Friday chatter: Do you fear ruining fabric?



Every year at this time I face a conundrum in my garden.

You see, I have a little condition known around our house as tulip mania. We’ve even given it a theme song (sung to the tune of The Damned song Psychomania, fyi).

So when the tulips begin popping up in April, I get dorkily excited. But then the heartbreaking decision: do I cut them?

On the one hand, I get to see them and enjoy them more when they’re on my dining room table then, say, getting trampled by kids and dogs in our parking strip. But I know the moment I cut them they begin to die, and unlike a flowering bush or tree, bulbs are sort of a one-time-use flower. Once you cut the bloom, it’s gone.

I thought of this internal struggle again as I cleaned out my fabric stash a little this week.

Sure, I know I should use all the gorgeous fabrics I already own. I have boxes of them! But something about the thought of using them makes them feel less permanent.

When a fabric is just a fabric it has so much creative potential. You can imagine finding the perfect use for it.

Once you cut into it and make a garment, it starts to be used and in a way, starts to decay. All things move toward their end, as they say.

I don’t consciously think of all this when I choose not to sew from my stash, of course. But in the back of my mind, perhaps there is a fear of ruining something I love in itself.

How do you push past the fear of destroying what you have by using it?

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 40


Simple, if you don’t use it, it is like Schrödinger’s cat, it has both the potential to be an awesome garment or a failure. Until you use it, however, it is just a piece of fabric in a stash in your cupboard, not being awesome. Cut it and risk, otherwise it will never get to be awesome!

Diane @ Vintage Zest

So funny! Also, the potential is there to be a top, skirt, dress, etc. so it simultaneously has the potential to be all of those wonderful garments instead of just one.

Side note, is it possible to transplant the tulip bulbs to a pot and enjoy them on the kitchen table for much longer? I’m not a gardener…


HA! That made me laugh – fabulous analogy! I agree. Sewing = no fear…what’s the worst that can happen?

Isaboe Renoir

I agree – see if the cat’s alive!

Personally, I don’t really buy fabric without a specific intent so it’s not a problem for me. Yes, I buy fabric “just because” it’s a good buy or beautiful, but I also 99.98% of the time have a specific project in mind for it – “oh look, beautiful silk on clearance, that’ll make a nice blouse or camisole…” that kind of thinking.

But I can also see myself coming across a piece so beautiful (or in such limited quantity) that I wouldn’t be able to make it into something. In which case I’d either frame it so I could actually see it, or make something small out of it like a decorative pin cushion or pillow, table runner, etc. If it were really delicate or antique I’d probably have it conserved and framed so I could hang it somewhere. (See, you can have your stash and use it too!)


I buy for specific projects also, but the problem is that I overestimate how many I can actually complete!


Like so many, I have a LOT of fabric and have been afraid to or did not want to cut it. This actually became an “issue” for me late last year. I started to feel a bit guilty about all the fabric I had amassed and was not using which got me to really thinking about what it was for and why I had wanted it in the first place.

Obviously the fabric was bought to sew and create things with!! I decided to began to use it up by making items and outright giving those items away. I began this in late December of 2013 and many wonderful things have happened as a result:

1. I am much more productive and have tried many more patterns that I would not have. 2. As a result of 1, I have learned tons about sewing in the past couple of months and have become a better seamstress and quilter, simply because I am actually sewing!! 3. Projects actually get finished because they already have a “home”. 4. My stash is finally dwindling!!! 5. Most importantly, the joy that comes from making and giving away these items is immeasurable and I think the receiver enjoys them as well. :).

So far, I have given away about 10 things, several quiltlets, a table runner as a house warming gift, simple garments, bags, and a garment bag as well as a few other items, one to a complete stranger who just loved quilting and wanting to get started!

It has been such fun and the fabric that has been collected and stored around here finally has a purpose that overcomes my fear of cutting and using it up.

It has been liberating for me!

Jeri Sullivan

Great idea Judy! When I started sewing in 2011, I made a LOT of purchases that later turned out to be either not my style or not the right type of fabric for the patterns I have.

Instead of letting it languish, I made some items to give to friends and also donated a lot of fabric to get it out of the house. Now, I typically try to limit my purchases to something I have a specific plan/pattern. This has worked reasonably well. As of right now, I have maybe 10-15 lengths of fabric that are pre-2014.

I also found keeping all my fabric on an open shelf prevents me from buying too much because it looks messy overflowing AND because I can actually see and know what I have.

Now if I could get my yarn stash under control, I would really be in business :)


I love this! Such a lovely idea. I haven’t seen it come up in sewing a lot, but knitters (and crocheters) talk about “process knitting”, where it isn’t about the finished object, but about what it took to get there and the satisfaction one gets from that. This kind of sounds like “process sewing”. :)


It’s a dilemma faced by every creative person at some point, I think. But if I think I love something I wait until I find the right way to use it, or else try to buy with a use in mind. Sometimes, when I agonize over something, I remind myself of the story my mom told me about my great-grandmother: she had linens, china, and an entire parlor that were “best”, meaning for company only. Yet she had visitors, holidays and special occasions and those things were never used, not even once. She lived and died with these beautiful objects nobody saw or used, ever. That story reminds me that I and my loved ones are always worth using the “best” for, because life only happens once. The things we love must be used, because more beauty will come from using it than not, is how I look at it- that special fabric becomes a special garment for a special life- yours!

Jeri Sullivan

This is so totally true Trisha! I use my “fine” china everyday so that it gets used and I don’t just store my good stuff and never use it. Sometimes things do get chipped or broken but not often and I enjoy surrounding myself with beautiful things.


So true, Trisha. That’s a poignant story.


This resonates with me.. Having done some of the wardrobe architect series, I realized I needed to make more everyday dresses – I often sew fancy dresses in complex patterns that I don’t have tons of use for. And also, I recently decided I needed to focus on de-stashing. I pulled out a tone-on-tone embroidered cotton-linen blend that I always loved – and the love kept me from doing much with it – to make a sundress. The yardage was just a hair short of what was called for on the pattern, but I knew I could make it work.

And then, I made a when I laid out and cut the fabric. I have little kids, I was cutting late at night, which I never did pre-kids. In any case, I cut one of the skirt pieces wrong.

The bodice was supposed to be lined with the same fabric (which accounted for a fair amount of yardafe; I used the fabric I should have used for the lining and was able to squeeze out the final skirt piece (correctly this time). With the embroidery, the fabric was really kind of heavy for self-lining, so the next day I went and bought some lighter cotton to line the bodice. And I’m now making the dress.

Several good lessons. Be more careful, certainly. But also, it felt good that I was able to be resourceful and make a save. And even in the worst case scenario, I wouldn’t have been able to make me the dress, at least in the way I’d planned – maybe I would have re-cut something for one of my littles. But the fabric wasn’t doing me any good in my stash, and cutting it – well, now I’ll get a nice sundress out of it.


In a related topic, I recently made a jacket out of amazing double knit wool. I was a little afraid to wear it because it’s so perfect, and what happens if it is ruined? So I bought another length to use when I need to. Now I just need to make sure it’s insect-proof!

Helen http.

I actually fear “wasting” my fabric. I’m always scared I’ll use it for the wrong project, or cut it wrongly, or make a giant mistake, and therefore render the fabric unusable, or the garment unwearable. But if I don’t use it, it will never see the light of day. I need to trust my judgement, and my ability and give myself the benefit of the doubt.

Jet Set Sewing

I’ve found if you have really good fabric, the best way to avoid the fear is to make and fit a muslin version of the garment first. Sure, it’s a pain, but when the time comes to cut the fabric, I feel much more happy and confident. And if I like the finished product, I have a muslin pattern to make it again.


I do! That’s why I have a bunch of Liberty and vintage pieces that I’ve never cut into, even though I’ve had them for years. I’m trying to change that though since I’m committed to using my stash.

Regarding the tulips, do you mean one time use for the season? Or forever? Tulips don’t naturalize nearly as well as daffodils but the tulips blooming this year are ones that I didn’t plant, they were put here by the previous owner.


Oh, I meant for the season. I meant that if you cut a rose, the rose bush will still keep blooming. But with tulips, once you cut the bloom, it’s gone until next year.


Ooh I’m exactly the same way. My problem isn’t that I’m afraid to cut into the fabric – I don’t want to cut into my special fabric until I have a pattern “just perfect”. I will make 2 – 3 muslins for the simplest of patterns because I don’t want to ruin any of my fashion fabric on a garment that doesn’t fit to a T. It’s a bit annoying, but in the end I’m always glad I take the time to make sure something fits well.

I used my most precious fabric last year on a Hazel dress, after making 2 muslins and two “test” version of the dress, and inevitably I cut one of the pieces wrong and had to recut (because it was a border print). Luckily I had purchased a little extra, but it’s still unnerving when you spend so much on just a yard of fabric.


I think I have the opposite problem: I buy something really beautiful and put it on a shelf where I can see it, and every time I look at it I have to restrain myself from diving in and making something nownownow. I can feel my pupils dilating when I look at them, I get so impatient.

Normally I manage to restrain myself and make the muslin first to get the fit right, but it’s so hard. And yes, some of the makes have been less than perfect–but none have been terrible or unwearable, and it makes me so much happier to be able to wear them than it made me to look at the fabric on the shelf.

I’m much more likely to let it sit for a long time when it’s a fabric I wasn’t crazy about to begin with. Then it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to spend all the time making it into something.

Jennifer b

I usually don’t have much of a stash but right now I do because I was pregamcy and post baby size changes have put projects on hold. And I still buy fabric because I like to!
I always buy with a specific project in mind – so right now it’s more of a project backlog than stash!
But I love making lingerie and collect gorgeous antique laces and trims to use on pieces. I know when I use them they will eventually fall apart and that’s a painful thing for precious 1920’s or Victorian lace. But if I don’t use them, they will sit in a box just like they did for the previous generations that didn’t use them, but kept them for someday.. So I pick special projects, try to position lace where it gets the least strain, and use these gorgeous trims!

Show and Tell Meg

I feel exactly the same way! I was just trying to overcome a bit of this turmoil this week. The only thing I can suggest is making sure you muslin the daylights out of what you’re planning to make out of it and then just do it, lol. I do know exactly what you mean though. I hope someone on here comes up with some fantastic suggestion and analysis.


Buying fabric, but not using it, is a little bit like buying a plane ticket, but not taking the trip. Personally, I find the reality of a trip much more exciting and interesting than the potential of one. The same is true of fabric.


I’ll preface this by saying that I mostly quilt, but I think this is really common for lots of people who work with cloth and fiber. I think I use to feel more hesitant about cutting into my favorite fabrics, but then I realized at some point that I don’t enjoy them when they are stored away in boxes. I even forget sometimes that I have certain pieces. It’s only after I make something, that I really can appreciate the beauty on a daily basis and enjoy that feeling of something well-made and well-loved (which is really the “why” of my making, not collecting fabric). If I mess something up, it is hard to stomach at first, but often times fabric can be repurposed. If not, there is always more fabric at the store and more inspiration in those pieces than I could ever hope to “use up”. Just like the bulbs that come back year after year, there is always the opportunity to try something new again, so why not cut them?

sarah sky

i struggle with this so much. It’s pretty interesting to hear someone who is so creative and who sews so much has a similar problem. For me it has always been based in lack. Growing up wearing hideous hand me downs, living in squalor, hideousness, never thinking beauty was my friend. Your story is probably not so rough, but i have to constantly remind myself that I am worth it. That i won’t destroy it, and there will always be more. Flowers are endless, fabric is endless.


Great to see so many that go through the same thing as I. Recently I was felt do guilty about my stash that I vowed to sew up several pieces before buying more. I pulled one gorgeous piece out, made a fully lined dress, and even though I thought I sized it correctly On my dress form it is a tad small. So have I ruined it or can I lose some weight or can I give to someone who will like it and wear it? My biggest fear was realized.
OK, lesson learned, sort of. I broke my promise to self and bought an irresistible piece of fabric. But, before ruining it I dragged out a 20 or so year old fabric piece to sacrifice as a sample dress, did a bunch of redrafting and resizing. Made the dress and I Love It! How did that happen? So new vow…buy some, use some old stash, be more careful and just keep loving to sew!!


I display my stash on a shelf in my sewing area. I like to re-stack the little piles from time to time in different combinations, trying different colour, pattern and texture combos. I think of the fabric piles as art-soft sculpture-that are beautiful in their own right until they get sewn. Stash doesn’t have to be a guilty problem.


I have collected rare vintage Japanese cottons and silks. I used to just want to “keep” them and not use them.
It is a mind game.
So, in my mind, if I use the fabric the universe will let me find more. More fabric will come my way. Therefore, I must keep my heart open to seeing fabric that is precious to me. I must buy these treasures when I see them.
I do not live life with regrets. But I have regretted not buying a piece of fabric or two. So, if I love it, minimum of 3 yards, 5 if I can afford it.


I have this problem particularly with fabric from my mother. She was a fiber artist for years and I’ve received a lot of her dyed and painted silks. I have a dozen squares of jewel-tone silk satin and silk/rayon cross-dyed pieces that would make lovely scarves but I can’t quite convince myself to cut into them (I love neckerchief sized scarves best). So they sit in a box aside from the couple times a year I pull them out to pet and hem and haw over.
On the other hand, my mother also collected other beautiful fabrics that she stashed for years. When she passed them on to me recently, I didn’t have the same qualms and have made several dresses out of the pieces. Every time I’ve shown her, she remarks how pleased she is to see the fabric being used.


So many great comments here! We recently blogged about using up your stash for our fabric store here in Australia. Lots of similar points. For me it boils down to three things:
– Fabric is created in order to be made into something. Maybe exquisite vintage pieces deserve to be used even more, they’ve been waiting so long!
– There will always be more beautiful fabric.
– I have never regretted cutting into even my most ‘treasured’ fabrics. (Maybe I’ve just been lucky there!)
– Jane :)


I’ve been sewing since I was a little kid. Six kids and not much money, so things got used. In high school I would make clothes out of remnants of my mom’s upholstery jobs. My dad used to tease me about my “camouflage” clothing. I never had the luxury of stashing fabrics, so I’ve never really thought about it. Plus, I’d have to goof something up pretty badly to not be able to make even a pillow out of it. Gorgeous fabric goof: gorgeous pillow. (I have a good friend who accidentally backed his car up over his trumpet, which went everywhere with him. The next time I visited him, he had turned it into a lamp!). I do have skeins of yarn, though, which I refer to as pets, and will probably never even wind up…. ;)


I love the trumpet story!

I had a lovely old teacup/saucer/plate set which I shipped halfway across the world when I moved. On arrival, though the cup and plate were intact, the saucer had broken. I sent it to Lucie Ellen, an etsy artist, who made the cracked pieces into three lovely brooches. I would have liked to have kept the teaset intact, but I enjoy wearing my pretty brooches and telling people the story!


people talk about this a lot, but it’s not an issue i have. i’ve only been sewing for about a year & i almost exclusively buy for specific projects. & since i have a baby (16 months now–she was my inspiration for learning to sew, because i wanted to make her a quilt), i have to be realistic about how many projects i can reasonably expect to complete in a given month. the only real problem i have is that i tend to compulsively over-buy. if a pattern says i will need three yards of fabric, i buy four. & sometimes that’s good–i made the licorice dress recently, & i bought extra fabric, & i wound up using almost all of it because i made some changes to the pattern that necessitated extra material (& i cut a few things wrong on my first try). my “stash” is most scraps leftover from previously completed projects that i’m reluctant to part with for whatever dumb reason. i’ve started using them to make muslins instead of buying actual muslin.

JF Brown

Yes, and it has cost me so much anxiety. I have had, for years, even decades, fabrics which would have served well as a garment or some decoration, or perhaps covered a chair. I did without those things, and piles grew.
I do think it has to do with fear of destroying a beloved and precious thing, but in my case, much more to do with the fear of not having enough.. what if I NEED this later, and don’t have it.
It becomes a kind of hoarding, and a kind of waste. I am trying to have the attitude that like food in the cupboard, using it is not ruining it.


After my mother died, I found myself buying, generously buying, Liberty Lawn yardage. I so rarely use it, although I have a lot of it. Lately I’ve been feeling as though I’m hoarding it so I am trying to make plans for it. But, I am afraid I will screw it up because I have before. But, really, those screwups are in bags and are destined to be a part of a beautiful quilt made only of Liberty scraps. So…there’s always a place for my fabric, is the lesson.


I need my husband to read this and realise that I’m not nuts after all. :) Or at least I’m not the only one.


Sarai, why not enjoy gazing upon the pretty flowers where they are planted in your garden and also buy a bunch of pre-cut blooms from the local farmer’s market? Then you can have the best of both worlds AND support a local grower!
So many fabulous examples about the perception of an object’s value vs. actual usage. In tandem with the wonderful wardrobe architect series, I am re-evaluating all my “stash” pieces and organizing a fabric & pattern swap with other stitchers. Leftovers will be a) made into muslins b) fashioned into creative gifts or c) donated to charity. Thanks as always for the inspiration!


Good idea, perhaps I should be getting to the farmer’s market more.


I have only been a part of the sewing world for about 16 months or so now, but have already created an impressive little stash. There has been a crazy fabric destash happening on Instagram for the last 3.5 months and as things come up that I know are OOP, rare and valuable (Heather Ross and Melody Miller, I’m looking at you), I’ve bought some with the best of intentions. It made me sad when people were selling off their stashes of beautiful material because they were too afraid to cut into it. I ended up with 28 FQs of gorgeous OOP Heather Ross fabrics and made a quilt that I love and then sold the scraps to someone else so they could make something that they love too. Fabric should be used – that was its original purpose. Though at least if you are using fabric for something other than clothes, the fear of it not fitting isn’t as big of a deal. Being cautious is fine, but live boldly! Cut it out!


Sarai, Have you ever read Everyday Use by Alice Walker? I think every crafter should read it, its a great short story.


I haven’t, but I love Alice Walker. I’ll look out for it!

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