Thursday, 15 March 2018

Busting My Stash. No, Really. I Mean it This Time.

(image source: Time To Sew)

In my recent post about the unsustainability of sewing, I made the argument that it would be difficult to describe sewing as a sustainable activity, and certainly not the most sustainable way to dress ourselves. However, I did go on to list a number of ways in which us sewers/sewists could make sewing more sustainable. Essentially, all of the ideas I came up with lead towards the goal of making clothes that should last you for years because, A) they fit you perfectly and, B) are styles you love to wear that fit with your lifestyle.

But in writing that post, I forgot to discuss something else that thankfully the ever-awesome Sarah from Fabric Tragic brought up in the comments: the over consumption and hoarding of fabric. I'm pretty embarrassed to have forgotten to include that topic in my post as it's something I think about A LOT. Like, A LOT.

Currently on Instagram there's a hashtag/call to arms doing the rounds called #makeyourstash. It was started by @timetosew and @pilar_bear to encourage sewers to use a piece of fabric that has been in their stash for 6 months or more. They are publishing some accompanying blog posts and initiating stash-related discussions on IG, including recently asking 'what's your ideal stash?'. I think it is a fantastic and worthwhile idea, and by the looks of things, they have already encouraged a lot of people to make stuff from what they already own. Trying to encourage other members of the sewing community to use their fabric stash is not a new idea of course (and I'm not suggesting that the creators of this one think that it is); there's been a whole host of stash busting initiatives within the sewing community over the years. I even made my own silly little logo a squillion years ago in an attempt to encourage people to bust their stash. But I'm grateful to Kate and Pilar for taking up this mantle again, and doing so with a fresh and accessible approach. I think these are important things to think about and discuss.

So what's so bad about having a large fabric stash? Personally, I feel the over consumption of fabric is as damaging as the over consumption of any other manufactured thing. The environment is being irreversibly screwed over, in part because those of us in developed countries can't seem to quench our thirst for new stuff. We've got to slow down in all areas of our consumption, including the fabric us sewers/sewists are secretly, or not so secretly, hoarding.

Me? I've got a sizeable stash just like almost everyone else in the sewing community and to me it feels like an uncomfortable amount to own. I'm definitely not sitting here having figured it all out, but I am finally starting to take some steps towards getting my fabric stash under control, and therefore more representative of how I am trying to consume stuff in other areas of my life. So, what am I doing about it?

  • First up, I'm being honest. Towards the end of last year I pulled all my fabric out (again), refolded it (again), and counted what's there. At that time I had about 80 pieces of fabric and about 20-30 refashionable secondhand garments, plus I've already purged my stash of anything I don't like or can't see myself using. Gulp. 
  • I've arranged my stash so that it's easily accessible and (mostly) all in one place. Shortly after we moved into this flat about 18 months ago, I got a handyman to come round and build me an extra shelf in our airing cupboard for it to live on. I sorted everything into three sections: wovens, knits and refashionable garments (plus a carrier bag full of lining fabrics and pieces destined for toiling). Now everything is more or less eye level and I can see what's in there with ease. I can remember what I already have more easily because I've seen most of it recently. I must admit that my scraps-and-small-pieces tubs are currently in another room, but once my main stash gets whittled down a bit, I want to put those tubs on that shelf too. 
  • I'm only buying/acquiring fabric if I am sure what type of garment (and very often which  precise sewing pattern) I want to make with it. A stash busting purist would probably put themselves on a total No New Fabric ban, but I know that that approach would leave me feeling frustrated and uninspired, which is the opposite of how sewing is meant to feel and would negate sewing's benefits to mental health. I did a bit of a personal style-180 a couple of years ago, and without making any additions to my stash, I wouldn't have been able to re-stock my wardrobe with clothes that represent who I am nowadays. 
  • Noting down the potential fabric/pattern pairings I've come up with has been essential for getting those garments out of my brain and into reality. Some people use apps like Cora and Evernote or even spreadsheet files to keep track of their stashes. Personally, I have a simple list on my phone which I look at, add to and edit pretty regularly. With a pool of potential projects lined up, it's fun to take a peek and decide which I'm most excited to tackle next, or which garment I'd like to have available to wear the soonest. 
  • I like a challenge to give me some momentum, and whilst I DO NOT condone rush sewing or sewing just to use up stash, I have been committed to using up one piece of fabric per week for about 20 weeks now. This idea might horrify some sewers, but I promise that I'm only making things that I really want to wear (or want my children to have) and I'm not skipping on careful project planning and the other steps that will up my chances at creating a successful and long-living garment. 

I'm confident that, even if my current well of sewing time dries up a bit, I'm on track to get my stash to a size and state that I'm much happier with within a year or so. What about you? Are you happy with your stash as it is? Have you tried, or are you currently trying, to implement ways to reduce it? Or does that sound absurd or counter-productive to you? I'd love to hear your fabric stash-related thoughts.


Judithrosalind said...

Another great and honest post. I am following the #makeyourstash discussions with interest. I am embarrassed about my stash for much the same reasons as you. I've had a big sort out and have used index cards wh swatch of fabric, amount and ideas for makes. ...or whether I should pass on to someone who is more likely to use the fabric. I can have the index cards on my person. ..and can refer to them easily. .Matching fabrics against each other and against patterns (see my instagram from a couple of weeks ago). I am slowly getting there. Amd like you I am buying for specific projects only. ..making more thoughtfully. .

bbarna said...

Love the blog. As a gramma, I sew for myself, my adult children and 10 stash has gone from being enormous, to being ridiculous. Add to that, my dear sister, also a sewer and a quilter, passed away in January and left her enormous stash to me in her will. I have spent the last two months sorting, purging and organizing mountains of fabric, quilting fabric, yarn and patterns. Even though I have given a decent amount away, I am still surrounded by fabric. I guess my point is many of us have far more that we can reasonably use in our lifetime (first world problem, I know), so we should deal with it. I sometimes find myself creatively blocked when I have too much choice, so paring down seems like a great idea. I hope I can get a handle on this before my time comes, as I don't want any family member to have to deal with what I have in the last few is overwhelming. A cautionary tale perhaps, but true for many of us sewers and crafters. Take care and happy sewing
Barb from Canada

Philippa said...

Oh my. This is something I think about a lot too. Both fabrics and patterns. The last three years I have been retraining for a different career and haven’t had much time to sew, instead I have been stash building. (Fantasy sewing!) All second hand pieces, but still. I have recently culled my pattern stash, selling patterns I know I will no longer make. Culling the fabric stash all at once seems like too much. How I am doing it is a box at a time, every time I take out a piece of fabric to sew I go through the box that bit came out of (they are arranged by fabric type). Most of my fabrics so far I really like and have plans for, so that feels OK. But I am making a real effort to use every last bit of a fabric at the time I sew it, while the overlocker and machine are still threaded in that colour. This is going well and I am happy to say I am almost ready to return to blogging too. My overall aim? I don’t think stash zero will ever be a reality for someone like me, who buys secondhand fabric when I see it, but I want to get very close, maybe two or three small boxes, and I think this is totally achieveable. My main motivation is that it will look tidier, and also I prefer to wear my fabrics rather than have them folded away where I can’t see them. Good luck with the stash bust!!

PsychicSewerKathleen said...

I remember listening to Sandra Betzina on a podcast once saying she had NO stash. Ever since she began sewing as a teen, her father told her, one pattern, one piece of fabric to make it up. On to the next once that one is completed. That's the way it has to be. She did that and she said that's the way she's always operated so she has no stash. I was stunned.

I have a ridiculous amount of fabric in my stash too and characteristically I'm anything BUT a collector of anything. For years I've lived by the motto that one thing comes into the house, one thing must leave. I refuse to move to bigger and bigger places to accommodate my stuff. UNTIL my return to sewing 2 years ago and crash. I've pondered this a lot as I'm sure many sewists have. Is it because fabric is like our paints (art supplies) and you need to have lots of options nearby? Is it because I got so used to wearing RTW - oh I like that, buy it, wear it - whereas with sewing there is an extended lead time before you can wear it - oh I like that, buy it, plan, fit, practice, make, THEN finally wear it? In the meantime 50 patterns and meters of fabric have arrived! All that, "oh I like that"... Accumulates while we're making! It's crazy. I promised myself that 2018 would see this behaviour STOP but I'm still buying patterns and fabric! Not as much to be sure - but still I have 100 patterns easily waiting to be made up I certainly don't need more. I'm hoping at some point I'm going to stop. As does my husband who is getting mildly alarmed as my fabric finds it's way into all sorts of places including his :(

KS_Sews (Dressmakingbacles) said...

First, why do we credit people with "creating" an ongoing, ever-present movement/idea/etc because they started a hashtag that then became popular? /rant off

I do not mind having a fabric stash because of how *I* sew. Also, I live in a climate with weather extremes so I have very distinct winter and summer clothes for work and "play" and my stash reflects that.

Now, I do have moments where I'm completely overwhelmed by my stash and that makes me more mindful of future acquisitions. I just culled 3 bags of fabric (grocery store sized bags) and this year I've (technically) added 20 yards and sewed 32.75 yards. More importantly, for me, is that I bought the first 7 with future plans (3 yards have been sewn now) and another 3 yards that was used immediately. So of that first 10, I've sewn 6. The other 4 is planned for April. The next 10 yards I plan to sew 8 yards of within the next ~30 days. I feel much better about this type of acquisition than just buying fabric I think I like.

I'm taking a trip to NYC/PA an will visit the garment district and Fabric Mart Fabrics. I am terribly excited. I have made a list of wardrobe holes, things that need replacing, and garments I want to make, to focus my purchases.

Also, (perhaps the most exciting?) my almost 20 year old has asked me to teach her to sew. I plan to do so this summer/after the semester ends. That ought to clear some stash! :-D

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

So hard! I just LOVE fabric. well, I love the ones that I love. And I've destashed so many times, pretty much everything in my stash now is stuff I love, stuff I know is genuinely useful, or both. And I still have four tall cupboards full of it. :(
My big prob is time and energy - I don't sew much these days anyway as having it be part of my day to day business makes it a bit of a chore, although I have noticed that when i get upstairs into the studio, I am very content.

Stephanie - Siouxzeegirl Designs said...

A great discussion! I may be one of the outliers here... I love my current fabric collection! A couple years ago I decided to get rid -of or pass on and donate any fabric that was no longer my taste and of lesser quality. (there were quite a few very large bags that were taking up valuable space!) The type of fabric that some of us sewers get sucked into buying! Big sales and things like that and those fabrics that you stand scratching your head and wondering why you have 10 yards of ... Insert any crazy fabric!
I do not have any problem having a well curated fabric collection :) I do have a lot of fabric and I try not to over purchase, not always successful in holding back. My fabric collection makes me quite happy and every time I open my closet and look at my beautiful fabric I have so many lovely ideas dancing through my head. The possibilities are endless.

embees said...

With the discovery of online fabric shopping, my buying habits definitely shifted toward buying "on spec" for a few years. I'm fortunate to have a dedicated sewing space so ending up with shelves and bins worth didn't inconvenience anyone but me (ahem). But I've come to realize that there will always be more fabric - if I don't buy *this* piece, something else interesting will come along. And if I *do* buy *this* piece, and put it in the stash, something else interesting will STILL come along and then what do I do? LOL

My goal for this year is to get - and then keep - my stash at or under 20 pieces of fabric plus a small bin of pieces for linings/pockets/etc. It all fits on a shelf so I can see what I have and let inspiration strike. I started the year at 30-40 pieces, but knew a total buying-ban would just make me resentful and self-sabotage so I'm "earning" a yard of fabric for every two that I use/donate/etc. That's worked really well to shrink steadily, and I'll switch over to a 1:1 ratio (more or less) once I'm at/under 20 - probably within this month.

Fabric Tragic said...

I’m impressed I could make such a lucid comment back then, lol! Yes stash accumulation is a hard one to reconcile, and I’m no different, with an enormous but very loved stash of my own. I get around it by buying with a garment in mind most of the time, and buying excellent quality fabrics. It might sound like an excuse but it’s my only weakness and makes me happy so I am comfortable with it most of the time!

Maria said...

You know, zoe, I actually did put myself on a no-new-fabric ban, and I was very surprised that I sewed more than before. Nor buying new fabric helped me not getting sidetracked. I think we can all relate to spending to much time on pinterest instead of behind the sewing machine. I enjoyed it so much I continued longer than the year I had planned.

skaapie said...

A very interesting discussion. I've recently moved to the countryside, so can't just pop down to the fabric shop any more. This has helped reduce my stash tremendously. I am also Very mindful of what I buy now. I have three criteria to meet for a new fabric to make it into my cart:
1. I have to LOVE the fabric
2. it has to be good quality and a natural fibre (give or take lycra content).
3. it Must be in a colour that fits my wardrobe.

I spend a lot of time planning my wardrobe and then analysing what I wear most, and this has helped a lot in the type of fabric I buy.

Bracken Crafts- 100 garments said...

To be honest I have a pretty large stash myself, but in my defense, I only buy fabric once a year, which means I have to use what I have and adapt patterns to fit if necessary. I also at the same time buy all my zips, thread, fastenings, interfacing etc at once so one week a year I go shopping ( usually on Ebay and often at auction so some things are very cheap) and thats it. I am flexible with what fabric I buy because of this and take chances on choices which may not appeal to some people because I have only a small amount to spend. What I buy then is all I have to use and there is no extra allowed. I just have to make do. I still have a very large stash but each year it does go down a bit and I am very strict about this. Having said that we have had to board the loft to house my stash of fabric and knitting yarn! I spend half my life, when at home, going up and down a ladder so not the ideal arrangement and it does mean I will strew fabric around the house in several locations while deciding what to make next. I do similar with patterns as well. I buy patterns when there is a sale on and then I am not allowed any more. The only exception is Burda which i find myself buying the odd issue every now and then including cheap back issues when they appear on Ebay. I am trying to get that under control as well, but have not been quite as good there. I do though, make lists of patterns I want on Pinterest so that when a sale comes along and I have the cash I know exactly what I want. Stash busting is a great idea and I am all for it but really I do it all the time. To be productive and save money the only way to sew is to have a reasonable amount of stash. If you don't then it will cost as much as RTW clothing although hopefully be more original and interesting. I sew because I could not afford RTW clothing. When I did not sew I found myself wearing clothing that was old faded and unfashonable and I felt very uncomfortable in it. I had no choice. I also keep all my home sewn clothing for years. I have clothing I made going back to the 1990s! And I still wear it. Gillians rugs idea sounds great as well and I can see you would need to have a stash to do something like that else it would again not be cost effective. I think a stash is not at all a bad thing depending on whether and how you use it. For some of us its the only way to sew. I for example, simply would never buy a pattern and then buy appropriate fabric to make something because it would cost me too much. Stashed fabric allows me the freedom to just keep making things constantly and I am also inventive because if I have zips and no buttons I have to use what I have.

Unknown said...

Here's a bog post about Death Cleaning and the Artist. Quite appropo

We are looking to downsize in a couple of years after retirement and perhaps even relocate countries, which means taking very little. And while I easily resist shopping , fabrics are very hard to resist so that means no fabric store shopping unless I need a dedicated piece and then only that piece. Like some others I do a main shop online buying fabrics for specific patterns. I stay off Pattern Review except for specific queries...that site is very enabling. I do not browse the pattern sites.

I came back to sewing last year and had to impose these rules on myself because I could feel how easily I was going down the "stash" rabbit hole. Shopping and buying can be addictive and I don't want the mental burden, plus fabric production does have serious environmental effects so I want to be a better world citizen.

Lodi said...

Well Zo, I guess my COLLECTION isn't so large considering your 80 pieces! However, I feel confident that my two pieces of Liberty will be used when I feel my skills have been refreshed enough to make 'that' beautiful blouse beautiful inside and out. (I am a bit critical of my own work, so we have that in common!) That being said, what is an airing closet/cupboard? (US, but early years in Scotland without one:) )

Inder-ific said...

Oh yeah, I am feeling this! My stash is MUCH bigger than yours, I'm afraid. And after years of being an unapologetic hoarder, even I am starting to feel like it's bloating and affecting my creativity. So this year I started tracking yards in and yards out in my bullet journal, which has helped me to be a bit more accountable. The goal of this year is to sew more than I buy, but ideally, I'd like to sew a LOT and buy relatively little. I will follow the hashtag on insta for more inspiration. Thanks for your many excellent posts on sustainability - they have been thoughtful and and thought provoking for me, although I'm a long ways from the your minimalist approach.

Kate @timetosew said...

Hi Zoe, interesting to hear your thoughts and I am happy that we think along the same lines. Thank you for sharing your views on overconsumption, a big part of what we wanted #makeyourstash to be is having a holiday from shopping. #makeyourstash is a simple and an old concept (@KS_sews I am not pretending to do anything revolutionary here) but being active participants in the sewing community we felt that as a collective we needed a bit of encouragement to think about overconsumption etc. Personally I also hoard a lot of fabric and I’m not comfortable knowing that my fabric shopping habit has replaced my RTW one. But a secondary issue is that I have too many clothes already so I probbly won’t need to buy any fabric for several years (or do any sewing to be perfectly honest) if my style and needs don’t change. And I’m learning to feel ok with that and find other hobbies etc that make me happy. I’m halfway through writing a piece on fabric shopping and transient happiness and I look forward to the conversation continuing! Thanks again for your post.

Janine said...

I admire you greatly Zo. We sewists can get quite defensive about our fabric stashes/ collections but it is the truth that everyone needs to be mindful of our consumption for the planet and our children and all the other species at the mercy of humans. I love to sew and will not stop but have been very mindful of what I need (vs what I want ) and slowing down the process for the last decade. About 70% of my fabric is secondhand from opshops or others who did not want or use their fabrics so I at least feel pleased about that but have just a bit more than you. In real terms that is about 5 -6 years worth of sewing if I did not buy anything else. As a popular blogger keep up the leadership in inspiring us to be mindful of our environmental responsibilities.

Mother of Reinvention said...

I really liked this post as I have been feeling a bit guilty of my out-of-control fabric buying habits recently, although in my favour most of it is second-hand. No denying it, I have an obscenely enormous stash. It is spread between 2 houses and there are some black bags in the garage as well. I have no idea how much fabric is there but I could probably not sew it all up in a decade. I always buy fabric that I like in charity shops as you never know when you will see it again, along with vintage zips and buttons. People give me fabric too as they know that I have a bit of a habit *cough*. I have even got some of Mum's fabric in my deep stash that's been there for at least 30 years but it is too good to cut into as it is from the 1930's/40s and I am scared to use it. To offset this I am on a RTW fast this year. I haven't bought much clothes-wise for a while and need to replace almost my entire wardrobe so am very slowly trying to sew my way through the fabric mountains. I am a very conscious consumer about everything else but it all goes out the window when I see a pretty pattern or bit of fabric. I do keep all my scraps to recycle into quilts and things but having a stash allows me to sew pretty much anything I want as soon as inspiration strikes. There are no fabric shops nearby. It's not a very good excuse is it? :) Xx

Tasha said...

Have you seen the Stash Less project on The Craft Sessions blog? She's also very honest about her habits and writes very thoughtfully. For myself, I'm in a budget crunch currently which means basically no new fabric. But even without that, I have so much more than enough to sew and be creative with. I'm starting to think about refashioning and upcycling garments as more of a regular part of my sewing, and it feels good!

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Bracken Crafts- 100 garments said...

Thanks for this post because it has seriously made me think!

Since leaving my first comment I have to say I have seriously thought a great deal about this post. My end decision is no, I am not going to cut down my fabric stash. However my pattern buying is going to STOP as in completely cease because I must have several hundered patterns and many are the same or so similar they are not worth what I paid for them. I have serious problem in fact with pattern stashing and paper as well as digital data so my contribution here is to stop collecting patterns and start sewing more. I do not have the physical spae to keep buying patterns. In envelope paper patterns alone I have over 200 and most have never been used. If I gte to be 100 I may never use all I have bought and until today I had no thoughts to stop buying them. Just like fabric tho this is using recourses and ultimately polluting planet earth. I have taken the lead from you and am now not buying any more patterns. I will also try to stop downloading free patterns because my data storage is also becoming a major problem. You can read my take on this here if you want to know more:

Katherine said...

I don't like having a stash, I'll come right out and say it! It gives me all sorts of negative feelings around the amount of money tied up in the fabric and the things I had planned to do which haven't happened. Plus, once it's been there for a while the shine and inspiration which made me buy a new fabric is gone and it's just sitting there staring at me. I've tried and failed to focus on sewing from my stash before, so this time I'm approaching it differently, by really trying to understand my reasons for buying more fabric when I already have a huge amount. The main ones that I've identified are fear of missing out on a limited fabric, and overestimating both the time I have to sew and the amount of sewing I can get done in that time. I can look at each purchase I'm thinking of in view of these triggers and try to see where the new purchase fits in, and whether (on honest reflection) it will end up in a pile not doing anything for a year, except creating negative feelings. I would love to be able to buy for a specific project and make that project up on the spot, while the inspiration is fresh!

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