Sunday, January 7, 2018

Creative Time Bomb: Sort your Stash

How do you organize your quilting fabric? Creating categories not only makes fabrics easier to find, but can also jump-start future creations. Here are my categories, jammed into 8 small shelves plus 3 plastic boxes:

1. Human and human-like entities (including cyborgs, smiley faces, plus the occasional human underwear):
2. Food and beverages:
3. Animals, real, extinct and imagined:
4. Mostly inedible, inanimate objects, including florals and geometrics:
5. Blue and green solids and monochrome prints, not including skies, but including lakes, rivers and oceans...
...and green leaves (Unless the leaves are edible - the fabric on the lower right looks like collard greens to me, so sometimes it travels to category 1):
6. Yellow, orange, red and gold solids and monochrome prints:
7. Purples, lavenders:
8. Black, whites, greys & brown prints and solids, and black-and-white prints
9. Batiks, all colors, all patterns, plus all sky prints.
10. Patriotic and American history
11. Judaic prints:
12. Miscellaneous, and polka dots The huge pieces of the fabrics below - vintage housewives and pre-Obama US presidents - that don't fit in my packed "human" shelf, so they're in miscellaneous:
Quite often, when going through my stash, I will fling a fabric to a different category. Take fish, for example: Animal or food?
If it looks like it would be tasty broiled with butter and garlic, it goes into food, but if it could be in an aquarium or a deep sea, it usually goes with the animals. Same problem with cows:
Just looking at their yearning faces and thinking about where they're headed makes me want to become a vegetarian (at those moments, it goes to animals.) When craving a burger, it travels to food.  And what about this print with dog astronauts - animals or humans?
This fabric has been commuting back and forth between categories for decades.

Jack-o-lantern fabric is even more elusive. Edible, human, animal, or inanimate? I should just sew it into a trick-or-treat bag and donate it to a thrift shop, so I don't have to agonize over it anymore.
The best reason to sort your stash is that you find unexpected relationships, and group  fabrics with common traits together. Even if you don't do something with the groupings and subgroupings at the moment, they can serve as messages to your future self - creative time-bombs - that will save you time and spark ideas.

Like a month ago, when I was looking through my stash for holiday gift ideas. I found the following fabrics grouped together in the "Prints: Non-Human, Non-Animal, Inedible" box.
(I know, that on the upper right looks a bit like hard-boiled eggs, but not enough.) They were piled on top of these, which you saw above:
The fabric on the far left was cut from a beautiful Swiss dress that a friend gave me after her baby outgrew it. The two on the right are fat quarters that my well-trained DH bought me for a birthday.

Plus there was this heavyweight Japanese print:
...which sent me running to the "food" shelf, where I knew I had another piece of heavy fabric purchased from the same quilt show vendor: a pastry fabric that says "petite gateau," which means "little cake" in French, even though the fabric is Japanese:
Now I had an extended family of fabrics, near-pastels with a lot of pink and a happy, air-tossed mood. I did a little improvisational cutting, sewing, and slicing, and wound up with four of these: 
Vintage rick rack made a nice punctuation. The music fabric went on the back.
I used Insul-Bright batting inside. so they can function as real potholders. For hanging loops, I found the following embroidered ribbon in my parents' tablecloth drawer. I am guessing my paternal grandmother, my beloved Bubby, bought it, maybe planning to embellish aprons? She died in 1974, which makes this ribbon over 40 years old. It's in perfect shape, perhaps because it was encased in a long narrow plastic viewing sleeve:
The plastic sleeve says "Shrinkage CONTROLLED" and "Perma-Trim". They were right, 40 years is pretty Perma!

Along with four potholders, I made a couple of table mats:
To the table runner, I added borders of a pastel Liberty of London print (also from "Prints: Inanimate"). 
I like to take a group picture of related creations, so here they are, four potholders, two table runners jammed together. If I squinch my eyes, I can imagine what it might look like if I'd made them into one quilt: 
Meh, it would have been a low-contrast quilt. (Speaking of contrast, can you find Waldo's sock?) Once photographed, I put my shoe back on, broke up the set, wrapped each in festive holographic  cellophane, and distributed them to friends for holiday presents - my daughter asked for one, too - leaving me with the good memories and a little bit more space in my stash! 

Yes, I really would love to hear about how you categorize your quilting fabrics!


  1. I sort by the size of the piece of fabric. Pieces large enough to make Jim boxers. Pieces larger than boxers. Pieces smaller than boxers. I'm not good at organizing.

  2. Cathy,
    Sometimes, if the pieces are cut small enough, then the picture doesn’t show as the item and the color or pattern blends in similar to the small gifts.
    As to the outer space one, it sounds perfect for a Star Wars or Startrek theme quilt. But, it might mean buying more fabric to go with them:)

    1. I do have a lot of Star Trek fabric - you're right, I should combine it with the dog astronauts! I'm trying to think if there was ever a Star Trek episode where they visited a planet run by dogs. "Planet of the Puppies"?

  3. I'm organized---all landscape fabric are on shelves in a closet. I have lots of landscape fabrics, wood, rocks, bricks, sky, grasses, etc. I think I have 13 different skies and bricks, for some reason, I have lots of bricks.
    My other big love is batiks and I keep those together even though many are used for landscapes. I don't have a lot of novelty/florals so those are together.
    I love being able to find what I need easily so it's worth it to organize.
    I love to see/hear how others organize their fabrics.
    I too, have a shelf with fabric for boxers, Deb is not alone in this oddity.

    1. Susan, thanks for chiming in! Who knew so many people had landscapes and boxers categories! I should start making boxers?!

  4. Do have any tribble fabric? That was my favorite episode. Very interesting how people sort their fabric. I try to do by color but then I also have a sky area, a trees area, my novelties, Christmas, non cotton . The list goes on and on.

    1. OMG, QFA, I don't (yet) have tribble fabric! Is it out there? Brown fake fur could suffice. I love that you have a "forest" for your trees!

  5. I use shoe box size boxes. I don't have a novelty prints, so they all tend to be in one box. The colors are sorted by color (red, orange, blue, green, purple, etc.) The black and whites are in a box. Christmas gets its own box. Right now, batiks and thirties have their own box. The yardage (I usually buy quarter yards) gets a shelf.

  6. love the ways you divide and contain you fabric stash!
    I sort by color mostly, batiks get their own bin and tray, feed sacks and bark cloth gets vintage status and fill a few clear plastic bins,they stack well for storage, i don't have much novelty so it goes with children oriented fabric. since most of my fabric consists of my hand paints, i store lager piece on hangers and small pieces folded into a tray in rainbow style.bits and strings a remnants go into baskets to use and re-purpose plastic fruit and veggie containers from the market for storage. now that i the plan.

    1. Sonja, those are some good ideas - a juvenile section and a vintage section. How big are the fruit and veggie containers? I have a giant old suitcase for my scraps. Thanks for the input!

  7. Shasta, thank you for the description of your system. Let me know if you ever need some novelty prints. I have too many.

  8. I love this! Like you, I have 100s of "novelty" fabrics and never quite know where to put them. I have 2 drawers labeled "dipsy doodles" and the best of the novelties go in there. (i.e. the famous goldfish on motorcycle fabric) I have food divided up into fruit then veggies and others. I have a lot of fruit. And by the way, it's bloody cold in Massachusetts! -6 yesterday!

    1. Marla, whenever I look at your People of the Book postcard, my first thought is that I made it - we both obviously have the same Judaic stash! I haven't seperated my fruits and vegetables out from other foods, such as s'mores and Ritz crackers, but maybe as a public service or an incentive to eat better, I should! Sorry about your cold weather. I'm a little jealous of your beautiful snow and icicles, and a little not jealous, because California has totally spoiled me! Stay warm!

  9. By Color, Batiks, Dots/Spots, Black & White, White & Black, Neutrals, Hand-dyeds, 2 1/2" strips, 1 1/2" strips, & charm packs.

  10. Shoebox-size clear plastic bins for non-solid cottons, by colorway. Big bins for: solids, wools and fabric I wove, silks and silky, conversation prints (broken down into genre baggies), yardage-quilter's cotton, yardage-heavier weight fabric. Stash spills into other rooms of our townhouse, natch...

  11. Fabric you wove, Elly? Are you a weaver, too???!!!

  12. It's a mess! Fabric is everywhere, and what I used most recently is probably on top. I do have most of the solids together by color, unless I've fished out the orange solid for some other project, and it's with the orange prints . . .

  13. Thank you for your candor, Abelian! I left out the really messy parts of my stash....

  14. I, too, like to resort occasionally and will pull out several pieces that I want to use together soon.
    You asked about vegetable containers for storage...I use the clamshells from Aldi's and Costco, especially the ones from the spring mix lettuce, tomatoes and berries for decent size scraps or blocks left over from a project. I already know those fabrics go together, and I find they lend themselves to be used creatively. Larger pieces are by color, with batiks usually put with their major color.

    1. Bea, that's interesting! I will have to go to Costco to take a look at those containers. I think I have too much fabric in every category to use produce containers! Thanks for explaining your system!