Building Your Fabric Stash - Where to Start

The Tessa Quilt - Charley Harper Version - Kitchen Table Quilting
Over the past decade, I have developed a rather large fabric problem stash. Whenever I post a photo of my fabric, I get asked questions like - how much should I buy? How do you know what to buy? etc. so I thought it would be fun to do a few posts about one of my favorite things - buying fabric.

Building Your Fabric Stash (where to start) - Kitchen Table Quilting
I don't buy as much fabric as I used to because . . . well, I have a lot, but I do think I have gotten better at buying what is useful to me. This post is going to focus on WHAT to buy and I will write subsequent posts about where, how much, etc. If you have any further questions, ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer!

Fabric Stash - Kitchen Table Quilting

Note: I had to turn on comment moderation because I was getting inundated with spam comments. It might take me a day or two for your comment to appear, but I promise that I am working as quickly as I can!

Buy what you love

This is a little bit tricky because if you are like me, you might think that you love ALL of the fabric. And it's true - there are a lot of fabrics out there that I love - more than I could ever buy or use. Here are some guidelines that have worked for me.

  • Find fabric designers whose fabrics you enjoy sewing with. I love to sew with Anna Maria Horner's fabrics, and this is true even of the individual fabrics that I don't love. She does a phenomenal job of making her fabrics elevate each other and her fabrics from different collections can generally be used together. 
  • Find styles of fabrics that you enjoy working with. For a while, I thought I really liked striped fabrics. If I am using them for a binding, I do like them. But I don't like using them in quilts! I find them to be visually distracting and they really bother me if they aren't cut perfectly straight. Because of this, I have almost zero striped fabrics in my stash.
  • Figure out which colors you like to work with. In my day to day life, I almost always wear black, navy, dark gray, and sometimes dark green. I am not a colorful person when it comes to clothes. But when it comes to quilting fabric, I LOVE COLOR. I have found that I rarely use reds or pinks, but I love corals and mauve-ish purples. I don't really care for lime greens or yellows, but I go through a ton of turquoise and navy. Figure out what you like.


Buy mostly basics

While it's true that there are some amazing florals and really fun novelty fabrics out there, these are the least useful types of fabrics to keep in your stash. If you love them, buy them, but I am much more likely to use a fabric like this for the quilt backing than to use it in the actual quilt. 

If you stick to fabrics that have limited colors (just 1-2 colors) you will be able to use these in all kinds of projects. At least 90% of the fabrics that I buy these days are basics. Here are my favorites.

  • Ruby Star Society Basics. You knew this was coming, Speckled and Add it Up are magical to me. They have a variety of great colors and can be used in a quilt without being too distracting. They work with lots of different fabric collections. They are just great. 
  • Riley Blake Swiss Dots. I don't like larger dots because I feel like they can be distracting, but the swiss dots are just the right size and I really like the colors that Riley Blake has available. This gray is my absolute favorite and I like to use the low volume dots as background fabrics. 
  • Carolyn Friedlander prints. Carolyn makes beautiful fabric that works really well in quilts - her Architextures prints are amazing, but even her fabrics that are released in collections tend to have limited colors and work as basics. 

Have a good stash of solids

In almost every quilt, I like to use a solid. Sometimes that is just white/light gray, but I also find that mixing in 1-2 solids helps keep fabric combinations from becoming too crazy. Sometimes I will have a really particular color in mind and it is not something that I have in my stash as a print, but I do have it as a solid. You don't have to use ALL solids or ALL prints in a quilt - mix it up!

A great option is to use a Crossweave - I love the ones by Moda but also Peppered Cottons. I have solids from (I think) every manufacturer in my collection, but I particularly love Michael Miller Cotton Couture and Art Gallery Pure Elements because they have some unique shades that are hard to find other places. 

Invest in a backing fabric that you love

Ok, this one may just be my opinion and maybe a tad controversial, but THE BACK OF THE QUILT IS HALF OF THE QUILT! I am a big believer in buying a backing fabric that goes really well with the quilt top and that I love. Sure, it's not cheap, but it's worth it!

Part of the way that I do this is buy purchasing 4 yard backing pieces in advance when I find them on sale. I maintain about 25 different backing options in my stash at any given time. Maybe it's overkill, but it is worthwhile to me. Plus, more and more companies are making 108" wide backing fabrics and usually that is a little more affordable. 

mini quilt swap fabrics?

Hopefully this gives you a little insight into my crazy, fabric-loving brain and I hope it will help you make informed fabric purchases in the future. Have a question? Make sure to ask it in the comments. 

32 comments

  1. On wide backing fabrics, I would point out that not all fabrics are equal. Some of them are quite nice and only slightly more expensive than some that have all the charm of paper against your skin.

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    1. That is definitely true and seems to be the case with wide backings more than regular width fabric. I have even bought the same wideback fabric from the same company, just a couple of years later, and found the quality to be significantly different so it is something to think about.

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing your approach to building a stash. Some great ideas and tips.

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  3. I guess you DO have a lot of fabric! In my dreams! Perhaps if I reread your post and follow your advice, I will someday boast a fabulous collection, too!

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    1. Yep, it's pretty overwhelming! It has taken me more than decade to build this up and a lot of the fabric buying was done toward the beginning of when I started quilting - I find that I buy less and less every year but part of that is that I am much better at figuring out which fabrics are useful to me now.

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  4. Love your suggestions! I try to approach my stash in the same way. I find that I buy lots of “blenders” - simple tone-on-tone prints. I have my favorite designers and colors, too!

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    1. Agree! Tone-on-tone prints are my absolute favorites, they are what I buy the most.

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  5. Thanks for the insight into you fabric stash. Can I ask about backing do you buy 4 yards of standard width fabric and what size are you quilts in General? I too have a large stash and am determined to weed out those that I don’t love and not to save quilt scraps unless I really love the fabric. Happy New Year.

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    1. I almost always make lap size quilts and 4 yards is large enough for a large-ish lap size quilt. My favorite quilt size to make is about 60" x 72" and 4 yards is perfect - for anything smaller, then 4 yards is more than enough. For twin size quilts, it is much more cost effective to buy 108" backing fabric.

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  6. These are excellent ideas. I just need to organize better

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  7. Thank you so much for the info/tips on building your stash. I've been buying a lot of pre-cuts and fat quarter bundles. I make sure I have plenty of fabric to make at least a double size quilt from what I buy. I loved the idea about the quilt backings being fabric/fabrics you also love. I try to coordinate my backings with the front side of my quilts. I have also been doing some extra special inserts/blocks on the back sides of my quilts. Happy New Year, 2021! Roxy in Hudson, WI

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    1. That is wonderful - it is nice to make the backing special.

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    2. Hey Roxy, I'm right down the road from you in Eau Claire, Wi. Hi Neighbor!

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  8. I have stash envy! I have too much fabric now and have to donate some to just clear a path! I realized it is keeping me from enjoying the ones I love! Thank you for your tips !!

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    1. I think it is a great idea to clear out fabrics that you don't love - I have done this a few times, but I am a bit of a hoarder and I have a really hard time letting go.

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  9. You may not like yellow, but I see lots of golds and golden tans in your collection as well as yellow greens. How do you incorporate those colors into your quilts? Do you make a sample block before you commit to color placements?

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    1. I do have them and I do use them, but I am much less likely to use them and I am much pickier about finding the right shades of yellows and yellow/greens. For yellows, I prefer a warmer/gold shade and for greens I like lime greens that are closer to yellow. When I pull fabric for a project, I tend to pull the colors that I love first and kind of build a foundation of fabrics and then accent them with the colors that I don't like as much. They are still important and serve a purpose, but I have a harder time being inspired by the colors that I don't like as much.

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    2. Thank you, Erica! Appreciate your explanation, and it makes sense. I love green of any shade and tend to lean toward those; that's why I was curious.

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  10. When you do buy fabric bundles, do you store them as bundles or do you split them up and store everything by color?

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    1. I buy them from lots of places, but I will talk about that in a future post. I hadn't thought about doing a post on fabric organization, but that's a good idea too because my answer is that sometimes I keep them together and sometimes I separate them. Basically, if I think I will use the fabrics together in a quilt, I keep them together. If I buy a bundle of fabrics and think that I will use them in separate projects, I separate them. Does that make sense?

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  11. Can you tell me what your favorite whites are to use as backgrounds? I am having such a hard time finding a white that I like. Thank you.

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    1. Are you thinking solids or a low volume print? I am planning to do a post about background fabrics, but for solids I like Kona Snow or Kona Bone. There are others that I use, but those are my go to choices!

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  12. Hi Erica, I hope to join in with your next quilt along- my first ever but have forgotten which pattern to buy? And could you please pop over to Devon, UK and help me sort out some fabrics please? Not at all confident with fabric choice , but I love yours! See you soon!

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    1. It will be The Violet Quilt! I am working on a post with all of the info but my lack of organization is really slowing me down. I so wish I could come to the UK to help you - maybe someday!

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  13. Your tips are so helpful! I tend to buy too many things I love, but they don't work with other fabrics I have. I, too, have a lot of fabric, but your ideas will help me use them all better. Thanks so much and I look forward to all your helpful blogs.

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    1. I did this for a while too and ended up using a lot of these fabrics (that had been in my stash for about a decade) to make masks. You never know when you will find a way to use them, but it is nice to have a lot of useful fabrics in your stash!

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  14. Replies
    1. It depends on the size of the cut and I am not very picky about how it's folded - I just try to fold it into a shape that fits the shelf.

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  15. When you buy a fabric for your stash what quantity do you generally recommend, especially in regards to yardage? Do you tend to buy solids by the bolt, or by the yard?

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    1. I just made a post about this exact topic - check my post from today!

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