As I begin my own organizational challenge (and I still can’t find that darn camera – seriously, where the heck is it?) I have been pondering a lot of questions. Like, ‘where should I keep the smaller stuff?’ or ‘by color, by designer, or prints vs. solids?’….

Sandi, from Piecemeal quilts has had the same questions pass through her mind, and she is here today to share some of her own answers with us.

It is plain to see that she has taken a lot of time and care to write this piece for us – so please leave her a comment and give her a little lovin’!

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Hi, I’m Sandi Walton, and I blog at Piecemeal Quilts. I was excited to hear from Allison about doing a guest post on fabric organization because I (fairly) recently completed a major reorganization and can only talk about it so much on my own blog…

I have mixed feelings about the word “organization.” On the one hand, the result is satisfying, even enjoyable. Looking at neat stacks of uniformly folded fabric sorted by color creates an “ahhh…” feeling. On the other hand, the process of getting to that point can be time consuming and frustrating.

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I recently needed to move the bookshelf containing my fabric stash from one wall to another. Sounds simple, but since that bookshelf is almost seven feet tall and four feet wide, it required removing every piece of fabric from the shelves. The fabric was fairly well organized before then, but in the past year or so I started folding it a different way and since I was handling every piece of fabric anyway, I took the opportunity to sort and refold it. With help from my mom and aunt, it took two full days! It also meant fine tuning how I have the fabric organized. You can see a few before and during pictures here.

I am a stash builder, and I often buy one or more yards of fabric at a time. I have a few half yards and fat quarters, plus the scraps that we all accumulate. The smaller pieces disappeared on the shelf because they were so thin, so anything smaller than half a yard came off the shelf. Anything larger than three yards is very bulky when folded, so I pulled those fabrics as well. I went to the local quilt shop and JoAnn Fabrics and asked for their discarded bolts – they were happy to get rid of them. I rolled the larger pieces of fabric onto the bolts and I keep them on an out of the way but still accessible shelf.

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The half yard to three yard pieces make up the bulk of my stash, and a VERY bulky stash it is. If it isn’t well organized, I’d never be able to find anything. Regardless of how you choose to sort it, you need to fold the fabric as uniformly as possible so you can see everything when it’s stacked together. If pieces are folded to different sizes, the longer ones can cover the shorter ones. The folding method I use is very simple and doesn’t require any special tools, so I can do it right at the fabric store. That way when it comes out of the bag it can go right on the shelf. The added benefit is that it takes half the time at the store because the clerk doesn’t have to fold a piece before she can move on to cutting the next one. If you’ve ever been frustrated when you’re stuck behind someone with twenty bolts of fabric to be cut, you’ll certainly appreciate that!

The half yard is the basis for my fold. A half yard of fabric is 18″ wide, so first I fold it in thirds, overlapping the sides to the center, to make a piece that is approximately 6″ wide.

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I then fold it in half, end to end, so the final piece is approximately 6″ wide and 11″ long.

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If you want, you can use a 6″ ruler as a guide, but with a full half yard of fabric it really isn’t necessary. The ruler comes in handy when folding pieces that aren’t exactly 18″ wide.

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I always try to enclose any cut edges into the center of the folded piece. They’re less likely to catch on this and crease or distort. When folding a yard of fabric, first I fold it in half to make it 18″ wide, then I continue exactly as I did the half yard. It’s a little bulkier, so I smooth the fabric as I go to keep it flat and uncreased. For two or three yards I fold it to a yard, then to 18″, then thirds, then half. Larger pieces get quite bulky and it’s hard to avoid creases at the final fold.

I used to fold my fabric to the same final dimensions, but I folded it in half first before folding it in thirds. This made sense for cutting, but it wasn’t as easy to see the fabric when it was stored on the shelf. By folding it in half last you can see a greater portion of the fabric at the folded edge, compared to my old way of folding it.

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New way of folding

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Old way of folding

Fat quarters are also folded uniformly. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been known to iron a fat quarter before refolding it, just to make it lie flat. A fat quarter is approximately 18″ x 22″ – a bit longer with the selvage left on. I lay the fabric wrong side up, then fold it in half, cut edge to selvage.

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I fold it in half again the same way, so the piece is approximately 18″ x 6″.

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I fold each side to the center, then fold it in half.

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Again, this keeps all cut edges contained in the middle. I store my fat quarters and other smaller pieces in drawers, and I try to keep the final fold up for easiest viewing. I’ll be honest, I don’t get quite so picky about keeping the smaller pieces uniform. I keep the drawers neat, but they are far from perfect.

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What I call a scrap, you might call yardage and someone else might call garbage. I’ve tried to cut back on keeping really small pieces, but I do save pieces as small as 2″ x 4″. That size comes in handy when paper pieces or experimenting with new blocks or techniques. I store my scraps, sometimes strips and rectangles, sometimes odd shaped pieces, in plastic shoe boxes.

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They’re sorted by color to make it a little easier to find things.

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If I have a strip the full width of fabric I’ll sometimes roll it up and tie it with a piece left from squaring up. (Those skinny strips are also handy for tying together fabrics you’re saving for a future project.)

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I do keep very small pieces if they’re squares cut to specific sizes left over from other projects. These pre-cut squares, along with left over half square triangles and other subunits, are stored separately to keep them neat.

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I have squares as small as 1 1/2″ – they’ll make fantastic mini blocks or centers for log cabin blocks.

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I also use a plastic shoebox to keep the assortment of orphan blocks I can’t bring myself to get rid of, including a handful of eight year old test blocks in red, white and blue from my very first quilting class.

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Most of my fabric is organized by color. The yardage is further sorted by value, so if I need a light aqua or a dark red, I can go right to it. I used to have it sorted just by color, but I found that value is actually more important. For a time I considered sorting it all by value, regardless of color, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. This is my compromise. In the Skill Builder Series that Grey Cat Quilts and I are doing, we talk (at great length!) about fabric selection. I enjoy pulling a variety of fabrics for projects, so this arrangement makes sense for me. I can easily see what I have by color and value. If you prefer to use fabrics from the same line, it would make sense for you to group fabrics by line rather than color.

I have a few “in progress” projects – the Test Your Skills Sampler and my Dear Jane quilt, in particular – that need to be kept out of the main stash. I have a rolling cart with wire baskets that works well for keeping the these projects separate but still visible.

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Blocks of the month, especially 12″ or smaller blocks, fit nicely in plastic folders meant for scrapbooking.

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A group of family and friends get together once a month at our house to sew, and we need to keep the space super-organized or we’d never be able to cram that many people in here. It’s a big space, but when you add 8 or 9 people with sewing machines, then find space for ironing and cutting, it gets crowded. I have a couple of old vanities (dressers with a space to sit like a desk) that make wonderful sewing spaces. They have the added benefit of lots of drawers, each assigned to a different person so they can leave some basic supplies here instead of carting them back and forth.

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The extra drawers are perfect for storing charm packs and jelly rolls.

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Believe me, I know how lucky I am to have this much space for my quilting addiction! But even with all this space, I need to stay organized. If it gets too cluttered or I struggle to find things, the creative juices dry up and I stop sewing. Even though the process can be boring, it’s worth it to go through and organize when things start getting jumbled.