Tag Archives: fabric

Getting rid of stuff

A parent dies; a child moves out. Time passes and we accumulate things, usually at a faster pace than we rid ourselves of them. And one day we look around and realize we have a problem. In many ways it’s a problem of good fortune, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

The problem is stuff. Well, I take that back. The problem isn’t stuff. It’s what stuff does to our mental and physical spaces. Stuff is in our way.

What spurs you to finally get rid of stuff? A change in circumstances, such as a move, an addition or absence of a family member in the household? A look around in disgust or frustration? How much time do you spend moving things, cleaning around things, pushing through things? How much stuff do you need?

In my prior career, I worked with trust officers in a large bank, which often served as executor or administrator for estates. In that capacity, or as trustee for some of our clients who could no longer take care of their own affairs, the trust officers cleaned out homes. They didn’t physically do the cleaning, but they needed to fully assess the assets and determine where things should go. It could take many days immersed in other people’s stuff. Then they would wash their hands, go home, and get rid of things in their own homes.

A lot of us have dealt with the belongings of parents after their death or move to a nursing home. A lot of us understand the emotions of making those decisions, and the tangles of decisions when multiple family members are involved. In some ways, the trust officers’ job is easy, because they have the luxury of objectivity.

There is a spectrum, of course, of those who keep things. When my dad moved to his last home, a small townhouse, he got rid of everything that wasn’t useful to him, or aesthetically important. Music and artwork he kept. It was easy for him, not a sentimental guy. I am not as far to that end of the spectrum as he was.

But one thing he did keep is a teddy bear, which my son and I had sent to him after his divorce. He’d said one thing he missed was having someone to hold. Son was about 5 at the time, and helped me pick a teddy for my dad.

When Dad was in the hospital for the last time (dying from lymphoma), we went to his townhouse and saw there, on his bed, was the teddy bear.

That bear lives with us now, and is not a thing I would give away, either.

Aside from a few things like that, I’m not very nostalgic for things. Scrapbooking, photo albums, boxes full of sentimental items – that’s just not me. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of five children born in quick succession. Most of my clothes and toys when I was a kid were hand-me-downs. By the time I was done using it, it was used up and went away. And mostly I didn’t have a sense of anything being just mine, so I’m not very possessive that way. It makes it easy to get rid of things.

As a quilter, I do have fabric. Some quilters have rooms full of fabric, garages, basements, extra sheds, full of fabric. Compared to many quilters I know, I don’t have a lot. All of it fits in the top of one TV armoire, neatly separated into plastic bins by color. When bins are overflowing, when there is too much fabric to fit, I feel uneasy, as if I need to get busy, sew more, use more, justify the possession of such wealth. I do use it, but I can’t shake the feeling that my inflow of new fabrics shouldn’t be more, on average, than what I use.

I do not want to die with a room full of fabric that should have been quilts instead. I’ve heard too many stories of women who die, whose relatives end up taking all that cloth to the dump. That’s not just a waste of money – at $10 a yard or so, quilting fabric is expensive! It’s also a waste of opportunity.

But fabric isn’t the only issue, is it? As you look around, what do you see that would baffle your heirs? Is it the secret stash of plastic grocery bags, more than enough to cover your city in plastic? The glass jars with lids, which are never used again? The books falling from every surface, ones you’re no longer attached to for the content, but just can’t seem to part with? A closet full of clothes that no one will wear again? The full contents of your parents’ house?

Stuff. Everyone has it. No one knows what to do with it.

Generally, there are three things to do with stuff, besides just keep it. Throw it away, give it away, or sell it. That sounds simple, yes? Of course it isn’t always.

Click here for ideas of where to offload your stuff.


My stash is NOT making me happy

by Melanie in IA

Quilters love fabric. Some quilters love fabric so much, they buy more of it than they will ever use. There is a great yahoo group called “Stashbusters,” devoted to helping quilters push through their stash and their projects. A local shop has a Sunday group called “SABLE,” or “stash acquired beyond lifetime expectancy.”

I don’t have too much stash. My stash problem is of a different sort. More about that in a minute.

Where or when did you develop your love of fabric?  My love comes from my mother. My mother could make anything. With a very limited budget and five young children, she sewed, built and refinished furniture, upholstered, painted rooms, rewired lamps, and generally did anything she could to create a comfortable home for us. When I was little, she made dresses for my sisters and me. When we were married, she made the bridesmaids’ dresses. She paid a lot of bills doing alterations and custom sewing, and for several years, she made costumes for community theatre productions.

Her creativity was well suited for costume-making. I remember shopping expeditions to find fabrics. How many little girls can identify moiré satins and taffetas and brocades, twills and crepes and organzas? We spent a lot of time feeling the fabrics, as that was part of how she could tell how well it would drape, how it would reflect the stage lights, and how rich or poor the character would look.

I still love fabric. I still go to the stores and fondle the bolts, unroll a yard or more to check the drape, stand back to “ooh” and “aah” over the beautiful colors and patterns. I sort through my own small stash before beginning each project, and I enjoy touching each piece.

Sewing From Stash

Some people account for yardage purchased and yardage used, letting them know just how much they have in “inventory.” I’ve never done that, but I do have ONE cabinet in which my fabric lives. (All of my quilting stash is in the top of it.) I can tell when the cabinet is getting fuller and emptier. Unlike Old Mother Hubbard, my cabinet is far from bare. But the bins are getting a little lighter.

One of the things I love about sewing from stash is the push to greater creativity. Figuring out how to make things go together, what blocks I have yardage to make, whether they’ll need to be scrappy or not, are all creative decisions that are different when sewing from stash than when buying new yardage. Scrappy quilts make great use of stash, with small amounts cut from many fabrics. Other projects, though, call for more cohesion in color or pattern, making it hard to quilt from stash.

Quilters love fabric. Some are fabric collectors, seeking out new treasures wherever they go and building a stash that would last several lifetimes. Others buy only enough for the project at hand. It’s likely there is a happy medium.

And when you keep your stash fairly small as I do, occasionally  you need some major stash replenishment.

Is your stash making you happy?
Recently I read an essay that suggested thinking about the kind of fabric you used when you started quilting, what you are using now, and what you would like to use as your art develops. Then over time, deliberately move your stash toward the art you want to make. What should you do with the “old” stash?  Use it, sell it, or give it away. Free yourself from caring for things you no longer need. Remove reminders of projects you know you will never make, and the guilt that goes with seeing them all the time. Reduce the time it takes to dig through stacks of fabric you don’t even like. Allow your creativity to expand when you are not weighed down sorting, folding, and storing the old stash. When you are no longer moving around the old, you will have time and space to try something new.

My stash is NOT making me happy.
I have the wrong stuff.

I’ve especially noticed the problem with my reds and greens, the two colors I use most. Over the last couple of years, my reds have devolved  to the point that they are all the same — there is little variety. They are RED, some red with fine designs, some red on red, some just red. But they are RED. Not enough variety.

The same problem exists in a somewhat different way with my greens. I actually have two bins of green, one of light greens and one of dark greens. Even so, there is not enough variety.

When I want to choose from my color palette, I don’t have enough to choose from, and it’s hard to make my quilts feel fresh and interesting. I want to continue to evolve in how I used color and shape, but my limited stash is making that harder to do.

Shopping for stash.
Though I do buy fabric just for stash, most of my purchases are for specific projects. Usually when I am buying, I don’t have a fully developed project plan, so I buy what I assume is “too much,” and pieces I might not use, knowing anything left will help fill out my bins.

But now I need to shop for stash. Yesterday I went with three other women on a little road trip to LeClaire, Iowa. There is a quilt shop there with yardage different from what closer shops carry, making it worth the trip. I bought four fat quarters to add to my “lights,” a yard of red-on-red that is different (REALLY!), and two yards of a blue print that is neither childish nor masculine. Besides those, I added a couple of other cuts, including a panel print for quilting practice.

These will help, but I’ll need to budget more time and money to move my stash forward. Fresh colors evoke new combinations of shape, also, allowing me to evolve as a quilter.