Sewing supplies

Fabric Stash-Busting Without Tears

By February 25, 2013 May 3rd, 2021 4 Comments


Does the prospect of editing your fabric stash–you do have one, don’t you?–fill you with excitement? Dread? Curiosity?  I had all those feelings as I approached the task of evaluating each piece of yardage in my sewing space.

66 fabrics and a reel of rickrack

66 fabrics and a reel of rickrack

I wasn’t sure at first how I’d decide what fabrics would stay and which would go.  But it was time to get serious.

I was getting more distracted than inspired by so many fabrics.  Some I’d held onto for more than a decade, with still only the sketchiest of plans for them.  Some fabrics were souvenirs of great trips to New York’s garment district, or Boston, or Chicago, and had attained some mythic status connected to a past that just kept receding.  Were my aspirations outdated?

After New Year’s I’m always seized by a powerful urge to clear out and organize stuff.  And here in the Twin Cities, the Textile Center’s annual sale in mid-April is the perfect place to donate my castoff sewing supplies.

Combine the push of distraction and overwhelm with the pull of the urge to clear out, the deadline for Textile Center donations, and my quest to get my things sewn: nothing could stop me now.

However, my aim was not to weed my stash by some preset percentage.  It was to use my chart to really look at each fabric afresh, first on its own and then with other fabrics, buttons, patterns, clothes and accessories to imagine the role it could play in my wardrobe.  If a fabric got my creative juices flowing and “played well” with others, it was kept, simple as that.

Even so, I easily, willingly set aside a quarter of my stash for donation to the Textile Center. Isn’t that interesting?

Well, I think so.   Weeding a stash can feel as fun as dieting or budgeting.  It can taste of deprivation.  But examining a stash to clarify and define a beautiful wardrobe for myself is–just plain fun.

Okay, enough buildup.   What was my process?

Since I wanted photos of my fabrics for this post, I set up a clothes drying rack on a table and a few lights in my basement sewing space near my stash.  I took a picture of each fabric overall, draped over the rack, and another picture close up to capture details.

My photos aren’t professional quality, that’s for sure.  I can barely recognize some subtly colored and textured fabrics.  Nevertheless, taking pictures helped me see each fabric for what it was, apart from the stories I’d attached to it.

Here’s an example.

Wool that's been in my stash since 1999.

Wool that’s been in my stash since 1999.



I’ve loved this snappy black and white checked wool since I bought it in Chicago in 1999 at the branch of Vogue Fabrics that used to be in Water Tower Place.

The inspiration.

The inspiration.

This suit inspired my purchase.  I can remember buying the fabric, discussing the suit, and selecting buttons with the advice of a great salesperson.  All these years I replayed these memories every time I saw this fabric–as if the point of its existence wasn’t to be transformed into a garment, but to remain a travel souvenir!

Unfurling the wool from the shelf, taking pictures, and examining its beautiful self pulled me back into active mode and the present.  I scattered new button possibilities over the wool, and considered different patterns.  A reversible topper from the 1950s? A cape?  Stick with a fitted jacket?

Checking out possibilities using vintage buttons or a buckle bought in London.

Checking out possibilities using buttons and buckles from London vintage fashion fairs.

Whatever my original ambitions, how did this fabric rate in my present life using the Individual and Context columns of The Chart?  Did this fabric still suit my personality and style today?  Could I see this attending events and supporting roles in my present and future life?  Did it work well with other fabrics or wardrobe items?  Were the colors, pattern and scale flattering?  Yes to all questions.  This is a keeper.

I also used the 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom, the version published in 2003.  Each of the 24 cards has a pure color and tints and shades of that color.

The 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom

The 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom

I love color but have no training in it.  For me, this tool is an educational toy that shows me relationships I’d never realized.

Ten years ago an excellent color and image consultant pronounced me a “contrasting Autumn” whose most flattering tones were warm and dramatic. They included mustards, rusts, mossy greens, orangey reds, turquoise, reddish purples, chocolate and caramel browns, and black.  Black is a tricky color for me, but those autumn tones are great.

As I would pull each fabric from the shelf I’d find the best matches on the corresponding color cards.  Say the match was on card 24: Golden Yellow.  I could flip the card over to see the complementary, analogous, split-complementary, and triadic color relationships.  I could see that Golden Yellow 24 could be paired with Cerulean Blue 10, or Yellow-Orange 22, or Red-Violet 14.

I’m making this sound too much like a dry academic exercise.  It was anything but.  I kept discovering such wonderful tones and tints and shades on my best color cards that expanded and enriched the possibilities for my fabrics and wardrobe.  The Orange-Yellow card 23 went far beyond crayon box colors to rich, gorgeous, warm grays and golden browns.  Orange-Red 20 included corals and deep, winy reds.

Had I only known years ago how much fun, how useful, how inspiring it was going to be to review my fabrics I wouldn’t have avoided the task for so long.  I just needed the right guidelines.

Next time I’ll talk about discoveries I made as I examined each fabric that helped me refine my criteria and make decisionmaking easy, and show some fabrics I chose to release back into the great sewing flow.


  • I’m glad you kept that black and white checked wool….. I CAN see you wearing it some day!

    As for the fabric that’s going to the TCM garage sale, I can’t wait to see what treasures there might be for me!

    You’ve inspired me to do a similar evaluation of my stash. Thanks!

  • Shelly says:

    The world of color, as you know is a fascinating world and difficult to separate the academics and the pure joy of it, for me. Have you found that you gravitate towards colors because you like them or because someone said you can wear them? It is my belief that all color has a purpose in our psyche and we are attracted to colors that support us, it is a vibration, it helps with our ‘frequency’ fine tuning it to achieve our highest potential. You can wear many colors, many more than you might think. As your expression in the world expands, more color will enhance and support who you are ‘becoming’. What a fascinating journey!

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