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Fabrics & materials

Taming the Stash

icon freeCan any of us pinpoint the precise moment when our modest collection of fabric, trim, patterns, buttons, and other costuming materials turned into a bona fide, oh-my-gosh-it's-taking-over-the-house Stash?

Probably not.

Like Carl Sandburg's "Fog," it crept in on little cat feet, and now we find ourselves in possession of more Stuff than we can possibly recall... as we stand at the sales counter buying even more of what we might already have tucked into closets and drawers, stacked in boxes, and hidden under the bed.

If your buying patterns are anything like mine, somewhere along the way the Stash took on a life of its own.

My first attempt at managing the Stash was a simple chronological list of what I purchased, but by the end of the first page, I could see that dozens of pages of mixed items would be of no real use.

So I set up categories, and started a new page for each one of them: Fabric, Trim (hmmm . . . lace, ribbon, braid, beads, tassels, fringe, and more . . . lump them together or make subcategories and pages for each one?), Buttons, Feathers, and so on.

The categories multiplied, while the pages and pages of mere text confused rather than clarified, with so many variations of white and cream lace alone, how could I remember the distinctions unless I had a sample of each one right in front of my eyes?

So I made a new list,  a list of questions to which I wanted quick answers,  and out of that list came the simple plan that put me back in control of the Stash.

Quiz: Do you need to tame your Stash?


    1. Do I know what I've got? If given paper and pencil and asked to enumerate in half-an-hour the components of the Stash, how many items will have slipped my mind entirely?

    1. Do I know how much yardage I have of each fabric or trim? Is the number at my fingertips, or do I have to pull out the fabric (perhaps from the bottom of a pile) and measure it in order to learn the answer? How about that now-wadded-up ball of ribbon & braid & lace . . . too much trouble to untangle it in order to find out?

    1. Do I know what it's made of? Is the fabric silk, cotton, rayon, a blend of fibers? Are the buttons made of glass, plastic, mother of pearl?

    1. How long has it been in the Stash?

    1. Can I remember what it cost?

    1. Do I know yet what I will make with it?

    1. Have I got anything else to go with it, or do I have to buy more Stuff?

  1. Where is it stored?


If your answer to at least half of these questions is "I don't know" then you, too, should tame your Stash!

 

Below, I have outlined the steps I took to organize my entire Stash, such that immediate answers to all of the questions above are now literally at my fingertips.

Consider using this method as a starting point to organize your own Stash, employing those elements that work for you, discarding those that don't, and devising for yourself techniques that apply to your personal situation.

 

The Stash Inventory Notebook

The Notebook and formsBecause my Stash is merely large rather than gargantuan, I can maintain a complete inventory of fabric, trim, and buttons in a single 32-inch-wide ringed notebook,  using a 1-page form that I created to suit my particular needs.  

Here is the form, which you can use "as is" for your own Notebook, or revise to suit your needs.

Stash Forms (PDF) 

Stash Forms (.doc) 

 

Organization

Organization is the key to making the Notebook work for you, so choose a filing scheme that reduces sub-files, and therefore extra effort, to a minimum.

I considered, but then rejected, fiber content as a starting point. There are simply too many types of fabric, not to mention blends. The colors would be jumbled all together.  What if I forget what the fiber content is and have to thumb through the entire book to find what I'm looking for?

Historical decade of likely use didn't work either,  I might change my mind between purchase of the fabric and commencement of the project, and I certainly do not want to keep moving pages around in the notebook but then forget where they are.


I finally settled on color. No matter how many times I might change my mind about what to do with a fabric, its color remains constant and so, too, then is its place in the Notebook. Of course, there are primary colors, shades and tints, prints and plaids, and all things in between, but unless you have six hundred lengths of fabric in your Stash, I'm betting that color can work for you, too. Just stick to the basic ones on the color wheel, group all of the first cousins together (the red family, the brown family, etc.) and, if necessary, put in an extra entry for oddities which don't fit easily into any of the others.

For instance, I have a lot of plaids, stripes or polka dots in my Stash that are equal parts black & white and, as I am partial to purple, I have a lot of everything in that color, so I made those separate color categories in my Notebook.

Here is my full list:

  • Black
  • White
  • Black & white
  • Cream
  • Brown
  • Yellow-Gold-Orange
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Red
  • Purple
  • Leftovers: ½ yard or more of fabric left over when project has been completed

 

For fabrics of more than one color, such as prints, plaids, etc., choose the dominant color or the background color and file it accordingly.

 

Notebook Entries


Once you have settled on an organization scheme and a simple form, you will be ready to inventory your Stash. Depending upon the time available to you, it may take two weeks or two months to complete the job, but once you have your Notebook in order you'll wonder how you got along without it!


Stash forms with SwatchsTake a look at some of my forms (right), complete with fabric swatches and pertinent information.   I staple to each one a 3"x5" swatch of fashion fabric, layering them if I have definite plans to combine two or more.

The upper or lower portion of the page is blank so that if I already have an idea of what I want to make with that fabric, I can attach a photocopied image of what that is.

It's best to stagger the swatches from upper to lower half of the page so as not to place too much bulk at one end only.


Next, I begin to fill in the blanks. Most important are:

  • Fiber Content 
  • Length & Width of the cut. 
  • Purchase Date and Source can be useful (can I still go back and buy more if necessary?) but not absolutely essential.
  • Potential Use is handy when I've purchased a fabric thinking an 1881 ballgown, but have not yet formed a definite picture of the finished project.
  • Storage Location is crucial, as that demon Stash just grows and grows and then spreads beyond the confines of the sewing room.

 

The What Elses

The What Else'sThe reverse side of the form lists the What Elses, those items which I have Already Got (in the Stash, of course) or Must Purchase in order to complete the garment: lining fabric, decorative trims, buttons, notions, etc.

Do I fill in every blank immediately? No, because I might not know yet what I'll do with that particular fabric, but it's useful to have the entries there when I come to a decision.  


There is also a space for notes to myself and for swatches of lining fabric, trims, or a photocopy of the buttons I plan to use.
Once I have formed an image of the projected costume,  before, during, or after construction,  I fill in the list of Accessories at the bottom of the page.

Do I already possess headwear, handbag, shoes, outer wrap and jewelry for this garment?

If not, I'm better aware of what to look for while trawling e-Bay or browsing antique shows and stores. 
After I complete a project, I will move this form to another notebook (more about that in a future article), so I record the completion date, whether there is any useful amount of fabric remaining which I might utilize in another costume, and where that yardage is now stored.

 

Trims, etc.

I have so many trims and buttons in my Stash that giving an entire page to each one would render my Notebook unwieldy, so I simply incorporated them into the color-category scheme.

At the end of the fabric-swatch pages in each color tab, I insert pages devoted to trims and buttons. Depending upon the width of the trim, one page may contain anywhere from 3 to 12 samples of all the trims of that color in the Stash.

For antique or limited-yardage trims with no expendable inches, I fake a "swatch" on my color photocopier.

Next to each trim I write its width, length, cost, and purchase source.

When I use all or a portion of a trim, I cross off the entry entirely or subtract the partial yardage consumed from the original total, and thereby keep abreast of how much is still in the inventory.  

Pages of Trims

Buttons are also placed on the photocopier, and under each picture I write its dimensions, composition, quantity, and cost.

Later I can cut out of a page the picture of the button(s) that I intend to use for a particular dress and then tape the image to the What Else portion of its swatch-form.

Buttons
   

Storing the Stash

Here are some of the economical ways, both cash-wise and space-wise, that I store my Stuff.


Fabric
I wrap most of the fabric cuts around a flat cardboard core so that when I pull one from the middle or bottom of a pile, they don't all collapse and have to be refolded. Fabric stores will usually give you the cardboard core when you buy the last yards on it, and if asked sweetly may even give you discarded ones for which they have little or no use. If you don't have ones from the fabric store, you can always make your own from the large boxes you would otherwise put out with the recycling waste,  all you need is a box cutter and you're in business!

Fabric on cardboard flats

There are some fabrics that aren't best stored in this way, however. I have a number of fine silk and sheer fabrics, which I do not want to be creased in any way, particularly if I expect to store them long term. For those I use PVC pipe.

Just go to the hardware store and find the size you want; mine are ½" (13mm) diameter. Most come in 10' (3m) lengths, so I ask the salesman to cut them in half for me. Each ten-foot pipe yields two five-foot wrapping tubes,  ideal for 60" (150cm) wide fabric!

To wrap it smoothly, unfold the fabric and lay it out on a large table or clean floor, place the tube over one edge of the cut, and then secure it with masking tape, taking care to cover a scant ¼" (6mm) of the fabric with tape so as not to spoil it with sticky residue.

 Once rolled, secure the ends with fine straight pins or ribbon ties (a good use for those leftover bits of ribbon from a previous project).

Rolling fabric on a tube
Storing the flats in a closet

I store my cardboard flats in a large linen closet and a few bureau drawers (right).

The 5-foot tubes rest in a wheeled plastic garbage can [UK: dustbin] tucked into a corner of the sewing room (far right) and over which I've thrown an old sheet to protect them from light and dust.

If you purchase a can [bin] with wheels, it will be easier to move when you want to clean that corner of your sewing room. Believe me, a can [bin] full of rolled tubes is very heavy!

 Fabrics on tubes
Trims
 Cut up cardboard boxes that you would otherwise throw away to use as flat cores for your lace/ribbon/braid/cord trims. Make a note on each one how much yardage it contains (even though you also have a swatch in the Notebook), and subtract from that whenever you use a portion of it. This keeps you up to date on how much you have, and it's much neater than a wadded-up ball. Plus, you can stack those neatly wound cards much more efficiently than wadded-up balls.
 Trims on flats

Save the cardboard tubes from rolls of paper towels [UK: kitchen roll], plastic wrap [clingfilm], waxed paper [greaseproof paper], etc. and use them for crease-free storage of fine and antique trims. Secure the ends with straight pins, and write on the tube the amount of yardage on it (again, you'll have a swatch + yardage info in your Notebook).

You will be surprised at how many yards you can wind on one tube! This reduces significantly the amount of space required to store all of your trims, and it's much easier to sort through your trim Stash.

Trims on rolls
Containers
There is a real benefit to both stack-ability and visibility. If you can stack several cartons one atop the other, and still extract the middle one without undue fuss or having the whole stack crash down and spill its contents, that is all to the good.
Stacks of boxes
It's even better when you can see through the cartons to identify the contents. In addition to purchasing semi-transparent containers found at craft stores, I save any good-sized clear plastic containers from restaurant take-away or supermarket and use them to store leftover trims, millinery supplies, embroidery machine stabilizers, and other miscellaneous items. Once thoroughly cleaned and dried they are perfectly usable and, best of all, free! Recycled containers to store trims and flowers

 

I know what some of you are thinking already. "Isn't she concerned about chemical release from all that cardboard and plastic?" No, I'm not. Firstly, these are not centuries-old museum artifacts that I am storing; they are brand new fabric and trim which are not intended to last through the ages. Secondly, some will eventually be put into the washer and dryer, while others will be dry cleaned. If they can survive those modern conveniences, they can manage a year or two in a plastic container!

 

Miscellaneous Recommendations

Patterns
When I sally forth to do major fabric shopping, I want the yardage requirements for all of my patterns at my fingertips, but I certainly cannot fit all of that information in my head. Even less am I inclined to haul around a thick stack of pattern envelopes, but if I don't, it is certain I will find the perfect fabric for the one pattern envelope that I didn't bring with me!

Ergo, my Pattern Inventory, a 7"x9" (18x23cm) spiral-bound notebook into which I have taped a reduced-size photocopy of the illustration and yardage requirements for every pattern I own.

I grouped them as Undergarments, Accessories, and Dress-by-Decade. The book is a bit on the heavy side, so I don' t carry it around all the time, but it does fit into my purse on those days when I am seriously on the prowl for fabric.

Pattern book

 The patterns themselves I store in an office credenza [UK: filing cabinet], sorted by decade (1800-1950). Eventually the two drawers became too full to add new patterns, so I transferred all of the undergarment and accessory patterns to a single crate. When the drawers or crate fill up in the future, I'll have to devise another scheme, but I'll deal with that if or when it happens.

Some of my patterns were packaged originally in a good-sized envelope or zip-lock plastic bag, while others come squashed into a too-small envelope. Those I cut into two pieces, the front (picture) and back (yardage requirements), tape them to a large mailing envelope, and thus avoid having to refold those voluminous tissue patterns into tiny dimensions.

 Organizing Patterns

Fabric-Matching Swatches
I carry small (3"x2" or 7cmx5cm)) swatches of Stash fabric in my purse so that on any shopping expedition I can match them to other fabric, trim, thread, buttons, etc.

I pin groupings of like-colored swatches together on safety pins, and attach the safety pins to a circular key ring. An elastic band loops around the key ring, and the elastic band goes around my wrist, thus freeing both hands to reach for potential match-ups. The bundle of swatches fits neatly into a small drawstring bag, which in turn keeps the swatches clean and wrinkle-free.

 Once I have purchased a matching thread, or identified one from my thread box, I will cut off one small corner of the purse swatch and make a note of the manufacturer and color number of that thread on the What Else page.

Purse Swatch ring

 

 

And Finally
Once you have tamed your Stash,  certainly if you set up a Notebook similar to the one I have described,  it is essential that you keep it up to date. Whenever you add something to the Stash,  fabric, trim, buttons, whatever,  put a sample and its quantity in the Notebook. Whenever you take something from the Stash, remove the entry if you have used all of it, or subtract what you have used from the total so that when you look again you will know instantly how much remains.

Diane YoshitomiA secondary benefit of all that organization is that now you can shop from the Stash!! Once you have a sample of every fabric in your Notebook, as well a sample of every trim and button, you can flip through its pages to find matches or complements. And here's the bonus: you don't have to bring out the button jars or boxes of trims, or pull fabrics from the middle of a stack,  because you have them all "in miniature" right there at your fingertips.


I also find it worthwhile to thumb through my Notebook on a regular basis. Seeing every fabric sample and the accompanying pictures of what I want to make from them not only reminds me of what I have and how much money I've invested, but also spurs me to get busy and start a new project.

After all, that fabric is going to look so much better on my body than it does on a cardboard flat in the Stash closet!

Do you have an out-of-control Stash? What methods for taming it have you tried? Has Diane inspired you to get organised? Tell us in the comments below!

 

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naath  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   Wow, you have such a neat stash! And space I could only dream of to store it in.

Mine needed shrinking, it was taking over the meagre space I had for it. And now I have a nice Natural Form dress (made with a liberal helping of Totally Period Honest piecing together of bits when it turned out I had about 2 yards short of what the pattern actually required).
 
 
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trystbat  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   Love this! I have my own, but similar, system. I use lists on my PDA for all my patterns (so I don't buy the same patterns at those 99c JoAnn's sales ;-) & a 6"x4" notebook w/swatches taped in & yardages written down. This keeps it purse-sized so I can take it shopping, & I can match fabrics, threads, buttons, etc., & know how much to buy.  
 
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textileowl  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   We've moved into a smaller space and are having trouble with organizing the fabric in a way that make sense for our use. This looks like it will definitely help! I had been despairing because all the places I usually look for organization don't take into account that some sewers don't quilt and therefore have larger amounts of fabric and variety of fabric than cottons and fat quarters. Thank you!  
 
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lauraloft  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   I use a similar system too, although I have alot of fabric for general dressmaking too, a lot of which goes in those vacumn space saving bags with samples taped to the outside.

I don't always have a pen to hand and usually forgot to up-date the amount on my stash, so instead I cut a strip of fabric the length of which is determined by the amount I have: 1 inch = 1 meter and trim it accordingly when I cut off pieces from the roll/cardboard.

Having sample cards is also very handy when a client is not sure what they want and isn't that familiar with fabric types. Being able to see the shade of the fabric, what it looks like and feel it often helps them make an informed decision. What do you mean silk has "bits and bumps" in ithttp://yourwardrobeunl ockd.com/media/jxtended/img/smilies/default/Wink.png
 
 
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ligea  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   What a great article! I've had a lot of headbreaking about how to tame my stash and I've deceided to accept the fact that it couldn't be tamed, but your article gave me some new ideas! Thank you very much!  
 
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dcollington  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   I think I will need more than one folder. I do agree totally though that mine does need sorting, before it gets the right to vote. Excellent article.  
 
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manon  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   You did a wonderful job taming your stash, my stash is organized and put away nicely, but not tamed as well as yours! chapeau  
 
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ginab  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   Thanks for some really great suggestions here. If I don't sort out what's in my tiny sewing room, I won't be sewing anymore as there won't be a place to work!  
 
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jmb1  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   Great Article! I had to tame a stsh in the costume shop at the college where I work. My biggest problem was patterns, a four drawer commerical pattern cabinet filled with patterns from every company. I made a cataloge using plastic sheet protectors and large binders. Each pattern envelope is in a page; its pattern and instructions are in a zip bag labled with the pattern company, the number and the size. Each drawer is labled with a pattern company and the zip bags are filed numerically. Now we can flip thru the pages of the cataloge to find a pattern.  
 
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leonor  
Taming the Stash by Diane Yoshitomi   I had been thinking about a notebook like this, but wasn't sure where to start. You have a really concrete system and lots of great tips. Thanks so much for writing this!  
 

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