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Episode 102

Whats the Best Method for Fabric Storage?

Wondering how to store all of your fabric in a way that's accessible and inspiring? Sarai and Haley share what works best for them, what doesn't, and three approaches to storing fabric, so you can find what works best for you.

There are three umbrella methods to storing your fabric: long-term and short-term, hidden, and accessible. Learn about each of these methods—and different combinations of each—to find what works for you.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with joy and intention. Today we’re talking about the best methods for you to use to store your fabric. We’re going to cover what’s worked for us and what hasn’t worked, the most important things to consider when it comes to storage, and three recommended methods for storing your fabric and who each of them work best for. All right, so let’s get started with our ice breaker today. Today’s ice breaker comes from Seamwork member Christy. And Christy asks, “Because I am the, quote, ‘crafty one’ in my circle, I seem to attract odd donations of fabric and yarn. What’s the strangest thing you’ve been given because you’re the crafty one? And how do you clean or get rid of that old smell out of old, gifted fabric? What did you make out of it? Have you ever had a Rumpelstiltskin moment with your sewing?”

How about you, Haley? What weird things or unusual, odd donations have you been given?

Haley
I mean, so many. Like Christy says, when you’re the crafty one, people just give you their trash all the time. You must like trash. So I actually just remembered one that was this one was really funny. I didn’t Rumpelstiltskin it. But this one time when I worked in a fabric store, this person brought—their mom died or something—and they brought all of her sewing patterns into the fabric store. And it was just like a ton of costumes, like vintage costume patterns. They were bananas, just totally bananas. And like, half of them were racist. I’m like, I can’t use this. I feel like I need to do the world a service and burn it in a fire because no one should be making these things. Those just went directly into the recycling. But it was just a weird assortment of things. Men’s underwear patterns with, like, really groovy, sexy illustrations on the covers and weird racist costumes and then not racist costumes. I don’t know, like, oh, be a basket of fruit just so that’s so weird. I think I kept a couple. I probably have a couple in my stash still. It was just funny.

One time—I was also given this was when I lived in LA—a bunch of vintage polyester suiting, which at the time I was kind of into. I thought it was, like, pretty groovy. And I made like, a couple of shift dresses out of it. That made me, in turn, very stinky, sweaty mess. But yeah, getting the smell out of it is kind of tough. I always give stuff like that a bath, like, literally in the bath. And I’ve resorted to all sorts of different methods. I like to put a little bit of vinegar in with warm water. I think vinegar does a really good job of breaking up old smells. Kind of depends on the fabric. Not something delicate that I would be worried about damaging, but I think, like, Dawn dishwashing soap is so magical, and if it feels like it has kind of a cruddy film on it, it’s really good at breaking that up. Just not a lot. Just a little bit.

And good old Woolite. So I’ll give something like that a few different baths and then put it in the washing machine. And typically I have the best luck getting the stank out that way.

Sarai
Yeah. Another thing that I’ve done is there’s a detergent that is meant for cleaning fabrics before you dye them. I think it’s called Syntherol, something like that. But you can buy it from Dharma Trading Company and Dharma sells a whole bunch of dyes and dyeable fabrics and things like that. So if you go to Dharma, you can find it there. And that is really good at removing any kind of film like that because it really breaks up the oils that can coat fabric. So that’s another good one. If you have something that just kind of feels grungy, that’s a good option.

Haley
I haven’t tried that before, but I have a ton of that stuff because it’s kind of cheap and you buy it in, like, bulk.

Sarai
Huge jug.

Haley
Yeah. So I’m definitely going to try that next time I buy something old and stinky. So I’m curious about the weird things that you’ve been gifted.

Sarai
I’ve been given a lot of stuff. A lot of patterns. More patterns than fabric, I would say. People have mailed me their patterns. People have dropped off patterns for me. There was one time in our old office, years and years ago that I just opened the door to go into the hallway and there was all this stuff sitting outside of our door that was like there was a long seamroll that I think we still have in the office. It’s like that really long one was sitting there and a bunch of other just like, old sewing stuff. And to this day, I have no idea who left it there or how they knew where our office was or anything. I thought maybe it was one of those some designers in the building, some fashion designers in the building. I thought maybe it was their old stuff that they wanted to get rid of. I don’t really know. But it was cool because we’re still using some of it. But mostly I would say patterns. I think we’ve been doing patterns a long time and so that’s what people associated with me. And that’s one of the reasons I have such a big collection of vintage patterns.

Even though I’ve given a lot of them away, I still have a lot of them. Very few of them are ones that I’ve actually bought, have all been given to me over time, which is great because I love vintage patterns, and I think they’re just so much fun to look at, and they really tell a story of the history of sewing and also fashion, and I think it’s just so interesting. So, I mean, in a way, I’m grateful for them, but I kind of also feel like it’s played into my hoarding instincts with sewing stuff a little bit. That was a great question from Christy. If you have a question for us that you want us to use as an ice breaker on a future episode, you can leave it for us at Seamworkcom/go/icebreakers. If you’re a Seamwork member, that takes you right to a post on our community where you can share your ideas for future icebreakers.

All right, Haley, do you want to talk about our topic for today?

Haley
Yeah, so that icebreaker was kind of perfect for leading us right into our topic. So today we’re talking about the best methods for fabric storage, and as everyone who sews or doesn’t sew and likes to collect fabric, because I know there are people who just like to buy fabric, too, as you know, fabric takes up a ton of room. And not all of us. And when I say not all of us, I actually mean most of us, don’t have a ton of space for it as well. And fabric is kind of expensive, too, so you want to store it in a way where it doesn’t get damaged, that you can access it, so you’ll actually use it. So it’s kind of this big. It’s kind of a conundrum that us sewers face. So, Sarai, I’m curious. How do you currently organize your fabric stash?

Sarai
It’s pretty organized. So we’ve talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, because both you and I have sort of similar storage systems, in a way, and I have some of it stored away in big bins in our garage, and that’s the stuff that I just don’t have any current plans for. I don’t think I’ll sew with anytime soon. A lot of my vintage fabric is stored away in those bins. Just because I’ve had it a long time, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it, and I probably should go through it more often. So that’s sort of the back catalog. And then I have a cutting table with drawers, and in those drawers, most of the drawers are taken up with fabric, and I have those organized by the type of fabric. And then I used a label maker to label the drawers. So I have a drawer for linen. I have a drawer for cotton. I have a drawer for knits. And if I have overflow from those drawers, then they go into the bin in the garage. So that’s kind of my system, and it’s worked out pretty well for me, except that when I get new fabric, I’m not always great about if in the drawers are full.

I’m not always great about rotating stuff because it’s just like extra steps. So that’s kind of the one thing about it. What about you? Is your system kind of similar?

Haley
Well, it was similar in my last home, but last month we moved and now I’m having to invent a new system. Before I had bins in the garage with long-term storage, and then I had short-term storage on a shelf in a closet. And now I have no garage. I actually have no long-term storage spaces in this house in general, which is a little bit problematic in general. So I’m having to come up with a whole new system and I’ve gotten as far as organizing everything and sorting it, but I need to invest in a piece of furniture to house it all, and that’s kind of where I’m stuck right now. So maybe this episode today is going to help me.

Sarai
I’m hoping that it might give you some new ideas.

Haley
Yeah, I need some. Are there any storage methods that you’ve used in the past that you did not like?

Sarai
That’s a good question. Well, I think there’s one. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it at the time, but I would not do it again or I would do it differently, which is I used to have my fabric on open shelving in one of my old houses. And that was fine. It was nice and accessible, but it got a lot of sun damage because it was in a very sunny spot, which at the time, I guess I didn’t really think about or I didn’t realize that it was causing so much sun damage or how much sun it was getting. And when I would go to use fabric, I would find that the folds of the fabric were kind of sun bleached, which would leave kind of these lighter stripes right in the middle of the fabric that I then had to cut around. So that was a problem. So ever since then, I’ve tried to avoid keeping my fabric anywhere near a window out in the open for long periods of time. So that’s something that did not work well for me. What about you? Have you had any bad experiences with fabric storage like that?

Haley
Not with sun damage, although when I worked in a fabric store, we had big windows in the front of the fabric store and we always were having to rotate fabric from the front of the store to the back of the store to avoid things staying in the sun for too long. So that’s definitely something to think about. But I think my least favorite method was I once lived in this apartment and there was kind of one closet that wasn’t my bedroom closet and the whole apartment that was like the broom closet. It was the everything closet. And it was really like long and narrow. And so my fabric ended up being at the very back of the storage closet. I hardly sewed at home when I lived there because it was so hard to get to everything. I had to pull everything out of the closet to get back there. And then to make matters worse, I had all of my fabric. I don’t know what I was thinking. I bought two enormous rubber made bins, and I had all of my wovens in one and all of my knits in the other. But anytime I wanted fabric, I had to pull out this 60 pound box.

I’ve already taken everything out of this closet and then pull down this really heavy box and then sort to the bottom of the box to find what I was looking for. It was just made no sense. And ever since then, I’ve tended towards smaller receptacles for organizing fabric because that was a hot mess.

Sarai
Yeah, I can just imagine anything that requires physical exertion in order to even get started with sewing. No, it’s a hard no.

Haley
Yeah, definitely not setting yourself up for success. So what’s important to you when it comes to your sewing storage or fabric storage, rather?

Sarai
I think for me, accessibility is really important in being able to go through my fabric very easily when I need to and find the right fabric, because I don’t want to just keep accumulating fabric. I want to use what I have and so being able to see it and also just have it organized so that, for example, if I want to have a new pattern where there’s a new scenery pattern I want to sew and I need a linen fabric, I think it would look great on a linen. I can go through all my linen fabrics very quickly and easily and see if I have anything before I go out and look for something new to buy. So that kind of accessibility is really important to me without things being chaotic in my face all the time. So that’s kind of what I look for in a fabric storage system. What about you?

Haley
Mine is definitely related to my worst storage method that I’ve used, and that’s that I like having a system that allows me to organize in categories a lot easier. Again, like you said, for accessibility reasons, I want to be able to locate what I’m looking for really quickly and not like, buy redundant fabrics. That’s what’s most important to me. I don’t mind if I have to go out of my way to get it, like if I have to go down to the basement or whatever, but as long as once I’m there, it’s easy to grab and I know where to look.

Sarai
Yeah, I agree with that.

Haley
Well, we’ve really discovered that there is no one best method for storing and organizing your fabric. The best method is really the one that works best for you and your specific style in your space and Sarai is going to lend us her tips on how to identify the one that’s best for you. So, Sarai, do you want to share?

Sarai
Yeah. We came up with three different methods. So these are kind of umbrella methods that you can customize to your own needs. This is sort of a framework for thinking about different storage methods you could use, and then once you kind of figure out which one of these might be best for your particular situation, you can decide how you want to implement it. So we’re going to talk about each of those three methods, and then we’re going to talk about who each of the methods is really best suited for. So just take a listen and see if one of those seems to fit your needs, and then you can think about how you might customize it. So the first method is the one that Haley and I use and the one or Haley used to use, the one that I use and that we have already talked about, which is having long term and short term storage. So the idea behind this is that you have a place to kind of keep the fabrics that you might use long term that are out of sight, out of mind, maybe not quite as accessible, and maybe somewhere away from your sewing room that you don’t necessarily look at all the time.

And then you have a short term storage area closer to home that you can go through more easily and that’s more accessible, but you don’t need quite as much space because you don’t have to keep all of your fabric in your sewing room. So that’s what I use personally. Again, I have a drawer system for my short term storage, and I have some bins in my garage for long term storage. So you’re keeping the fabrics that you’re going to use close at hand, but packing away fabrics that you think you’ll probably use later. So I think this is a really wonderful method for a lot of people. And when we talk about the other two methods, you can actually combine this with the other two methods to get even more options. So the people that this is best for are people who have access to a storage area, like a garage or a basement or maybe even under bed storage. So if you’re somebody that has a garage like I do, this might work really well for you. Like Haley was saying, she doesn’t really have a longterm storage area right now. It might not work as well for her.

So that’s kind of the first thing to think about. I think it’s also good for people who plan their sewing out a little bit. Maybe you don’t have to plan it exactly, like, know exactly what you’re going to sell over the next few months, but if you have an idea of the kinds of things that you think you’ll probably sew sooner, rather than later. I think that works really well because you have some idea of what fabrics you want to have close at hand and which ones you might not be using right now. And that could be as simple as storing out of season fabrics in your garage or wherever you choose to store them. So if you have a lot of wools and things like that, maybe you can put those away for the season and rotate them back in later, sort of like a lot of people do with their closets. But it does help to have some kind of idea about what you’re going to be sewing in the near future. But if you’re really a planner and you really plan out your projects, it’s even better. It’s even easier because you can keep the things that you’re going to use for your next few projects, your next three projects, the next five projects, your next ten projects, and make sure that they’re all lined up for you ready to go.

So that works super well for planners. I think the other thing to think about are how much you care about feeling overwhelmed by choices and by how much stuff is around you. So if you’re somebody who likes to narrow your choices and avoid that sense of being overwhelmed by having too many choices. This is a really great solution for that because it kind of takes this broad spectrum of choices that you have from your entire stash and narrows it to just a few that are right in front of you and it just kind of gets. Again. The other stuff out of sight. Out of mind. You can come back to it later. So if you’re somebody who gets overwhelmed by having too many choices, this is also a great system for that.

And then lastly, if you have limited storage in your physical sewing space. So if you have a small sewing space or you just don’t have a lot of storage in your sewing space, this works really well because you don’t need a lot of space. It could even be a small bin with a few fabrics in it if that’s all the space you have. And then keep the larger stash in bigger bins in a storage area.

So all those things, if those sound like you, then separating out your long term and your short term storage for sewing might be a great option for you. So that’s the first method. And again, that’s long term and short term storage is the first method.

So the second method is having hidden storage. So what this means is maybe using a closet, or it could also be a dresser or a wardrobe or other furniture that’s meant more for clothing, that’s meant to store a lot of clothing and using that to keep your fabric hidden most of the time. So like I said before, you can actually combine this with the short term long term storage method as well in various ways. So you could use that piece of furniture for short term storage, for example, or for long term storage, depending on how big it is. So you can combine these two methods if you want, but the idea here is just to use what you have, whether that’s a closet or a piece of furniture. Or you can get a used piece of furniture very cheaply and use that to keep your fabric hidden away most of the time so that it’s accessible, but it’s not something that you are looking at all the time.

And another great thing you can do with this is create a swatch book. You can do this for methods one or method two, but you can create a swatch book of your fabrics just to make them even more accessible. So cut a little swatch from each fabric before you put it away and then you have all your swatches together very compact in one place. You could stick it in a drawer, you can go through them very easily at any time. You can lay them next to your sketches or whatever pattern you’re thinking about using without digging through all of your fabric. Another thing that’s great about this, especially if you’re using a closet, is that you can really make use of vertical space. So it’s not just a matter of keeping things in bins or stacking them that you can actually get closet storage systems and really use all of the space in your closet from top to bottom, which can be very, very efficient if you have that closet space. So for this method, for the hidden storage method, who is this best for? It’s best for people who one. If you have a closet in your sewing room or a closet you can use in your house for this purpose, obviously that’s a great scenario.

That’s something that you can definitely make use of. Or if you just have room for a large piece of furniture, like a wardrobe or a dresser or something that can store this stuff and you have space for that in your sewing room, that’s great. That’s a great situation if you’re somebody who likes to browse your stash a lot. So you really like to be able to look through your entire stash to get ideas or to figure out what you want to sell for your next project, or to pair fabric and patterns. This is a great option for you because it makes it just very easy, especially if things are in a closet. It’s just very easy to browse your stash that way if you’re somebody who doesn’t want to see your fabric all the time. So again, if you’re one of those people who tends to get overwhelmed by seeing everything all the time, having it hidden like this is a really, really good option. You won’t be overwhelmed by all the stuff you have, but you can still look through it when you need to look through it.

And then if you’re somebody who prefers Tidiness to any sort of chaos of chaos, drives you nuts when it comes to your sewing space, this is definitely a very tidy method. If you can keep things hidden away completely like this, it’s going to be very clean and tidy and easy to organize and easy to clean up. So if Tidiness is important to you, this is also a really, really good option. So that’s method two, which is completely hidden storage using closet or a piece of furniture.

And then the third method is accessible storage. So with this, the idea is to use space in your sewing room. So for example, shelves or other kinds of open storage in your sewing room to create your own kind of like little fabric store that you can shop from at any time. So you could, for example, use old tubes to create big bolts of fabric that you can then line your walls with or stack up in a corner. You can wrangle things in baskets. You can create little displays for yourself that make it really easy to find things when you need them. So this is sort of like, I wouldn’t call it organized chaos, but it’s having things out in the open and very accessible, but still organized and still kind of tidy. So if you think about creating, if you always wanted to be like a merchandiser in a store or create displays in a store, you really like creating little window displays and things like that.

And then this could be a fun option for you. One thing that we will mention is kind of similar to my past experience. Just make sure that you’re keeping fabric away from direct sun, because sun will damage your fabric. And it really sucks to pull out a fabric that you want to use and see that sun damage on it and have it be either unusable or have part of it be unusable. So that’s the one caveat that I’d say for this. So who is this method best for accessible storage? It’s for people who really like to be inspired by their materials all the time. So if you’re the kind of person who just draws a lot of inspiration from your fabric and from the materials around you, this is a really great option because it does create that sense of organization, but also give you that sense of all the creative possibilities that can come from your materials. So if you’re that type of person, this can be really a great method for you. If you’re somebody who doesn’t have those small space constraints, so you have the room to kind of spread out your stuff and leave it out, then this can also work really well for you.

If you have a tiny space, you can still do this in small ways, keep certain things accessible, kind of combine it with the first method of having long term and short term, maybe, and keep some of the things out and really visually appealing for yourself so that you can be inspired by them. It doesn’t have to be everything. If you have a small space, if you have a larger space, then you can really, again, spread your stuff out a bit more. And then lastly, if you’re somebody who’s not overwhelmed by having an abundance of materials all around you, if that just overwhelms you, this might not be the best method for you. If you feel instead of feeling inspired by seeing 20 or 30 different fabrics all around you, you feel kind of like analysis, paralysis, seeing all of that, then that might not be the best method for you. So those are kind of the three top level umbrella type methods that you could use long term, short term, hidden storage, or accessible storage. And again, you can combine these in different ways and you can customize them to your own needs. So hopefully you’ve listened and heard a little bit of your own situation in one or more of those methods, and you can kind of determine what might work best for you.

Haley
I think I got to go with method two. I think I got to go with the hidden storage. I just have to find the right piece of furniture for it.

Sarai
That’s the hard part. I think that can be really difficult.

Haley
Yeah, we did the easy part for you in the podcast. Now you got to go do the hard part. Yeah, I have to do the hard part.

Sarai
Now you have to hit up Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and all those thrift stores and all those places.

Haley
Yeah, that’s what I was doing this weekend, looking for the deals. All right, I’m going to do a little recap of those different methods. So method one that Sarai suggested is long term and short term storage. So this involves having a place that you keep your fabric that’s more long term storage. This can be in a basement, in a garage, just a place that’s a little bit more out of the way. And this is really great for people who have access to the storage areas, who like to plan their sewing a little bit, who like to have a little bit more of a narrow choice in avoiding being overwhelmed, and people who also have really limited storage in their physical sewing space.

Method two is hidden storage, which I think is my personal favorite. And this involves either finding a piece of furniture like a dresser or wardrobe, or using an existing closet in your home so that you can kind of keep your stash hidden away and out of the way. This is really great for people who have a closet in their sewing room, people who like to browse their stash, people who don’t want to see their fabric all the time, which is me personally, and people who prefer to keep their sewing space really tidy, which, as you might know, I do. So if you’re like me, method two, hidden storage, might be for you.

And then method three is accessible storage. And this is really like creating your very own fabric store. So having open shelves so that you can see all of your fabric out, you can create your own bolts. You can put things in baskets. The only thing to mention with this one, a little warning, is to make sure you’re keeping your fabric away from that direct sunlight. This is going to be really good for people who are really inspired by their materials. Quilters come to mind for this because it’s so much color work, and it can be kind of nice to see all of your fabric. If you create color palettes with your work kind of in the way that quilters do, or if you’re like a really colorful person, I think this would be great for you kind of decorate your space with your fabric. People who don’t have small space constraints, this is definitely a little bit less space conscious, and people who are not overwhelmed by an abundance of materials and colors and prints and all of that kind of stuff.

So those are the three methods. If this episode has you feeling inspired and you want to check out more sewing spaces or get inspired to maybe redo your own a little bit. And I recommend downloading the Ultimate Guide to Setting up Your Sewing Space. It is a free mini-guide that has tons of ideas for creating a better, more functional sewing area. No matter how much space that you have, you can download it at promo.seamwork.com sewing-spaces-guide

All right, have a great week, everybody, and we will see you next week on Seamwork Radio.

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