Come with me up to my studio. I want to show you something. Do you see this?
Let’s open it up and take a look inside.
Fabric Stashy by Jeni Baker
Yards of fabric, each one squared off because there’s still at least a half yard left. The jaggedy edges are swept into the scrap bin.
But my fabric is all jaggedy edges.
The truth is, my fabric stash is composed entirely of scraps.
Part of this is due to the nature of what I make. I’m not a quilter. I don’t make garments. There are no draperies coming out of my sewing room. I make tiny things like owl feet and fish fins and those don’t require more than a few inches of fabric.
But part of this is because when I started keeping an honest account of my business’ net income each week I suddenly found it very difficult to buy anything. And it’s not just fabric. I’ve been squirreling away craft supplies since I was a child and I figure I have at least some of everything I need. If I don’t have something I need, I just work around it, making do with something else. No 12mm safety eyes? I’ll use 8mm. No 8mm? I’ll make eyes from felt. Not enough brown fleece? This doll will be a blond. I’ll make it work.
The Creative Benefits
Recently I’ve had two experiences that have made me rethink my thrifty behavior and wonder about its negative impact on my creativity.
Three months ago I placed a wholesale order for 500 8mm black safety eyes. I intended to split the order with a friend who also sells patterns, and then sell my 250 in sets of 2 in my online shop. I already sell lots of different doll and toy making supplies and I figured eyes were a logical choice.
When the order arrived, though, I saw right away that I wouldn’t be able to sell these eyes. Although the eye part was fine, the washers were all imperfect. See what I mean?
And there was no refund to be had. The eyes were the product, but the washers were “a gift,” according to the supplier. I let my friend know she’d have to source eyes elsewhere and then resigned myself to owning 500 8mm black safety eyes with imperfect washers.
Then, in August, I saw a tweet from the fabric company, Timeless Treasures, showing one of their new prints. It was cute and I said so, and that led the social media manager to email me and ask if I might do a guest post on their blog. I pitched an idea. She liked it. Two weeks later a box of fabric arrived at my doorstep.
In the box were two stacks of fat quarter solids and a yard or two of five different flannels, maybe $100 worth of fabric? As I unfolded it all to put in the washing machine I realized: I’ve never had this much fabric in my life. I would never, ever buy this much.
For the last few weeks I’ve sat in my studio with this bounty. Eyes and fabric galore! And you know what? It’s had a profound effect on my creative process. I love using safety eyes and now, instead of portioning out two precious eyes that I’ve carefully saved for just the right project, I’m free to use them whenever I want. I put them on Candace the Candy Corn. Then I shot a video about inserting safety eyes. I even put them on a recent free pattern, the Tiny Kitty. Knowing that I have more eyes than I could ever need means I’m free to be more creative with them!
Right now I’m designing an Easter pattern for a magazine. It’s a mamma chick and her babies and it’s made from quilting cottons. I chose a few scraps of prints from my stash and then matched them with the exact shade of solid yellow I wanted. Why? Because I now have six shades of yellow! And I chose a lovely chartreuse for her wings, but not until I’d looked through a dozen different greens. The colors really pop and the toy looks great, much better than it might have if I’d settled for whatever scrap of green was big enough.
Perhaps you’re someone who buys too much fabric and needs to slow down? I have the opposite problem. Now that I see how it’s hampered my creative work, though, I’m making an effort to thoughtfully treat myself and my business not just to what I need, but to what I want. Yes, creativity comes from making do with what you have and working within limitations, but it truly thrives when you have plenty of resources right at your fingertips.