Sewing and Stashing: A Tale of Two Hobbies

I have a serious problem and I need to confess it to you all. You might laugh at first, and that’s fine – I would have laughed, too, once upon a time. But I’m going to put it out there anyway because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this problem.

One of my hobbies is buying fabric for my stash.

“Well, of course!” you may say. “Everyone who sews needs a stash, otherwise you can’t actually sew anything.”

Here’s the thing, though: the fabric in my stash isn’t fabric I want in my wardrobe.

My ideal wardrobe is packed full of dresses and skirts in strong, jewel tones with bold prints. Up until recently, my wardrobe was full of dresses and skirts in pastel tones with fun but small prints.

I wanted to open up my wardrobe and spend a good few minutes or so deciding which of my fabulous dresses I wanted to wear that day; instead, I’d open up that door and just settle for something.

After a couple of years of this behaviour, I had to face facts: I was buying fabric because I thought it was pretty.

We’ve all seen the meme that goes around every now and then, haven’t we? The one that goes a little like this:

I’ve decided that buying crafting supplies and using them are two separate hobbies.

It was funny the first couple of times I saw it… until I realised that was exactly what I was doing. Instead of building up a stash of fabrics that I could turn into beloved dresses, I was just building a stash of pretty fabrics that I really liked. Perhaps it was time to take some lessons from a past Katie who used to spend hours in shops looking for just the right dress…

Fabric shopping vs. clothes shopping

Once upon a time, I used to buy my clothes. When I walked into a shop, I’d look for the dresses that were a little bit different. A bit retro. I was drawn to the dresses that were covered in silly prints. Magnetically attracted to items that were just a little bit bold.

Let’s take a look at the very first dress I made.

I loved this dress and it was a sad day when I decided to donate it to the local op shop. It was the dress that taught me how badly all of my store-bought dresses fitted me. The dress that taught me a waistband should actually sit on your waist, not an inch or two above it.

And yet, it’s a dress I wouldn’t have bought if I’d seen it in a shop.

The print would have called to me – it’s little cars and caravans, so how could I resist? – and I might even have tried it on (because it’s covered in little cars and caravans, so how could I not?) but I wouldn’t have bought it. The print’s a bit too small and the background colour’s a bit too plain… Perhaps if there was a version with a navy blue or scarlet background… Perhaps then, I’d buy it.

As fabric, however, it was irresistible. Never mind that I don’t tend to wear beigey colours, this is the dialogue that went through my mind at the time.

“It has cars and caravans on it! I have to buy this.”

(Which I did.)

“I shall make a dress from it and call it my Roadtripping Dress!”

(Which I did.)

“I shall wear it on every roadtrip with my friends and it will be amazing!

(Which I did.)

Once I’d started, this fabric buying behaviour became a habit. Time after time, I’d come home with fabrics on pale backgrounds with simple prints when I’d previously been buying dresses in strong colours with bold prints. And I ended up with a wardrobe full of dresses that fitted nicely but were doing a rubbish job of expressing my personality.

Of the first four dresses I sewed, only one remains in my wardrobe. It’s a simple dress with a fitted bodice and a gathered skirt – just like the others – but it has one point of difference: with its retro pink rose print on a faded black background, I would have made a bee-line for in a shop.

Putting a stop to the nonsense

The good news is that I get to talk about this habit in past tense because now that I’m aware of it, I can take steps to avoid making these same mistakes.

My first order of business was to work out what I wanted to wear. I love strong, darker colours and jewel tones are my absolute favourite. Deep navy, teal, purples and magentas are top of the list. I’ve never really liked pastels: they’re nice enough, but they just feel like colours that can’t commit.

Big prints.

Florals.

Colours that go together.

This was the easy part. I already knew what I liked to wear – the trick was to keep that uppermost in my mind when I was shopping for fabric.

Whenever I’m out and accidentally find myself in a fabric shop (this is a well-known phenomenon that occurs to all crafters on a regular basis), I still find myself gravitating towards pale fabrics with pastelly prints. Just the other day, I picked one up, declared it to be lovely, and would have taken it to the counter if I hadn’t taken a firm hold of myself.

If it’s not one of my favourite colours, I’m not buying it.

If it’s a bit on the pale side or features pastels, I’m not buying it.

If it won’t go with anything else in my wardrobe, I’m not buying it.

I’d rather do more with a piece of fabric than just pull it out of my stash and talk about how lovely it is!

Success!

So far this year, I’ve made four dresses. Two of them feature fun prints on navy backgrounds. Another is a riot of deep purples and blues. The fourth one is a fun print on a beige background, but it was meant to be a toile anyway and the print is so colourful it goes with almost anything, so I forgive it.

I have another navy skirt in the works that definitely fits the bold theme: it has a crazy seaside print on it and I’m taking steps to make it extra poufy. Once that’s done, I have a purple leafy/floral print and a matching purple knit that will go perfectly together once they’re a skirt and a top.

These days, I open up my wardrobe and smile like a loon at the sight that greets me. So many dresses and skirts in styles that I want to wear!

Yes, all of that self-discipline is definitely worth it.

Do you suffer from this problem, too?

Tell me I’m not alone in this! Do you buy fabric for your stash that you would never actually wear? Have you developed any techniques to make sure you end up wearing what you buy? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Sewing and Stashing: A Tale of Two Hobbies

  1. I know this well – I have fabrics, mainly from my grandmother’s stash, that I
    A) can’t figure out whether I would wear it; and
    B) am too scared to sew with anyway, for fear of making a mistake (particularly with vintage fabrics)

    And don’t ask about my wool stash …

    1. Yes, I have a few like that – fabrics I could never use but couldn’t possibly give away.

      It’s a surprise to me that this hasn’t affected my wool stash. Mine is mostly made of leftovers since I am rubbish at anticipating what sort of things I’d like to make. There are exceptions to this, of course; exceptions that prove exactly how bad I am when it comes to choosing additions for my wool stash…

  2. In the words of MJ – You are not alone, I am here with you. Lol. I found myself doing the same thing when it comes to fabric shopping. The train of thought was I like the fabric which means it will look good on me and thus fit in my wardrobe – not true. I had to do take it back a few steps though and redefine what I think my style, colors, prints and inspiration come from and plan collections in my wardrobe based on those markers, (for different moods in my life), that also work together. Along with all the style introspecting I also think about the other side of sewing, the waste that comes with DIY sewing – landfills covered in unused remnants, waders and ufos – and I think a focused sewing stash goes a long way in helping curb my personal waste.

    1. Hehe, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone! Sustainability is a big part of my life, too, so I didn’t want to be buying fabric I wasn’t going to use (once I’d realised that’s what I was doing, of course). It’s so good to have that plan or those guidelines in place, isn’t it? I’m much happier with how my wardrobe is looking now and it’s helped me avoid an empty bank account at any number of fabric sales!

      Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

  3. When I started sewing my own clothes almost five years ago I found out there weren’t many fabric shops. So when I saw fabrics I liked I striated buying them. After sewing for a year or two some of the stash fabrics seemed not to be my taste (fabric type or colours). I think it’s a bit finding your way and learning juts like you did when you started building a wardrobe when you buy RTW. Many buyers of RTW do buy clothes they barely wear because when they come home it doesn’t have that appeal anymore that it had in the shop. I’ve found my colours (blue and black-white as basics), fabric types (denims, jersey and cottons) and style (no vintage but asymmetrical and unusual designs) after sewing three years all kind of clothes and styles.

    1. You’re absolutely right! When you start sewing, everything is new and fun and you want to try all of the things – and buying fabric can be one of the most enjoyable parts of that. Walking into a fabric store is like stumbling across a treasure trove! It’s exciting and shiny and just a little bit overwhelming. The comparison to buying clothes is a good one; I know I bought clothes that I didn’t exactly love until I hit on my style. In a way, it’s been good to re-visit that approach to style because it’s easy to remember what I liked back then and translate that to sewing.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sonja. 🙂

  4. I usually buy fabric with something in mind for it, but change my mind half the time! Or before I know it the season is over and it languishes in stash for a year or more. But at least fabric keeps, and if you hold onto it long enough it comes back into fashion again!

  5. I have a variant of your problem – while almost all of the fabrics I buy are ones I truly want to wear (I only buy fabric if I know what it wants to be when it grows up – the specific garment), I buy far more fabric than I can possibly ever sew. And if it’s a particularly lovely fabric or a project that scares me, then I never seem to see it but can’t dream of getting rid of it. Which i am fully aware is quite silly!!
    PS we have very similar taste

    1. Sometimes it’s as though we’re adopting fabric, isn’t it? We can’t bear to leave a particularly nice piece behind, especially not when we can see what a lovely piece of clothing it would make. I think each piece of fabric has a bit of a personality, too, which makes even harder to think of parting with it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Aliza. 🙂

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