A Word to the Wise…

It’s no secret that the current economic climate is taking its toll on quilter’s purses as well as on independent quilt shops. Seasoned quilters are pulling from their stashes as well as from those of friends rather than visiting the shops for new fabric as they have in the past. The trend seems to be that of using what has already been purchased and has been sitting on the shelf for heaven only knows how long. Fair enough. Shop owners totally understand that if you already have a great stash of fabrics there’s no need for you to buy more. We too are starting to follow suit and rather than buy new fabrics that are going to sit on our shelves forever and a day we choose to buy very little, if any, to replace what’s already been sold. Granted, there are times when we need to buy replacement fabrics, but buying whole new groups is less likely to happen in small quilt shops these days. At least it won’t be happening here for a while I’m sure.

Scrap quilts have always been a favorite of quilters, but they seem to be even more popular now. Using up lots of bits and pieces allows a quilter to make a beautiful quilt while getting rid of lots of fabric scraps. Unfortunately, as with all things, there’s a good side and a bad side to this method. The good side for quilters who use up their stash, or who have a group of friends with whom they can share fabric, is that they aren’t spending any more money out of pocket while still being able to create beautiful items with their hands. Maybe by doing so they are able to use that savings to get someone else to quilt their quilt making it a useable or giftable product as opposed to another UFO.

The bad side comes into play when a quilter finds a pattern of interest, starts pulling from their stash, starts making the quilt, and gets down to the end of their project only to realize that they do not have enough fabric, usually a background fabric but equally as possible a border or binding fabric. After having three calls/visits last week alone caused by this dilemma, it dawned on me that this may become a much more prevalent problem. In their enthusiasm to be creating, these quilters neglected to do what their carpenter counterparts do, measure twice cut once.

What’s a quilter to do?! Take background fabrics for instance. Rather than pulling a fabric from your stash and having at it, take the little bit of time needed to measure how much is actually in that cut of fabric and refer back to the materials list and cutting directions of your chosen pattern. Don’t just think to yourself that there should be enough there to get “X” number of blocks and start cutting into it, measure it first. If you have what is required, great! If you’re close then you need to do some calculating per the instructions and see if what is called for is more than you actually need or if it’s exactly what you need. Some patterns tell you to buy a little more than you’ll actually need to allow for cutting errors. Other patterns are exact in their measurements so you’d better really pay attention to the instructions or you won’t have enough fabric to finish the quilt. I’ve even seen a very few patterns that didn’t allow for enough fabric in the materials list. It really does pay to take that extra time and make sure you have what you need. You’d check your pantry to make sure you had everything you needed before you started cooking supper, so why not do the same before you start a new project.

We rarely go through a pattern with a fine toothed comb and do all the calculations before cutting, but I do recommend that you do a little bit of math before jumping into a new quilt project. Or any project come to think of it. That little bit of extra time up front will save you a lot of grief latter on. I also recommend that if you have even the slightest glimmer of a thought that you’d like the project to end up being larger than the directions call for, that you look before you leap. Maybe you have an idea for a change that you think would make the quilt even better. Unless you’re just a glutton for punishment, don’t start that project until you know for a fact that you have enough fabric to make it the size given as well as enough fabric to make it larger or change it up should you decide to do so along the way. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had someone looking for more fabric because they decided to make the quilt larger once they were about halfway through. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t. I hate telling them we’re out of what they’re looking for, but it does happen more than you’d think.

OK, you’re a smart quilter and you’ve measured your background fabric only to discover that, alas, you do not have enough. You may want to try this option. Make your quilt using multiple background pieces. By doing this, if you run out it won’t matter because you can substitute something else and no one will be the wiser. Using various background fabrics also lends a touch of uniqueness to a quilt and makes it that much more interesting visually.

Another solution, should you find that you do not have enough of a background fabric and you want it all to match, is to go buy what you need before you start that new project and set the too small cut that’s on hand aside for a smaller project. That way you are not frustrated by trying to locate more fabric which, more often than not, is out of print and no longer available because what you started with had been sitting on your shelf for several years.

While basics, i.e. tone-on-tone or blenders, tend to be reprinted for an undetermined amount of time, fabrics that are released in a group have about a six month timeframe for reordering, if that long. Fabric vendors are also cutting down on the amount of inventory they have on hand and are not over-printing or reprinting as they once did. Two of the last full groups we bought had some skus that were sold out even before we got our order. This meant I couldn’t get more so once it was gone, it was gone.

I know you’ve heard the advice given by many seasoned quilters. If you find something you like, buy it when you have the chance because it might not be there when you go back. While fabric isn’t walking out the doors as it did when we first bought the shop, it does eventually get sold, so I do strongly recommend that if you see something you like when you visit a shop, buy it. Better to have to skip a dessert down the road because you bought an extra half yard of fabric than to never be able to find again that fabric which would have been absolutely perfect in your new project. A word to the wise is sufficient.

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