This essay originally appeared in the 25th anniversary issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine (September 1994):
At a recent quilt show, two novice quilters offered their views on quilt design. The first said, "I use onlly Hoffman fabrics." The second insisted, "I use only Alexander Henry fabrics." Their disagreement ended when I entered the fray, asserting, "I use everything, especially if it's on sale." My position was unthinkable to the quilters entrenched in the view that things are necessarily better if they are more colorful, more exotic, more difficult to obtain, and more expensive.
Perhaps it's my traditional New England Yankee upbringing or my thrifty Irish-peasant blood, but I delight in bargains. I save everything I've ever owned, I recycle diligently, and I abhor spending large amounts of money unnecessarily. These traits are rooted in my very soul and influence many aspects of myq uilting. I am what you might call a "Frugal Quilter." And I'm not alone; I am jsut one member of a whole breed of quilters.
You can probably spot a Frugal Quilter or two at all the major (and minor) quilt shows or at your quild meetings. You may even recognize the Frugal Quilter's traits in yourself, once you become aware of the Frugal Quilter's characteristics.
The Frugal Quilter never intentionally buys coordinated fabric. In fact, the Frugal Quilter seldom buys fabric with a specific quilt in mind. Other quilters design a quilt, buy the fabarics, make the quilt, and thens tart from scratch with a new design and new fabrics. A Frugal Quilter could never work this way consistently. Before long, she would have a pile of scraps and would give in to her horror of waste and inefficiency. She would make a scrap quilt from all the leftover fabrics she had accumulated.
I do not mean to suggest the Frugal Quilter never buys fabaric. She buys yards of fabric, as much as she can afford. She buys fabric in every color and every type of print. She buys fabric she loves -- and fabric she hates, it it's a bargain. She buys fabric on the way to work with gas money she saves by combining errands. She buys fabric as vacation souvenirs in lieu of tacky postcards and T-shirts.
Keep in mind, too, that most Frugal Quilters have remnants in their fabric collection that date back to at least their adolescence. This extensive collection is due to the genetic inability to discard even the smallest scrap in the certainty that it will be of use someday.
The Frugal Quilter does not just buy fabric and hoard it forever, though. She makes it earn its keep. Some Frugal Quilters display t heir fabric as a collection, an integral part ofo the home decor, while it awaits inclusion in a quilt. The Frugal Quilter is more of oa pack rat than a collector, however, and isaware that the value of fabric is generally in its use and not in its mere collection. The fabrics become more valuable and useful when made into a quilt, either as folk art or as an addition to the family bedding. Eventually, then, by using her fabrics, teh Frugal Quilter will wring her money's worth from every discount-priced square inche of the fabrics in her collection.
Most Frugal Quilters are as careful with their time as with their money, both of which are limited. The Frugal Quilter is not a fanatic; she can accept some waste of fabric if she is properly "compensated" by other savings. For example, some speed-piecing techniques result in slightly more fabric waste than traditional methods, but they reduce piecing time considerably. The efficiency of speed-piecing appeals to the Frugal Quilter, and she can accept some fabric waste in return for saving time.
Don't confuse the Frugal Quilter with the Miserly Quilter. The Frugal Quilter will spend money on quality tools, including books and magazines for inspiration. The Miserly Quilter relies on shoddy tools, and she limits her sources of inspiration. The Frugal Quilter looks for bargains, but she usually works with unworn, or seldom worn, fabrics in her quilts. The Miserly Quilter uses frayed shirts and dresses in quilts, and her quilts deteriorate rapidly, wasting her time and money to create a quilt that was defective before it was completed.
I am proud to be a Frugal Quilter. Yes, I'm cheap. A tightwad. But not a miser. In the 1980s decade of consumption, the Frugal Quilter was something of a misfit. In today's era of economic awareness, however, the Frugal Quilter may be the result of necessity, of setting priorities, or simply acknowledging a trait that has existed in us all along. It's a good time for us to return to the fundamentals of quiltmaking: creating fiber art or folk art that overcomes the constraints of available time and money. It's a good time to encourage and challenge the designer within us, to cultivate the creativity that overcomes economic limitations and creates beauty from the mundane.