Fabric Storage FAQ

This is a summary of ideas for fabric storage. It is largely concerned with storage of small pieces of fabric such as quilters tend to accumulate, but there are suggestions which are appropriate to large fabric "stashes" as well. This FAQ is based on responses to queries on these subjects posted to Quiltnet, alt.sewing, rec.crafts.textiles and rec.crafts quilting, and materials that Jean N has gathered in my own search for the perfect way to organize my fabrics. Questions addressed in this FAQ include 1. What are good ways to store my fabrics, especially ways that will allow me to tell what I have on hand? 2. Should I use acid free boxes to store my fabrics and quilts? 3. Are there good ways to store fabric to prevent fading from sunlight? 4. What's the smallest size scrap that it is reasonable to keep, and how do you store scraps? 1. What are good ways to store my fabrics, especially ways that will allow me to tell what I have on hand? I have an antique dentist's cabinet that had been in the family. It's great for fabric storage --it has seven trays in the upper portion that swing completely out for viewing and sorting. The lower part has four drawers for fatter-than-quarters and notions. The top is flat and houses part of my quilting book collection. All in all, it's great, and is only about 2' x 2'--not much floor space! I am a charm square collector and otherwise usually only buy fat quarters, so being able to see and sort my collections easily is a must. Maybe you could look for a used cabinet of some description *at* a Goodwill store. Even a pug-ugly might be redeemable with a coat of paint and quilt-block stencils. This might help your dilemma concerning not being able to see your collection. (RR) * * * * * * * I had my husband build shelves in the closet (so the light wouldn't fade the fabric). That way I have my fabric stacked by color. The closet can be dark.......so he nailed a light inside, tacked the cord against the wall with an extension cord going to the wall plug. I can turn the light on when I am looking for a piece a fabric. It's (somewhat) neatly stacked and out of the way. I tried stacking the fabric on a book case in the room, but heard tales of fading fabric from just the day light that enters through the window. I really like this arrangement. (S/C) * * * * * * * I think I became a quilter because I needed an excuse to collect fabric. Anyway, I'm always arranging it, because I love to handle it. I built shelves into a small closet in my sewing room and have all my medium sized pieces kind of stacked like books, by color on the shelves. I also keep smaller pieces like fat quaters in a drawer and even smaller pieces in notebooks and then even smaller pieces in shoe boxes. I do a lot of applique and it helps me to sort by size of piece as well as color. (E/I) * * * * * * * I like to stack fabric and "stuff" on open shelves, but don't like that it gets dusty. Maybe those "lawyer" bookshelves would solve that--those are the shelves with a glass door hinged at the top of each shelf. You'd be able to see what you've got and not fret about dust at the same time. I also have a wardrobe chest out in the hall that I use to store yarn. It doesn't have shelves, so if I want the yarn at the bottom, I have to take it all out. (ER) * * * * * * * I bought an etagere, an open-style book case made of wicker and wood. I carefully sorted fabric into color families and was proudly displaying my stash to a professional quilter in our guild. Instead of being impressed, she told me the light would fade the edges of my fabrics where they were folded. AAArgh! I just keep the blinds drawn most of the time and paw through the stash fairly often, refolding as I go. It is very nice to see it all at once, even though I had to give up half of a bedroom wall and we now step over furniture that has been dislocated. Also, because the etagere is so big, it minimizes the amount of fabric I actually have, which can be helpful when I'm in the mood to collect more (A/T) * * * * * * * I had a 5-shelf bookcase I was using and all my fabric was falling off and I could never find anything. My husband bought me three 12 7/8 inch by six feet tall bookcase/storage shelves. They are wooden and each one has six sections in it. They are thin and tall and I set them side by side. They only take up 39 inches width so they are about the same width as my bookcase was. I have 18 sections to sort and store my fabric in. Because there are sides to each section, fabrics don't fall out. I've rolled my fat quarters and eights and put them on top of the larger folded pieces of fabric so I can see them all. I also have divided my fabric colors in each section. You can get these shelves Service Merchandise, Dania or K-Mart and they are about $30.00 each. (PP) * * * * * * * I too have extremely limited space. My Sewing, library, computer, and work room is only 9 by 11. I store my fabric under my cutting/work table (card table) in cardboard four drawer units. These can also be stacked in a closet. When I need a certain color range, I just pull out the drawer. Of course I usually end up with stacks of fabric on my desk and one shelf too. (CY) * * * * * * * Use the lids to the cardboard boxes that reams of copy paper come in. They are a perfect size for fat quarters and larger, up to two yards, will fold perfectly to fit front to back. Then I stack them on a shelving unit I have that is one of those industrial things, but is 24 inches deep. It's two shelves, plus the top I use for cutting, etc. Four box tops high by four rows fit great on each of the two shelves; that's 32 boxes which houses a lot of fabric. They do need to be lifted out to view the fabric, but there are no lids to lift off, the tops are rugged and can be easily replaced. I have additional fabric in them and they fit beautifully in the most unusual places, under the bed, under some furniture that is on legs.. These usually can't be seen and for these places you need only pull out a tray and can view... (K/T) * * * * * * * For larger pieces of fabric I cut a swatch, tape it to the outside of one of these copy paper boxes. Tape the swatch to the the whole box, not just the lid so I can see what's in each then I stack them. Sometimes the fabric folded in these boxes is shorter than the height of the box... I cut the box off around the top to fit the height of the fabric and I stack the fabric, again, sort of front to back... I put the box on its narrowest side and "stack" the fabric. Then when you lay it down, its arranged like file folder and you can see all of it instead of stacking it on top of another piece so that you have to get it all out to see what you have. (K/T) * * * * * * * My personal solution to fabric storage problems is Pendaflex folders. You can get Pendaflex folders that are several inches deep and have sides, so the small stuff doesn't fall out and end up in the bottom of the file drawer. I have my fabric sorted by project if it's already designated for something specific, and by color if I haven't decided what to use it in yet. The greatest disadvantage of filing your fabric this way is that you can't see all of it at once, just a drawer at a time. On the other hand, your SO also can't see it all at once either. The drawers keep out light, cats, and most of the usual household dust, and the hanging folders let you flip through the collection easily to get at the stuff at the back. I can't decide whether to file alphabetically or in rainbow order, though. Decisions, decisions. For non-quilting purposes this arrangement is fantastic. You can put fabric, thread, pattern, zippers, and any other necessary junk (pardon me, "fine sewing accessories") into one folder, and know that it's all ready to go when the sewing urge hits. There's nothing that kills a work spree faster than searching for that magenta zipper you just know you bought two months ago. (AS) * * * * * * * My current method of storing the fabric is on a bookcase- carefully covered with shelf paper so as not to transfer acid to the fabric from the wood. I find the shelf method by far the easiest. I can sort by color or value, I can see everything at a glance, etc. I keep the fabric as far from a window as practicable, and the blinds are drawn 99% of the time. (DS) * * * * * * * Tip storage containers on their sides and stack the fabric that way. You could "stuff" the extra space if the bin isn't full, then lay it down on its bottom. Fabric edges would all show (if they were big enough to begin with) just as if they were on open shelves (like those great pictures in the books), but with the advantage of keeping the dust etc. out. (GH) * * * * * * * Store fabric in Rubbermaid bins, but fold the fabric in such a way that you get rows of fabrics on end and when you lift the lid off, you see all the fabrics at once. If you fold fabric, raw edge to raw edge, then fold in the selvege edges (to make a third) and fold up this piece until it fits the depth of the bin. You can stack the fabric on end (like files) and you will be able to see all of your fabric, plus you will be able to put more in the bin. This assumes that your storage bin is the sweater size. (LK) * * * * * * * My sewing desk is right up against my craft closet. STUFF is always spilling out of the closet and encroaching on the space in front of my desk drawers. Hence, nothing (except the scissors and needles) gets put away unless I do a major overhaul. I got a special box to hold all the dangerous stuff and that does get cleaned up every time I sew. I just have more STUFF than SPACE so things overflow. I periodically get great satisfaction from taking an afternoon to sort it all out. The time lost in rummaging for things is considerable, though. (PH) 2. Should I use acid free boxes to store my fabrics and quilts? On acid free boxes - when I took that class from Barbara Brackman (on dating antique quilts) she mentioned that a friend of hers that works in a museum was upset about acid free boxes. It seems that although they are lined with acid free material, the acid in the box cardboard works its way through the acid free material after a while and affects what is contained in the box and so she was advising against their use. What she recommended was using a muslin bag or pillow case to store fabrics and quilts in. (KC) * * * * * * * (Responding to above remarks...) This is why it is important when ordering or buying a box which is advertised as being acid-free to ask if all materials in the box and used in making the box are acid-free or acid-neutral. Acid free boxes sold by Light Impressions (an archival supply company) are advertised as being made from acid and lignin free corrugated (I have not called to ask specific questions about their boxes). If the boxes have any materials within them that contain acid then this will eventually transfer to the top layers of the box and to the materials contained within. Also, when using an acid-free box it is a good idea to wrap materials in acid-free wrapping tissue. (DW) 3. Are there good ways to store fabric to prevent fading from sunlight? Someone mentioned a professional quilter disapproving of exposed fabric because of fading. I have since thought that with a reasonably-sized bookcase one could create a door out of glass and attach it to the bookcase with some hinges. Ordinary plate glass would block harmful light rays but allow you to see your fabric. In this case you'd want the back open to keep moisture from getting trapped. (CB) Keep the shades down in the workroom if your containers are the transparent plastic variety, to minimize sun-related fading. (GH) 4. What's the smallest size scrap that it is reasonable to keep, and how do you store scraps? I have mine collected in several different plastic boxes, (warm colors, cool colors, neutrals) but some of those pieces are mighty small and stretchy. No problem with leftover strips; I like strippy, scrappy, baby quilts. (PS) * * * * * * * I have a drawer in my desk that is strips 1 1/4 inch or more. I use them for scrap log cabin quilts. If the strips are larger than 1 1/4, I cut them after I sew them on. If it is too big a piece to go in my drawer, it is not a scrap and goes back in the stash. (KM) * * * * * * * My scraps pieces must be larger than 1" sq or 1" by 2" if rectangular. Anything smaller than that I won't use. I like using these to make the foundation blocks. (ST) * * * * * * * I am the great moocher of the guild here; members bring me bags of scraps they don't want to keep track of but hate to throw away. I also check trash cans after quilting classes have been held at my local shop. It's amazing what some people throw away! I keep pieces if they are larger than 1 square inch (approximately). What I DO WITH THEM is foundation pieced miniature blocks. The 3" pineapple block, for instance, uses pieces that are 1/4 x 3/4" in the center spots. Also, I use the scraps for applique: berries, small leaves, petals of multi-colored flowers, etc. I have mine sorted by color, stored in zip-lok bags, in a box on my sewing room shelves. I have been thinking about putting them into the bureau drawers in which similar-colored fabrics (larger pieces) are stored. That way, I might THINK to use them in situations where I might otherwise cut a small chunk off of a yard-size piece. (MF) * * * * * * * I usually throw chunks into a laundry basket under my cutting table, then on a day that I need to play with fabrics but not think, I cut them into 1.5, 2, 3, etc. inch squares. I have been putting them into a clear plastic shoebox. I use them for watercolor quilts, and my favorite -- nine patches. I once bought the tool (Scrap Saver???) but usually use my favorite Omnigrids and just sit, slice and watch TV. I save the strips too. Can't bear to throw much out, but I will discard less than one inch. (CV) * * * * * * * I think it depends on what kind of projects you do and how expensive or gorgeous the fabric is. I make a lot of clothing, I save any scrap that is bigger than 2" x 6" for repairs or covered buttons or whatever. About once every three years, I get rid of anything that is no longer useful. I keep these scraps in the same area as my fabric stash, so occcasionally these scraps get used in quilts. When I'm making a quilt, if I like the fabric a lot, I'll save pieces as described above. If it's an okay fabric but nothing special, I don't necessarily save any of it. I have made two miniature quilts, I do not know that I will ever make another. This is the only use I'd have for small scraps. I don't like dealing with fiddly little bits of fabric that fray and stretch, I'd rather go get new fabric to play with:) I do have a collection of specialty fabric scraps that I keep on the off chance that an idea will come to me that needs just a little piece of whatever. I can't go out and buy new silk or whatever all of the time (although I'd like to). I also keep scraps of hand painted or marbled fabrics for the same reason. If I ever decide that miniatures are my thing, or applique with little bits, or anything else that would require small peices, then I'll start to save them. (DS) * * * * * * * I keep rather small pieces and I will sew them all together then cut them into strips. Then I make strip quilts out of them mixing them with regular strips. It makes for some interesting quilts. (JR) * * * * * * * I use scraps sewn together and then cut into diamonds, squares or whatever and used like any other kind of cloth. It also makes a great scrap border. My mother called these string quilts. (KC) * * * * * * * One of the scraps I like to save is the thin little strip you cut off when you are evening your folded fabric for rotary cutting. I'm saving them, they range between 1/4" to sometimes 3/4" wide in the same strip, to try weaving, or I've used them as fringe, inserting into seams on vests, and I'd like to try knitting or crocheting them into accessories like scarves, necklaces, bracelets with buttons & beads, etc. I also save little wispy things that my serger cuts off, to use as stuffing for the millions of stuffed animals, dolls, pillows, etc. I make, esp. if they re light colored. - (TW) * * * * * * * I force myself to throw scraps less than about 6" square away, otherwise they would take over my house, my life and endanger important relationships. Sometimes I gather up a bag to give to a friend who makes string pieced potholders to sell. I was amused by a friend telling me that when she went through her mothers stash after her death she found boxes labeled "large pieces", "small pieces", "large scraps", "small scraps" and "pieces too small to use"! I think it is a fine line between thrift and obsession! (TG)

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