What I Learned From Not Buying Fabric


It is the end of my self created, self-imposed, Use-It-Up fabric challenge. I went one year, October 31, 2015 to November 1, 2016, with out buying any fabric.

I began the challenge to use up fabric I had. I mean I bought it to use it, right? I never bought fabric intending to never use it. I saw it, I liked it, and I thought I want to make something out of that. But I never got around to using the fabric and it was time I did so the challenge was a game I came up with to motivate myself to use the fabric I had. I also wanted to make more room in my cluttered space and to gauge how much fabric I really did use and therefore “needed” to buy in the first place.

The Challenge: Use fabric I already own or fabrics donated to me to make anything for the next year. Try to use as much of the stash as possible. Use yardage, use scraps, use notions. Make apparel, make gifts, make quilts, make crafts.

meme-challenge-accepted-barney-stinsonMan, I thought I was going to be a sewing maniac. No, that didn’t happen. But seriously, how much can I actually sew in one year? Even when the year brings nothing but blue skies and rainbows. (That was not this last year for me) Can I sew a garment a week? A garment a month? What is realistic for me? This is good stuff to know and to consider when buying supplies.

During the challenge,  I sewed;

  • 7 garments – just skirts and tops some for me some for my daughter and some that didn’t work out at all.
  • 1 pair of super deep shirt cuffs added to my son’s thrifted shirt (his design)
  • 8 purses or bags
  • 1 baby quilt and 3 baby bibs
  • 10 Noodlehead Open Wide Zippered pouches (9 were gifts)
  • Christmas tree skirt
  • 2 mats for the dog food bowls
  • 3 alterations to store bought clothes but no fabric was used from the stash

I used up a lot of my scraps and smaller cuts. Some of the garments I sewed left me with large scraps.

Objective: By using up the fabric I will make room for a larger desk (which is more useful than stacks of unused fabric). Since the fabric was purchased to be made into something it will feel good to follow through and make something.

It did feel good every time I made something. Whether that was because I followed through or because making things just feels good, I don’t know. In the last month of the challenge, I curated my fabric. Any fabric that I no longer liked, could not be used for making a muslin or that I knew, deep down, sewing with it was at the bottom of my list, was donated. I donated about 28 pieces of fabric.

Room was made for a longer desk but that was a matter of furniture rearranging, making the new longer desk narrow and cutting down my work table surface. Because I didn’t get rid of the shelving unit that held all the fabric no extra floor space became open. However five cubbies in the unit freed up. I moved my fabric scrap bins into three of them (books into the other two) from the floor. So, technically a little floor space did open up.


The fabric stash November 1, 2016


My fabric stash by the numbers:

  • At the start: 256 pieces of fabric   Now: 185 pieces of fabric (71 pieces gone)
  • At the start: 130 pieces are larger than 1 yard   Now: 109 pieces are over a yard and could possibly be made into a garment (other than a halter top or children’s wear)
  • At the start: 73 pieces are blue or dominantly blue   Now: 47 blue pieces are left
  • At the start: 31 pieces are linen   Now: 28 pieces of linen
  • At the start: 4 pieces have owls printed on them   Now: 3 pieces of fabric have owls
  • At the start: 1 unfinished dress was found in the stash (yes, it’s blue)   Now: Still unfinished. Still in the stash


The Take Away From a Year of Not Buying Fabric:

Sewing time is not limitless. (Sorry to burst any bubbles. It was a shock to me too) I hope to be more realistic in the future of what I can and cannot get around to sewing. I would like to be one of those women who could post a newly made garment every week on Instagram but I just don’t sew that fast or I sleep or I just have other things to do.

2016-11-bg-fabric-stash2aBuying things I don’t use is a waste of resources which usually leads to guilt. No thanks. I don’t need that. I bought patterns and sewing books as well as fabric with the sincere intention of using them. Seeing them unused a year or years later does not make me happy. I rather buy things when I need them and have a little change left in my pocket for an occasional burrito bowl.

Not buying what I don’t actually use applies to patterns, sewing books and notions. It also applies to fiction books, candles, beauty products and numerous other things.

Be picky. Buy what you truly love and what you can genuinely make time for. Don’t be lured into a purchase because it’s on sale. If you never use the fabric or pattern you didn’t save any money, you wasted it. And don’t believe the hype. New patterns come out all the time. You don’t need to buy it hot off the press. Think about it. See if you have something like it already. Let someone else discover the instruction errors or the missing pattern piece. Wait until the pattern company fixes and reprints it. And not every style or pattern is worth your time or money.

Downsides to the challenge?

Maybe there was a downside, I’m not sure. I wasn’t very motivated to sew this last year. Was that because I had to sew with what I had? Was it because I couldn’t “see” what I had because I had pieces I didn’t like muddy-ing the stash (like a too full closet) or was it simply because there were many, many things going on with family this last year that left me just wanting to to sit on the beach for days on end (I never did make it to a beach this year 🙁


meme-barney-stinson-new-challengeI’m glad I did it. I’m glad I didn’t have any slip ups either. I learned only positive things from my Use-it-Up fabric challenge. I’m ready to use more of my fabric up so I’ve set a new challenge: sewing everyday for 20 minutes. It’s only for the month of November which I think is doable. Who knows, it may become a habit and things may get made.

How much fabric do you have? Are you going to sew it all?

6 Comments on What I Learned From Not Buying Fabric

  1. Wynn
    November 4, 2016 at 3:26 am (1 year ago)

    Well done! I’m doing the same thing. Sometimes I think buying to sew is our “creative dream”. The desire is there but not the time. I think it was hard for me to face that, especially when (over 30 yrs ago) I used to sew almost all my own clothes. Then my life changed and I didn’t have time to sew much anymore. I gave away 90% of my stash. Now I have a very small stash and until I sew some of it up, no more buying! I find I’m very influenced by blog posts to the extent I tried one popular free “one size fits all” pattern. It looked hideous!! Way worse on me than on other people and needed so many alterations. I think I’ve learnt I need to remember what suits me (& what I love) and stick with that! And respect that my time and energy are limited. It’s very freeing!

    • Chris Arnold
      November 4, 2016 at 7:59 am (1 year ago)

      I am also using up my stash. I am only buying fabric when I have a custom order and need that particular fabric. I have set a long term goal of finishing my stash by the next election! I know that is long term thinking but I do get a lot of satisfaction from not having to look at the same fabric for years. Right now I am using fabric that I have had for ten years and I am so happy to use it up. I am also tempted by sales but I have resisted the urge to buy a great sale fabric just this week.

      • Mary Earle-Sigler
        November 5, 2016 at 11:43 am (1 year ago)

        The hardest part of my “no-new-fabric” rule was resisting the fabric sales in the first few months. I just deleted the emails as soon as I could, “Do not open under penalty of death – not even a peek”. It seems they put fabric on sale ALL the time so I figure they will still have sales when I’m actually ready to USE some new fabric.

        I like your long term goal. Are you aiming for a certain number of fabric pieces used each year? My stash has a few pieces that are perfect for some things I want to sew. My goal is to get those sewn up, and a quilt using my scraps, before I buy fabric. Good luck to us both!

    • Mary Earle-Sigler
      November 5, 2016 at 11:30 am (1 year ago)

      I think you’re right. I buy patterns and fabric because I so want to make something with them, the “creative dream”, but reality steps in and alters those dreams. Life does change, we change, unexpected things come our way and change us. It’s good if we can just go with that instead of feeling guilty for not doing what we use to do. Sounds like you have done that. AND as far as those “fast” “free” patterns go, I’m with you, most are waste of time. I’ve been thinking of a blog post on just that subject. I want quality projects worthy of my time and resources, that challenge my skills even a little so I can learn and master sewing a tiny bit more. Perhaps I am getting wiser.(which means those patterns did teach me something…to avoid them 😉 Thanks for the comment

  2. Shelly
    November 4, 2016 at 9:19 pm (1 year ago)

    I call my fabric stash my pile of good intentions I was doing well at using up and not buying any more than Hancocks had that going out of business sale. Grrr. Now that my hubby is out of work I have really stopped buying fabric. I have made 3 baby quilts with fabric and patterns exclusively from my stash. I’ve only bought one pattern in the last six months. I wish I could join you in the 20 minutes a day challenge!

    • Mary Earle-Sigler
      November 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm (1 year ago)

      Six months – you’re half way there! (but I am sorry to hear about being unemployed. That’s hard) And you did better than me. I bought a few patterns, especially in the beginning of the challenge. And I bought a few used sewing books. All in the hopes that I would use them to deplete the stash. I struggled with wanting to use my stash and saving (hoarding?) certain pieces for “something better”. I didn’t have a better project waiting, I just thought something better might come along. (I do that with my clothing to, I save stuff for best when really what is better than any day you wake up?) Now I am prouder of projects I finished, no matter which fabric I used, then of my “pile of good intentions” special fabrics still waiting to be sewn.

      What about 10 minutes a day or 20 minutes 3 times a week? I sewed a patch on yesterday for my 20 minutes (by hand) and moved buttons the day before (boring but had to be done then ran out of time to do any other sewing). It’s an experiment. We’ll see


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