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Tips for Storing and Managing Your Fabric Stash

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Click to Read MoreI love fabric. I never seem to come home from the fabric store with just the fabric I need for my project. It eventually became an organizational disaster... couldn't remember what I had, couldn't find it if I did. Something had to change.

Talk about storing fabric for a long time, a couple of years ago my grandmother gave me nine yards of beautiful brown flowered silk. My grandfather brought it back from China at the end of WWII. My grandmother could never bear to cut it. I can't bear to cut it. Someday, maybe I'll come up with a worthy project. Until then, I want to keep this 60-year fabric in the pristine condition it's in now. This is what inspired me to finally organize my fabric stash.

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I know people who have fantastic ways of organizing their fabric stash: by color, size and fabric content; folded on acid-free boards, labeled with swatches in notebooks. Oh my! I admire people who are so organized, but I struggle. If it's too complex, I won't stick with it. This is my easy organization system. If you have better ideas, please, PLEASE, post them in the comment area below.

The System

Like many people, I have limitations on how much fabric I can store. My sewing area is in the guest room which, lucky-for-me, has a walk-in closet. This is where I keep my stash, away from light and out of view, yet still accessible.

The Containers

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I bought nine identical plastic containers at the local Kroger store. I like them because they're all the same size and shape, and:

  • They were cheap; $5.99 each (on sale).
  • They are a manageable size: Twelve gallons; 21-1/2" L x 16" W x 12-1/2"H (546mm x 381mm x 317.5mm).
  • Stackable. I have them stacked three-high in the closet.
  • See-through. The fabric is reasonably easy to spot without opening the container.
  • Easy to open. These containers have hinged interlocking double flaps that are very nice to open and close.

Really, any see-through container you like is fine. 

    Divide Fabric by Size

    In some of the more elaborate fabric stash systems, people organize by color, by size, by type of fabric and more. However, when I finally decide I want to use something from my stash, it's often with a project in mind. I want to see only the fabrics that are big enough for the project.

    We all have buying habits. I tend to buy 1-1/2 yards when I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I also buy irresistible remnants. I have a lot of what I'll call "medium-sized" pieces of fabric, a good bunch of small stuff and fewer larger pieces. Your buying habits may cause you to plan your containers differently, but this works for me:

    • Two containers: Scraps and remnants under 1/2 yard. 
    • Three containers: More than 1/2 yard to 2 yards. The bulk of what I have.
    • Three containers: More than 2 yards. I have less pieces, but they take up more space.
    • One container: Wool and silk. I save my old cotton pillowcases and store silk in them. That's how my grandmother stored the silk she gave me. Wool goes in plastic. I keep this container filled only about 80% and I duct taped a small cedar block to the upper lid where it does not touch the fabric.

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    That's my limit! Your limit may be greater or smaller; so measure your space, figure out how many containers you can store, and when you hit FULL, either sew or discard.

    Prewashing

    It's a great idea to prewash and press your fabric before storing it. Then you are always ready to sew. I just put it in the laundry room and wash and when convenient.

    Folding Fabric

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    I neatly fold all my stored fabric selvedge-to-selvedge, and then in half and in half until it's about 5-1/2 inches wide by about 9 inches highs. With pieces bigger than 2 yards, I just do my best. How you fold doesn't so much matter as getting it to be fairly consistent in finished folded size. Stacks are placed flat in the appropriate container. I can see through through the clear containers well enough to normally go right to what I want.

    Logging Fabric

    Some people use stainless steel pins to attach a label recording the fabric information to each piece of fabric. That works, but if you have a computer, use it. You can create a simple spreadsheet as I did, but a simple document file is adequate. When I cleaned out all my fabric, I spent a little time online identifying the fabric I already had as well as I could. Now, when I come home from the fabric store, or as I order fabric online, I add it to the list (I didn't bother with remnants). The spreadsheet below is a sampling from my full spreadsheet to show examples of how I've entered data:

    Diagram

      I usually remember what a fabric looks like once I see the name, but I can quickly look it up online if I forget. Just having a system, any system, is a big step in preventing closet fabric avalanches.

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      Comments (28)

      Wendy H. said:
      Wendy H.'s picture

      All these tips and tricks for stash organization are terrific!

      Being a bit of a fat quarter junkie myself, I use a wood dresser for most of my fat quarters and then bins (plastic and cardboard) for yardage/batting/etc. I store the bins in my "stash closet" under the stairs to the top level of the house. Lucky me, I own a Sizzix big Shot Pro cutting system and I'm able to use a fat quarter wrap die to create the FQ holders out of card stock, cardboard & chipboard, which I then wrap my FQ's into, secure with binder clips, and then place neatly into the drawers. Voila! 

      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

      @ Wendy - what a great tip - thanks!

      shadow154 said:
      shadow154's picture

      In the past I've tried sorting my fabric by color but that only gave me more ideas. The cardboard moving boxes with handles ("smooth move" found at office max) let the fabric breathe while keeping out light.  I label the box "fabric number __" and get out the digital camera. I prewash and take a picture of everything that is added to that box.  When the box is full, I transfer the images to my computer and assign tags so I can easily find those special items for my project. Now the question is, how many boxes will I end up with and where to put them...humm.  I've got enough fabric for about 50 boxes and I'm on box number 3. It is all going in the guest room for now.

      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

      @ Shadow154 - thanks for sharing your tips. You are super dupe organized and I want you to come live with me!

      mathmom said:
      mathmom's picture

      I have converted a bedroom into a sewing room.  I purchased two  6 foot tall black and decker locking cabinets at Home Depot and assembled them in the room.  They have adjustable shelves.  I cut a piece of ribbed foam board the width of the shelf.  By folding the fabric in half lentgthwise and rolling the fabric around the board, I managed to fold all my fabrics to the same size.  Once sorted and stacked in the cabinets I can readily find what I need.  The fact that the cabinet doors are closed protects the fabrics from the natural sunlight in the room, and the locking mechanism keeps visiting grandchildren out of my stash.

      MissTi said:
      MissTi's picture

      Like StitchyWoman said, rolling tends to preserve fabrics best.  I do a lot of home dec sewing, which often require more yardage, and the creases from folding those heavier-weight fabrics sometimes leave permanent marks.  I tend to store my fabric rolled, not even folded with selvedges matched.  At the moment I have the rolls stacked vertically against the wall, in a corner.  It is an organization nightmare.  Fortunately, there is usually fairly high turnover but not for all of it.  Does anyone else store their fabric this way and have any suggestions on managing it? 

      I might have to rig up something like they have in the fabric stores, using a frame like a bookcase without the shelves, and make brackets for dowels?   Any other suggestions or ideas?

      TEW said:
      TEW's picture

      Miss T, this may be too late to be helpful, but if you're still looking for a solution, you might want to consider something like a tall garden tool storage box. This one is for sale instead of plans, but it will give you an idea what I'm talking about. Dependng on the size of your rolls, you'll want the openings to be larger or smaller, and depending on the number of rolls, you may want to build more than one box.

      https://www.natureexplore.org/sourcebook/merchDetail.cfm?ID=46

      Michele Niedermeyer said:
      Michele Niedermeyer's picture

      I usually buy fabric for say blouses, shirts, skirts, pants, coats, vests or jackets, linnings, stiffeners, some to cut

      out the motifes for iron on applique. I preshrink everything, press measure fabric write it on front of a gal. size

      freezer zipplock baggy. If I Bought notions or a pattern for the fabric I put that all in, except thread. I store that separately. Then I file bags in a container with dividers with type of garment labeled. I also work from a personal

      color swatch book, so all my clothing fabrics coordinate. This saves me a lot of money mix and matching my wardrobe.

      Unicorn2162 said:
      Unicorn2162's picture
      Vogue patterns has a template for recording your fabric "archive". Have not done this yet, but when I get back from my "Palm tree vacation" (Dominican this year) I must do this. I raided my stash to make tote bags and aprons, so the only things left are the wools and wool blends. Must take care of them. Have real,amazing Donegal tweed for a suit, given to me by someone who cleared out her stash. This is a bespoke suit waiting to happen, so must protect it from the elements. I like the Cedar bock option not touching the fabric. Thanks so much for that.
      Andrea said:
      Andrea's picture

      Can you provide more information on Vogue's template and where to find it? Thanks.

      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

      @ Andrea - that mention was posted by a visitor and it is not something I've actually every seen. If she doesn't post back, I'd suggest a Google search or perhaps a visit to the Vogue site. 

      Andrea said:
      Andrea's picture

      Thanks for your response, Liz. I searched the internet pretty extensively before posting here, and I also emailed Vogue Patterns. They were kind enough to respond and they're also seeing if they can unravel the minor mystery.

       

       

      Orchid said:
      Orchid's picture
      I can't sew if my sewing room is a mess, so today - New Year's Day - the room is organized and tidied. I have a spare bedroom set up with 3 tables around the perimeter. One for ironing, one for my sewing machine and a large cutting table. On my back wall I have my design wall, the closet has been turned into all shelves. My fabrics are in clear plastic shoe boxes, sorted by colour. In front of my sewing area, I have a pegboard wall which holds all of my rulers, tools and gadgets. I also have the rolling 5-drawer carts for sorting other items. Now to sew!!! smilies/smiley.gif
      alfabama said:
      alfabama's picture
      I like to wrap my fabric around various sizes of cardboard or filing folders to store them in clear containers, so when I need to reach that perfect piece at the bottom, its easier to pull out the top pieces and put them back neatly. It also helps to keep them a little less wrinkled.
      Allison {SeamedUP} said:
      Allison {SeamedUP}'s picture
      You may like to check out the website www.seamedup.com where you can keep track of your stash, patterns, books, etc as well as assign them to the different projects you are working on!
      We are building quite a community on SeamedUP and we would love to have you join ussmilies/smiley.gif
      alicia.thommas said:
      alicia.thommas's picture
      Hey, Jillio - So far the silk is deteriorating at a slower rate than I am. But, you are right, nothing lasts forever. I can't tell you how many times I've almost cut into it and at the last second I choke and can't go through with it. smilies/cheesy.gif
      Jillio said:
      Jillio's picture
      Silk deteriorates with TIME, even if optimally stored! So you might as well use that brown silk!
      Dreamsofseams said:
      Dreamsofseams's picture
      I hope this tip comes in handy for someone.

      Recently I bought a featherbed and pillows; they came in these handled, zippered carriers where the front is heavy transparent plastic and the backside is some breathable thin material (fabric). I dropped in a cedar bar - protected this with a rag in case it bleeds - and now store batting, old clothing to refashion, and large amounts of fabric in them. I use the plastic envelopes from new linens for scraps, trims, notions, W.I.P.s - anything.

      P.S. Once you've slept on a featherbed, you will never go back! And if you sew a little (or a lot), you'll wake up like this smilies/cheesy.gif with no back pain!
      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
      Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
      Wow, Elisabeth M. that is an organizational dream. You are my hero!
      Elisabeth M. said:
      Elisabeth M.'s picture
      A couple of years ago I took over a large part of our basement and turned it into a quilting/sewing room. One wall has Ivar shelving units (from Ikea), and on the shelves are 2-drawer plastic storage units for fabric. The drawers have good air circulation, and the clear fronts let me easily see what's inside. They're perfect for fat quarters, and pieces up to about a yard... as a quilter, most of my fabric is cotton and in smaller sizes.

      I like to sort my fabric by color groups (blue, green, red, yellow, purple, etc.), with light, medium, and dark shades in separate drawers. I also separate out some special groups: 1800s reproductions, 1940's prints, large florals, plaids, novelty prints, and solids go in separate drawers. The clear fronts of these drawers let me easily see what's inside. When I run out of room, I add another drawer unit. These storage units also stack, so they could stand on their own, but I like the flexibility of having them on shelves. My scraps go in smaller 3-drawer versions, also sorted by color. I make a lot of scrap quilts, so I save everything that's 2-in. and larger for future projects. Larger pieces, those earmarked for a specific use, and other fabrics (wool, home dec, corduroy, etc.) go into larger stackable totes, separated by fabric type.

      It was a job getting this set up, and it takes some time to get new fabric sorted and stored, but it's worth it. I pre-wash, press, then fold each piece of fabric into roughly the same size, and place the pieces on end in the drawers. When I'm quilting and go in search of a particular color or pattern to add to a project, I'm so glad I took the time to get my fabric stash organized!
      StitchyWoman said:
      StitchyWoman's picture
      It's a good idea to roll your fabrics, especially silk, since the folds are where the fibers will fray most easily. It's not such a good idea to store fabrics in plastic, since natural fibers (especially wool) need to breathe. I the large cardboard storage boxes (the kind you can slide under the bed) and label them so I can tell what's in them. As I remove and use fabric, I cross the piece I took out off the list, which is on a sheet of note paper taped to the box. When the note paper gets too messy, I throw it away and re-inventory what's in the box. BTW, I love the spreadsheet idea!
      Diane S said:
      Diane S's picture
      I have all my fabric in plastic bins and slid a 3x5 card in the front identifying the contents: Asian fabric, Civil War etc. Also have the quilt books entered in an Excel spreadsheet. I can print it out on one page and take it with me to quilt shops or shows. Now I don't purchase the same book twice.
      Adalita said:
      Adalita's picture
      I store mine in a cardboard box from costume store - it slides under the table where my printer is. Hidden away from my partners eyesight. smilies/wink.gif
      boofsmom said:
      boofsmom's picture
      Thanks for the idea of putting silk and other fine fabrics into cotton pillowcases. I hate just putting them into plastic cases, but wasn't sure what else to do with them.
      BNMiller50 said:
      BNMiller50's picture
      I purchased quite a few plastic sweater boxes at Dollar General and have all of my stash sorted by colors. Probably takes more boxes but it is so much easie for me when I need a certain color not to have to go through piles or drawers to find the right piece I need. I also found that I have enough material that I wouldn't have to purchase anything new for probably a year or so!!!! (Of course that is if I didn't want to purchase anything new.) I LOVE fabric.
      alicia.thommas said:
      alicia.thommas's picture
      Yay! to everyone who is organizing their stashes. Now that my fabric is organized, I use it up more than I did when it was in bags, drawers, stacks and under the bed. Turns out I actually accumulate less and spend less than I used to.
      theunorganizedmom said:
      theunorganizedmom's picture
      Thank you for this article! My daughter and I have just started a small business and our fabric stash is growing rapidly! I have 5 kids and NO extra rooms so my space is extremely limited. I just told my daughter we were going to have to buy plastic tubs and get organized!
      sfaddies said:
      sfaddies's picture
      How brave of you to share your stash. Even though I have a small hobby room in the garage it is a mess. I keep thinking I will get it organized but I have so many crafts I do it is even harder than just dealing with fabric. I have yarn and leather and embroidery stuff. Then there are about a million craft books and magazines, some day........

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