This is what happens when a “type A” is also a “collector”

Alternate title, how I organize and catalog my massive fabric stash.

At last count, I had 455 yards of fabric. Granted, that was a month ago – I’ve acquired and sewn quite a bit of fabric since then, but it gives you a sense of what I am up against.  When that number was smaller, in the 150-200 yard range — before I met a man who had purchased the estate of two deceased seamstresses and “needed my help” getting rid of it for $2/yard — it was folded into clear plastic bins and I’d rummage through it all as needed. Even then, there were lots of issues with this lack of a system:

  • I forgot what I had – to the point that I have three different cuts of emerald green stretch cotton sateen,
  • even if I remembered I owned it, I could certainly not recall how much of it I had,
  • I’d often dig through the bins to get a piece of fabric for a project only to realize it was thicker/thinner, drapy-er/stiffer… than what I needed,
  • I could never remember if I had pre-washed and dried it. This is critical, especially with cotton, which makes up a large portion of my “collection”.

When my yardage-on-hand doubled in the matter of a week, I knew I needed a way to catalog it all.  So I googled.

This post got me started. But I wanted more flexibility with what I tracked on each card, so I decided to just use blank index cards. I got my cards, hole puncher, key rings, stapler, scissors and measuring tape and got to work. But the issue with that system for me became apparent almost immediately — volume.  The key rings were difficult to flip through when loaded with cards and fabric swatches and I was going to need 5+ rings. Those rings would not stack neatly and were bulky.  Then it hit me — the rolodex. You know, those hunks of metal that used to sit on the corner of every desk (and if you were super-popular you had multiples); the antiques that you can buy on eBay for $20, or Etsy, for that perfectly curated vintage looking office space, for $100.  It was the perfect solution to my problem. So I bought one, along with the cards, and it all came together over a glorious weekend.

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Now, when I decide on a pattern I want to make, I simply flip through my rolodex and pull out the cards for each of my fabric options.  I then take those cards to my stash and pull the fabrics for review.

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Up next: Another pair of Ginger jeans, this time in view B with a mid-rise waist and slightly widened legs

For now, I’m still using the original rolodex card dividers – C is for cotton, D is for denim, F is for fleece and felt, H is for home decor, K is for knit…

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Not all of the cards have the same categories of information – it depends on how thorough I am feeling when I catalog it – but I always try to include my best guess at fabric content, the width and length of the fabric, and a small swatch. I also like to include when and where I bought it and for how much money, and if I have washed/dried the fabric already.

After I’ve finished a project, if I have fabric left, I update the card with the amount remaining and indicate what the first portion was used to make and when.

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A random sampling

I also have a sticker on the back of each card telling me which tub it is stored in.  I just made this update recently and it has already saved me a lot of time.

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A corner of the guest room

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If I was truly as organized as many people think I am, I’d also keep an Excel spreadsheet tracking my totals (in & out) so I would always know exactly how much fabric I have on hand, and I’d have an app on my phone with all of this information so I could access it when I just happen to accidentally find myself in a fabric store (how in the world did I get here?!?!?), but I’m not there just yet.

I also have a fairly large collection of sewing patterns – both vintage and modern.  This post, also from Colette Patterns, taught me how to best store and organize those.  I still have a bit of fine-tuning to do there, making the my categories more detailed and I do not have an electronic/portable database of those yet, but I’m making progress.

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4 thoughts on “This is what happens when a “type A” is also a “collector”

  1. Karen Silakowski says:

    Noting on the cards when you’ve pre washed the fabric is a wonderful idea. I don’t have nearly the stash that you’ve gathered, but I’m prone to on and off sewing and don’t always remember which fabrics I’ve already processed. I need to look for an old Rolodex-I like your system and it would be good to organize while mine is very manageable.

    • Sarah says:

      The rolodex has worked well for me. I like how I can easily pull out several individual cards to consider for a project. I often attach them to the pattern envelope until I decide which one to use. The trick is being diligent – making a card as soon as new fabric is purchased or editing a card as soon as some fabric is used. My vintage rolodex came without cards, but I bought them on eBay for a song. Other people’s outdated trash is my treasure in this case.

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