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FabMo: Building a Stash in an Afternoon

April 8, 2012

I was always proud of the fact that I didn’t have much of a stash. I bought fabric I needed when I had a specific project in mind. This year I’ve been a bit worse, what with picking up a decent amount of fabric over the holidays for both the SWAP and presents to be sewn. Plus, I just don’t have the room to store lots of fabric or the time to burn through lots of projects.

Yesterday made an end to that.

No, I didn’t gain more time or space, but I did find a crazy outlet for fabric. FabMo coins itself a rescue for “designer materials for creative reuse.” The owners pick up samples and unsellable material from fabric stores in San Francisco and offer them to the public so that they don’t end up in landfills. They also take donations as well. Once a month they open their doors to those with appointments, though there are a few times open for anyone and everyone.

I was curious, so I’d scheduled an appointment for Thursday after work. Unfortunately, a few things came up that prevented me from making my appointment (a story for another day). Yesterday I noticed that they had open hours from noon to three. After my morning run (my marathon is in eight days!), I quickly showered, ate, and then jumped in the car. Before I knew it I was walking into a room with mountains of fabric.

I spent the first ten minutes just watching others. There was the woman who picked up most anything that looked like a sizable amount of fabric and threw it into her own bag. I overheard her saying this trip was her second this month, but since she hadn’t taken much last month, she felt the need to stock up. Stock up she was! There was another woman who’d politely ask if I was going to take whatever it was I might have had my hand on at the moment. I always said no. I was a bit overwhelmed, to say the least, and I didn’t want to take something that someone else might really want.

After ten or fifteen minutes of just circling the room and trying to get the lay of the land, I finally got up the courage to chat with one of the volunteers working the event. She was very nice and explained most of the process, which helped me finally get comfortable enough to commit to fabrics. Bags were provided if you hadn’t brought your own, each with a suggested donation that was based on the bag’s size. The donations help keep the organization running. I grabbed a medium-sized bag, which had a suggested donation of $10-15.  (As a note, some things there had actual prices on them.  Bolts were $1/yard, and things on a back table also seemed to be four for $1, or something like that.)

Most of the pieces were small designer samples, perfect for wallets and bags. I’d love to make myself a nice clutch wallet, and these smaller pieces would be perfect. But, since I haven’t even made the gift clutches I already have fabric for, I decided to wait before picking up pieces for a clutch I’d never make. If I do get the motivation, I’ll just make sure to head to FabMo that month.  Instead, I focused on fabrics I knew I could make garments from, since garment making seems to be my focus these days.

I grabbed a red twill for another pair of Jalie 2908 jeans and a sweater knit for another Renfrew cowl. A huge pile of big pieces came out (they restock every five minutes it seems), but as I was looking them over, the lady who seemed to pick up anything and everything grabbed the entire lot and threw it into a bag. That woman was a seasoned pro and obviously had a lot more room to stock fabrics at home than I!

Since the big pieces were mostly gone from the center table, I picked up a few odd samples here and there. A nice linen; a fun stripe. They’re really too small for an adult-sized garment, but they’d be super cute on my little niece.

Then, I found the section of non-designer fabrics. These seemed to be donated fabrics. And, some were huge. I found yards and yards of interfacing; a crazy brown and mustard floral piece that could look very Anthropologie if used properly ; lots of long, narrow pieces of plaid and striped suiting, which I hope to turn into pants or many paneled skirts while working on my pattern matching; some jerseys for yet more Renfrews, maybe one with a scarf collar, à la Jalie 2921.

Before I knew it, my bag was full, and I had more fabric than I truly needed.  I left my donation, signed up as a volunteer to craft with kids, and then ran away without looking back.

When I got home, I somehow managed to stuff all of my new fabrics in my sewing corner, but just barely.  What I need to do is invite friends over who have sewing machines and haven’t really gotten into garment sewing, hand them a pattern and some of this fabric, and see what happens.  Because, really, I won’t be able to use all of this fabric myself anytime soon!

If you live in the San Francisco area, I’d recommend making an appointment to go to their May event.  While I’m sure every month is fun, next month sounds extra special.  When I was chatting with one of the volunteers, she mentioned that a fabric store in the area had just dropped off three semis full of fabric.  There will be more fabric there than FabMo knows what to do with, and they need people like us to help take it off their hands.  I have no idea what kinds of fabrics will be there, but it’s worth a look, right?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2012 2:01 pm

    Wow, what a cool place! I had a similar relationship with my stash (as in, everything bought for a particular project) until I discovered a similar sort of odds-and-ends fabric store in Solvang. They too recieve donations of fabric, though I think most or all of it is from manufacturing rather than retail fabric stores, and they sell everything at 99 cents a yard for charity. I never know what I’ll find there, so it’s led to a more fabric-led inspiration for garments rather than need- or pattern-based, which is really fun and creative! …It does make for a mountain of a stash though – hopefully I’ll sew it down someday!

  2. April 8, 2012 3:10 pm

    Man, how come San Fran has all the BEST fabric places? Such a GREAT idea!!! I’ll have to visit there next time I’m in San Fran!!

  3. April 8, 2012 4:18 pm

    Wow what an amazing concept and I’m really really really glad it isn’t anywhere near me. I would have ended up with more fabric and that would not be good. Storage space isn’t yet a problem at my place but it would very quickly become problematic.

    I wonder what the lady with the big bag full ended up doing with all her stuff. Interesting story there I’m sure.

    PS stash building isn’t evil. OK? Right so can you convince me then?

  4. April 8, 2012 5:21 pm

    Wow, sounds like a fun day (albeit a bit overwhelming…)! I love the concept– finding new homes for homeless fabric!

  5. April 8, 2012 9:51 pm

    Wow, I really had no idea that there was that much surplus in fabricland. Three semis?!! I would’ve done exactly as you did. Stood and watched for awhile because I like to really think about what I want. I was so overwhelmed the first time I went into Britex–I’d never seen so much fabric in one place that I just stayed on the first floor looking (drooling) at silks. I love fabric-shopping in SF and will definitely have to check this out sometime!

  6. April 9, 2012 4:17 am

    Phwoar!! Al that stuff and more in the wings??!! I wish They could stuff a whole lot in a bag and post it!! :D Have fun sewing it all up now…

    • April 10, 2012 3:27 pm

      I bet the cost for postage would be more than the typical donation! Maybe your area already has something similar…?

  7. PendleStitches permalink
    April 10, 2012 3:48 am

    I’m decidedly envious that you have such a resource near to you. I’d be sat outside the door with a sleeping bag and a thermos ready for the next event! Enjoy.

    • April 10, 2012 3:26 pm

      The good thing is that since there is a constant influx of items, the perfect fabric for you can come out any time. No need to lose sleep!

      • PendleStitches permalink
        April 11, 2012 4:47 am

        Sigh! We have nothing so lovely here. Lucky you :-)

  8. April 10, 2012 10:00 am

    Oh dear. This means trouble for me this summer! Thanks for sharing this amazing resource, though, much as my husband may disagree :)

    • April 10, 2012 3:24 pm

      Will you be in San Francisco this summer? And, your husband can’t argue with the cost of these fabrics, but I guess he could get upset if you get so much fabric it starts taking over the house! I didn’t see any of your typical fun designs though. But, who knows what they’ll have each time.

      • April 12, 2012 5:57 pm

        I will indeed be in SF for the summer! My husband got an internship in the city, which will nicely fund my new fabric stash :)

  9. April 19, 2012 7:52 am

    This is such a fantastic resource! The very reason I try to upcycle and use older fabric as much as I do is because of the sheer lot of textiles that get sent to the landfill. Total environmental guilt. But I also purchase new fabric, obviously, and just try to do so thoughtfully (there was a time when I purchased willy nilly, and am struggling to put those yardages to use).

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