Fabric Stash-Busting Without Tears


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  Were my aspirations outdated?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.

The Chart


In my first post and on my About Me page I refer to this very casual-looking chart that’s the basis of Getting Things Sewn.  What in the world is it?  What is it supposed to do?

Let me explain.

Life before the chart was like this:

  • I’d fall in love with fabrics or patterns, and buy them.  But, strangely, I wouldn’t get around to using them.  There was always some missing element.  I’d love the fabric, but the right pattern hadn’t come along to bring out the best in it.  Or I’d snatch up a swoonworthy vintage pattern on eBay, but the right occasion never presented itself.  Or the right occasion would present itself, but I couldn’t hustle fast enough to fit and sew the pattern in time.
  • As a result, I yearned.  I was in this mindset that I couldn’t have what I longed for, because…hmmm…why?  Excellent question, and either I couldn’t tell you or I could recount innumerable reasons.  Whatever the case, I remained frustrated.
  • I had many unfinished sewing projects, and finished sewing projects that were wardrobe orphans.
  • I viewed my unfinished projects with dread, but I didn’t feel right about just dumping them.  All that work down the drain!   I had (still have) a sportcoat I started for Jack, my husband, in 2004, plus dresses, jackets and more in the muslin stage.  When I learned about the economics terms “sunk cost” and “loss aversion” I related them to my sewing stashes and projects.
  • I thought I just needed to be more efficient.  But I was just trying to do the wrong things faster.
  • I was struggling to master skills myself when I should have been cultivating creative partnerships.
  • I used to lament that I just had “too many ideas,” and fellow sewers would chime in that they suffered from the same affliction.  This didn’t get me anywhere.

About a year ago I realized that I had the tail wagging the dog.  Too often I’d buy fabrics, patterns, tools, books–even a serger–without fully considering its role in the larger scheme of producing a wardrobe I loved.  Not just a wardrobe.  A wardrobe I loved.

After all, if I want a closet full of clothes that don’t quite fit or go together, I might as well buy retail, right?

I’m good at blinding glimpses of the obvious.  So, a wardrobe is the objective of my sewing!  Got it.

Okay.  Next, what drives my wardrobe?

I came up with two main drivers.  One I labeled “Individual.”  In this column I put categories that originated with me:

  • Fit
  • Personality
  • Style
  • Silhouette
  • Colors
  • Physical characteristics
  • What I’m growing into, psychologically

The other driver I labeled “Context.”  In this column I put categories outside myself, with which I’d interact:

  • Occasions (wedding, evening out, work, hosting a dinner)
  • Activities (walking all day as a tourist, sleeping on a plane, dancing, sitting at a desk)
  • Roles (public speaker, conference attendee, member of a wedding party, etc.)
  • Physical conditions (air-conditioned offices, rain, sun, salt water, etc.)
  • Mood of the occasion (professional, somber, celebratory)
  • Other wardrobe items (accessories, outerwear, etc.)
  • Other fabrics, buttons, patterns
  • What I’m moving into, like a new role, activity, type of occasion

Using the drivers of Individual and Context I now had a tool for assessing my wardrobe needs and desires.  I could design outfits.  I could be appropriately dressed for the roles I was playing.  This was enlightening!  This was wonderful!

This driver idea had me buzzing with excitement.

So, what does my wardrobe drive?

Well, sewing projects, obviously.  And buying: both ready-to-wear and sewing supplies.

Come to think of it, my wardrobe should drive the way my closet is arranged, too.

And the nature of my sewing projects drives the design of my sewing space.

So that’s The Chart.  It looks simple and obvious.  But does it work?  That’s what I’ll investigate in Getting Things Sewn.

I will  sew individual garments, buy ready-to-wear, and create outfits for myself.  I want to be sure this chart works for others, too.  I’ll run The Chart through its paces for Jack as well.

I’ll cover every category of Individual and Context in detail not only to clarify and define for myself, but, I hope, for you too.

Also on the docket are editing all my stashes.

A couple of weeks ago I examined every fabric in my stash.  The Chart made this task interesting and enjoyable.  I easily determined which fabrics belonged in my collection and which to let go.  I describe this process here and here.

I will also design my basement sewing space.  I realized recently that I’d never designed my workspace, and it shows.  I’ve let supply storage dominate while allocating no space for some other important tasks.  What if I purposefully addressed workflow and assigned zones in my workspace?  How much more effective and enjoyable could my sewing be?  This year I’ll find out.

So readers, is it easy for you to design and execute your sewing projects, or do you have stumbling blocks?  Do you have many unfinished projects?  If yes, do you know why?  I’m very curious to know.

The Who and the Why

There once was a sewer who underwent pain
Whenever she entered her sewing domain.

What met her were unfinished projects on racks
And patterns and fabrics in stacks upon stacks.

IMG_1614 (350x263)

When will these beauties ever get sewn?

Of buttons and books she had in such plenty
Her mind was embarked on the road to dementy.


Are they doomed to stay on their cards?

Now here’s what’s ironic: she was no barbarian;
She’d long earned her bread as a reference librarian,
Selected books, too, in Collection Management!
These transgressions surely would merit her banishment.

Business card

Senior Librarian!

For, who better than she was to cut to the chase,
To research a question in a database,
Or flip through the pages in books with more ease?
Her colleagues all hailed her profound expertise.

A heroine she was to her thousands of patrons,
But alas, in her sewing she’d overlooked maintenance.

Now, mind you, she’d had her fair share of successes,
In tailoring jackets, and coats, and nice dresses,
Stitching luxurious cushions and draperies,


A glorious mix of patterns and colors

And even some occasional naperies.

Threads pubbed her London piece to some acclaim


Best research project ever!

And Reader’s Closet brought no little fame.

So, what was the problem? What restless soul
Within her churned? What was her goal?
She wasn’t sure, and this distressed her,
Thoroughly baffled and depressed her.

She only knew she wanted more
Of something not in any store,
Or on eBay, in books galore,
Or databases by the score.

She yearned to use her ideas and passions
To make yet more beguiling fashions,
And feel the incomparable sense of flow
Whenever she commenced to sew

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book captures that feeling of total engagement in an activity.

And bring more dreams to full fruition:
That seemed to be her life’s ambition.

“It must be time I lack,” she ventured,
“To full-time work am I indentured.

When I have time, I’ll organize
And sort my buttons all by size,
Catalogue each fabric and pattern!
No one will dare call me a slattern!”

“When I have time…” she promised herself–
And sadly replaced her dreams on the shelf.

She stayed in this mistaken vein
To purposefully check the pain
Or tell herself it “didn’t matter,”
And other idle, senseless chatter.

The truth remained: she yearned and yearned.
Her dreams in multitudes still burned
To be expressed more than before–
For she was an…ideaphore!

Johnson O'Connor test results

A high score in ideaphoria (flow of ideas)! Now what?

Johnson O’Connor so declarified.
From hours of aptitude testing they verified
She was a fire hose of notions
And threatened to produce commotions
If she’d no outlets for her talents.
Her happiness hung in the balance.

“Moreover,” said the tester, “She
Has a subjective personality.
Which means that she’s a stubborn dame
And managing others just isn’t her game.

She scores high in dexterity,


She scored high in both dexterity tests.

And language is her cup of tea.
Communication is her theme;
She’s passionate in the extreme.

Her life’s egg’s scrambled, not hb,
Which means she integrates, you see.
Her life’s not compartmentalized;
Her library’s not departmentalized.

Her foresight score is high, and so
She needs a mission, a row to hoe,
And seeds of dreams to ever sow.”
Thus spake the tester at Johnson O’.

Once this sewer heard this news
And heard her husband say “It’s true!”
She knew, she knew, she knew, she knew
Her hero’s quest would start anew.

Although her path lacked clarity,
Her ideas and dexterity
And foresight and communication
Combined would serve as her salvation.

Experienced in research and selection,
She’d chart herself a new direction.


Her heavily used copy of Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star

She wouldn’t simply organize,
But use her skills to synthesize
Each part of life into a whole:
This was her overarching goal.

Returning to her sewing space,
She felt a surging sense of grace.
And, exercising every day
In view of her fabrics, her mind would play,

Scheming how to assemble clothes
That matched personality, body and roles,
Occasions, activities, weather conditions,
Personal and professional ambitions,
Silhouette, style, best colors, and moods,
And what she was moving–and growing–into.

And then how to put all the clothes together
Into her own wardrobe, like birds of a feather,

And how to plan ready-to-wear selecting,
Fabric- and pattern- and button-collecting,
To gather together all that’s inspiring
To sew the joys of her desiring.

And then her workspace could be designed
To create the wardrobe she had in mind.

Each piece of the puzzle had found its place,
Linked to each other, not floating in space.


How to design a wardrobe? Could this chart solve the puzzle?

And the basis, she saw, of this model she wrought
Was the who and the why, as well they ought.

Sewing books deal with the what and the how,


What to sew? How to sew it? Look here!

And magazines handle whatever’s hot now.

But sewers must figure the why and the who
If unto themselves they resolve to be true.

And as she burnished this microcosm,
Her happiness began to blossom.

Long story short: she chose to leave
Her line of work, though it made her grieve.
She talked to her bosses and colleagues sublime,
Then checked off the box on the form: “I resign.”

HR called and informed her, “You cannot resign.
You must do all the papers again and re-sign!”

And so it came to pass that she
Became a library retiree.

And quickly she learned ’twas not time that she lacked,
So much as the knowledge and courage to act.

Finishing projects isn’t enough
To show to the world your very best stuff.
And it’s not loss of money, or fabric, or time,
But wasted potential’s the ultimate crime.

So now it’s her mission to test and to test
Her model until she can make it its best
And from her diligent application
Encourage a Getting Things Sewn nation!

Readers, that sewer–’twas I, have you guessed?
And by my verses were you impressed?
If so, would you join me, my blog posts peruse:

Girl, situation, jeopardy:
Hilarity ensues.