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Episode 85

How can I use more of the fabrics I buy?

Are there fabrics that are gathering dust in your stash? If you can already picture a few unused cuts of fabric, and you’re cringing, Sarai and Haley will share 12 tips to help you use more of the fabric that you buy and buy fabric that you'll use.

Are there fabrics that are gathering dust in your stash? If you can already picture a few unused cuts of fabric, and you’re cringing, this episode is for you.

In this episode, Sarai shares 6 ideas for using more of the fabric in your stash and Haley shares 6 ideas for buying more fabric that you will actually use.


Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. Today we’re going to be talking about how to use more of the fabrics that you already have and how to make sure that you’ll actually use the fabrics that you buy. So we’re going to cover six ways to use your stash, and then we’re going to cover six ways to use those fabrics that you’re buying. So let’s start with our ice breaker for today. Haley, what is the most random fabric you have ever bought?

Haley
Oh, my gosh. This is my icebreaker, and I don’t even have that great of an answer for it. I used to work in a fabric store. We sold quilting cotton, so there’s lots of novelty things, and I kind of feel like anytime there’s a cat fabric, I was like, I need that.

Sarai
Obviously, for obvious reasons.

Haley
Yes, I’ve kind of curved that need to buy everything cat. But now if I see anything that’s like apparel fabric with cats, I will probably buy it. Probably. What about you?

Sarai
How can you resist those cats?

Haley
They can’t.

Sarai
Yeah. They’re so charming. Okay, so for me, we were talking about this a little bit before, and you actually remembered it and told me the most random fabric that I’ve ever bought. This is a few years ago. For a while there, I was really into making active wear for myself, especially just little shorts and things like that for working out. And I bought all of this fabric from Spandex World. If you guys have ever looked at the website for Spandex World or been to Spandex World in New York, they just have the craziest prints on Spandex fabric. It’s just, like, nuts stuff. And I went a little overboard and got all these really random weird fabrics. I got one that had, like, chocolate chip cookies all over it. I had one that had Donuts all over it. I got one that was just the brightest fluorescent pink that you’ve ever seen. Just, like, crazy stuff. That is not normally my thing at all. But for some reason, I think with workout clothes, I don’t know, it can just be fun for me. It doesn’t have to match my style in any way. It’s just a bunch of weird stuff.

Sarai
I’m fine with it.

Haley
Totally. I just remember this day that the fabric arrived at the studio so clearly, and you were, like, so excited. You’re opening the spot, and everybody was gathering around your desk. Whoa, donuts.

Sarai
I know. I think I actually ended up giving the donut fabric away. I think I gave it to Chelsea.

Haley
Yes. And she made a swimsuit out of it.

Sarai
That’s right. She made a swimsuit with it. It was awesome.

Haley
I think there’s a project diary on the Seamwork, which I will now be linking in the show notes. So sorry, Chelsea. Not sorry.

Sarai
All right, well, if you have an ice breaker for us, for a future episode. You can post it on the community. We’re going to put a link to where you can do that right in the show notes so you can share that with us. We’d love to hear your ideas. We love having an ice breaker to start off the show.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about stashes. So a lot of us have stashes of fabric, obviously, as sewers. It’s kind of part of the fun of sewing is collecting fabric to some extent. But I feel like we have usually a section of that stash that really just sits around and collects dust that never seems to get used. I think this is true for a lot of us. Like some of it, we cycle through, we shop our stash and use and then other parts of it we just seem to have for years and years and years. So, Haley, what fabrics have you had the longest in your stash? I’m curious.

Haley
The fabrics I’ve probably had the longest are vintage fabrics that aren’t, like, really my taste, but they’re one of a kind. I’ll never find them again, and so they sit around, but I don’t know what to do with them. I have this one Tweed, kind of chunky wool Tweed in this really bright green color, very 60s and cool, but I have no clue when or where I would wear it or how. It’s not really my taste, but I love it and I can’t get rid of it. And it’s a lot like it takes up a lot of room.

Sarai
Yeah, those wooly fabrics really do take up a lot of room. I’m the same way. I have a lot of vintage fabrics. I really like rayons from the forties that have really fun prints on them. I have a bunch of those, and some of them, I would say, are my style, and I could use them, but I think there’s a little bit of a fear of not using them for the right project and wasting them because I could never get them back. That’s true for a lot of fabrics. Like most fabrics you buy, you’ll never be able to replace. But for some reason, with these vintage fabrics, it just feels a lot more special and like, it needs to be the perfect project in order to actually cut into them.

Haley
Yeah. Do you think there’s any other reasons why you tend not to use them? Other than that they’re precious? I think.

Sarai
Well, some of them definitely have more of a conversational prints on them, or they’re just not very much like the yardage isn’t very much. So I can’t figure out the right purpose for them. I have this one vintage fabrics from that or at least also tend to be narrower. So I have one piece that’s only 36 inches wide, and it’s probably less than a yard, and it’s Navy blue, and it has all of these little characters, like singing from a choir. Book. It looks like each one has a little book in front of them and they’re singing and their music notes really weird. I don’t know what this fabric was intended for, but it’s so cute. I don’t know. I should probably donate it. I’m never going to use it.

Haley
Or you make a little scarf roughly the right dimensions for it.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
I’m curious. Do you think you’re more likely to buy a piece of fabric that’s not your style than a piece of clothing that’s not your style?

Sarai
That’s a good question. Yes, I think that’s definitely true. And I think that’s because fabric has so much possibility in it, even if something doesn’t seem to be exactly your style, it’s not in its final form yet. So you can think of ways that maybe you could make it your style or that you could fit it into your wardrobe. There’s just a lot more possibility with fabric, don’t you think?

Haley
Oh, yeah, totally. I think that’s why we tend to buy I mean, at least me, I tend to buy more fabric that I regret than clothing I regret because the item of clothing is kind of like—it is what it is to a certain extent.

Sarai
Yeah.

Haley
But the potential of fabric is so vast, it’s easy to rationalize it.

Sarai
I think I think that’s also true of getting rid of fabric versus getting rid of clothing. If you don’t wear clothing, if you haven’t worn something in a year, it’s not that hard, at least for me to say, well, I’m not using this. I’m going to give it away to somebody who is going to use it. Whereas with fabric, if you haven’t sewn within a year, well, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t sew with it in the future, because sometimes it just takes some time or you have to figure out what you’re going to do with it. So I think that might be another reason why fabric tends to accumulate versus clothing that maybe isn’t your style.

Haley
Why do you think it is that we buy fabric that isn’t our style?

Sarai
Well, I think it’s the same thing. It’s like you see it and kind of like you’re talking about the cat prints. There’s something about it that speaks to you. You love cats, right? Cats are awesome. It’s cute. So there’s something about it that you really like. And if maybe it’s not exactly your style, you can imagine things that you could still do with it. And I think the fact that you could also do things with it that maybe are, you know, for different purposes. Like, for example, I was talking about making gym clothes and how I don’t care if it has donuts on it. It doesn’t need to fit my style when it comes to workout clothes. And maybe that’s true of swimwear or loungewear or even home deck projects or something like that. So I feel like you can usually justify it. You can usually find a way that you could fit it in to your sewing, even if it’s not something you might wear every day, don’t you think?

Haley
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that the longer those types of fabrics that you like rationalized buying sit around in your stash, the less likely you are to use them because you forget what that idea was that you had in your head. And also, I think that for me, at least, my impulse purchases tend to be prints. And I think that my taste in prints shifts a little bit, not totally changes, but shifts a little bit every like five to ten years. So once they’re there for over a few years, they’re just out on Misfit Island. Are they going to get used again? I don’t know.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s true with color to some extent, but definitely more so with prints. I could definitely see that. All right. Well, we’re going to share some tips that we’ve learned.

I’m going to start with some tips for actually using your stash, using what you already have, and then Haley is going to share some tips for using the fabric that you buy. So when you’re buying fabric, making sure that you actually get use out of it.

So thinking about your stash, one thing that I found really helpful is to create some kind of a structure or a challenge for yourself when it comes to using your staff. So if this is something that you want to do more, just kind of figure out a process that you can go through in order to use it. And I’ll tell you what I mean. So one thing that I try to do is use a stash fabric for every other project. So in order to not just keep buying and buying fabric and adding to my stash, I try to alternate. So one project that I make will use something that I already have, and then the next project I can buy a specific fabric for.

And that has really helped me to cut down on the amount of fabric that I accumulate. I still buy those kind of impulse purchases or things that I just have to have because they’re just so beautiful or they’re so perfect for something that I can sell in the future. That still happens. But I find that when I do this, I’m able to both curb my spending a little bit and also use stuff that I already have, which is a win win because I have a lot of great stuff in my stash. So that’s the first tip is to try creating a challenge for yourself. I like the alternating project challenge, but you could do it every third project. Or you can create some other kind of structure that works for you.

So our second tip is that you can use a visual search engine to get ideas for your fabric. So a visual search engine would be something like Google Images, or you could use Pinterest, which would be my preferred way to do it and actually just look for things using the type of fabric that you have already and accumulate ideas that way.

Sarai
So kind of starting with your fabric and then getting ideas for using it by searching.

Another thing you can do, and this is something that I do is to start organizing. If you use Pinterest, organize your existing Pinterest boards into sub boards based on the type of fabric that you would use. So this is something that I’ve done. I have kind of a board that’s like a wish list of future projects that I want to sew, and I have it more or less organized by the type of fabric that I would use to sew it. So I have, like, a sub board that’s white dresses. So I would use white cotton fabrics, for example, and they have all kind of a certain look to them. And so that can be really helpful just for pairing your ideas with specific fabrics. So I found that really helpful for using fabrics that I already have and also for shopping for new fabrics.

Haley
Yeah, definitely.

Sarai
So that’s really fun. The next one is to organize by fabric type and weight. So go through your stash and start getting your fabric organized. So if you keep all of your fabric kind of together or you organize it maybe by color or something like that, which if that works for you, that’s great for me. I really find that I use my stash more if I have it organized by the type and the weight, because that way when I’m actually picking out a project to sew, it’s a lot easier to find what I need. So I have a chest of drawers that holds most of my fabric. I have some stored away in bins in the garage, but I have kind of the more immediate fabrics stored in a chest in my sewing room. And I have each drawer labeled with the type of fabric that’s in it. So I took a label maker, and I labeled a drawer for linen. I labeled one for cottons. I labeled one for lightweight knits, one for sweater knits, things like that. And that just makes it so much easier to actually use what I have. So I think that’s a good tip.
Do you do that, Haley? Do you organize by type?

Haley
Yeah, I do pretty much the same thing. I have six drawers that all of my fabric is in, and they’re broken into, like, you know, two parts. So two sets of three. And I have lightweight wovens have medium weight wovens, heavyweight wovens. I don’t even have it broken down by fiber or anything. I’ve actually like a relatively small stash for how big sewing is in my life. But even just having it broken down kind of into the most dumbed down categories really helps me, because if I want to make a blouse, and I know I need a lightweight woven. Then I open that drawer and I have eight options staring back at me.

Sarai
Yeah, I love that. It just makes it so much easier. The next tip I have is something that you might find helpful, which is sharing fabrics that you don’t know what to do with and asking other people for ideas. So the Seamwork community is a great place to do this. I was actually thinking I’m going to start a post on the community just specifically for this. We’ll link it in the show notes after I do that. But I think it’d be great to have one place where people could go and post their pictures of their fabric and just get ideas for what you could do with it. And people do that already there. And it’s so much fun because there are a lot of things that you might not have thought about that other people can come up with. And I think that’s really the power of having a community behind you is unearthing those ideas that you might not have come up with on your own. So that’s really cool.

The fifth idea, the fifth tip we have is to separate out your small pieces. So if you have little pieces. So this is kind of a problem that I’ve encountered.

I mentioned with that one fabric that’s only like 36 by 36, and I just don’t know what to do with it. So if you separate out those small pieces into a separate space, a separate bin, then you can use those for things like accessories or for making gifts, for making pocket lining. So if you have a dress or a pair of pants as pockets, you can use it for a fun pocket lining, the underside of collars, or for making bias tape. There’s a lot of things you can do with smaller pieces of fabric, and if you have them separated out, you’re going to be more likely to do that. So I have a bin in my sewing room, just like a small canvas bin where I throw in all my scraps, and then I clean it out periodically because the scraps can tend to accumulate, too. But it’s a great place to go when you want to have a quick sewing project. You want to make a scrunchie or recently I posted a drew headband that I made on the Community. It’s just one of those quick sewing projects that it can be really fun to do.

And it’s nice to have those beautiful fabrics that you didn’t want to part with already to go for you.

Haley
We do this in the office, too, to divert some of the fabric waste, because we obviously sew a lot in the office and make a lot of samples and Areta, our sample sewer, has some bins that she puts larger knit scraps and woven scraps, and she’ll use them for neck bands all sorts of things, and then whatever we don’t use, we work with some local businesses that use scraps, and it’s a really great way to, like, be conscious about the waste that you’re creating too. And I think when I’m being more conscious with my scraps, it makes me a little bit more careful when I’m cutting things out a little bit more creative. And I mean, that’s why we sell to feel creative.

Sarai
It’s also really fun to have those little details in your clothing, like fun bias tape or fun pocket lining.

Haley
I love that.

Sarai
I know I’ve made lots of things that have like a Liberty Tana Lawn pocket lining. It looks so cool. And if I hadn’t meticulously saved my scraps, then that wouldn’t be the case. It can be a really fun way to use them up.

The last tip that I have for using your stash is to consider using a swatch book. So this is especially helpful if your fabric is stored in an inconvenient spot. So if you’re not able to get to it, or if you have a really large stash and you want to use more of it. I’ve seen some great ideas for this on the community. I recently saw one the person made swatches for each of her fabrics, put them on little cards, and then put them onto a ring like a no keyholder ring. And it was so neat and tidy and I’ve done that in the past. At times, my stash is not that huge right now because I moved last year and that caused me to get rid of a lot of things. But when I’ve had a larger stash or when I was trying to organize the stash we had at the office, this was really super helpful.

So that’s one way that you can do it, just keeping some kind of a swatch book or swatch ring. Another kind of related thing is just to keep the queue of fabrics close at hand that you want to use soon and then keep the rest stored away so that will just make those fabrics a little bit more present to you. This is something that I do. I mentioned I have some of my fabrics stored away, and some of them are in my sewing room. And the ones that are in my sewing room are the ones that I plan to use pretty soon. That just really helps to keep them present on top of mind when I’m sewing rather than everything being stored away and never looking at it. So I think both the swatches and having that queue of fabrics close by are both really helpful things to just kind of like keep your stash in your mind and in front of your face all the time.

Haley
Totally.

Sarai
So those are the six tips that I have for using your stash. And then Haley is going to share some tips for actually using what you buy. So what do you have for us, Haley.

Haley
Yeah. Using your stash is really kind of half of the battle, especially when buying fabric is so fun. These tips are for making sure that when you are buying fabric, that it’s fabric you’re going to use. So my first tip is to buy prints with caution. I think that this is very dependent on your personal taste. But for me, I’ve been to a lot of fabric swaps. I’ve had many iterations of my own personal stash, and when I go to a fabric swap, I swear that it is like, I don’t know. Do you feel this way Sarai? It’s like almost all prints?

Sarai
Yeah, definitely.

Haley
People buy them and they don’t use them necessarily as much as they think they would. So I would just urge you to buy a print with caution. And that kind of leads me to my next tip, which is ask if this fabric is something that is true to your style. Is it true to you today? Would it have been true to you two years ago? Five years ago? Sometimes. For me personally, I find that if I think back and reflect on this, if the fabric is something that I would have liked two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago, it’s probably something that’s very core to my personal style. It isn’t something that I’m seeing a lot right now. My eye has acclimated to it, so it’s trendy, and I want it not being told I want it. I actually do want it.

Sarai
That’s a really good point. Distinguishing those things. I think sometimes in the moment, it can be hard to even recognize what is something that you like because you like it or something that you like because you’re just seeing it a lot right now, right?

Haley
Totally. And for me, something that’s pretty much always true is like any kind of like, 1970s inspired floral I almost always love. I’ve loved all my life. Any kind of stripe that I’m drawn to, I probably will like five years from now so kind of determine those things that are historically true for you. And I find that chances are they’ll probably be true to you moving forward.

My third tip is if you see a fabric that you love before you buy it, pause and think of two to three things that you could make with it. You don’t need to start with, like an absolute concrete idea. But if you just like the fabric because you like the fabric and you don’t like the ideas of what the fabric could become, you may not have a good place in your stash.

Tip number four is to make sure that you’re documenting your ideas for your fabric. I know that I’m Super guilty of having an idea and then completely forgetting it. So find some kind of system for documenting this. Sarah mentioned using Pinterest. I think that’s a really good idea if you like having that kind of stuff more saved digitally.

Another thing you could do is use Postit notes or an inspiration photo or anything like that. You can safety pin it to your folded up fabric. You can store the pattern that you want to make with it. Anything that you can do to remind yourself future version of yourself, what the heck you wanted to do with that fabric is probably a good idea.

Sarai
Yeah. Especially when you’re buying those real crazy fabrics every once in a while. Like, where did this come from? What was I thinking.

Haley
Then? You remind yourself, oh, yeah, I was thinking this, I guess. Who knows whether that idea will still feel great to you whenever you get around to the project, but at least you’ll remember what the idea was.

Sarai
Yeah, it may or may not.

Haley
Tip number five is to consider your climate and season. When I lived in La, I accumulated, like, a lot of wool. What business I had buying a bunch of wool coating? I don’t know, but I bought them because I thought they’re a great color or texture or whatever. It was a good fabric. But consider your climate and the seasons that you so far. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I definitely use that type of fabric more often. And I have probably a little bit less purpose for your sucker and things like that in my wardrobe. So just make sure that at least what you’re buying is kind of makes sense for where you are, where you live.

Sarai
Yeah. And I think also making sure that not all the time, but I think a lot of the time when you’re buying a fabric that’s out of season. So if it’s the middle of spring or maybe the beginning of spring, like it is right now, in April, when we’re sharing this, you fall in love with the fabric that’s like a heavy wool coating because you think, oh, I’m going to make a coat with it this winter or later this year. The chances of you doing that are a lot less the longer it sits around. So if it’s going to be sitting around for six months, by the time you get to making a coat, you might not be as excited about it as you were when you bought it. At least that’s been true for me. So I find that sewing things that are in season or buying fabric for things that are in season just means I’m a lot more likely to use it.

Haley
Absolutely. I think that, again, that kind of circles back to recognizing that the longer something sits in your stash, the less likely you are to use it, at least for that original purpose.

And our last tip is try planning a wardrobe or a queue of projects. Using a planning tool like design your wardrobe can be a really great way to kind of dig into your personal style, your taste, and lots of times what I’ve noticed watching a lot of people do this program is that they realize that they have all of the ingredients that they need to the wardrobe that they want. And I think that’s like really fun and inspiring to be inspired by your stash again.

Sarai
Yeah. I think going through any kind of planning process really helps you to both use up what you have, but also to buy with a lot more intention.

Haley
Yes.

Sarai
When you have a pretty good idea of several projects that you want to make soon. Cool.

Well, those were our tips for you today. I hope you found something helpful in there. I’m going to recap what they were for you. So I shared six tips for actually using your stash. And those six tips are to create a challenge for yourself, like maybe using a stash fabric for every other project, using a visual search engine to get ideas for your fabric, something like Pinterest, organizing your fabric by the type and the weight, sharing fabrics that you don’t know what to do with to get ideas. And you could use the seam work community for that, separating out small pieces, which are things that you could use for accessories and gifts and things like that, pocket linings, all those kinds of goodies and maybe making a Swatch book in order to organize your fabric and kind of keep what you have top of mind. And then Haley shared six tips for using what you buy. And Haley’s tips were to buy prints with caution, to ask yourself if it’s something that’s true to you today, to think of two to three things that you could make with it, even if you don’t have a concrete idea already, to document your idea for the fabric and keep it with the fabric, something like a post it note or a photo or something like that.

Consider the climate and the season so the climate you live in and also the season that you’re in right now. And to try planning a wardrobe or a queue of projects which can really help you to plan your fabric use a lot more.

So those are our twelve tips for you today. I hope you found a lot of stuff that’s useful in them. I know that some of these have been really, really helpful to me and have helped me to buy less stuff that I don’t use and also to use a lot of the things that I already have and really cut down on the size of my stash. So one thing that I would love to do is start a post on the community for people to share fabrics that they have and figure out what they want to do with them with some help from other people, others. So I will start that post and then I will link it in the show notes so you guys can check it out. I also wanted to share that we have a free class right now to help you with changing neckline. So when you make a project, sometimes you want to change the neckline like change from a v neck to a crew neck or anything like that.

Sarai
So we have a free class that Haley has taught and it’s available on our website. You can go to Seamwork.com/go/neckline if you want to check it out and it will give you a really good taste of what our classes are like if you haven’t taken one yet. And lastly, if you liked this episode, we would love for you to leave us a review. We have a review that we wanted to share today from Grace. So she said, I love your podcast. You’re helping me be motivated for designing your wardrobe. I’m hearing more creatively and enabling, if that’s a word. How to design a mood board in terms I seem to be able to better grasp. Your conversations are so positive and really inspiring. I’d enjoy listening even if I weren’t trying to learn to love to sew. Thanks to your whole crew. Thank you. Thank you so much, Grace. That’s really sweet. Love it. So if you have a review that you’d like to leave for us, we would absolutely love it. You could leave review on Apple podcasts. I think now you can leave reviews on Spotify, which you used to not be able to do.

Sarai
So that’s great or whatever your podcast player of choice is. And with that, we’re going to sign off for today. I’m Sarai.

Haley
I’m Haley. And this is Seamwork Radio.

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