How I organize my fabric stash + free downloadable stash tags!

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organize-fabric-with-swatch-tags-header

You’ve seen how I organize my enormous stash of patterns. But what about fabric?

I will admit, my stash is bigger than I’d like it to be. In spite of fabric swaps, donations, and finally getting rid of a lot of the useless leftover scraps I’d been holding onto, I have a lot of fabric. 12 boxes of it, to be precise.

I could conceivably use the same method I use for patterns with my fabric, but I don’t think it would be ideal. That’s because:

  1. Fabric isn’t as resuable. The sewing patterns can be used over and over, but the fabric can be used up, so things cycle in and out more frequently.
  2. Fabric is tactile. I often make decisions based on how the fabric feels, so swatches are a must.

My old method

Years ago, some of you might recall the method I came up with for storing it in boxes and attaching swatches to the outside.

This worked fairly well, but it wasn’t perfect. When I found a swatch of fabric that looked like I might want to use it, I’d still have to root through the box and figure out how much I actually had.

It was also hard to flip through all my swatches, because they were attached to the boxes where the fabric was stored.

I needed some tweaks.

My new swatch system

I decided to keep the swatches in one place so that I could look through them all at once. Instead of attaching them to the storage box itself, I’d just note the location of the fabric.

In addition to the swatch itself and location, I wanted to keep track of how much fabric I had, how wide it was, a short description, and any other relevant information.

hanging-swatches

I created these simple little hang tags where I could note the yardage, the width of the fabric, a short description, and attach a small swatch. The hang tags are strung onto key rings that I hang on my tool rack.

Whenever I want to browse my stash, I have a neat little library of swatches to paw through.

flipping-through-swatches

Make your own swatch tags

Want to try it yourself?

All you need is the hang tag template (see below for the free download), scissors, a hole punch, some hole reinforcers, and key rings. You’ll also need a way to attach swatches to each tag. I used a stapler.

supplies

Print as many tags as you like. I printed mine on a cream colored background, and I think they look particularly nice on colored paper. Cut them out with scissors. You don’t need to be too precise about it, just cut the lines away.

cutting-tags

cut-tags

hole-punch

Punch a hole in each at the top, and group them by location onto keyrings. So everything in box 1 is on one ring, box 2 on another ring, etc.

If you don’t want to keep it in boxes, you could just as easily number your shelves or other areas. Or just write down the location if you like.

tag-silk-gazar

Cut a little swatch and staple it to the tag, and fill out the info.

boxes-stacked

labeled-box

Label each box or other container or shelf. I just used a piece of washi tape, nothing fancy.

swatches-hanging

That’s it! The only trick is keeping the yardage on the tag up to date if I use part of the fabric, or remembering to throw the tag away if I use an entire length.

This has made it so much easier to use what I have instead of letting it languish unseen.

Enter your email below to get the free tags I made for myself. I’m just putting them out there since I already had them made and thought you guys might enjoy them.

Oh, and when you enter your email, we’ll send you other cool free occasional goodies and updates. Don’t worry, we won’t spam you (emails are pretty infrequent) and you can unsubscribe at any time if you don’t like the bits we do send.

How do you organize your fabric? Any tips to share with the rest of us?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 53

Nicole

Great idea. I would appreciate an emailed version of the tags.

Thank you.

Karen N makeandmakemore.blogspot.com

What a wonderful idea. I have all my fabric crammed into a large cedar chest and no matter how nicely folded and grouped I put them in there it doesn’t stay like that for long. I have a project to make and then I just root around in there like it’s the dvd bin at Walmart. This could keep things so much nicer if I have a specific fabric in mind before I ever open up that lid.

How do you handle large patterned prints where a swatch will never show the whole range of colors the yardage contains? Just try to describe it as best you can on the tag or do you pull multiple swatches from the piece?

Tee dressed2atee.blogspot.com

Thanks so much…I use the bins with tags on the inside. Next time I reorg my stash I’ll give this a try.

Angela

THANK YOU!! Seriously, I was up way way too late just last night organizing… FABRIC. And, I have about 4 more boxes of you.. ahem… I have put the fabric in boxes before, and then put little swatches on 3×5 cards and attached them to the outside of the box. But, the exact problem you stated kept occurring – how to find the fabric, going through the little cards on each box was time consuming, etc.

Your idea is one of genius and simplicity. I will be making up little cards today. I might just use 3×5 cards and put them in a card holder, still pondering what would work out best. I can make little subfiles – boxes 1 & 2 for 4-way stretch knits, etc.

As to what to do about the fabric with large patterns – so far I’ve never had a problem remember the whole thing based on a tiny swatch. That might change if I stash more fabric, but my sewing room would burst. But, perhaps a tiny photo of the fabric if needed?

linda alteredvisionsfiber.blogspot.com

I love this idea! how clever!! I have tons of fabric and sadly stashed right now in baskets etc!! I would love to know where you obtained the fabulous boxes you have!! I would appreciate any help in that direction! as much as I like the fun baskets and all they don’t help with finding my fabric quickly!! my other stash is tons of yarns!! any suggestions there??!! thnx so much for the template and your wonderful suggestions! I obviously need all the help I can get!! (my husband thinks so too hehe!!)

daiyami

I find that the same database approach you described for patterns also works very well for me for fabric. Yes, stuff cycles out, but I like having the historical record and seeing what I’ve used. I set up a smart search so that I can see everything currently in my stash at one click, or only browse everything that I’ve already prewashed, and the database also lets me search by color, or view all my knits in stash if I feel like sewing a knit top, and instantly see whether I have enough for a pattern, and so forth. If I enter fabric as I buy it, the maintenance doesn’t feel that tedious. I currently have about 12 boxes of fabric in my stash, so this also makes it easy to track how much I’m using compared to how much I’m buying.

I find that the fabric photo and description is enough for me to figure out which fabrics to pull out of my bins to feel it and plan a project, but as I cut into a fabric, I keep a swatch book in a mini-photo album with pockets.

Tani

There’s an app for iPhone , “fabric stash” . Is not perfect, but is the best way to organize and buy more fabric (i use it a lot!)
I have so many stuff in my sewing room that i dont like paper tags for my stash.

Thewallinna thewallinna.com

I used tags from a stationary shop but I continued stashing. When I recently moved to a new place, I put all (AAAAAlllllll) my fabric on the floor in the living room. Now I see it every time and so far this prevented me from buying more fabric :)

sj kurtz erniekdesigns.blogspot.com

Ooooh. This would drive everyone in my house crazy, but sounds remarkably effective! It might just have to come to that; desperate times require desperate measures!
I have my stash washed and folded in piles in a cupboard, and find that putting sheets of cardboard (or my old watercolor boards) between ‘departments’ makes it easier to move them in and out. I have a paper list of what and how much taped to the inside of the door so I can stop pulling them out and remeasuring the lengths. This summer there is no new fabric buying.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

Unfortunately for me, any fabric or clothing left on the floor of my house is interpreted by Colette as a luxurious new litter box.

donna

I’m in the same perpetual quandary of storing an ever growing collection of patterns and fabric. Trying the comic box method and now want to try your hang tag idea. Have a question… Where did you get the perfect fitting boxes for that perfect fitting shelf? I love the neat tidy look! Oh yeah, and thanks for the template!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

They’re from Ikea. The system is called Expedit. I believe Expedit is being discontinued, but they’re replacing it with something called Kallax.

Lorelai lloralye.com

I love the use of the ikea bins! Definitely a plan for next apartment. I came up with a cool binder for swatches (I hate the loose tags) to keep track of fabric in terms of apparel shopping:
http://seamsunbiased.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-ultimate-swatch-book-freebie.html

Now I can take one little binder in my purse to the store and match pants to all the blouses I’ve made, etc. However I’m pretty sure I’m going to modify it to include what I haven’t used yet and where the rest of the remnants are stashed like your version. Best of both worlds!

Danica

When I saw that shelf, I thought that looked just like a Kallax we just bought at Ikea. Thanks for the tags and a new idea with aforementioned Kallax.

susanne

i love your idea and will put it use. after this use I could save the tag with added info with the pattern # used, weather it is a skirt, dress ,ect, and as a means to shop for coordinate fabric colors.

Sarai colettepatterns.com

That’s a great idea!

Heather Testa ten8.com

I use an old rolodex to file swatches, sewing notes, project notes and even little mood/visual inspiration.

Annette Tirette annettetirette.com

My stash is slightly larger than one Billy bookcase at the moment… We’re moving into a different appartment soon (I’ll have a sewing/drawing room!) So I’ll probably get a few inexpensive racks to store my fabric and patterns… I like having an overview and I know myself, an organized system that involves stapling things to things never lasts long for me, no matter how good my intentions are when I start it!

Amy ladymockingbird.com

This is very similar to my system! Except I use index cards, punch them with a single hole punch, and hook them all on one of those metal binder loops so I can easily flip through them. I have one loop for knits and one for wovens. In addition to info about the fabric and yardage, I also write what pattern or project I have in mind for it, if any. That way I won’t Accidentaly hack away at something I had a different plan for. I should start putting the location on there too because it takes forever to find them!

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I like that idea of jotting down the intended use! I often find that this changes for me over time, but it’s nice to know what I originally bought it for if I don’t have a chance to use it right away.

Dee

These are great – thank u for sharing your system…I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

jen k instagram.com

Love this, thank you! I’m always reluctant to really spend the time to organize my fabric stash (because it seems unimportant somehow) but then I end up driving myself nuts trying to find things, checking the length, etc. especially now that I keep everything up in the attic.

Michelle tresbienensemble.com

I went through a similar evolution with my fabric storage. I mimicked your first method for storage until I moved, then I started stapling swatches to index cards. I write the yardage/width/content like you. I was so inspired during my organization process, I started writing project plans and pattern numbers on them also. I hope to keep additional notes as I sew. I keep them all in an index card box and organize them by fabric type. It’s a little OCD, but it makes things much easier to manage.

Nisha Williams bluesundayblog.com

Thank you for the template, I’ll definitely use it!

I don’t have a formal sewing area, so I had to get creative with furniture to store my fabric. I replaced my coffee table with 4 storage ottomans. I keep the majority of my fabric in these leather ottomans. And I have them sorted by color and type. The other place I store fabric is a piece of furniture I put at the top of my staircase. It’s a 3 shelf storage cabinet with mirrored doors. It’s decorative, and again keeps the fabric out of site. I’ve been looking for a swatch method that I can use. What I’ll do with your template is attach my fabrics and the details on each. But I’ll store them on cardstock in a large 3 ring binder. Each section of the binder will contain be for each of my storage areas. This will keep everything organized and provide a very quick reference guide.

Cadi homemaker4hire.com

Mind. Blown. I was JUST stomping around my sewing corner wondering how I was going to pull my fabric piles together. This is amazing!!!

Rachel snippetsofsweetness.com

Love your organization tips. What do you do with scraps/leftovers? Any tips for novices?

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I have a couple baskets for nicer/bigger scraps. When the baskets are full, I go through and start to get rid of things. I generally don’t keep anything less than a half yard unless I have a specific idea in mind for it, and try to only keep the nicer fabrics.

Also, the occasional yard sale or swap has helped.

Anna

I use index cards to organise my fabrics, after seeing it suggested in one of my (ahem, many) vintage dressmaking books. Once I’ve decided what I’m making with it, I can then add info like what length of zip is needed, and take the index card to the haberdashery with all the info and the swatch for colour matching. After I’ve finished a project, I annotate the card with how much is left and also with the thread colour used so that if I need to repair it, the repair thread will match. I also attach any spare buttons to the card for repairs.

Isaboe Renoir

Excellent ideas! I like having swatches of the fabric as well to bring to the store to match thread; I’ll start adding thread color and extra buttons to my notes too – thank you for sharing!

sara blogmixedemotions.blogspot.fr

Great idea, and thanks for the template!

Isaboe Renoir

My fabric storage system is very similar as well. After remodeling my kitchen earlier this year, I was left with a glass door buffet that didn’t fit in the space anymore. I moved it to my work area and now I can see the majority of my fabrics through the doors. I purposely try not to keep more than one or two dozen pieces so that helps reduce storage needs.

Anyway, after washing or steaming, pressing and folding my new yardage after I get it home, I write down on a sticky note or other small scrap of paper what the content and yardage is, and as someone else mentioned, the project it’s for – blouse, shorts or the specific pattern number if I have one. Then I pin the note directly to the fabric (on the selvage for silks) so it’s always there.

I try hard not to have too many fabrics or patterns at once because it clouds my vision for the projects I want to work on in the immediate future, and they get lost. Luckily the old vanity I found at an antique store to use as a sewing table has drawers that are the exact size of patterns, so once the drawers are full I can force a purge if I want more of them! This also limits my impulse purchases, both for the good and the bad; it has to be an especially unique fabric find for me to break my system!

What I’d like are some ideas on organizing future projects so I can see what I might want to work on next without riffling through patterns or fabric. Maybe that could be a topic for future discussion? I was considering a 3-ring binder and card stock or plastic sleeves, with a swatch and the info from the notes I pin to the fabric, and maybe the pattern info as well… maybe someone has something better? ( I liked the idea of “The Sewist’s Notebook” for projects I’m currently working on, but wanted something more akin to a file system for future projects.)

Well that industrious person among us is gonna make big business once they figure out how to organize this all into one system -purchasing, storing, scanning into an app we can shop with, indexing it all – and box it up for the rest of us!

Ange blacklabelblog.wordpress.com

brilliant idea….thanks for sharing.

Melissa S.

This is AWESOME! Thank you so much for the idea and for the tags!

Abigael

Thanks for sharing these great tips! Your tags are such a sweet design, btw. Right now I have most of my fabric yardages on rolls, but am a little frustrated with the organization of the smaller, boxed pieces. Definitely need to design some tags and get to sorting them out!

One side note – I saw one of the swatches you photographed is silk gazar! Could you recommend a supplier for this fabric? I have found some pretty pricey suppliers online, and am on the hunt for some possibly more affordable options (or more than two suppliers!)

Sarai colettepatterns.com

I bought that stuff locally here, at Mill End in Portland. They’ve had it a couple times. I’ve never bought it online!

Paola

I use those old, small photo albums, the ones that have some kind of plastic envelopes where you put your photos backside facing, so you can watch them as you flip the envelopes as if they were pages, do you know what I’m talking about?
But I really think this way is far much better, the labels are tiny in comparison, and you can have them in a much more accessible place. I’ll give them a try…

Alice Elliot

I’m going to replace my swatch system with this! I have NO room to store anything except in plastic ziploc bags that suck the air out of and stash on top of each other on my top closet shelf! So I keep the swatches in a loose leaf notebook, but that’s so messy! I can’t wait to find the time to re-do the whole thing!

Carol Henderson

I wish I had space to organise all my crafts :lol: That’s a brilliant idea.

Sarai, what has happened to the post on finishing a waistband? I see there is a new post in my feeder but when I click it it says “oops – we’ve done some major work here jsut now and can’t find what you’re looking for…..etc”

Don’t know if you are aware of this?

Sarai colettepatterns.com

It was a post I was in the midst of writing and accidentally published when it wasn’t quite finished. :)

We’ve been having some technical issues with one of our wordpress plug-ins that has sometimes caused posts to be published when they aren’t quite done, unfortunately. We’re sorting it out. But don’t worry, that post will be on the blog eventually.

Lidia sexydeathparty.com

Is it just me? Where’s the download?

Lidia sexydeathparty.com

derp… I can’t read!

Samina

This is exactly what I’ve needed. My yarn stash is organized in bins & on a spreadsheet, but my fabric stash is totally out of control! This is just what I need to get back in control. Thank you!

Rhian

Brilliant idea!

Annie K

Thank you so much for the tags – I printed a few to card stock and will see how I do getting things going. I have decided that I am going to, once again, start sewing clothing. I made everything that I wore in high school, and I made some pretty great stuff (in retrospect). Then I moved to Alaska, lived with no electricity for a while, had babies, worked full time, etc. Now the kids are out of the house, and I am reclaiming their rooms to create sewing and yoga space. I am just getting started establishing the space, so any and all organization posts are valued!

Labistrake labistrakeandco.canalblog.com

Thank you so much for the idea and template !

Rebecca tsurahdesigns.com

Thanks for the free download!

jan janmadeit.wordpress.com

Perfect timing! I’m losing my house, which means I’m losing my stash. I’ll be staying with mom and she said I can bring my fabric, but she has NO IDEA how huge my stash is. This will help me decide what will stay and what will go. If I don’t want to go to the trouble to cut a swatch and write a description I’ll know I don’t love it that much and I’ll let it go.
Now. Any ideas on how to get rid of a stash? So far, I’ve donated a measly 6-8 grocery bags full of so-so fabrics, but I have lots of really great fabrics, some vintage, that I hate to just give away to a faceless organization. etsy? ebay? or is there another way?
And that doesn’t count all the notions and patterns (many vintage) that also have to go. And hundreds of yards of lace & other trim.
I’m open to suggestions.

BamaCarol

I have donated to an organization that uses the fabrics to make quilts for donation to children in need. Depending on the type of fabric you have that is a good place to donate if your town or community has one.

Kimber

Thanks for the free download. I am awful at designing stuff like this! I really enjoy your blog.

Tina

Oh, this sounds perfect! My fabric stash is not so big yet, as I’m quite new to sewing, but I have a feeling it might spiral out of control. A good system like this will prevent that. Thanks!

Lynn

I’ve used a similar system for years, but using shipping tags from the stationer, which can also be purchased in colors. I made up rubber stamps for information. Working as a fabric shopper for costume designers in New York City, I was sometimes swatching for three or four out of town designers at the same time. I recorded all of the source, price and quantity information, and then numbered each tag, in the stores. At home, each swatch was cut in half to make a second set of swatch cards. One set kept by me and the other to be sent off to wherever the film was located. I could keep track of hundreds of swatches at a time, hanging my rings on a peg board. Daily phone calls placing requests for yardage ran smoothly, and I then made my daily rounds to the fabric stores to make the purchases and arrange for direct shipping.

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