Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How much fabric "should" you buy?

A few years ago, I took a reverse applique class from David Walker, who makes remarkable appliqued and embellished quilts. David stated that his personal philosophy of embellishment was "Excess is never enough!". I have to admit that sometimes that sentiment creeps into my fabric buying.

Within a year or two of making my first quilt, I was fabric shopping with my Aunt Barbie (Barbara Walsh of Spanish Fork UT, a powerhouse in the Utah guilds) and noticed that she was buying fat quarters of everything she liked and that shop owners were quite nice about cutting one for her from the bolt if there wasn't one already available. It really didn't seem to me that there was enough fabric in a fat quarter to do anything with, but I started collecting them anyway and a few years later made a quilt entirely out of that FQ collection that became one of my favorites (the one that Aunt Barbie tries to steal from me every time she's near it). I found that I could make two leaf blocks from a fat quarter and, even though I wasn't converted to scrappy quilts at that time, I did start buying smaller cuts -- to me, that's a half yard.

Basically, the way I buy fabric is dependent on how I think I might use it -- duh, you might say! But now that I am making scrappier quilts, I am buying half yards and adding them to my stash, loosely sorted by the other fabrics that I might use with them. Because I like to cut border fabrics on the lengthwise grain, if I think I might use a fabric as a border, I always buy 3 yards; that gives me enough fabric even if the quilt winds up queen size. I seem to mostly make twin size or large lap quilts in the 60"-65" wide by 80" or so long range, so 3 yards gives me my border length plus extra to use in the piecing or setting/corner triangles if I put the blocks on point.

All bets are off, however, if the fabric is PINK! Pink is inarguably my favorite color and I use it a lot in my quilts. I always buy at least a yard if I spot a pink I don't have, particularly if it involves another love of mine, POLKA DOTS! What can I say -- we all have our weaknesses!

I was leafing through one of my favorite books this morning, "Fabric Shopping with Alex Anderson". This was published by C&T in 2000 and now, unfortunately, is out of print. However, all is not lost -- I called Alex this morning and she does have copies of this book available. You can reach her through her website,, for information on purchasing the book.

Before you get to the 7 quilt patterns in the book, which are all really pretty and easily achievable, Alex has a quite involved section on what fabrics to buy, how much to buy, how to store them once you get them home and how to combine fabric colors and textures for the most impact. Since the book also contains good general instructions for quiltmaking, it would make an excellent resource for someone beginning on their journey to addiction!

Because Alex's quilts tend to be scrappy, she buys smaller quantities of fabric than I do. For instance, she often buys 1/3 yard of tone-on-tones and other fabrics that are readily available. She buys 1/2 yard of a polka dot and 3/4 yard of a stripe, which tends to be a little harder to find. I would probably buy a yard of each of those. However, we do agree on large scale prints that might be used as borders; she feels that 2-3 yards are safe, probably because she tends to make smaller quilts than I do. Most of Alex's quilts are no more than 55" in their longest dimension --- I know this because I have quilted a LOT of them, including the 7 in this book.

Looking at the state of the fabric contained in my bookshelves and Tinkerbell chests, I should probably curl up with a glass of wine (oops - its 9:45 am; maybe not!) and re-read Alex's section on fabric storage....


  1. Thanks for the plug...and the warning. And I just came home with 5 yards of a wonderful tan paisley from Kim Diehl's new line...I saw an ad in one of the quilting magazines a couple of days ago, put it into EQ6 and figured my yardage.

  2. Yummmm! I love Kim's fabrics -- 5 yards is enough to wrap yourself up in for a while before you cut it! You can tell her I said that!


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