Can 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?
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?
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
Because 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.
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:
For fabrics of more than one color, such as prints, plaids, etc., choose the dominant color or the background color and file it accordingly.
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!
Take 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 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.
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!
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.
A 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!