Friday, January 6, 2023

10 Ways to Quilt on a Budget / Beauties Pageant 200

Hello and happy new year! (And happy 200th Brag About Your Beauties Pageant!) Since many of us take the start of the calendar year as a way to reflect and recalibrate, I thought a post about spending mindfully on quilting supplies was appropriate.

Truth be told, I’m fiscally conservative in generalit’s just my personality. Since I started publishing patterns, however, my hobby has become self-sufficient. That doesn’t mean that I buy quilting supplies with abandon. Too much of a good thing can be overwhelming and undermine my creativity. (If that last point resonates with you, check out this illustration and this blog post from FeelGood Fibers.)

If you resolve to get smarter about your quilty purchases, too, consider these points ...


1. Start with your stash. 

When there’s a new project on the horizon, I shop my stash first. Too often I am tempted to order a new blender or buy a new background fabric only to discover that I already own a perfectly lovely substitute.

At times I’ve used a long-stashed cut of fabric as the inspiration for an entire project. (The best example of this is my Me-Wow! quilt; I started with the binding fabric and built the palette from there.) It may seem like a time-intensive way to use up yardage, but it can prove to be a fun exercise in creatively using what you’ve got.

2. Buy what you need for the project at hand. 

Buying fabrics because you like them or because you’re afraid you won’t be able to find them in the future is a sure-fire way to amass a lot of fabric quickly. I try to buy just the material needed for the next project or two. (I know, it’s easier said than done.) After all, there will always be another beautiful, new fabric collection, and I can often find out-of-production lines on the secondary market after they disappear from quilt shops (and sometimes at better prices than they originally sold for).

To stick to this resolution, remove unnecessary temptations. That could mean unsubscribing to newsletters or steering clear of certain hashtags on Instagram (I, for one, have fallen into the rabbit hole called #TheGreatFabricDestash many times). You can always resubscribe in the future.

3. Sew with solids.

Do you know what’s less expensive than the latest and greatest fabric collection? Solids. I find I can save up to $4 or $5 per yard when I sew with solids instead of printed quilting cottons. 

4. Buy smaller cuts.

Don’t buy a half-yard when a fat quarter will do the job. Say you want to sew a project with a scrappy low-volume background. Quarter yards (fat or skinny) will help you achieve that scrappy look without breaking the bank and without creating the scraps that half-yards would.

The challenge here is often finding a good source of quarter yards. I always start with my local quilt shop, because online fabric retailers usually have a minimum cutting size, but there are some online options for fat quarters. One of my favorites is Lark Cottons, which offers its entire stock as fats.

5. Buy local.

The benefit of buying in person is that I make smarter purchases, buying fabrics that are more likely to coordinate with the yardage I already have. Too often I find myself making an online purchase only to realize the fabrics aren’t quite right once I have them in hand. (And so the stash grows!)

6. Buy secondhand or trade with friends.

I’ve found great deals on older fabric lines on Instagram or FeelGood Fibers. I’ve also arranged a trade with friends. One quilty friend gave me unbridled access to her bin of 2.5-inch scraps, and I left her with a cut of fabric from my stash that I knew she would use faster than I could. It was a win-win!

7. Sell what you don’t use.

I’ve had good success selling fabricincluding bundles, yardage, and scrapson both Instagram and FeelGood Fibers. (Read my advice about listing on FeelGood Fibers here.) I use Instagram when I know something will sell quickly. FeelGood Fibers, on the other hand, is great because listings are searchable.


8. Quilt some of your own projects.

I had made a few dozen quilts before I started sending projects out for longarming services, so I’m adept at quilting my own projects with a walking foot. I’ve even ventured into free-motion quilting with good success. If quilting is new to you, start with small projects and grow from there.

I quilt all of the baby quilts I make and anything that would benefit from my expertise in straight-line quilting. Projects bigger than a 72-inch square by default go to a longarmer, as do more angular patterns that would benefit from swirly quilting designs.

9. Buy batting in bulk and use up the scraps.

I buy batting by the bolt. My top choice is the Warm Company’s Warm & White. I think it’s good value for my money, and the white (as opposed to, say, Warm & Natural) works well with my usual white or cream background fabrics.

I also save my scraps and use fusible webbing to cobble them together to make bigger, more usable pieces.


10. Avoid buying unnecessary notions.

I don’t invest in trendy notions. Anything that I’d use on a single project is not worth the cost. 

Instead of buying specialty rulers, I make sure my tried-and-true square and rectangular ones are in good working order and replace them as needed. And instead of buying expensive paper for foundation paper piecing, I buy a ream of 8.5-inch by 11-inch newsprint. I buy inexpensive irons at Target and store WIPs on coat hangers, in plastic Ziploc bags, or in plastic bins (all of which I use over and over again).

I’m sure you have your own tricks to make smart purchases. Share your tips in the comments below!

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  1. Good ideas! Quilting isn't really supposed to be expensive. Our foremothers used what they had to make beautiful things. The only thing I would add is to use your scraps. There are a lot of quilts hiding in those bins!

  2. Thanks for sharing your ideas, Michelle! One of the things that I find helpful is to save the plastic boxes from herbs and baby greens and reuse them to store WIPs or scraps. They have a lid to keep things contained, and they can stack to save space. If they happen to break, I don't feel bad about tossing them into the recycling.

  3. I never realized solids are less expensive. Good to know!


  4. Buying batting in bulk felt like such a huge investment until I realized just how much money it was saving me overall. Great points and you know that I love solids: I think they are timeless (for quilt covers) and they are so darn affordable!

  5. I agree totally with the batting in bulk, though I haven't bought any for a few years...because I still have lots, and I've gotten some terrific deals on packages at Michael's with a coupon ;-) I find King Size the best bang for my buck. Great tips, especially as we should all be trying to consume less. Another tip is NOT clicking on the 'SALE' emails in my inbox or 'just checking out' the Clearance in my favourite online stores. If it's in my LQS then I often check her sale section but even though these are great deals, and a great way I built up my stash, often they are sitting, still unused...hmmm.

  6. Great post Michelle. This hobby can be expensive if one isn't spending and sewing mindfully (tho most things can be expensive if we don't think about our spending). I basted a 60x60 quilt last night. Prior to this I stitched large leftover pieces of batting together. I have a roll but my bin of batting scraps was so full and it felt great to use some of it up - at least the cover stays on the bin now!!

  7. Great post with great suggestions. I am with Sandra above - have lots of batting from Michaels (why don't they do 50% off coupons any more????). But I did buy a roll of batting that was on sale. I do often stock up on sales at local stores because fabric is $22 a metre here, and shipping is too costly to purchase online.

  8. Great ideas Michelle. But you forgot using scraps/leftovers. Wait Mari beat me to it :)

  9. I use shoe boxes for storage of current projects/scraps, and I definitely use my batting scraps and fabric scraps. I make a lot of quilts for donation, so I try to have my scraps cut so that I can use them to chain piece so I don’t waste thread, since I prefer to use Aurifil thread and I go through a lot of it. I also use up what’s on old bobbins by putting them in the top of my machine and quilting with them on scrappy pieces to add more color. Finally, unsubscribing from all the shop sites helps, as I have enough stash now to last me for many, many years.

  10. Good ideas, Michelle. I concur on all of them, and practice most of them myself. I've had good success buying from Feel Good Fibers too, though I know that isn't what you're encouraging (buying) in this post! Ha, ha. I have to feel a little smug about your eighth suggestion because I've been quilting ALL my own quilts since I vowed to do so back in 2002. I bought a lovely Bernina sewing machine, and justified the (high) cost (back then) by promising to always quilt my own quilts. I've kept that promise. The side benefit has been learning to be a good domestic machine quilter. Now I cannot imagine ever sending one of my quilt tops to someone else to finish for me. How could I call the quilt "mine" if I did that? Thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. It's true: It feels as if I give up a little ownership when I pass a project onto a longarmer. The flip side, at least for me, is that if I had known that longarming was an option, I would have started quilting years earlier. For me, that was the part of the process that seemed so hard. How would I ever get all that fabric through my tiny machine? Of course, once I made my first quilt, I was hooked. But it took me a long time to make the leap because the quilting part was so intimidating!

  11. Jo sent me from her blog. I find your blog very full of information. I want to give paper piecing a try very soon.

  12. Jo sent me and I an so glad she did. Great stop! I have bought my batting in bulk for several years now, it’s wonderful to have what is needed at my finger tips.


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