7 tips for using the fabric you have


Like a lot of you, my biggest sewing goal this year is to buy less fabric. This means spending more time looking at what I already have and figuring out what to do with it.

Lucky for me, I have a lot of great fabric. On the day Caitlin snapped the photos of me above, I was poring through boxes of fabric and found some gorgeous things I’d completely forgotten about! Why hadn’t I ever made anything with it?

My vintage fabrics are especially neglected. I guess I’m a little afraid to cut into them, because they’re so special. I have yard after yard of rayon prints from the 40s, and I love them, but they just sit in boxes.

So I jotted down a few ideas to help me. These are tips for myself, as well as you guys. I’m not an expert in fabric efficiency, by any means. If you have any more tips, add them in!

  1. Shop your stash.
  2. Time after time, when I want to make a new dress, I immediately turn to the fabric store to find the perfect materials. Why don’t I first look at what I already own?

  3. Start with fabric.
  4. I think another good way to use what you have is to start with the fabric, and let that give you an idea of what to make. Sometimes a particular fabric will really call out what it wants to be. Often times, I buy a fabric thinking, “this will make a great pair of shorts / button up blouse / shirtdress / whatever,” but it goes into a drawer to languish until I’ve forgotten about it completely.

  5. Don’t feel (too) guilty.
  6. Ok, I admit, I sometimes feel really bad looking at all the fabric I have and never did anything with. Sometimes, it even makes me a bit anxious and overwhelmed, like I cannot possibly make all of the things that I want to make. That can be weirdly upsetting.

    However, I notice that if I look at a fabric and feel guilty about it, it’s really hard to let it inspire me. Instead, I think it helps to approach the stash with a feeling of possibility and excitement.

  7. Keep a projects list.
  8. It really helps me to keep a list of upcoming sewing projects I need to work on. If I have a list to stick to, I’m much less likely to buy an awesome new fabric, because I know it has to go at the bottom of the projects list.

  9. Keep sketches and swatches together.
  10. Another thing I find helpful is sketching out some rough drawings of what I want to make with a particular fabric, attaching a swatch, and filing it somewhere. Even if I don’t have time to make something with a fabric right now, when I’m done with my current projects, I can pull out my binder of sketches and swatches and get inspired again.

  11. Get rid of stuff.
  12. I will admit it. I hold on to things way more than I’d like to. Luckily, I have Caitlin, who is amazing at weeding out stuff we’ll never use. She just recently cleaned out my lace stash, which was enormous. I will squirrel away scraps and fabric until my shelves overflow. I have fabric I bought when I was in my teens. Really, am I ever going to use it if I haven’t cut into it in 10 or 15 YEARS? So… yeah. Needs improvement.

  13. Ask a friend.
  14. If I’m stumped about what to do with a particular fabric I have, getting someone else’s input is invaluable. Sometimes they’ll see a completely different sort of potential in something.

Do you guys have any other thoughts on how to best utilize the fabric you have?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 69


Great post. Actually I really enjoyed the section in the sewing handbook where you talk about figuring out your style by looking at your five favourite things and then basing your hand-made wardrobe around it. This ties in really nicely with that!

Nancy win

I keep my fabric folded on shelves in a cabinet sorted by type. This gives me a good visual of what I have and serves as inspiration


Swap fabric with friends! I recently went to a fabric swap, and it was awesome. I walked away with lots of neat finds, and the fabric I no longer wanted found a new home.


We hosted a fabric swap at my Powells signing, and it went well! The only problem is that I now have the bag of fabric leftover from the swap. :)

(Not really a problem though, I’ve just been too lazy to donate it so far).


Oh, how I wish I had been there! I will definitely be coming to any future events. It is so nice to have a locally based sewer to learn from.


Great post. Here’s my quandry. I actually found 5 fabrics in my stash in the same color family, I knew I had 3 of them to learn “in the hoop” applique. I was so excited until I found that my new puppy just ate my “in the hoop applique CD” that I just bought through my embroidry club .. Now what – do I really buy a new CD or wait. But wait for what ? I know I have too much stuff in my stash when I shop it with a basket.


I’ll put on my psuedo-economist hat and say that the puppy-chewed CD is a sunk cost. I’d bite the bullet and buy it again if you can afford to! It sounds like you were really excited about it. :)


Awesome tips, Sarai & Caitlin! I am sewing from stash as much as possible this year, too.


I agree with Michelle and Nancy, I’ve recently got rid of my boxes under my bed to display most of my fabric on shelves. Seeing it all the time makes it easier for inspiration to strike! x


I have determined to use many items in my stash (buttons, fabric, lace & trims) to make gifts instead of buying them. Who couldn’t use a bag, apron, fabric flower pendant or potholders? It allows me to give them something from my heart and my hands while destashing!


I’m so with you here! Doing a February Fabric Challenge this month. Not buying any fabric this month while I’m destashing. Good luck to us!


After we moved to a new place, I did a huge purge of crafts materials, fabrics & notions. I donated my unwanted stuff to a local crafts resale shop, which uses to proceeds from their sales for an elder care organization.
I categorized & labeled my bins, and made my own mini cardboard bolts to wrap the larger yardages of fabrics on. All of my fabrics are stored in 2 utility cupboards, nicely lined up on their bolts by fabric type!
Now I can shop my stash!! HURRAY!!!


Wow, good for you. If it weren’t for Caitlin, I’d never get rid of any supplies. I don’t think I’m this way about other stuff, just craft supplies for some reason. They have so much potential!


Great tips. I try to go through my fabric now and again to see what catches my eye. I loved them all when I bought them, so there must be something good in there to sew.


The guilt tip is especially appropriate for me — sometimes I get overwhelmed by my queue of things that I want to sew (and already have the fabric for), until I remember that this is my hobby, not my work! I’m not obligated to zip through a dozen projects in X months, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes me.

Other stash busting things that have been useful for me — using mid-size scraps (half or 3/4 of a yard) for making baby clothes (admittedly highly impractical baby clothes, like mini wool jackets or button down shirts, but I figure it’s my prerogative as an aunt to give impractical gifts); and using fabric that I’m only medium excited about for making wearable muslins. I have a hard time psyching myself up to sew with solids because I’m more inspired by prints, so I tend to sew things in solids as test garments that I may sew up later in other fabrics that I love but am afraid to cut into.


I know you caution against this, but I like to keep my fabric out in the open so I can look at it – it makes it harder to forget everything I have! Plus, the colors/patterns/textures just look so pretty :)

I cut small swatches out of all my fabric and pinned them to my bulletin board… it’s really helpful for mixing & matching fabrics, and pinning them with their little croquis buddies for inspiration.

I used to save all my scraps but I’m pulling out of that mindset. I don’t have the space! I do save a piece of fabric for anything that has self-covered buttons, in case I need to replace one or two, but everything else needs to goooo. I was at a loss what to do with the pieces – I don’t want to throw them away, but most people here are quilters and all my scraps are non-quilt friendly apparel fabrics, like wool coating & silk. I just met a girl who makes tiny doll clothes, and she was really excited about taking my fabric scraps. So, double win!


I like the swatch/bulletin board tip, that sounds really useful!


I took this a step further a few years ago. I was involved for several months in a special hand-sewing project that prevented me from any of my “normal” sewing. To help with my feelings of withdrawl I decided to do a major fabric organization – a little bit every day. I have something like 1000 m of fabric (give or take – it’s been my ‘substance abuse’ problem, lol) in various lengths, but mostly in the 1-4 m range – that’s a lot of pieces to keep track of! So, over time I measured each piece, cut a swatch and labelled it with the length, width and fibre content. I then put the swatches (organized by primary fibre type, and arranged by colour within those catagories) into plastic page protectors for slides/thumbnails – available at office supply, craft, photography stores and with various sized pockets – and into a 3-ring binder. Now I have a complete catalogue of all my fabrics that is both visual and informative. This really helps me shop my stash, and facilitates making fabric combinations without always having to haul out the whole piece. Any new piece of fabric I acquire goes into the binder right away.

It took some time to do, but I find it invaluable. And it was actually an enjoyable process as I re-discovered lots of old ‘friends’ I’d forgotten about along the way!


I don’t have a big stash but there is this piece of fabric that is from the sixties I think ( rayon or nylon, no idea). It was a piece I found in my Mom’s attic. I would love to sew something out of it but…Can’t figure out what. It is blue with black and pink flower motif.
Can you add modern day fabrics to these older pieces?


Sure, why not? Just pretend you bought it at the fabric store. :)


I have this same problem too and like you, I start a list and look at the fabric I have rather than dashing to the fabric store immediately when I start a new project. But I like your other suggestions as to how to use your fabric wisely. Thanks for posting!


Thank you for the tips. I just went through my stash. I forgot some of the fabric that I had. Some of it precious knit! I love your idea about making a list of projects. I need to do that.


I keep a little notebook in my purse with swatches of the fabric that I have, along with yardage information (and fiber content, when I know it….some of that stuff has been there for awhile!) That way, if I’m shopping for patterns or get a new project idea, I can check there first and easily see what I have and if I have enough of an appropriate fabric. That’s been a HUGE help in my stashbusting!

I’ve also found my blog to be helpful (since I don’t have local friends who sew)– I haven’t actually made the project yet, but when I was weeding out some fabric to freecycle, I came across several pieces that I still loved but had no clue what to do with. So I posted a pic of one of the prints on my blog, and asked for suggestions. I got a lot of good ones that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and I do have a project involving it on my list of things I want to make now. So I’ll definitely be doing another “bust my stash” post once I get that one knocked out of the queue!

Now where I do get stuck is how to use up the leftovers from a project– I’ll often end up with something like 1/2- 1 yard left, and it’s too much to throw away but I don’t always know what else I can make out of it!


I think one thing that’s useful for the leftover bits and pieces is combining them with other fabric (a print with a solid, for example). Or using them for pocket linings, waistband facings, things like that. It’s tough though, they do tend to multiply.


thank you especially for posting #3! just the other night i was (once again) organizing my fabric stash and certainly felt overwhelmed and anxious about how much fabric there is, to the point where i start to question my own sanity. ;)

i don’t really have any tips about how to get better and not buying fabric although having to reorganize your stash is a good reminder of what you have…and that you don’t really need more!


You sound like me. :) I get really overwhelmed when there is too much stuff, and especially when I have to choose amongst it. That’s why getting rid of stuff is hard for me, but it’s also anxiety-provoking having it around. Weird human brain.


For the record I just have to say that I literally JUST bought more fabric, even with this blog post in mind. (I had to.) So there, I officially have problems. ;) But at least we’re in this together! :)

By the way, I really hope I can see you in L.A.! I’m not sure yet but have tentative plans to come to Sew L.A.


I’m really trying to shop my stash right now, especially given that people keep giving me fabric! Man, once you know how to sew it’s like everyone wants you to have stuff. Amazing. I’ve made a journal with sketches and possible fabric pairings, and when I put in a swatch I note how much of it I have. That way I know, if I don’t want to make that sketch with it, how much of it I have to make something else!


Haha, yes. I have been given SO MUCH fabric, trim, notions, buttons, everything. It’s wonderful, but at the same time it feels like an avalanche.

Susan – Knitters Delight

I went through my stash last night and really got stressed out. I need to organize my fabric and patterns where I can get to them more easily. This will help me reduce that anxiety feeling that you mentioned in your post. A timely post indeed.


I am making the same resolution this year – i want to cull down my fabric collection. I’m giving myself this year to finish all of the major projects I’ve been ‘saving’ fabric for. I’ve gone through it and made a priority pile, and whatever I don’t use by the end of this year, I’m getting rid of. Or at least reconsidering…a whole year of intending to do something and not getting to it can weigh down my creativity!


I’m fairly new to sewing so don’t have too much of a stash as yet, but I’m conscious that, if I don’t keep a lid on myself, my fabric stash will go the way of my yarn stash (I’m a knitter). I have a ton of yarn (actually, if I weighed it, maybe more!!!) yet, like you, always seem to head to the shops when I want to start a project. I really must try to make this year the year when I shop my stash.


Oh, forgot to say: what a fabulous jumper you are wearing in the photos. Where did you get it?


I always get compliments on that sweater! Oddly, it’s just one I picked up at a mall in LA because I was on a trip and didn’t have anything warm enough to wear. I think it was Ann Taylor Loft?


I am trying to get organised with my stash too. For the first time I’m planning a couple of projects ahead and trying to only use what is in my stash. But it’s so hard… there are so many tempting things out there :D

Jennifer Vance

My goal is to buy lots more fabric!lol!But that’s cause I have very little fabric at this point,and most of it is being made into a few dresses.


I’ve recently gone through my stash and was also surprised/ashamed by all the fabrics in there that I had completely forgotten about… And even though I have now stored them away all properly, I know that there’s a real risk I’ll forget some of them again… and not because the’re not worth remembering, but rather because there’s, well, er… quite a lot.

So, in that light, I really like the idea of seeing your stash as a place to shop for fabrics! It kinda gives meaning to the entire notion of having a stash in the first place… even when many of the fabrics were originally bought with a specific project in mind.

Trouble is, when I’d go shopping in my stash, I will end up with a huge mess, when I am pulling out this or that possible candidate out of its box. So there should be a better way to do this.

It’s here that I really *really* like the idea of keeping a little swatch of the fabric together with a little drawing/picture of that original project – make it a lookbook. Or, if there was no original project in mind, then just a swatch. Just yesterday I was looking for the fabric swatch notebook printable that Mena put on the SewWeekly site ( – I think I will combine that now with your suggestion to pin it next to a drawing of the original project. And why not, maybe even add ideas for accessories, notions etc. with it. Like an inspiration board for each separate fabric, all put together in one binder or your own “fabric store catalogue”.

Hmmm. Tempting… The only thing that frightens me about this idea is… it’s promising to be quite a massive undertaking! ;-)

Jeri Sullivan

What a great idea. I follow Mena’s blog but missed the post with the swatch printable. I definitely think this is the way to go for me. I will add them to a binder that I can use when shopping for new patterns. That way I will “try” to only buy fabric if my stash doesn’t have something suitable!


If I don’t like a fabric anymore, I use it to make muslins.


I had a huge stash!! But I recently got rid of 2 garbage bags full of just fabric that I had to admit to myself I’d never use, wrong color, duplicate, etc. So, off to the East Bay Center for Creative Reuse it went!
What I still have I have tried to put together with patterns and notions into ziplock bags (if it’ll fit!) and keep these little packages out where I can see them, so I can’t forget about them. Then all I have to think about is when do I have time to work on a project, and which one will I be able to make and wear depending on the season it will be when I’ve finished it!

Jill Harkins

I recently sold my home and downsized 3/4 of my quilt fabric stash.
I donated the fabric to a non-profit that does art projects with at
risk children. It is to this day the best thing I could have done and
makes me feel happy everytime I think of it. I also kept enough for
future projects for myself.


After your recent post on how to store fabric, I rolled all my fabric up and tied it with a ribbon with a note telling me how much of it there is. All the rolls are stored in pigeon holes in my sewing cupboard. I now leave the door to the cupboard open so I can see all my fabric while I’m on the computer or at the sewing machine. It leads to some great inspiration!


Last year I purged my fabric stash — it was really tough, especially as some fabric I had since I was a teen, and some was givin to me as a gift (by a kind elderly friend of the family who is now passed away.

It was tough to let go, but I no longer was inspired by my stash. It felt like a weight, rather than an exciting prospect. I just felt guilty — either as a reminder of projects that never were, or a project I did not have time for. I have all my fabric in clear smaller rubbermaid containers — I still want to get rid of more. I used to buy a pattern, fabric, and make up the project right away. I accumulated patterns and fabric — not lots, but enough to make me nervous. I do not have much space, so for me, a smaller stash works best, as I like to shop for a specific project in mind.

Sandi S

I made a spreadsheet in Google docs and learned how to insert images in a cell so I have a sortable personal fabric store complete with images. I note things like colors, yardage, manufacturer, width, and even notes about potential projects along with the number of the storage tub it is in. My stash is pretty big so this is the most efficient way to look through it without digging through my garage storage area.


This is a fantastic idea.

Seriously, everyone makes fun of me because I use spreadsheets so much. This is right up my alley.

I even used a spreadsheet to chart a colorwork knitting pattern recently. I love em.


Great list! I like #1, #2, #4 and #5 best!


Yep, sewing goal #1 for me is no to avoid fabric stores at all costs!
I keep my fabric in see through plastic bins. 1 is for large yardages intended for dresses, 1 is for medium yardages suitable for tops, 1 is for my solids (I’m a print girl…) and lace, and lastly, I have a box of wool & bottom weights destined to be coats…someday! So once I settle on a pattern, I go to the bin that I know has the cuts that will be suitable and shop my stash.


Great post I agree with most of it. I cannot bear to get rid of stuff just yet though unfortunately. I really need to try and shop the stash in particular.


After moving for the umpty-dumpth time two years ago I decided it’s time to sort the boxes of fabric out! I have an old entertainment center that keeps the ones I choose on view. I have a strict rule that I can’t use anything this year until I finish some of the projects that have been sitting around for several years, too. The biggest thing was getting rid of unflattering colors, fabric types, and pieces that are just not suitable for my lifestyle. (I’m a stay at home retiree who cares for a handicapped family member, so I need fabric that is easy to clean and durable.) If I just can’t bear to part with something that isn’t big enough to really use I started cutting them into quilt squares for some simple quilts. There are almost enough now to make a quilt!


I too have a goal of reducing my fabric stash this year; I had the same goal last year too, my daughters wedding dress got in the way. To help me reduce my stash I have a word document with a list of projects I want to sew. This list includes pattern and type of fabric and yardage. With each project I shop my stash and select 1 or 2 fabrics no more; sew the project sometimes both fabrics get sewn. When I select fabrics I write down yardage, etc and put that info in a spreadsheet where I track how much fabric I have sewn. My goal is when I am on vacation this summer I can buy fabric; for every 5 yards sewn I can buy 2 yards of fabric.
Wish me luck in completing 20–30 yards by this summer. That’s my goal.


In preparation for moving into our motor coach full time, I have been going through my fabric and yarn stashes. I have found some real treasures and some ‘why did I buy that’ stinkers. A fabric swap would be so much fun and I know someone would put to use some of my gorgeous fabric. I have found that if I store fabric in see-through Space Bags and totes, I can look at it as inspiration on a daily basis. Your tips and suggestions really help me be a more thrifty sewer.
I took the pledge on January 1st to use up my stash of fabric and yarn before buying anything new [except some great thrifted clothing] until the end of the year.


I try to let the fabric stash inspire me- I will stand in front of the closet of shameful hoarding and just flip thru the hanging pieces until an idea appears……or the portal to Narnia opens, whatever comes first.


What a good list – I love the one about making a list of projects, I do that already and it helps a lot. I pin it up next to my bed so it is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night. Sounds kooky, but I am also forced to sew out of my bedroom, so there you go.

Lenora Jane

One thing I’ve done in the past that has helped me trim down my fabric (hah hah) is take advantage of outside circumstances to make myself use stash fabric. I often, just by happenstance, end up scheduling my sewing at weird times of day, and I’ll take advantage f the fact that the fabric store is Definitely Not Open to justify forcing myself to go through my stash and look for appropriate fabric. More deliberately, when money is tight I cut my sewing budget right away, partly because it’s my most negotiable expense but partly because, if I can’t afford to buy new fabric or notions, I will find things in my stash and Make Them Work! And inevitably, there are things in there that do.

Lenora Jane

Agh! Posted too soon! The concluding thought, there: it’s just a lot easier to avoid feeling stash guilt if I can pretend it’s an outside factor causing the stashbusting; it goes from “oh God, oh God, I need to use up my stash fabric” to “ooh, how convenient and lucky that I have all this fabric here to use!”

Betty Amazing

Really great tips! I have so much fabric stashed away for ‘the perfect project’ that I just haven’t gotten around to using yet – I think the amount I’ve managed to collect over the years has intimidated me a little! I’m going to sort through mine tomorrow! xx


Good suggestions. I usually only allow myself to buy fabric, if I have a certain project in mind, but even so I have a stash with fabric that dates back to 1998 when I still was in school. (Black stretch trouser fabric, they never saw daylight…) Oh, and I love your sweater!


I find the really important thing is to view a fabric collection as a wonderful, inspiring resource. I have a personal loathing of the very word ‘stash’ which seems to come with very negative connotations.
My current project is the Meringue skirt, and it is cut from what is for me a perfect choice – a lovely pearl grey 100% fine wool bought as a bargain remnant several years back. If I went looking in a shop now for such quality, I would probably come away thinking I couldn’t afford it.


My grandmother has lived all over the world (my grandfather was a diplomat) and bought textiles wherever she’s gone. Her mother did the same, actually. So now a large part of my own stash is stuff she’s de-stashed on me! Luckily most of it is gorgeous, and finally using something that your grandmother – or even great-grandmother – bought decades ago feels good. I need to find a use for the red patterned silk that she got in China to make pyjamas for her baby son (my dad, now 60!).

I think part of the secret of using what you have is being brave about the idea of using something up and not being able to get the exact same thing again. I think we hoard things out of some kind of primal fear of stuff running out. I’m *trying* to get excited about the idea of emptying my fabric cupboard…

Maddie Flanigan

Nina, you’re so right. A big part of the reason I hoard fabric is out of a fear of using it up and worse – messing up while using it up. Thanks for bringing that up!

Kristi (PeetSwea)

Thank you for the suggestions. I recently went through my craft storage and found several yards of fabric that I had forgotten about – it was exciting and gave me a bit of inspiration. I too am trying to cut back on the amount of fabric that I buy, but I sometimes find myself either bored or uninspired by my current stash. I like your idea of a project list, so that I can check a project off my list before buying another.


I have recently gone through my entire stash – and it is one big stash, I tell ya, and organized my fabrics by cutting swatches, stapling them to cut up pieces of cardstock/cue cards and placing in plastic protective covers used for baseball cards. Now, all of my fabric swatches are in one place with fabric content, yardage and intended purpose written on the back of the cards. Then, I purchased vacuum seal bags and organized the fabric by type and vacuumed them into their respective bags. The cards with swatches are separated into batches according to which bag they are in. That way, when I am ready to work with a particular fabric, it is easy enough to find, and the rest of the fabric doesn’t gather dust or get musty from hanging out in my closet for…ahem… years :)


Thank you! Those are excellant tips, especially the one about not beating yourself up, because guilt can sometimes thwart any progress whatsoever.
I keep telling myself as world conditions worsen a day will come when good fabrics are no longer available, hence it only makes sense to buy the good fibers now because I may not have future access. This works very well when nice fabrics are going dirt cheap. I do have a nice selection piled up.
OT- I do hope your hand is on the mend, that hadda hurt.

liz bryentonb

Hi – I often feel very sick about all the fabric of various sizes , fat 1/4s and general scraps I have. No, I really do feel physically sick that, at the age of 67yrs I’m never going to get through even a small section. Even my hand dyed pieces are only 1/2m .I have just started to make a lap quilt using strips and small pieces – 6 layers in all, which are then machined and chenilled etc etc. Last week I was very happy to use up some fabrics but yesterday I turned around to see that my “Scrap fabrics” box is even fuller than before!!! I can only think that I am always buying wrong sized pieces -every time I think I want to make something, I cannot find the colour or pattern to start. I have endless books and items I think I would like to make blah blah blah. Maybe you could help with ideas, patterns please!!!!!


I have a gigantic amount of fabric I’ve collected trough the years (since my teens,…and I’m in my forties now, blush)
I keep the fabric in transparent plastic boxes I got from Ikea, like this I can see what’s in my “store”. Each type of fabric has it’s own box with a label: wool, cotton, lining, and I have boxes with labels that say what the fabric is for: dress, skirt,… But it’s often overwhelming me too, and I still buy more fabric. I know prefectly well what to do with every new piece, but then it dissapears in my boxes,… Last week I went to a designerfabric sale and I told the lady who helped me about my stash, and she opened my eyes when she said: “a lot of money must have gone in that fabric pile of yours?” I will try to keep this in mind, and from now on start shopping in my own store :-)

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