Sunday, March 30, 2014

Basics: The Great Fabric Stash Organization project

Okay, so I have a confession to make:  I'm a fabric hoarder.  No, not like those gross people on TLC, but I really do struggle with throwing away bits of fabric, let alone yardage(!).  I just can't stand the waste.

If you sew you know how it is -- when you first start sewing, you don't have a stash, so you have to buy new fabric for every project.  Depending on the project, you may have a few bits let over, or you may have quite a lot of fabric left at the end.  It's not just a quilter thing:  Home dec and especially garment sewing usually leave larger, more holey, and funky-shaped scraps. 

All those scraps are great at first, because every sewist needs scraps and loves having a good variety of small cuts to choose from, but over time, the bits and pieces can start to take over your home -- particularly if they're not organized.  Not mention the fact that your fabric preferences will change over time.  That's right, I'm talking to you.  I know you're in love with that beautiful Tula Pink line right now.  You're so in love with it that you bought $300 in fat quarter bundles of it and you just can't stand the idea of cutting into it.  But believe it or not, if you're still carrying around those fat quarters in 10 years, you might not even like it anymore.  Tastes change.  Or perhaps, like me, you may have gotten one of those "assortments" or "grab bags" and been less than enamored with the contents.

Now my fabric stash is too big, particularly with large cuts of yardage that feel like they may never get used up. (This is one of the many reasons I'm starting to favor precut fabric bundles for planned quilting projects.)

And organization?  Bah.  Random stacks is more like it.  Then two more huge boxes of fabric came home with me from my mother's house in Kentucky.

It's starting to look like Fabripocalypse around here.  Something had to be done.

So here's how I organized: 

First, I pressed all the scraps.  I detest ironing, but it's a necessary evil.  Ironing the fabric made it easier to fold and easier to store.  And I've noticed when I get it back out to use, it's much easier to press before cutting and piecing.  To help with pressing, I keep a spray bottle filled with a mix of water and white vinegar on my ironing board.  Water and white vinegar helps remove long-set-in wrinkles and lock dye into the fabric.  That said, if you have a stain in your yardage, wash it FIRST.  Vinegar locks dies and stains into fabric permanently.  (Incidentally, prewashing with a cup of white vinegar is a great way to lock dyes into stubborn fabrics like reds and blacks that insist on bleeding.)

Next, I sorted the fabric into size categories.  For oddly-shaped scraps, I cut them to some variation of square, rectangle or strip and then sorted them.  Here are the categories I used: 

Yardage - Any cut that is at least one yard long by the WOF (width of fabric -- usually around 40-42 inches)

Fat Quarter-ish - Any cuts larger than 9.5 inches on all sides, including Fat Quarters, quarter-yard cuts, Fat Eighths

Wide Strips - Any strip wider than 4.5 inches and longer than 9.5 inches

Narrow Strips - Any strip narrower than 4.5 inches and longer than 9.5 inches

Large Cuts - Any cut longer than one yard but significantly narrower than the WOF.  (These make great cuts for piecing quilt backs.)

Small Cuts - Any cut smaller than 9.5 inches square, (except 4.5 inch squares).

4.5 inch squares - These are common in scrap quilts, so they get their own stack.

I sorted within these categories by color and occasionally by type.  For example, I separate solids from prints, flannels from regular quilting cottons.  I keep the Christmas fabrics separate from the other fabrics, also separated period prints, ginghams and any fabric explicitly purchased for "I Spy" quilt block centers.

I even took all my Kona solids out of the cardboard boxes and put them in a stackable plastic bin so I could actually see them!  (I know, I know, those plastics aren't acid-free/archival quality.  Blah, blah.  Unless you're a professional curator, sometimes you work with what you have.)  Oh, and it was nice, too, to combine them so I could really see what I had together, instead of trying to mix and match from two different collections.  (I picked these up off eBay for a STEAL.  Fourteen fat quarters had been barely cut-into.  Yay, discount!)

Before, only they also went inside another fully-encasing cardboard box.

Regardless of minor size variations, I folded all the cuts within a category to a single, uniform size, making them easier to store.  I favored folding to smaller dimensions, particularly for fat-quarters and related sizes.  The thicker the folded remnant, the more likely I'll be able to see and identify individual fabrics in a stack, making picking and sorting for projects easier.

Ahhhh....that's better!  Just looking at it makes me want to go pick a project and start quilting!

All in all, the project took me about three days of 2-3 hours commitment, with most of the time going into pressing and cutting the scraps.  

Yardage: Sorted and stacked by color in my fabric closet.  (What...doesn't every home need a dedicated space for fabric?

And there you have it!

I've been living with my sort for a few weeks now, and I can say that I'm thrilled with it.  What would I change?

Well, first, I would set aside a stash for my kids.  My Big Boy, in particular, has really begun to spread his sewing wings, and with all that soaring creativity, I'm happy to oblige when he asks for more fabric or new colors.  And Bitty loves to cut up the scraps and glue them together into Transformers or dinosaurs for Big Boy to sew together.  (Fabric is the new construction paper!  Who knew?)  That said, while they're doing abstract and kiddie art, I prefer NOT to have them randomly raid my expensive quilt shop fabric finds, but instead to use my (un-special) older or big box store scraps.  Right now, I keep a few random scraps by Big Boy's sewing machine, but eventually, I'll probably create a separate collection just for my sewing boys.

Someone read to me about sharks while I sorted...

Second, I need a fabric "archive" for those fabrics I save "just because."  Specifically, there are a few older cuts that I keep simply because they've already been used in important quilts in my family.  I keep the scraps in case we need them to patch those quilts some day, and so I don't really intend to use them.  It makes more sense to separate these fabrics out into their own "permanent storage" solution, rather than keep them in the working stash, taking up room.  

I didn't even touch the flannel or all my garment fabrics yet.  I have some amazing garment fabrics from NYC and even overseas.  It breaks my heart to say it, but it might be time to pare down and specialize.  I just don't see myself ever getting into serious garment sewing like I once thought I might.  Oh well, when I get around to those decisions, that's what the Etsy shop is for!

Inspired by my stash project, he decided to do a color-coded car sort.  Pretty cool, eh?
Sooooooooo...How do you organize your stash?  :)