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Sewing Efficiently: Organize your Stash Part 1. This post is part one of a series and appears on facebook as part of a monthly theme in the Stashbusting Sewalong Group


Happy 2016 fellow Stashbusters!! I am so delighted to be your host for the month. Our theme for January is getting organized! Over the next 4 weeks we will look at organizing our stash, our patterns, tidying up our sewing area, testing our systems to make sure they work and finally, setting some sewing goals. I hope you are ready!

Yes, it is that time of year when we think back on the year past, assess what we did and did not like about our year and plan for the future. This is one of my favorite times of the year for that very reason. I just love the idea of new beginnings and fresh starts, of looking at and understanding what went right in my sewing, what went wrong, and adjusting my course accordingly.

This past year was pretty difficult for me on a personal level and not much stashbusting happened. Our daughter graduated HS and went off to college, I started a job and left it after about 6 months, we had TWO major flash floods back to back with major property damage, a long anticipated vacation was cancelled and just recently, our son made the decision to join the Navy! It has been rough but I don’t want to bore you with all those details!

Confession. I did not come near to accomplishing my sewing goals in general nor my stashbusting goals. In fact I purchased way more fabric and patterns than I should have, much of it “on the fly” due to stress or not thinking things through very well. I purchased one pdf pattern 3 times!! I must like the pattern BUT not enough to have ever used it. UGH.

But that is what is so great, not only about a new year, but also about tomorrow! You get to try again and I was able to somewhat right my stashbusting after our floods and kinda, sorta got things back on track. There is nothing like seeing your expensive wool coating floating in flood water to help you right your priorities!

So this week let’s talk stash organization. There are so many different ways to handle storing your stash and I am pretty sure I have tried it all.  At the end of this post there are links to other sites on storing stash as well as downsizing your stash. I encourage you to check them out when you have time.


Unorganized stash taking up valuable work space

The number one problem I have had with storing stash is not knowing or remembering what I have. If I don’t know what I have, how could I possible use it efficiently? Second not being able to find what I know I have (this one drives me absolutely bonkers)! If I have to dig around for hours looking for fabric I will not be in the mood to sew when I do find it! This happened several times this past year.

An important point I have learned about organizing my sewing is what works for others may not be the best for my own situation due to space, time or other variables. Or it may simply not work with my brain. The goal is to figure out what works best for your sewing! What I have outlined below is what works for me. It may or may not for you.

Another goal is efficiency. I have tried to set things up where the bulk of my time is spent actually sewing and efficiently organizing my stash has been the first step in that direction.

A major accomplishment I did manage last year was to move 90% of my stash OUT of my sewing room.  This may sound counter intuitive but having a lot of fabric laying around my sewing area is a major DE-motivator for me. Looking around at all the fabric I am NOT using makes me feel like I wasted money, trying to decide on that perfect fabric for a project would turn in to hours or days and then, you guessed it, NO PROJECT. Also, having to navigate around the stash meant I had to store other things such as notions, elastic, interfacing and such, things that I actually needed to complete projects. Again time spent finding things or moving them out of the way instead of sewing. Very inefficient.

The down side of moving my stash out of view is just that…it was out of view so I quickly forgot what I had or lost interest in using it because it wasn’t right before me. Also, I had just moved it! I had not actually organized it so I still wasted time trying to find fabrics I needed or wanted. A good example is my woolen stash which is quite extensive and I have collecting for many years. I have coatings, crepes, knits, vintage, felt, a large array of wools. But, they were all in different boxes, totes, rooms, some not even stored properly (hence the floating coating). Basically a mess.

Although it took me a while, in November I came up with a good system for me. This system fits well with the space I have available and the way my brain works. It is simple and not hugely time consuming to implement. I set a goal of working through a tote a day and was pretty much on track until the Holiday’s hit. I should be able to completely have worked through my stash by the end of this month! Woohoo!!!

Supplies needed are: clear plastic totes (although best to just go with what you’ve got on hand and get started), large index cards, and a notebook or spreadsheet if you prefer working on a computer. First determine what makes sense to you as far as coding your fabric goes….by colorways, weight, type, use, or whatever category makes sense to you. Remember you are the boss and you want to LOVE and be able to use the end result so do what makes sense to you! You might only use one way or mix them. For example with my wools, I separated out the coatings in to one tub but the rest of my wool, no matter the use or weight, went in together.


On the left a partial tote of woolens, on the right a tote of various fabrics for garments.

As you are sorting take the time to quickly measure your fabric yardage. I do not take the time to precisely measure my yardage with a tool. I want to sew not spend time sorting fabric. It is roughly one yard of fabric from the tip of my outstretched arm to the opposite collar bone so I do a quick measure in that fashion. It does not really matter to me if I am off a ¼ yard here or there. I also note if it is a wide fabric or a 37” vintage type fabric. As you are measuring have your index card and pen ready to document. On the card, number the tote 1, 2, 3. Give the tote a title such as coatings, dress weight, linings, woolens, linen, suits, using the titles that work for you. List on the card your fabric pieces going in to that tote. I also will make a note if a project springs to mind for a particular fabric during sorting.

For example:
Tote 1:  Wools
3 yds red/green box plaid 60” (men’s shirt)
5 yds 37” vintage green large plaid (shorts for Madi)
2.5 yds gray suiting 60”
When your tote is full, that card is finished. Now time to decide how you want to keep the card information handy. I typed mine in to an excel spreadsheet transferring every bit of information from the card to excel but you could simply make a copy of the card and store the copy in a notebook near your sewing. Remember you are trying to create an efficient system that is easy for you to remember and use. Do it the way is best for you!


Now total your yardage in that tote and make a note of it in the way that works best with your system. So Tote 1: 64 yards, Tote 2: 27 yards. Keep a running total.  If you are using paper and a notebook, create a cover sheet with this information.

After you have transferred the card information tape the card to the tote box on one end. Don’t tape the card on the top! You won’t be able to see it when the totes are stacked. Take the tote and store it in an area that is easily accessible to you and has enough room for all your totes. In my house this is a basement which didn’t work out too well during our floods.


Just keep working through all your fabric, sorting and cataloging until you are done. For some, this may take a couple hours, for others it may take weeks.

I would love to hear your comments, suggestions or ideas on storing fabric! Next post we will discuss pattern storage. Time to get sorting!

Articles for further review:

http://www.nancyzieman.com/blog/sewing-general/give-your-aging-fabric-stash-a-new-home/?print=pdf (might have to copy and paste this url to get the document – but it is a great read!)






How to store fabric in the open (on the cheap): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWBWNKqeeWM


P.S. Are you interested in group sew a longs? Come join us on fb to participate in monthly sew a longs hosted by group members and designers. This month David Page Coffin is walking us through shirtmaking and construction! Would love to see you there!