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Readers, the brow is wrinkled.  If only I could escort you to my basement sewing domain it would be so easy to demonstrate how I evaluated each of my fabrics and decided whether to keep or release it.

I’d show you how my fabrics looked before–crowded and disheveled huddled masses



–and after–

breathing free in a more open space.



You’d notice I’d be breathing freer, too.  Why?

Because I wouldn’t be wasting my precious time, energy, and creativity on pointless rationalizations.

No loss-aversion thinking: “I can’t get rid of that!” (Of course I can. Who’s running this joint?)

No sappy nostalgia: “I bought that on a beautiful spring day in New York!”  (So? You want to sew it, or put it in an album?)

No misplaced “can do” attitude: “Make it work!” (Sorry, Tim Gunn: I can–but I’m choosing not to.)

I’d pull that blue, green and cream vintage tweed I snapped up at the Textile Center sale a few years back and place my blue coating remnant next to it.  Then I’d lay the matching cards, Blue-Green 6 and Aqua Green 7,  from my 3-in-1 Color Tool on top of them.

Finding the matching Color Tool cards.

Finding the matching Color Tool cards.

I’d tell you, “These are wonderful colors for me.  And just look”–flipping the cards over to show the color plans–“I can combine them with other warm greens or blues, or orange or orangey reds, or purple or red-violet. These are also great color choices for me.”

“I love this,” I’d say.  “I love discovering the colors of my fabrics and seeing a range of related tones, shades and tints I could include.  I love flipping the card over and seeing the various relationships on the color wheel that I can translate into color combinations with depth and sophistication.”

Now really warming up to my subject, I’d pull out my cache of buttons.  I bought dozens of cards of buttons from the 1930s to ’50s at vintage fashion fairs and street markets in London and Greenwich on two long visits.

“See this wool, kind of a cafe au lait color?  I was thinking maybe it was boring and that I should let it go.  But when I looked for the closest color match, it was on the Orange 21 card.  And on the same card are these pale to rich corals and these deep, winy reds.

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Fabric and buttons that have matches on the Orange card.

Then I rummaged through my buttons and found these that are close to other shades on the orange card.    I’m not looking at the styles so much as the colors.  It’s so interesting how the different button colors each bring out something unique in that wool.”

“On the other hand, I did let go of some fabrics that had ‘my’ colors.  Like this big, splashy floral-printed rayon.

I think this splashy floral would overwhelm me...

I think this splashy floral would overwhelm me…

I had this suspicion that I wouldn’t be wearing it; it would be wearing me.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But here’s another floral print.  It’s assertive–and yet I don’t have that overwhelmed feeling.  So this one stays.”

...but this floral does not feel overwhelming.

…but this floral does not feel overwhelming.

“Here’s another example: this floral cotton in kind of spicy shades, saffron and paprika.  The colors are great.  I love how the pattern looks different on each side.  But again, I had this feeling that the pattern was too busy for me and I’d get lost in the shuffle. It was a tough call, but I’m going to bid this one adieu.”

Warm, spicy colors--but the pattern is too busy for me, I concluded.

Warm, spicy colors–but the pattern is too busy for me, I concluded.

I had eight or ten fabrics like that cotton, I’d tell you.  Not all spice-colored, or floral, or busy, no, but just fabrics that were…never right enough to be chosen for a project, but never wrong enough, either, to be excluded from consideration.

When I did my big review, I’d say, I noticed something.  If I had to really try to imagine either wearing the fabric or combining it with other fabrics or wardrobe items, it was not a keeper.  And if I were to override this hunch and sew the fabric into a garment, I wouldn’t wear it.

In his memoir Hitch 22 Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Even as I tried to convince myself, I realized what I have often had to accept since: that if you have to try and persuade yourself of something, you are already much inclined to doubt or distrust it.”

Good advice for evaluating stashes.

Then, readers, I would tell you that at the end of the process I had gone through 66 pieces of fabric. I  had matched each to its corresponding color cards. I better understood what colors were in the fabric and what it could coordinate with.

I like warm colors. The cool colored fabrics didn’t play well with my other fabrics and wardrobe.  Not “playing well with others” was the deal breaker.

I knew exactly why I was keeping or letting go of every single piece.  I didn’t force myself into any decision.  I chose.  And I ended up with 17 pieces–25 percent of my stash–set aside to donate to the Textile Center’s annual sale in April.

When I put the keepers back on their shelves, I marveled at how much more interesting and inspiring they were now.  Without the distractions of the problematic fabrics, my preferences in colors, textures, weaves and patterns emerged more clearly.  My creativity would go toward making coordinated outfits, not justifying mistaken purchases or straining to include fabrics that belonged in someone else’s life.

Then, readers, I’d show you the primitive little “spreadsheet” I drew up in a few minutes with one sheet of paper, a pencil, and a ruler.  I was curious to know what more I could learn from listing the reasons and facts pertaining to each of my donation fabrics.

My "spreadsheet" of fabrics I let go.

My “spreadsheet” of fabrics I let go.

I took a picture of my spreadsheet, but it’s hard to read the pencil markings.  It’s easy to explain, though.  Along the left-hand side I listed the fabrics.  Across the top I listed the reasons and facts.  Here are a few:

  • Cool or unflattering colors
  • Mid-range coloring: boring
  • My taste or lifestyle has changed
  • Type of fabric or motif limits the applications too much
  • Doesn’t play well with others
  • Bought on a trip/at a sewing expo/at a one-day sale

Readers, I’d tell you that this quick little spreadsheet was quite enlightening.  Almost all of my donation fabrics had been bought on trips or at one-day sales.  Hmm.  I’ll be more careful now.

Not right for me, but very right for someone else.

Not right for me, but very right for someone else.

I’d want to tell you just one more thing before you exited my sewing domain.  I feel good about what I’m giving away.  Those “not right” fabrics will be very right for someone else.

It’s time they ignited some other sewer’s imagination.

So readers, how do you decide which fabrics to keep and which to let go?  Is it a hard process or easy for you?