There is a delicate balance for quilters, between doing what we love because we love it, and doing what we love because we are obligated.
It seemed like just an ordinary day. Ok, maybe it’s your birthday. Heck, maybe it’s only Thursday. In any case, this unexpected….package…shows up at your door. You didn’t order anything.
You suspiciously eye the layer of packing tape that has encrusted what you’re pretty sure was once a cardboard box. Being ever so careful, you saw through it with the nearest razor blade, and little by little, the mystery–and the gift–starts to unfold.
It’s something made of fabric.
Hot pink and zebra print fabric, to be exact. It’s not awful–at least, it wouldn’t be if you were a 12-year-old girl….other than, perhaps, yourself at twelve years old…
As you pull it out of the packaging, you realize….someone has given you a quilt.
You don’t understand. How did this happen? WHY did this happen? And what could possibly be an appropriate response?
Chances are, you are the loved one of a creative person. Many people might receive such a gift from an aunt or grandmother, or in some cases a distant cousin or friend. (If the gifter was your Mother, I certainly hope this doesn’t need to be explained to you.)
In any case, what you have received, whether it is spot-on, or a million miles away from being, exactly, “you,” is a gift of love. It may not feel like it right now, but allow me to explain.
Today, quilting is big–among quilters. Everyone else is in varying strata around the quilters, ranging in levels of understanding from “I totally get it!” to….”So….why on earth would you cut fabric apart and….and…and….sew it back together?” Like many creative endeavors, but maybe in some ways, more so–quilting quickly becomes an obsession. Almost an addiction. It’s visual, it’s tactile, and it’s a way to create things–lots of them–all different, all with your own personal stamp, and all over the country and world. It’s hard to explain if you’re not involved. But, once you’re a quilter, it’s all you want to do.
So, let’s tie this affront to your eyeballs back to where it came from.
First, the quilter has an innate desire–a NEED–to create, and spends plenty of time doing it. She also does not have unlimited storage space where she can hang onto her work for the rest of her natural life. That said, a quilt takes a good amount of time and monetary investment to create. You were chosen as a recipient NOT because you “didn’t have one yet.” If you have received a handmade gift from its maker, you are very special to that person, and are considered worthy of such an investment of time. Most quilters know and love a lot more people than they ever have the resources to make a gift for–even in their lifetimes. Often, they do this kind of work for hire, which limits their “recreational quilting” even further.
“Seriously though….can you at least explain the zebra print?!?”
When someone sets out to make you a quilt, they do it with you in mind, start to finish. A lime green scrap in the border might remind her of the dress you wore to prom in high school. The zebra print was included because it kind of looks like that fuzzy thing hanging from the rearview mirror in your car. The violet section in the middle is there because she remembers how much you love purple, and while she was stitching it, she thought about how Halloween is your favorite holiday, and wonders which haunted houses you’ll be hitting this year–if she doesn’t already know.
She remembers the decor in your living room, and thinks of how well the chosen color scheme will go with it. She added that wine bottle print to the backing knowing how much you love a good Cabernet, and thinking about how much this gift will lift your spirits to receive while your new husband is overseas. While she’s sprawled out on the floor, pinning the top, batting, and backing together, she is thinking about that four-hour dinner you had at Chili’s when you first became friends.
Making a quilt for someone is not just work of the hands, but of the mind. Whether or not it actually shows in the piecing or fabric choices, this was a journey for the quilter, and one she took with you. She is now handing it over into your care, and hoping that you’ll understand this is the best way she can give herself to you in her physical absence.
Quilting sometimes becomes the language at which the creator is her most articulate. It isn’t meant to create any sort of obligation for you, (if you boiled it down to dollars and cents, it could be the most “expensive” gift you’ll ever receive), but more an expression of gratitude. A quilt made especially for you may just be the quilter’s way of thanking you for your presence in her life, and letting you know that who you are, and what you are or have been to her is valued…nothing more or less complicated than that.
If you’re like me, you have more fabric than you will ever be able to use, perhaps more than your grandchildren will be able to use. How do you tame this beastly hoard without driving yourself to drink?
(Good news—you can totally drink while you do this. You won’t be driving anywhere for a while.)
Everyone’s situation is going to be different. But I’m going to address this as if we all have a completely disorganized truckload of fabric tucked into corners of our houses, invisible to the naked eye. (Like the picture–ha!)
If we were to approach this like a home organization show, we’d be laying three tarps out in the yard and throwing every piece of fabric we find into one of three piles: KEEP, DONATE, TRASH. But like you, I don’t want my fabric on my lawn, susceptible to sun exposure and available to be swiped by the neighbor-lady closet quilter who thinks (probably correctly) that I’ll never miss it.
So, I’ll just tell you what I did.
What we all so endearingly refer to as a “stash,” (something you hide from others in shame) is really more of a “collection,” isn’t it? For many of us, it is begun, cultivated, grown, and curated over years, partly out of love, partly out of unhealthy obsession. How many hundreds of quilt shop trips, and hours spent online searching for the perfect yardage of the perfect print, in the perfect color, how many impulse buys, wonder-whys, and “I-love-it-too-much-to-cut-into-its” are lurking in the corners of your sewing room? We hide them away, to be discovered once again in a later year–by us, if we’re lucky! Why should we deprive ourselves of the joy we felt the first time we brought that remnant home from the fabric store? The visual and tactile pleasures given us by our fabric are renewable–if we were to only partake of the fabric we already have.
This inner monologue led me to realize that I need to see my fabric….and preferably not in a giant heap.
I saw a picture shared on the Sewing Center of Cheyenne’s Facebook page of a bookshelf full of large and small fabric bolts. It was well-organized, color-coordinated, and as much fun to look at as all the fabric lined up in a fabric store. (That’s how they get you, you know!) This requires each piece of fabric to be folded or stored in a somewhat uniform presentation, which differs a lot from having a big bin full of…some rolled remnants, some fat quarters, some huge folded yardages that I just couldn’t pass up….
By the way, fat quarters are a whole other story. So let’s start with taming those yardages.
I kind of consider anything that is WOF x 1/3 yd or larger to be “yardage.” Even if the dimensions are a little weird, as long as they’re not a “fat” anything, this system will work.
After seeing that fabric could look just as lovely arranged on a shelf in my home as it does at that sneaky fabric store, I started to research fabric bolts. I found that fabric stores are happy to give you the empties, free of charge, because they are just going to throw them away anyway. But there were some problems with this.
- Most of my fabric was in smaller cuts than would fit on a bolt
- Bolts are big and bulky and take up a lot of room
- Fabric bolts are not acid-free and can eventually cause your fabric to discolor. They’re meant for short-term storage.
- I would need, like, 45 million bolts if I wanted to display each fabric separately. And I still have decades of quilting and accumulation ahead of me. Sooooo……..
As alternatives to space-hogging, fabric-rotting bolts (which are a perfectly acceptable solution if they work for you, by the way,) I found these options. They are both rigid plastic “bolts” of uniform size.
Bulk prices: 10” x 14” = $1.75/ea, 5” x 14” = $1.12/ea, 7” x 10 ½” = $1.30/ea
11 ¾” x 7 ½” $1.36/ea, 6 3/8” x 4” $0.98/ea
These types of bolts are nice for a few reasons. They are stiff, like a regular fabric bolt, and hold their shape on the shelf. Because they are molded plastic, they often also have built-in clips of some kind to hold the ends of your fabric, so no pins are needed to secure. They do look lovely when stacked on end on a bookshelf.
These, however, were not a good solution for me, due to budgetary constraints. So as I was pondering this, a third, much less expensive option was presented to me. Acid free comic book boards. They are made for archiving and protecting comic books, and are meant to be used with plastic bags for that purpose. They come in several very specific sizes. They are the weight of heavy tagboard, and are admittedly flimsier than the solid plastic options offered above. They come in packages of 100 for an average of $20. (Smaller sizes are cheaper.)
- Regular – 6 7/8” x 10 ½”
- Current – 6.8” x 10.5”
- Silver – 7” x 10 ½”
- Golden Age – 7 ½” x 10 ½”
- Magazine – 8.5” x 11”
- Life Magazine – 10 7/8” x 14 7/8”
Depending on which bolt option you choose, you will roll your fabric differently. I use the Current comic book boards for anything 2 yds down to 1/3 yard, and the Life Magazine size for greater yardages.
To do this, I use a cleared-off end of my dining room table and do a few at a time as I have time during the day. It goes pretty fast. Before I started this, my fabric was stored in piles, bins and boxes, where I couldn’t see it or remember what I had. But fair warning—now that I can see it, so can my husband. But that’s probably a good thing. (It’s much easier to explain a purple deficiency in my stash when it’s all out in the open and blatantly obvious.) (Like that would ever happen….)
These instructions assume that your fabric is already folded lengthwise in half, like it came off the bolt at the fabric store.
For 1/3-3/4 yard cuts:
Fold fabric crosswise twice (with the selvage edge toward you, fold from the right and left) into a strip about 8” wide. Roll from selvage edge onto small comic book board. Secure with paper clips.
For 3/4-2 yard cuts:
Fold the lengthwise into thirds. Roll onto the smaller comic book board, tucking the end under to create a folded end. Secure with paper clips.
For 2-yard cuts and greater:
Fold fabric lengthwise in half. Roll onto Life Magazine board and secure with paper clips.
Comic Boards are nice because you can also write on them. Suggested information to keep track of:
- Yardage on the bolt
- Fabric manufacturer
- Year purchased (if you start doing this as you buy fabric)
- Fabric collection name
- Fabric number
Some online sellers will ship your fabric with a label attached containing some of this information. In those cases, you can just transfer the label right to the board. Talk about easy!
Another favorite method, if you don’t want to store the fabrics on-end, like they are on bolts, is to flat-fold them around a 6” quilting ruler. If you already have the ruler, this idea has the bonus of being free! This system would work well if you have wire shelving, as you can stack the flat folds, rather than turning them on edge like you can on the bolts. When your fabrics are stacked, you can insert a long quilting ruler above the piece you’d like to retreive, then lift the fabrics above it away, so you can pull it out without messing up your nicely folded fabrics.
If you choose to roll your fabric using one of these methods, you can decide as you go what to do with the pieces you come across. You can make the “Toss” and “Donate” piles now, and roll only the fabrics you like and want to keep.
If you’re so ambitious as to roll your entire stash as a first step, it makes weeding things out later easier as well. Once you can see it all, you get some idea which fabrics you really love, and which you’re willing to part with. You can then:
- Organize a fabric swap among friends
- Sell your less-desirable pieces on eBay
- Set up a craft supply garage sale, and the merchandising is a breeze.
Also, it’s totally ok to throw out thin, worn or ugly fabric. If it’s low-quality and you can’t bring yourself to put your time into it, maybe no one else should either. These fabrics can also be used by animal shelters to stuff dog beds, if you just can’t bear the thought of throwing it away.
Managing fat quarters and quarter-yards:
If you like the “fabric bolt” approach, you can flat-fold your fat quarters with similar results.
I fold them in sixteenths—always folding the short edges to meet in the center. When you’re done, you have a rectangle that is about 4 ½” x 5 ½”, with one long, solid, folded edge. Many quilt shops already fold fat quarters this way, which was part of the reason I chose this method.
If you have the budget for it, fat quarters display nicely in a media tower meant for CDs and DVDs, though the tower may not come with as many shelves as you could use for this purpose. If this happens, the bottom of the tower is a great place to store full-line fat quarter bundles.
For fabric of other dimensions, like regular quarter-yards, you can fold them into similar-sized rectangles that will display right next to your fat quarters. They can also be stored on separate shelves if you prefer to know that the cuts are different without unfolding them.
On completion of a project, I evaluate my remaining fabric and do the following:
- Store yardage of 1/3 yd or greater on a “bolt”
- Put remaining scraps in a pile or bag and give them to a scrap quilter, OR
- Cut scraps into manageable sizes—choose a size palette that “plays well together” and works for you. I use the following, but some people like to be consistent with available store-bought precuts of 5” and 10” squares, and 2 ½” strips
- 2 ½” strips
- Other-width strips, depending on the scrap (3”, 2”, or 1 ½”, usually)
- 10 ½” squares (alternative to keeping narrow yardage)
- 8 ½” squares, 6 ½” squares, 4 ½” squares, 2 ½” squares
- You can then either make a variety of scrap quilts, or sell groups of strips or squares on eBay or Etsy.
- And, believe it or not, it’s not illegal to just toss them. Don’t hang onto them if you’re not going to use them. Some fabrics from the 70s should have stayed there…because they’re just not coming back.
That said, some hideous, dated, strangely-colored fabrics from the toss pile might look great in a scrap quilt!