Tag Archives: shop your stash

Shop Your Stash – Planning Your Makes

For the last 3 months I’ve been talking about how to use your leftover fabric scraps, organising and de-cluttering your fabric stash and how to pair your newly organised fabrics and patterns into winning combinations. The last of this mini series is all about planning your projects; to make best use of your time, to avoid stressful sewing and to improve your skills and knowledge.


OK, every project doesn’t have to be a battle to master a new technique; we all love to sew and often the most pleasure is to be had in just sailing through a project, feeling confident in what you’re doing and having everything go right. But occasionally it’s good to choose a project that is going to challenge you in some way and enable you to learn something new, even if it’s in just one aspect of that make: maybe it’s a fabric you haven’t sewn before, a fiddly detail that you always struggle with or a difficult garment to fit.

My first piece of advice is: tackle one challenge at a time! Don’t combine all those challenges into one garment – trying to tackle a tricky detail in a difficult fabric on a garment that might not be the best fit is a recipe for frustration and disaster.

My second piece of advice is: don’t try to learn something completely new with every project – practice makes perfect. I’ve encountered students in the past who as soon as I’ve taught them a new technique and they’ve tried it once, are all too keen to move onto the next one. You don’t collect new techniques, they’re not fully formed and perfected after doing them once, the process of learning new skills and techniques needs practice and you need to master each one until they become almost like second nature. Identify the bits you find most difficult and explore ways that work for you to make them easier – that might be extra tacking, chalking seamlines or simply just practicing on fabric samples until you’ve got it right.

Try and plan your makes with this advice in mind, so if you have a tricky fabric in your stash that you’re planning to use up and it will work equally well in 2 of your patterns, choose the pattern that either; you’ve made before, or is the least technically challenging for you.

It’s rewarding to use your hobby to develop your skills, it gives you a greater sense of satisfaction with your end results and you’re continually building on what you already have. I call this approach “Progressive Sewing”, I’ve written about it before in more depth here, but it’s basically an idea I took from my gym. The instructors in my gym like to encourage everyone’s training to be progressive which means regularly changing your exercise routine by adding new exercises and increasing the difficulty of existing ones. This pushes your body to increase in strength and fitness.

Here are some ideas for a progressive approach to sewing your own clothes that will build your skills and techniques.

how to plan your sewing


In the previous part of this series I went through some common fabrics and the styles of clothes they’re best suited to, this month we’re adding those all important fibres to the mix. Fibre content is important for knowing how the fabric will handle and most crucially – what it will be like to wear. From now on, when you’re shopping for fabric, make a note of the fibre content of the fabric (and the recommended washing instructions!)

Here’s a quick reference guide to the most common fibres, what they’ll be like to wear and what they’re best used for. Print off a copy so that you have it on hand when you’re fabric shopping.

fibre identification chart

Now you might not always know the fibre content of a fabric in your stash, you might buy fabric that isn’t labelled with a fibre content or you may want to check the fibre content of a fabric that you suspect might be mis-labelled. The only way to check fibre content accurately is to burn a bit of the fabric. CAUTION! Use a small piece of fabric, hold it with tweezers and do the test ideally outdoors or at least over a sink.

Here’s a table of what happens to the most common fibres when they’re burnt. Obviously fabrics made from a mix or blend of fibres can be more tricky to identify, but if you’re trying to check if the fabric you’ve been sold really is 100% cotton or really does contain some elastane or really is silk, this should help.

how to identify fibre content


We touched on planning in the 2nd part of this series; mainly talking about seasonal versus non-seasonal sewing and setting yourself realistic goals.

Heed this advice that I’ve personally learned the hard way and that I’ve experienced with lots of my students: don’t decide to make yourself something “special” to wear on the spur of the moment for an imminent event!!

It’s stressful, you’re unlikely to enjoy the process (even if you do enjoy the end result), you won’t learn much as you’ll be rushing rather than taking the time to do things well, you might make some bad fabric / pattern choices and end up wasting money and you might not be happy with the results.

If, however, you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants and have to sew to a deadline, choose a fabric that you know you can sew easily in a colour and print that you know you will wear and ideally choose a pattern that you’ve made before, don’t try to learn new techniques in a project with a tight deadline. Or if you do, don’t bring it to your sewing class!!!

Shop Your Stash – Matching Patterns to Fabrics

For the last 2 months I’ve been talking about how to use and organise your leftover scrap fabrics and your fabric stash. So now you have a beautifully edited and organised stash of fabric, but no doubt you also have a pattern stash?! Here are my tips for how to streamline and organise your pattern collection and a quick guide for teaming fabrics with patterns.


how to store patterns

Go through your wardrobe and pull out the garments you most enjoy wearing. You could even take photos of them and create a moodboard or a “My Style” Pinterest board (this is probably a good version of that for me). Hopefully a pattern will start to emerge of styles, shapes and details.

You might also begin to see some gaps that could be filled with particular garments.

Next get an accurate set of your body measurements; include your cup size as well as your bust, inside leg and your preferred skirt lengths. Always refer to these measurements when choosing your pattern size, DO NOT go by dress sizes on patterns – they’re meaningless (read why here), get to know your body measurements and just go by the size chart and finished garment measurements on the pattern.

Download a copy of my guide to taking measurements:how to measure yourself


Next, go through your patterns and using the flat technical drawings so as not to be distracted by photographs and illustrations, pull out all the ones that you would wear and that fit in with the styles you identified in step 1. Be honest with yourself!

Once you have made a pile of “possibles” go through these patterns again and check that the sizes covered by each pattern include your measurements (remember to check both the body measurement chart AND the finished garment measurements of the pattern). Put all those that cover your measurements to one side, the rest are your reject patterns to get rid of.

Like with your culled fabrics, there are lots of ways to get these patterns out of your life:

  • sell them online – there’s always Ebay, but social media sites like Instagram are becoming popular in the sewing community for regular “Destash Sales”,
  • organise a pattern swap with your crafty friends at a class or meet-up,
  • donate them to your local charity shop or school.

What’s the best way to store your newly edited library of patterns? Patterns come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and then there are PDF patterns.

As with fabrics, I’m a fan of the clear plastic stackable box approach, but here are some more ideas for storing your patterns:

  • paper patterns that you think you’re likely to use several times need to be more durable – transfer the pieces onto card or iron interfacing onto the backs of the pattern sheets before cutting out the pieces,
  • store card and interfaced patterns on pattern hooks and hang them along with any toiles you’ve made of the patterns,
  • don’t try to stuff cut out paper patterns back into their envelopes, either store the pieces in a card or plastic folder and keep them on a shelf or put the pieces in a clear plastic sleeve and put the sleeve on a hanger along with any toiles you’ve made of the pattern,
  • don’t roll patterns that are on card or stiffer paper – they will never lie flat again and will drive you bananas!

It’s time to shop your fabric stash! Take each of your edited patterns and see if you can find a suitable fabric in your (now beautifully organised) fabric stash.
Each pattern will have a list of suggested fabrics, if you’re still quite new to sewing, these lists can be quite confusing.

To help you out I’ve put together 2 checklists:

  • a fabric checklist which explains by fabric name some of the more common fabrics, along with what kind of styles they best suit and their typical fibre content,
  • a project checklist for you to better plan your sewing projects.

You can download them here.

fabric guide

If you’re planning to make a pattern that you haven’t made before, make a quick toile in a similar weight, substitute fabric first to check whether you want to make any tweaks to the fit or style.

Once you’ve sewn with a range of different fabrics and have an idea of how they behave, what they’re like to sew and how much you enjoy wearing them, you can experiment with substituting the fabrics recommended for your patterns.

Shop Your Stash – 4 Easy Steps

stash busting

In this post I talked about ways to use up those awkward left over offcuts of fabric in your stash that are too small to make a garment, but too big to just discard. Now let’s get serious and tackle those bigger pieces of fabric in your stash – yes, you know what I mean, those lengths you bought on impulse that are languishing in the bag with the receipt completely forgotten about ……! It’s fine, we’ve all done it, but they’re taking up valuable space, so here’s my four-step plan for tackling them.

stash busting

Tackle the stash head on and prepare to be harsh and brutally honest. Pull out any fabrics that are in colours and prints that don’t coordinate with the rest of your wardrobe and that you’ve never worn before; if you’ve never bought clothes in those colours or prints you’re unlikely to wear anything you make in them. Do this in daylight with a mirror close by – if you’re unsure about a fabric, hold it up to your face, you’ll soon get a feeling for whether you’d be likely to wear it.

Put the fabrics that pass the cull to one side ready for the next steps. Get rid of the fabrics that didn’t make the grade. There are plenty of good things you can do with your rejects:

  • use it for non-dressmaking sewing
  • if you have storage space – keep it for making toiles
  • sell it online – there’s always Ebay, but social media sites like Instagram are becoming popular in the sewing community for regular “Destash Sales”
  • organise a fabric swap with some stitchy friends at a class or sewcial meet-up
  • donate it to a charity or school.

stash busting

Once you have your carefully edited pile of usable fabrics, make sure each piece is washed so that it’s all ready to just unfold and cut. Pre-washing is important and I’ve written more about it here; it removes any loose dye and encourages any shrinkage in the fabric. Natural fibres are most prone to shrinkage (especially cotton and wool), as are regenerated fibres such as viscose and rayon. Knitted fabrics are also more likely to shrink than woven fabrics. 

Here’s a guide to how much different fibres are likely to shrink:

  • wool by up to 15%
  • viscose 8%
  • cotton 10%

By now you probably won’t have a note of the washing instructions for your fabrics, not a problem, what I tend to do is put fabric on the machine cycle that I want to be able to use for my finished clothes. Personally I don’t dry clean, so if a fabric can’t withstand machine washing, I’m unlikely to use it. If you have any fabric in your pile that you know may require more careful cleaning such as silk or wool, put them on a delicate, cool machine wash or hand wash them if they’re very precious.

Dry knitted fabrics flat and woven fabrics on a line, airer or over a shower rail. Never drape any fabric over anything with protruding parts (like the backs of chairs) to dry as they will distort and stretch the area of the fabric that covers them and these stretched areas can be almost impossible to remove once your fabric is dry.

stash busting

Label each piece of fabric with the following information to save time when shopping your stash:

  • fibre content (if you can remember – you can always do a burn test to check)
  • whether the fabric is pre-washed
  • the size of the piece.

Then fold or roll the fabric. There are arguments for and against both folding and rolling fabric; rolling tends to reduce creasing, and although I find rolling takes up more space, rolled lengths of fabric stored on their ends can make it easier to see at a glance what fabrics you have.

The key to storage is visibility; I like to store my fabric in clear plastic boxes. If you’re lucky enough to have the space, fabric stored on shelves is most accessible, but if you’re short on space, vac pack bags like these are great space savers while keeping your fabric visible.vacuum storage bagsIt’s vital to shopping and using your stash to store it in a way that makes it easy to see what you have; if you chuck your stash all together in a box or suitcase under the bed it won’t work, it will never be seen again. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!

Finally, beware of every fabric stash’s enemy – the moth! I always put moth balls (or similar) in my storage boxes and spray wool and silk with moth proofing spray before putting them into storage.

stash busting

Try and think ahead with your sewing. Unless you’re making lots of really quick-to-sew garments, anticipate your needs and start making in advance. I find it really difficult to sew out of season; I just don’t fancy sewing heavy warm wools in summer and likewise, floaty silks and cotton lawns just don’t appeal in the depths of winter. But, unless you want to wait a whole year to wear your makes, start more challenging seasonal projects ahead of season; for example, plan and make a start on a winter coat project at the end of the summer. You can always keep a few easy quick seasonal makes going alongside your big projects; a cool tank top or t-shirt dress isn’t going to take long to make and will be a welcome instant fix when you get tired of (or overheated by) the coat!

Identify the gaps in your wardrobe (including wardrobe winners that you want to make more of) and make a “to-sew” list. Beth of Sew DIY has a nice little sewing calendar you can download from her blog here.

According to the Craft Industry Alliance Sewing Planners are the next big thing, Colette’s sewing planner has been around for a while and more apps for “organising your stash” have emerged in the past year such as Cora and Sewologie. Personally I’d rather channel the work involved in setting up an app into a physical planner any day, but maybe that’s just the design school training of keeping a sketchbook that’s ingrained in me or maybe it’s the simple fact that fabrics are tactile and you need to touch them….

Whichever method you choose, the key is to keep it manageable – there are only 12 months in a year, so if your list has 25 projects, that’s 2 a month and do you really have that much sewing time? Also try and throw in at least a couple of projects that you know will stretch you and encourage you to learn some new skills.

I’ve written before about planning your sewing rather than rushing into projects to realise halfway through that you don’t like or need them….

  • find my post on thoughtful sewing with a Sewing Planner to download here
  • you can download my guide to making a Home-Sewn Collection here.

Shop Your Stash – 4 Ways to Use Your Fabric Leftovers

uses for left over fabric

If you’ve been sewing for even just a few months, I’ll bet you’ve already started building up your own “stash”. A personal stock pile of fabrics that are either left over from past projects or yet to be cut into and patiently awaiting the “perfect” project. Eventually that stash will need a box, then a cupboard, then one day a room of its own, so get it under control right now!

This post is all about ideas for using up your smaller pieces of fabric, I’ll be writing another in which I’ll talk about teaming fabrics with the right patterns.

So, start using your fabric offcuts instead of hoarding them!

Colour blocking and panels / patch pockets in garments:

I love the challenge of using up small pieces of fabrics that aren’t big enough to make whole garments, in parts of garments. Your stash can make perfect contrast cuffs, collars, sleeve bands, hem bands, and why not add seams to garments so that you can piece fabrics together like in this version of my Walkley Vest pattern.

I’m also quite partial to a contrasting patch pocket like this one on the fishtail skirt from “Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking”.

beginners guide to dressmakingPicture © Julian Ward

Bias binding:

It’s so easy to make your own bias binding and if you use my continuous strip tutorial, you’ll be amazed just how much binding you can get out of a relatively small piece of fabric.

Facings and pocket linings:

If you’re not into contrast fabric details that are visible in your handmade garments, you can still use up that stash – facings and pocket linings are often the perfect size for those odd leftover pieces of fabric in your stash. You can add a secret little flash of contrast fabric on the inside of your garment that only you know about. It’s little details like these that make sewing your own clothes so satisfying!

Suffolk puffs and ruffles:

Suffolk puffs (or yoyo’s) are really easy to make from the smallest pieces of leftover fabrics and I’ve used them a lot as embellishments on garments. Admittedly, this is a long slow project, but the effects are worth it. Find my step-by-step tutorial for making them here.

A quicker embellishment idea is to use long strips of jersey, gathered along the centre of the strip and then stitched onto an otherwise plain garment.

Things to Watch Out For When Using Your Stash in Garment Making:

  • choose fabrics that are similar weights when combining them within a garment
  • make sure all the fabrics have been washed so that any loose dye has been washed out and any shrinkage has already happened
  • pay attention to the grainline – you still need to use your stash fabrics with the grainline in the right direction for your pattern, if you piece together fabrics with the grainline off in different directions, you’ll end up with puckered seams and stretched and / or distorted areas in your garment.