The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Consider the Stash
One of the first things that happened when I started to make quilts was that I began to actively grow and maintain a fabric stash. I didn’t set out to do it; the growth of my stash was a naturally occurring process. Many of you will see your own experience in mine.
I have met women who rent storage lockers for their stash. Why not just open a shop? Image: Wikipedia.My stash grew concurrently with the quilts I made because when I bought fabric for a quilt, I did not buy the absolute exact precise amount of fabric needed for my quilt and nothing more.
I’m lucky that I didn’t have to watch my pennies quite that hard and don’t today, though my stash isn’t growing as much right now (more on that later.) When I was really building the stash, it happened quilt by quilt. I’d plan out my quilt, hit the quilt shop, and buy a bit of extra yardage in case of errors. If I didn’t make any, that extra fabric went into the stash.
Sometimes, I’d pick up a few fat quarters I thought I might use but then, when I didn’t use them, that fabric was stashed. There were other, more intentional additions; I definitely bought a little of this or a little of that when I could, simply because I couldn’t resist.
Because I am a big quilt nerd and am between boyfriends right now, I spent last Saturday night reading a very interesting article about fabric stashes. The piece, My Collection is Bigger Than Yours: Tales from the Handcrafter’s Stash
by Marybeth C. Stalp and Theresa M. Winge, was published in 2008 in The Journal of Architecture, Design and Domestic Space. I found it while searching for another extremely nerdy article about early chintz quilts in New Jersey. (I told you: between boyfriends.)
The authors talked with 44 people “who consider themselves handcrafters and practice their handcrafts regularly throughout the year.” The folks were between 20 and 70 years old and had been making things (textiles, mostly) for anywhere between two and more than 50 years. It’s important to mention that 97% of the people who Stalp and Winge spoke to said yes, they had a stash.
Where there are clearance bins, there are stash additions. Image: Wikipedia.
The study examined various areas of the stash, such as what a handcrafter’s stash means to a maker, how she uses her stash, why she may feel guilty about the size or scope of the stash, why the word “stash” is used at all, since a “stash” is a word that often refers to secret stores of illicit stuff, and all kinds of interesting data was presented.
But what was most interesting to me in the piece was the idea offered that a handcrafter’s stash is arguably a creation as thoughtful, personal, unique as the objects the handcrafter makes from the materials themselves.
In other words, if you have a stash, you made something. You’re still making it. If you have a stash, you have created, fabric by fabric (in the case of quilters) a physical manifestation of your style, your approach, your world. Stash as painting. Stash as symphony. Stash as quilt.
This was a very cool idea to me, this idea that my fabric stash isn’t just a weigh station or some kind of holding pen for a quilt to come later, but a stand-alone creation, something that has my fingerprints all over it—kind of like the quilts I make using the material that makes up the stash! When I think about my stash that way, I have this new sense of pride about it.
She made this. But she also made the stash that facilitated the making of this. Cool, right? Image: Wikipedia.
Because I, like some of you, have a tiny bit of guilt about my fabric stash. I know, I know: We’re not supposed to feel guilty about our love of fabric and quilting and how we are “addicted” to buying fabric. We are definitely not supposed to “hide” or “sneak” our latest material joys from our family or spouses. This last is something the article examines in depth because it definitely is still a thing that happens. However, I did a little qualitative study of my own and asked three avid quilters if they had ever done this and the answer was a resounding, “Are you kidding me?? Heck no!” I don’t know if this is something that has changed since the article appeared, but I hope not?
Anyhow, I don’t have a spouse so I needn’t hide fabric from him. That’s settled. But sometimes, when going to fetch my suitcase for yet another trip, I do look into the closet where I have my fabric and think, “Fons? This is…weird.” It’s probably because I haven’t been making as many quilts these days, due to work and needing to find a boyfriend.
But I will make quilts. I always will. And just as a painter needs paint, so does a quilter need her fabric. And each fabric is a memory. And each fabric is an idea. And each fabric was brought into my home, by me, for a reason. I made my stash. And my stash is just the beginning.