get my fabric sent there, then wait for the packages to accumulate so I only have to drive down once (it's so HARD to be patient!). I have started to buy 1/2 yard cuts and I feel exactly as you about certain ones - on no, I'm going to run out - so I buy them again. I've found myself making a lot of spur of the moment baby quilts of late and I like to make strip quilts, so having the 1/2 yard cuts on hand lets me get the WOF strips I want/need (plus extra for other projects!). Loved this post, I'm quite sure I should probably go practice my stashing now, just to make sure I understood everything you said. =)

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    1. Oh, that's so neat to live close to the border! You'll save a bundle on shipping costs! And yes, practice makes perfect so definitely go do some shopping!

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  12. It's fun reading about how you shop for fabric. I've only just recently worked out that it's better to buy 1/2 yards than fat quarters, 1/2 yards don't disappear so quickly and give you more options for using them, it's hard to make binding from a fat quarter! :) I've also worked out that it's better to use a fabric before buying larger quantities, although sometimes it means the fabric can be HTF by the time I work out I need more of it!

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    1. A stash made only from Fat Quarters would be very frustrating!

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  13. It's so interesting to read your posts, thanks for sharing. I have discovered that 1/4 yard cuts work best for me. I still buy 1/2 yard cuts of fabrics that I think will be useful, but switching to quarter yards has given me a lot of variety. I live within walking distance of Sew Modern so I buy entirely too much!

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    1. Oooo walking distance! This is too much for me, I'm so jealous!

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  14. I'm another that discovered I find 1/2 yard cuts more versatile. I have a hard time deciding what fabrics to buy larger quantities of until I see some of the collection in person. I have definitely experienced that "It will be perfect!" but then it's not :(

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    1. Exactly! Sometimes you just don't know till you've seen and used it!

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  15. thank you! this is very useful!

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  16. Where I live, fabric is $18.99 + per meter, so I have to be very choosy. I tend to buy specialty prints at the LQS and buy the blenders & backgrounds on-line.

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  17. I used to buy larger cuts of fabric, a metre if I liked it, 1.5-2 metres if I loved it, but I started to find that I got tired of the fabric before I had used it all up. I didn't like that feeling, falling out of love with fabrics that used to be so special. So I started to buy smaller cuts of fabric, and I've settled on half a metre (or yard) as my happy place, though I do buy a lot more fat quarters now too. Half a metre is big enough for a binding, enough for a small bag, and I use it up before I get tired of it. And I get to have more variety if my fabric too.

    beaniekins84(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts! It does feel sad to relegate my loved fabrics to the bottom shelf cuz I'm bored by them. I know they don't have feelings, but still!

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  18. love that american jane (love all american jane really)

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    1. yes, she's great! I always love at least one print in every collection.

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  19. I might think to keep more large cuts on hand for quilt backs. Sometimes a whole quilt back actually seems prettier than a pieced one. I tend to use not-favorite prints up quickly as quilt backs, but then I don't like my quilt backs as much...

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    1. Yes, I'm leaning more and more towards bigger pieces on my quilt backs. I guess my quilt front are often quite busy so I like the look of a plain back. The extra width needed is always the problem though!

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  20. Here in Australia quilting fabric is much more expensive (as Marianne pointed out) sometimes as much as $28 per metre. I like to purchase fabric at Spoonflower.com which can be as inexpensive as $16 per yard and I also buy shirts and skirts at thrift stores to cut up for fabric too (usually at $1 an item). In addition to these places you can try your local recycling centre, mine gives away clothes for free!

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    1. So interesting comparing prices! I've always thought of Spoonflower as expensive and only purchase a small bit of something special, but it just depends on what you're used to! On the other hand, I agree that buying clothing from the second hand store makes amazing quilts! I've seen some great prints on shirts and blouses. The downside here is that clothes from the thrift shop are often more like $5.

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  21. What good suggestions on size and googling images of the fabric in another's project! I will have to consider voile. I have never used it before and your review is tempting.

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  22. Here's my recipe for fabric buying:
    If I like it 30cm
    If I really like it 1m
    If I love and adore it and can't live without it 2.5m - this gives ample for borders and including some in the quilt if desired
    For binding 1m (I can't pass up a great stripe for binding!)
    For background 2m - of course it depends on what the quilt is, but a good start
    And if you see something you like, buy it - it may not be available on your next visit!

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    1. Wow! I need a formula like that! Thanks for sharing.

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  23. Thanks so much for the quilting 101!Please please go over thread! I have to idea how to read sizes on quilts let alone know what size is best! You're awesome, thanks!!!

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I will try to touch on these topics.

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  24. Very helpful, thanks so much! You mentioned not deciding on backing until your quilt top is finished. I am not a real confident free motion or other stitches, but I quilt all my quilts. Most are throws or baby. I tend to decide on a backing that helps my free motion not stand out:) does that make sense? What is your thoughts on the color of the pieced front, the color of the backing and what color thread to quilt with? Maybe this is too detailed a question, but thanks!
    blessings, susan

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    1. You are right! When free motion quilting, it's smart to choose a backing and thread that blend well to hide those less than perfect stitches. If my quilt top is mainly white and light colors, then I know that I will be choosing a light thread for quilting. That means that I will also want to choose a lighter value backing so that the thread blends on the front and back of the quilt. If I am hand quilting, or doing straight lines then I don't worry about this as much since I don't mind these stitches showing a bit more.

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  25. Very helpful, thanks so much! You mentioned not deciding on backing until your quilt top is finished. I am not a real confident free motion or other stitches, but I quilt all my quilts. Most are throws or baby. I tend to decide on a backing that helps my free motion not stand out:) does that make sense? What is your thoughts on the color of the pieced front, the color of the backing and what color thread to quilt with? Maybe this is too detailed a question, but thanks!
    blessings, susan

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  26. One more question... I didn't see where you addresses charm packs, etc, or collections, what are your thoughts?

    Thanks so much, Susan

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    1. You're right, I didn't mention precuts. They appeal to most people (including me) because they are all cut and ready to sew, and a wide selection of different fabrics that all coordinate. There are also many patterns that are geared to these cuts so they don't take a lot of planning or thinking.

      I do use them occasionally, but I tend to prefer to mix my own fabrics together, just because I really enjoy doing it! Also precuts are generally more $$ when you figure out the yardage. If the fact that they are coordinating and all cut and ready to sew is worth this $$ then by all means use them!

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  27. To 95% I buy my fabrics online, because they are very expensive here (Finland) and where I've tried to buy smaller cuts, it's 1 metre or nothing (slightly more than a yard...). The price combined with such a length would make it impossible for me to buy anything, so my first piece of advice is to research prices. Importing may not be as difficult as one first could imagine; worth researching. In fact, I should address the latter soon on my own blog.

    Basically, if customs catches a shipment with value over 20-something €, they will ask you to pay VAT which is 24% here. Even with a high shipping cost, closer to 20 USD these days, it's still worth it and this is how I've built my stash slowly but surely. I've focused on small cuts mainly and have a huge selection at this point.

    Another thing I want to emphasize to beginner fabric buyers is the size. I've only had one total shock as far as perception of print size goes, but since it was the first time I bought fabrics, it made an eternal impression on me. I thought the flowers were going to be smallish, but the pattern was humongous; what I had expected was a diameter of maybe 2'' and instead got 20''. Double-check the inch legend and if none is available, either ask the shop for more information or try a quick googling of manufacturer, then search for the specific fabric. I've rarely found fabrics without any hints on print size this way.

    If you want to make sure fabric colours go together, a tip is to compare relatively - in bundle photos. Some shops make their custom bundles and those are great places to see fabrics in relation to each other (colour, size) as well as get a quick idea of new fabrics to purchase. And since they have taken their own photos, you can be sure the colours you see in a bundle, which pleases your eye, will go together.

    If math isn't your strength, jump into calculations to save money. Pre-cuts are normally more expensive, so it's worth knowing what a quarter yard does well compared to a fat quarter, and vice versa. You can easily cut layer cakes (and charm squares) from fat quarters, but fat quarters might not always be what you want, if you're looking at the print direction.

    I'll stop myself now, because fabrics are a passion and I could be here tomorrow still.

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  30. So blessed to have 5 quilt shops within easy driving distance. One os only 5 min away from home! Thanks for your thoughts on amounts of fabric to buy. I've found 1 fat quarteris never enough, so your 1/2 yd minimum seems like a good idea. Also some companies only do one run of each fabric line so we need to make sure you have plenty to finish a quilt if you plan to take your time.

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