Sustainable Sewing Tip #3 – Know What’s in Your Stash

A well-curated, organized stash makes sewing a pleasure. It saves you time because you won’t have to spend all day hunting for supplies that you just know are there somewhere. It also saves you money because you won’t waste gas and cash to go buy a duplicate of something you know you already have on hand.

Imagine: (1) You’re inspired by a project you see online. Within 15 minutes, you’ve pulled the fabrics and supplies needed for the project and are getting busy, or you’ve made a list of the 1-2 items that you may need to pick up next time you run errands.

Imagine: (2) Your quilt guild puts out an urgent call for kiddie size quilts (36″x48″ to 54″ square) to donate to the local sheriff’s department. You can quickly pull supplies needed to make the quilt top and your machine is ready for simple straight line quilting or a basic meander to get the quilt finished ASAP.

Imagine: (3) You’re stuck at home for a day or two. You have enough supplies in your stash to keep projects moving forward. (Or you’ve downloaded some quilting mags from the library to read on your device – see Tip #1)

Reality check: Recently, I helped clean out the sewing room of someone who’d passed away. I would classify this lady as a hoarder because she had so much stuff tucked everywhere. There’s a meme that goes something like “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” Nope. Your loved ones have to figure out what to do with all your stuff. Fortunately, this lady’s stuff was fairly well organized by type of craft and then by notion. The unfortunate thing is the beautiful vintage textiles stunk so bad, we wound up throwing most of them out – even after a couple of months of “de-stink” treatment. Nobody wanted them because they couldn’t handle the smell.

Do you need to pare down some of your beloved stash? Now, might be a good time to right-size your fabric stash, tools, machines, books and patterns to only those things you love, add value to your sewing and you know you’ll eventually use.

I’m not going to get into the details of organization systems, but I will share how I manage my fabric stash:

(1) Fabric is sorted into 3 categories: Precuts, Fat quarter to < 1 yard pieces and then yardage.
(2) Precuts are stored in Art-Bin satchels by jelly rolls, layer cakes and charm packs.
(3) FQs to < 1 yard pieces are sorted by color and stored in color coordinated fabric bins. This comprises most of my stash and yes, I do break apart FQ bundles.
(4) Dog, holiday, kid themed and Lori Holt fabrics are stored separately.
(5) Yardage is kept on bolts with cut pieces in a separate storage tub.

For everything else, a module system seems to work best for me. I first heard about this system in some minimalism audiobook I listened to during a marathon quilting session. It makes total sense to me, though. I keep like items needed for a particular task grouped together in a plastic bin or basket. My ironing supplies are in one basket. My markers are in one bin. My hand embroidery supplies are kept together. Small craft tools, wire and findings are in another bin. My applique kit (threads, special needles, glue bottles, interfacing, point turner, Karen K. Buckley scissors, mechanical pencil and a pack of baby wipes) is probably the module I access most often.

I use an app to keep track of my die-cuts, rulers and books, so I can instantly see whether or not I already have one at home. It took time to set up the database, but boy has it paid huge dividends.

Every six months, I go through my stash and rehome the fabric, books and patterns I know I’ll never use.

How have supply chain issues impacted your quilting projects?

For me, it’s been in two ways: (1) delayed or cancelled events due to some necessary component of the class (usually template or pattern book) being unavailable or (2) having to substitute fabrics because the fabric I had been using was no longer available or the shop from which I purchased it is no longer in business/still has limited hours.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I chose to participate in the Great Granny Squared QAL sponsored by the Fat Quarter Shop because I already had the book and fabrics in my stash. Or at least I thought I had enough white fabric.

My go-to solid white fabric is usually RJR Cotton Supreme Solid in Optic White. When I went to my closet to retrieve the new bolt of white fabric I’d recently received, I discovered my supplier had substituted a bolt of white Riley Blake fabric since the RJR Cotton Supreme was out of stock. Definitely not the same shade of white. It’s a softer shade of white that actually looked dingy against the white fabric already used in my project.

So, I needed to make a substitution for my supplier’s substitution. 😂 Small amounts of the RJR Optic White were available via Etsy, but carried a premium price and shipping. Fortunately, Joann’s had the bright white Kona Cotton fabric in stock and it was on sale! It’s almost an exact match. I merely made sure all pieces for certain parts of the quilt were cut from the same fabric to make the substitution look less obvious. The pieced band and outermost border are cut from the additional Kona fabric.

As for that bolt of Riley White. It’ll definitely get used in future projects calling for a white background!

Sustainable Sewing Tip #2: Regular Sewing Machine Maintenance is Important

When was the last time you changed your sewing machine needle? How about cleaning out underneath the needle plate? Does your machine require regular oiling and lubrication? Your machine manual usually has a section in the back about periodic maintenance that you need to perform on your sewing machine to keep it running in tip-top shape for as long as possible. Taking care of your sewing machine saves you time, money and frustration.

For most modern machines, routine maintenance is as simple as 1-2-3:

(1) Remove the needleplate and clean out all the dust bunnies. (as needed or every 5 bobbins)

(2) Change the needle. (after 8 hours of sewing/each large quilt top/machine quilting with linty thread)

(3) Wipe down your machine using a soft cloth. (as needed)

Bonus Tip #1: If you have a Janome top loading machine – be sure to remove the bobbin case and clean underneath it. Every three months, add one drop of sewing machine oil to the felt wick in the center of hook assembly.

Bonus Tip #2: Cover your machine when not in use to keep dust from getting in then machine.

That’s basically it.

Vintage machines do require a bit more routine maintenance than modern machines, but it’s basically the same steps as for modern machines, except you have to oil the machine on a regular basis. Be sure to follow the instructions in your machine/service manual to find all the proper oiling points. Use a quality sewing machine oil. If you have to lubricate the motor, be sure to use the proper grease. Do not lubricate the motor with sewing machine oil!

Regardless of whether your machine is vintage or modern, follow this advice:
(1) Don’t use canned air.
(2) Don’t use 3-in-1 oil or WD-40 to lubricate the machine. Use SEWING MACHINE oil.
(3) Don’t use Vaseline (petroleum jelly) to grease the gears or in the motor. USE MOTOR LUBRICANT specifically designed for this (available from The Featherweight Shop or Quilter’s Connection – see links in sidebar).


This involves taking your machine to the dealer or repair person for an in-depth cleaning and adjustment. Minor repairs are often included with a service. The recommendation is for an ANNUAL service visit, but honestly, every 2-3 years is probably fine unless you have a computerized embroidery machine that you use 24/7/365 or have a TOL machine that you paid tens of thousands of dollars for. If you paid less than $125.00 for your sewing machine and it breaks, it’ll be cheaper to attempt DIY repair or go buy another one than to take in it for service.

You can learn to DIY machine service – especially on vintage machines. (Sewing Doc Academy, Quilter’s Connection, The Featherweight Shop, Andy Tube). I took a class on how to service my Featherweight. I now service all of my Featherweights myself and can make basic repairs to my modern machines, provided I can get parts and a copy of a service manual. At the end of August, my sister-in-law and I are traveling to Kentucky to learn how to tear down vintage machines and rebuild them. Not for everyone, I know, but I find repairing machines a challenge and there is a definite need for it in my area as machine service & repair seems to be a dying art.

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