What Comes First, the Fabric or the Pattern?

When you go shopping for fabric, do you have a pattern already in mind or do you buy the fabric you like and hope that you’ll find the right use for it later?

I fall into the latter category most of the time. I don’t follow a lot of patterns, but when I do, I often have what I need already in my stash unless the pattern calls for something specific or an amount I don’t have on hand.

How much to buy?

I’ve been asked how much fabric I buy if I don’t have any plans to use it in a pattern. My answer is, it depends. I’ve been known to buy a whole bolt of fabric if it really calls to me. But I don’t do that often. What usually happens is I buy at least one metre of a fabric that catches my eye. If I really like it, then I’ll buy two metres. If I really love it, all bets are off!

I don’t often buy fat quarters, but if one really catches my attention, I will buy it. And I rarely buy jelly rolls or any other precuts. I prefer to have larger sizes so I have more flexibility.

Buying for a pattern

Of course, I do buy for patterns sometimes. I recently started the Colour My World Block of the Month, hosted by The Quilt Show. I know I had enough fabric in my stash, but I wanted to start from scratch and just have a pile of specially chosen fabrics for this pattern.

When I buy fabric for a pattern, I buy more than they ask for. The Colour Your World instructions called for many 1/3 yard cuts. I went for ½ metres for those cuts for two reasons. The most important reason is I make mistakes and I worry that I won’t have enough of the fabric if I make too many mistakes. The other reason is I like to have leftovers to use for other projects, but it really is the first reason that is the strongest motivator.

Getting around to using the fabric

Sometimes I buy fabric that I just have to have, and then I never really find a use for it. There are even times when I decide I no longer like it and I wonder, “why the heck did I buy that??”

But having fabric in my stash for a few years doesn’t matter because one day, I’ll get an idea or see a pattern and think, “I know exactly what fabric I will use for that.” I can shop in my own stash, making lovely quilts without having to go to the store or shop online and wait for my order.

This happened just this past December when I decided to make myself my king size quilt. I’d bought the lovely Ricky Tims hand dyed fabrics two years earlier, knowing that the right project would come up at some point. And it did.


I also like to buy fabric when I travel. I usually can track down a quilt shop or a fabric shop that sells quilting cotton. I have gorgeous fabric I’ve bought from Taos, San Diego, Amsterdam, Paris… I just love buying fabric when I’m traveling because it brings back wonderful memories. When will I use them? Who knows? But I will. One day.

What do you do when you buy fabric?

Do you buy according to pattern or do you buy what you need when you need it?

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