My name is Charlotte, sometimes known as Ms Lottie, occasionally as The Slightly Mad Quilt Lady. This is my blog, where you'll find me writing a lot about my quilting and textile arts and a little about my family's life in a small seaside town in New Zealand. Haere mai!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Affordable Quilting

Tanya from Suburban Jubilee left me a comment on my last post asking me a question:

"I wish I had a sister. How cool is that to be able to share a project and then have this wonderful family heirloom. I love pouring over your quilt photos. I can't quite dip my toe in the water here and I need some advice....

I look longingly at fabrics but the price is quite significant. I think maybe I should buy a fat quarter every so often...but then I worry that many of the quilts I see in the shop are all so co-ordinated with "ranges" and aren't really piecemeal at all. So am I better to buy all the fabric I need in one season because the dyelots are all in similar palettes? Do you buy all your quilt fabric in one go?"

I started emailing an answer to her but it got longer and longer so I've decided to post it here for others who are interested too.

Hi Tanya,

The price of fabric IS significant and I am constantly amazed at how much people seem to buy when I look around the net. However, the prices are a lot cheaper in America so that might bias my opinion.

Some of my stash - blue seems to be a favourite of mine.
Because I do a lot of quilting, I like to work from a 'stash' - a collection of lots of pieces of fabric that I gathered here and there. I work out what I want to make (I rarely follow a pattern completely) and then sift through my stash for pieces that will go together. This has it's downfalls - sometimes I want to use a certain fabric but don't have enough and I know I won't find it in the shops again, but this forces me to be creative. I also have to make sure that when I'm buying bits and pieces here and there that I gather a range of tones, pattern sizes and colours (or I'd just end up with stacks of mid-tone blues!).

I have quilting friends who work differently. They find what they want to make, work out how much of each colour/pattern they need and then go and buy it all at once. They spend a lump sum all at once and they don't tend to have many leftovers to use on little projects just as a whim. But they know they will have exactly what they need for that quilt and if they are making something that will last a few generations, then the lump sum is probably worth it.

Lots of quilts around are made up of one co-ordinated fabric range. They are promoted so that you buy that designers fabric, but you don't have to make your quilt like that, and in fact, I think it gives your quilt a more distinctive 'you' style if it's made from bits and pieces that you have collected. Dyelots do change from batch to batch, but you will always find fabric to co-ordinate - there are only so many colours on this earth!

A quilt I made with lots of lil' bitty pieces of many different fabrics.
As for how to afford the fabric? I save up my dollars and browse shops when they are having sales and buy a few bits and pieces that are a good price. I always check the 'specials' bin and I visit op shops and cut up cotton shirts, skirts and sheets that I've bought for a dollar or two. Specialist quilting shops have beautiful fabrics and lovely quality, but their prices reflect that. But a small amount of stunning fabric can be used as a feature, and the background fabrics can come from a cheaper place such as Spotlight.

If you are planning to do a lot of applique with little pieces, then fat quarters and fat eighths might be the way to go. If you think carefully before you buy what you might use that fabric for, you might realise that it would be better to buy a metre's worth of fat eighths and get a really good range of colour than to buy a whole metre of one fabric that you will only use a small amount of. But fabrics that you are likely to use as backgrounds or the backing of quilts - buy several metres when it's on special.

Check out the shops 'extra wide' backing fabrics. These are ones made extra width to be put on the back of quilts without having to join lengths. If you work out price per metre, you can frequently be onto a bargain and they are often perfect for backgrounds or borders (and backings of course!).

Cheap and cheerful - a quilt I made in 2005 entirely from Homespuns (cheap plain colour calicos)
I have spent a bit of time on the net and worked out which internet shops have good prices and subscribe to their newsletters to hear about sales. I also get my plain black and white fabrics and my battings from my local guild who can buy them wholesale. Sometimes buying from overseas can work out cheaper than local even when you factor in postage, especially when you split the postage with a friend. Check out and use an online currency converter to get an idea.

One day I want to make this hobby of mine a career.  I'm not sure in what way yet, whether in designing patterns, quilting other people's quilts, working in a quilting store or (in my wildest dreams!) designing fabric.  So I use these plans to justify purchases as well, as 'research' and 'learning and development'.  (By the way - anyone out there want to hire me?!)
There is a quilting saying,"She who dies with the most fabric, wins!" I guess like any true addict, I have found many ways and means of sustaining my habit. And I figure that the money I save on not styling or cutting my hair, not buying designer clothes and only buying new shoes when I NEED them, lets me have a little leeway.

(Yes, I am a frumpy, out-of-fasion woman with straggly hair and worn out shoes - but I have a fantastic fabric stash!)


  1. I meant to add: I'd love to hear how other people afford their hobbies.

  2. I purchase "stuff" on sale's so thrilling to get a really good bargain! Plus I re-purpose sheets and old woolen blankets. Perfect for warmth and extra "weight" ...I'm not really fussed on the white fluff stuff that is available.

    My quilt covers on my 3 and 2 seater couches are made from curtain fabric sample scraps (not the thermal backed) that I picked up over time at 50 cents a piece. I backed them with old sheets :-)

  3. It is funny how everyone approaches things differently. I'm very much a fat quarter person. I love having lots of different fabrics in my quilts. I buy a few at a time and the joy of collecting the fabrics is part of the enjoyment of the entire process. Sometimes I collect for several years before the actual project gets designed. Then I design around what I have gathered. Other times it is buy, start cutting, and then work out what else I need to make it work...

  4. Does anybody afford their hobby?

  5. I'm a bit lucky in that I now work from time to time in a quilt shop so I can earn my impulse buys. But I am with you in that I don't spend much money on anything else, except groceries, the occasional haircut and enough clothes to get me by!! (and it helps that the kids have left home, even if they need the odd care parcel!). I still like to collect a variety of fat quarters rather than larger pieces, but maybe my look/style is more scrappy anyway. When I am actually into an actual project than I will buy the larger yardages needed for backgrounds, borders etc. I really admired your discipline last year, Ms Lottie, when you decided to make do from your stash and not buy any fabric. WOW!!

  6. I got to the point a few years ago that I needed to come up with a plan to pay for my hobby, I started quilting for others.This is now virtually a full-time business, which means I don't have much time for my hobby!! Murphy Law!I guess everyone has to find a way that works for them.Some folks might have a monthly budget.Some ask for vouchers for birthdays/xmas.
    The world of scrappy quilts is really taking off, or being revisited as quilting was born from not having much but making something from it.
    As far as quilt shops go , I think of all small business as the back bone of the country ,they are what keeps this country ticking, so by supporting them in turn we help ourselves and our kids.
    Just my 2cents worth.
    Best of luck Tanya.

  7. That sounds just like what I do except I tend to make arty pieces rather than quilts. (I still make quilts too just not so many). I just replaced my sandals after 5 years and got a great bargain $2.20 new and normally I just don't fit shoes and have to pay hundreds!

    Haircuts don't happen either, or new clothes. Supplies are much more important :)


  8. Awesome post and great comments.That has helped free my thinking up a lot. I seem to lose my bold nerve in actual quilting shops because everything seems so "ranged" and themed. Even Kaffe Fassett seems ranged. I have decided to make a quilt like the one in Brambly Hedge story which is an eclectic looking pieced one anyway. I want to thank Ms Lottie so much for the big reply and I'm sure it has been useful for others. Thanks to everyone else for sharing their thoughts too. X to all.

  9. This is a great posting! I am a "scrap" quilter from way back, and, although I LOVE the coordinated fabric packs, which I do collect, I really enjoy just going into my stash and finding just the exact shade I need....and if I don't have it, then I have a good excuse to go shopping! Yes, fabric IS expensive down here, and it was quite a shock coming from the US. I don't know how you guys do it. If you are a beginner and want to build a stash, look at all your fabrics, and look at a color wheel....then fill in the blanks with monochromatics (those fabrics that read as solids from a distance). But the current fabrics that strike you and make sure you get at least 1-2 meters so you don't run out.
    Of course, all these thoughts fly out the window if you do alot of art quilts. In that case, just buy what you want when you see it - it will find a use somewhere! just make sure you support your local patchwork shops, or they may go the way of the moa...


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