Review: Stash

Like many Mac-using sewists, I’ve been tempted many times to “go PC” just to have a chance to play around with the The Electric Quilt Company‘s software. But when the opportunity recently arose to review the Spring 2009 edition of (the Mac-incompatible) Stash, I was happy to have an excuse to ask Kevin Kosbab of Feed Dog guest star on True Up. Kevin is a quilter, designer, writer, and vintage fabric connoisseur who knows his way around Electric Quilt. Welcome, Kevin!

ST20_S09_L3d

Stash is a Windows program (I tested on a Vista system) featuring 5,600 digital swatches of current quilting fabric lines from 32 manufacturers. The program has been put out twice a year since 1999, so the Spring 2009 edition includes fabric that’s hitting the shelves right now. Favorite designers like Amy Butler and Anna Maria Horner are included, as well as new designers and uncredited in-house designs (often some of my favorites). The list of manufacturers is pretty comprehensive — Moda, FreeSpirit, Michael Miller, and most of the usual suspects are there; a noticeable gap for me was the absence of Alexander Henry. From this list you can drill down to fabric collections (including many put out in 1999, apparently included for compatibility reasons).

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I keep up with the new lines pretty well, but I was still surprised to see some friendly new faces amongst the fabric. You can then save the fabrics you like to a “Shopping Bag,” printable for taking to the fabric store. Each fabric has a “Notecard” containing information like the designer and the SKU number, helpful for tracking down fabrics online or in local shops.

shoppinglist

I added coordinated swatches from several lines in the Shopping Bag capped here — the Bag can also function as a virtual design wall to see if you like the way different fabrics work together.

While technically a standalone program, the real benefits of Stash depend on using it with the Electric Quilt Company’s flagship quilt design program, Electric Quilt 6 (EQ6). The Stash swatches can be linked into the Fabric Library in EQ6 (or its predecessor, EQ5) for use in quilt layouts designed there, saving you the hassle of scanning fabric or importing Internet images of varying quality. Stash vastly augments the 5,277 fabric images included with EQ6 (mainly cover long-life “basics” from various manufacturers, all printed before the program’s release in 2007).

Andover_Mid-Century Modern

CC_Mellow Yellow

Moda_Nouveau

RK_Metro Market

FS_Good Folks

Swatches from Stash (left) compared to images from manufacturers’ websites (right).

The colors seem fairly accurate in the Stash swatches compared to the actual fabric, though of course mileage will vary depending on your monitor’s color fidelity. The scans in Stash are high quality and consistently sized, reflecting the actual scale of the print in your EQ designs whatever the size of the patch you create. Small enough prints tile nearly perfectly in repeat, though fabrics with relatively large motifs or repeats— the kind often favored by today’s big-name designers — will have clipped edges, so you may not be able to see the full repeat (examples below).

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Good Folks

The scale used in Stash itself is also fixed at EQ scale — that is, not actual size, so it can be hard to tell how big a print is without a swatch you’re familiar with for reference.

Probably the most powerful feature of Stash — in theory — is its ability to search the fabrics by color or design category (i.e., small floral, geometric, hand-dyed look, etc., but only after picking a color to start the search from). Unfortunately, I didn’t have much success with either search method. Occasionally a search would bring up swatches from the outdated 1999 fabrics, but I was never able to get one of the current swatches to appear. And most of the time the searches, whether by color or by category, would come up blank. Searching by color in EQ6 didn’t find any Stash fabrics either, but it was able to turn up Stash fabrics when searching by Notecard text — something not possible within Stash itself. This is a useful ability, since you might know a line is called “City something” … “City Girl”? “City Sparkle”? Or you might remember the name of a designer but not the name of her new line, much less the company she’s attached to. The Notecard text cannot be edited and saved in Stash, but you can copy a swatch to the “My Library” section in EQ6 and add your own notes or keywords (or the name of individual prints; Stash lists only the line name) in the copied swatch’s Notecard.

Stash is fun to browse through and a useful add-on if you like to keep your EQ6 library up to date with what’s in your actual, real-life stash. If you don’t mind spending $50 a year on the Fall and Spring editions, a full set of the Stash volumes would make an admirable fabric archive even without EQ. (Previous editions are still available, but like most fabric collections, they’re not reproduced once the run sells out.) Shop owners may also appreciate the multi-manufacturer overview, perhaps using the Shopping Bag to ensure they order fabrics that coordinate across various lines and designers. But instead of spending $24.95, you may prefer to download the latest swatches from your favorite manufacturers’ sites.

Thank you so much, Kevin! Stay tuned for his review of Amy Butler Softwares.

5 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I’ve used Stash, EQ5 & 6 and the AB Softwares program for work. I love Stash for making it easier for me to be able to efficiently look for fabrics. It’s also easier to visually compare fabrics, because the swatches are all the same size (fabric companies use so many different sizes of swatches). However, I agree with Kevin that the categories need work. Interestingly, if you have EQ6, the fabrics will seem to scale to the space in the block in which they’re placed–giving you a reasonable approximation of how the fabric will look in your quilt. It’s odd that they scale when you’re just looking at the fabric swatches–I hadn’t noticed that before, but just went and checked and it’s certainly an issue.

    On the EQ meta side of things: I sure wish that EQ would release their titles for Mac (I just don’t want Windows on my computer). I also wish the interface was more like that of illustration programs than CAD programs–I think it would be more accessible to more people that way.

  2. Mary Beth says:

    Another wistful Mac user — I sure would love to be able to use something like this. Thanks for the review, Kevin! It lets us in the Apple minority see what’s up.

  3. Sophie T. says:

    I think Stash is probably my favorite EQ product. I’m on a mac and have used it with Virtual PC since I started buying it. I’m on an older mac, but I’m sure there is a newer program for more recent macs, but mine works fine. I really like being able to see all the fabrics on the market and so as I’m designing, I’m more likely to use a fabric I’ve never seen before. I’m using it as a virtual fabric store where I can pick and choose before I buy. Over the years, I feel like I’ve gathered my own textile archives – pretty cool!

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