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Tools & Supplies

Spring Cleaning for Your Fabric Stash

Apr 14, 2010
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Part of the green section in my fabric stash.

It’s that time of year when everyone starts cleaning their spaces. And for sewers, spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning–it’s time to tackle reorganizing your sewing area.

This year I decided to take on the overwhelming task of organizing my fabric stash. In my fantasies, this will give me access to a whole extra closet in my apartment and inspire me by putting all that I have on hand on display.

I’ve chosen a shelf unit for my stash, but have yet to purchase it. I’ve settled on the extra-large Expedit unit from Ikea, and divised a way to wrap my fabric into mini bolts that will fit perfectly inside each cubby hole in the unit. It will be going in my hallway, safely hidden from harmful sunrays.

After cutting down recycled cardboard to create my own bolts, I discovered archival cardboard from the comic book store. I had seen the comic-sized ones several times, deemed them too small, and originally went the DIY route. However, after a little research I came across magazine-sized archival backing boards. They’re the perfect size to fit most shelving units and most fabric pieces. They’re also acid- and dye-free so they won’t damage materials.

To make the mini bolts, I simply folded the fabric around the cardboard and then rolled it into a bolt. I tucked under the raw ends and pinned them in place for a finished look. For longer yardages or thicker fabrics, I just used 2 (and sometimes 3) cardboards stacked together for more support.

It’s a tedious process, but I’m about 1/4 of the way done with my stash. Hopefully I’ll finish this monumental job before the season’s end.

How do you store your fabric stash? Do you have any special tricks or tips?

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  1. User avater EricColbert October 20th

    I think self storage is actually a pretty good idea for arts and craft items at the rate that the items seem to be collecting in my house. But I personally can't quite relate with fabric and textile storage. I much prefer to tinker around in my storage shed or garage. However, I've realised that a lot of Arts and Craft storage tips do work very well with some of the materials that I do keep in there, so I'll definitely continue to follow this site in case more good ideas come up...

  2. Michaelmaloney1 June 16th

    My wife will be so jealous! She has always wanted to have a collection of fabrics like that but we've just never had enough storage to get around to it. We'd go to the stores and look at all the lovely rolls and rolls of material and go "now where can I put all this stuff - nowhere!" Well that was really until I found out that I can get a pretty good deal with self storage companies in Gold Coast so I might just give her the good news that she can start collecting soon! These ideas will really help me make the most of my new space, so thanks for that!

  3. Great fabric sale at Heart To Heart Fabrics visit HeartToHeartFabrics.com for great fabrics at awesome prices!

  4. sewwing July 17th

    I too have rolled my material on cardboard rolls. I got mine from the rolls that Christmas paper comes from. But I have found that I like hanging my material on skirt hangers better than the rolls. I get my hangers from the stores when I purchase something I just ask for the hanger. Quite often they will give me a bunch of them just to get rid of them. I then fold my material so that it hangs nicely on the hanger and I make sure that the clips that hold it on is clipped in the salvage. I can then put any other item that I want to use with that material in a bag and hook it to the hanger also. The material then stores neatly in the closet and out of any sunlight.

  5. meorens April 22nd

    I have been doing tons of re-organizing this year, and also love the IKEA solutions. My choice has been the GORM shelves, as I store on blots. The best thing about GORM is that I can assemble them in ways not originally intended by the designer, which is my quirk; I end up redesigning everything. They are also really easy to move, as they are knocked down, to assemble, just use a ratchet on the 4" screws, and to rearrange, as nothing is fixed in place. You can add as many shelves as your space and budget will allow! It's also very budget friendly.

    In this case, I needed to find a presentable and efficient way to store bolts and some tubes, because the fabric was taking over. Honestly, there are stores with less fabric. By changing the way the unit goes together (which is not always a possibility with every other type of shelving), I was able to change the unit from 30"wide X 20" deep with some unusable areas between shelves, to 20"wide X 30" deep with no obstructions! Big difference! It might sound easy, but it is not always a possibility; some shelving pieces are just not made in a way that the can be changed, and still keep the structural integrity and safety of the piece.

    If you want a look at my very messy studio, and these great shelves, during this transition you can see it here: http://livingonpinsandneedles.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-creative-space.html

    As for folding small pieces of fabric, here is a great video from an Australian blogger with a great way to fold a fat quarter, or any smaller piece:
    http://livingonpinsandneedles.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-to-fold-fat-quarter.html

  6. User avater Maddy1 April 21st

    Actually, I have the large Expedit unit from Ikea, but have taken the easy way out. You see, they have these semi-transparent plastic bins called, LEKMAN, which I stack my fabric collection in and am still able to see the wonderful colors and get some kind of idea where I put that piece I'm looking for,

    I think the mini-bolt idea is good too, but this way the material is safe from dust and fingerprints and such like.

    I also share the Expedit with another member of my family and it is in a entryway of our apartment being used as a room divider, but the bins add a wonder sense of color to somewhat drab space. I hope to someday be able to take over complete access to the Expedit for my own use. ;-)

  7. User avater PABarnes April 21st

    I have not gotten into quilting yet.
    I sew outfits and have large quantities of fabric.
    Usually when I purchase fabric, I request the bolt from the fabric store to keep the fabric on.
    They are more than willing to give those away.
    I figure if they use them in the fabric store as a way to display them, then it would be a good idea to use to store them. It also makes it easier to see what I have at a glance.

  8. Spudmom April 21st

    I would caution you about the use of pins, as they can leave a mark in fabric, can snag adjoining packages, and even the best quality can rust - I speak from experience!

    I make garments, so my fabric pieces are too big to fit on shelves in this manner. My solution was to buy foam core board and cut it in 12" x 30" strips. I fold my pre-washed fabic inside out and roll it around, just like a bolt in a store. I store the bolts flat in long plastic bins. Because they lie flat, I don't need to secure the bolts, but if I did, I would tie them with scraps of twill tape or bias tape, rather than pinning them.

  9. User avater Mike32 April 21st

    My stash has taken over my "sewing room"! However my solution is homegrown! My interior designer daughter has done a new floor plan for the room I currently use as computer and embroidery-sewing. My fabrics are somewhat organized--as I quilt, sew and do machine embroidery I used a wide variety. I use plastic bins with the category of the contents marked in felt pen on the lid. For instance: linings---black, silk, etc. For Christmas I have a box that includes swatches, and they are grouped in the box by color. I also have UFOs and "In Progress" the priority being In Progress. However, my new plan will be to convert 3 door closets to shelving for my stash.

    But in addition to fabrics I have to organize embroidery threads--different colors and spool sizes, and the many types of stabilizers used; not to mention the batting! Needless to say this is a major project, and I loved the Ikea idea. Great idea for the threads!
    Once I have reclaimed the storage area, the room will be converted into a guest bedroom! Again.

    Alma Lou

  10. writerinfact April 20th

    I guess I'm too much a child of the digital age. My printer has a scanner, so (when the uncontrollable urge struck to organize my stash) I scanned every piece larger than a breadbox and entered length, width, content, color and reference number into a database, linking the scan. Then (unfortunately) I had to seal the whole kit and kaboodle into mouse-tight packages (marked with the reference numbers) since the only place currently available for the (formerly) 37 boxes of fabric is (OH, NO!) shelving in the garage. At least it won't suffer from sun damage (we get a lot of that, here in Phoenix)! I also scanned pattern envelopes, front and back, so I have pictures of potential garments along with yardage requirements (another database!). Now if I only had a sewing room to store it all in . . .

  11. Pog April 20th

    It just takes a few more minutes to measure each pice of fabric before you put fold it. Yes, it takes a little longer but you can see how much you have of certain colors.

  12. Pog April 20th

    It just takes a few more minutes to measure each pice of fabric before you put fold it. Yes, it takes a little longer but you can see how much you have of certain colors.

  13. dollfancier April 20th

    I love this idea. As bgradisek mentions above, I found Polar Notions and their awesome product for just this purpose a few years ago. The website offers solid (not corrugated) acid-free, reusable plastic storage sheets in two sizes that have slots in them to help start rolling the fabric on. They also sell metal clips to hold the fabric in place, once you've got the bolt ready. My sewing room looks great and I've had an easier time finding what I need (and remembering what I have) ever since.
    Next comes the day when I will log how much yardage I have of each piece. (sigh)

  14. User avater Rbj2040 April 20th

    Organizing my fabric stash between two houses is always fun. I always refold the fabric and organize according to the whim of the moment. But, its how I handle a fabric new to the collection that makes my life easier in the long run.

    When I bring a fabric home even if I am burning to cut something out right away, I lauder if approriate and pin a small piece of paper with the yardage and width to the corner. I then note on a list the yardage, width, content, weave and color. This way, even if I don't quite get to that burning project, I have an easy record of what I have and can when browsing the cabinets for something 2 yds long, I can find the possibilites quickly.

  15. bgradisek April 20th

    I have been using a great product from polar notions to organize my fabrics. They are acid free mini bolts designed for fabric storage. The bolts are 7 1/2" X 11 3/4" and made of a strong plastic. I can roll 6 or 7 yards on a bolt and the bolt will not bend. The bolts fit on most shelving units but I have some adjustable shelving put on the wall of my closet. I love the results -

  16. User avater Cheriezel April 20th

    I used to put much of my stash folded over strong metal hangers on an industrial garment rack. But it took up too much room (it was double sided) and it was near a window so some of the pieces got sun damage right in the middle of some of the pieces! So thank you for mentioning keeping your fabric out of the sun!

  17. User avater SewJoe April 19th

    I too bought at IKEA; the tall wardrobe and added the wire drawers. Upper shelves hold my folded yardage. I cut a teeny swatch, tape it to a piece of lined paper, then write the yardage next to the swatch. The paper gets taped inside the door corresponding to the shelf.

    For the small scraps, since the drawers are wire, I lined them with heavy clear vinyl, now I can see perfectly what is layered in those drawers.

    I organize the scraps according to size in each of four drawers. Drawer #1 is small, #2 is medium and #3 is large sized scraps. The 4th drawer has only stripe fabrics (I use quite a lot of stripes for piping and other accents). I love these drawers, as they are big enough to dig through without messing up the neatness and the clear vinyl saves the day.

    :~)
    --Jeanie

  18. simplypat April 19th

    I use my 6 x 24 quilting ruler and fold the fabric around it. I than fold this piece in half lengthwise. I keep the folded pieces in a bookcase with the folded edge facing out. I can see all my fabric at once. I group then by color and/or type (oriental, kids, etc). Having them in full view helps in my fabric choices and no hunting for that piece of fabric I know i purchased.

    And it looks great!

  19. Sewing2enjoying April 19th

    I was happy to learn about the comic book archival backer boards for storing fabric. I looked up the web site and the price is wonderful! I previously purchased some of the fabric organizers we see advertised from DeNiece's Designs LLC, dherrod@thefabricorganizer.com. They are wonderful in two sizes and they actually have tabs to hold the fabric onto the corrugated-type organizers. I am sorry, I do not recall the price of them. I bought both sizes. My stash, much like anyone's, contains both large amounts and small. I like the idea of having them all on something that is instantly visible, protected from sun and moisture, and ready for me to just "pick" what I want. I wash my fabric when I bring it home and make sure it is totally dry before I fold and store it. I find much of my fabric at resale stores, especially at a local St. Vincent DePaul Store.

    Smaller items like leftover pieces for possible quilts or projects; pieces and bits of trim, ribbon, whatever, I put into 6-drawer plastic roller containers I found on sale at the local retail fabric store. I have a file drawer in the old credenza I found and purchased for a sewing table. I store the important help books for sewing, serging or quilting there. I try to keep things I may need during a project close at hand. It works well for me and I wonder many times what my mother, the excellent seamstress that she was, would think of all my tools and helps of today.

    Our daughter will be moving out on her own this year and I will be able to expand into a larger and more adaptable area for sewing. I can hardly wait to feel really well organized.

  20. User avater natsnasus April 19th

    I LOVE your idea. I have a question, tho...how big is the storage unit that these bolts are standing up in? I'd love to have my fabric look like a fabric store. I especially love the idea that they won't get dusty!
    R U also cataloging the yardage amounts? Where do you put this info with regards to the way you're storing the fabric? nest to it? Or elsewhere?
    Thanks!

  21. MeowCyn April 19th

    I use the industrial five shelf metal storage units for storing my fabrics. The fabrics are then grouped by type of fabric, color, and then stored in mesh lingerie laundry bags with zippers for easy access. The bags are marked with hanging index cards (using a large safety pin) from the bag's hanging loop. The bags are then stacked on the different shelves. I even have separate bags for cloth that I use for making my husband's briefs, his shirts, my bras/swim suits, bags for regular clothing, with all my quilt "stash" on the top shelves. I live in Panama where things can get moldy, so having good air ventilation preserves my fabrics a bit longer storing it this way. An old fashioned apothecary chest holds all my sewing tools. I use Ziplock bags (gallon size) extensively to color code/store threads, patterns, interfacings, etc. in clear plastic bins on another five shelf rack. I prefer to spend my time creating, not searching for something. Easier to put something back in the right place each time than trying to remember where I put something. Then you don't have to spend time Spring cleaning each year. (You should see the specialty storage units I have for my 1,500 tins of seed beads, and all my glass rods for making beads in my other studio spaces!)

  22. nativemsn April 19th

    My husband and I just moved our office/sewing room into our daughter's old and smaller bedroom. So that meant transferring all of my fabrics from one closet to another. I had them in storage bins, but decided to take them all out so I could see them and become more inspired by what I like. I bought a pretty inexpensive shelf ($57) from a home improvement store and put it together to stack my fabrics on. They didn't all quite fit on it, but I love having them so I can see what I've got. I collected quite a few I had forgotten! A word of caution, also about storing fabrics in plastic bags and bins---natural fibers can get moldy and rot if they can't breathe and are exposed to high humidity even thought they are in bins. My bins were not completely air tight.

  23. User avater Bluedog5917 April 19th

    I organized my stash a few years ago. I found some charitable organizations on line that accept fabric to make quilts for children in cancer wards. I boxed it up and sent the fabric out. They even took "fat quarters". I think if you google fabric for charity or something like that you might find some of these charities. Just a thought if you don't want to sell or swap your extra fabric.

  24. User avater sandysewstoo April 19th

    I organized my fabric and scrap stash a couple of years ago, I also measured each piece and made an inventory, well I bit off more than I could chew as the old saying goes. I had a larger stash than I realized.

    I also did the same with elastic, buttons, all my supplies, that is when recycling peanut butter and mayo containers come in handy, they are clear and plastic so they are unbreakable and you can see your stash.

    for my ribbon stash I use a spring mount cafe rod and put my rolls of ribbon it and put it in the window, that does not get much sun, to keep them from fading. Hope someone can use some of my ideas, I love reading everyone's ideas on organizing and containing all the "stash" we love.

  25. dormery April 19th

    Last year I went through my complete fabric stash, which was at the time in five different drawers and an armoire. I managed to be relatively rigid in my sorting and ended up selling about 30 or 40 fabrics on eBay. Then I pre-washed all the fabrics that would need that step and folded them in half lengthwise (for easy cutting) and in fanfolds 1/2 yard apart. Then I sorted by season and by color and stored the fabrics in clear zipped bags about 24" x 18" x 6". (fairly easy to find online; I had some left from quilts and bedspreads, etc. that I had purchased). Then I cleaned out a small closet and stacked the bags neatly, so that I could see and easily access each as I needed to. Your plan sounds awesome, but not suitable for my situation, and I don't like to think of the wrinkles that would be caused by folding the fabrics to fit even the magazine-size tubes. Unless there's something there that I don't understand.

  26. Moonbeams April 19th

    I would dearly love to swap fabrics. I have some I'll never use but I was afraid to pass them up when they were at a good price.

    I don't know how this would work but it would be fun. I am a terrible "setter-upper" so I would think each swap person would have to work together on an individual basis.

    Just a thought, Pakrat! But a great one.

  27. mcstergios April 19th

    those were great tips - I especially like the mini-bolt idea as I have worked in a couple of fabric stores in my life and can appreciate how much tidier those are. I also liked the use of the Ikea shelf - I might have to buy one of those before they discontinue them - I plan on taking over my daughter's bedroom as soon as my son goes to college and she moves into his room - hers is the perfect "sewing room" size!

  28. ksullivan322 April 19th

    I just did this the other week too. It was so simple a a great way to go though everything. I am fairly new to sewing and will just buy fabrics when I see them with no real project in mind. This was a great way to see what I actually have bought.

  29. User avater chillier April 19th

    I actually started doing this last week (still pluggin' away) and the idea about the inserts is great...I thought I was happy just to have it look neat but yours will look super amazing! The Expedit units are super heavy :)I've moved several times with it!

  30. User avater NinaC April 16th

    Now that I have the sewing bug again, I have been buying fabrics I like when on sale. I now have a little stash and have been thinkin that I might buy some skirt hangers and hang the fabric in the closet of my sewing/guest room.

  31. pakrat April 15th

    I wonder if we could organize a fabric swap? I know I have fabric that I would be willing to trade/sell.

  32. Skymom April 14th

    This sounds like you're going to have a wonderful "fabric shop" in your own home--stocked entirely with fabrics you like! One warning, though: be sure to have a brawny friend (or three) around to bring home that Expedit unit. It's quite heavy and large, so a bit of a nuisance to bring in through narrow staircases and hallways. Been there, done that, and wonder how I'll ever get this mammoth thing out of my house!

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