• Spring Stash Cleaning

    by Valerie Smith

    Few things inspire panic like the disorganized stash of a fabric obsessed quilter. Whether doodling is your thing, tatting, or crochet, as a collective community, we all know that where there’s a sewer, crafter, or virtually any type of creative hobbyist: a supply of much needed accessories, gadgets, rulers, templates, and FABRIC must follow. We quilters know just how to hide, jam, shove, squeeze, tuck, and stuff our treasures into whatever sized space we may be fortunate enough to house it in. Some of us even have so many goodies tucked into that sacred space, our said treasures are literally overflowing into other parts of the house. If you find yourself overwhelmed with crafty clutter, then what follows may be of interest to your fabric collecting heart!

    Travel Project

    First, allow yourself to let go of your clutter anxiety. We all feel it from time to time, those pangs of guilt as we stand in the fabric store check-out line with a new basket full of must haves. We all are familiar with the “other room”, the one we often spend time dreaming up projects in. You know the one, that favorite back bedroom piled sky high with yard sale finds, fabric store sales, and the brand-new line from Moda that you just had to own, TODAY – yardage and precuts both. This is your sisterhood speaking (and your brotherhood too) – we sewers all have that room. We know it well. We love it. We spend hours daydreaming, rearranging, and adding to that room. It takes a little time and dedication to harness that creative tidal wave of a sewing room, but it can be done. Rest easy, and let’s tackle that tidying problem together.

    These days there are a multitude of stash busting and craft organizing systems around that can help eat up your overflowing fabric stash. With creativity, any space, big or small, can include an organized creative haven with which to work. But how do you keep from getting overwhelmed? What can we do to keep things neat yet at your fingertips ready for immediate use? What do we do to prevent the fabric mountain from migrating onto your sofa turning into a cozy new elevated cat bed? Well friends, you first need a plan. Think about the place that you have, the storage that can fit in that space, and how to most effectively utilize it. Take a walk through your local container store or even Wal-Mart and just see what is available to you in terms of storage. These days there are endless limits to our organizing needs, but if that is too overwhelming at this stage in your de-cluttering life, stick with simple. Plastic bins in various sizes and an area to stack them in. If you have a sewing table at all like mine, which is basically just a long eight by ten folding table with a cloth covering it, you can easily store organizing bins below.


    Once your space is established, let’s get to sorting. Separate your fabric, notions, doodads, and thingamabobs into like piles. Head off into your sewing refuge and find an open place for fabric, thread, and notions – and establish a home for those items. I like to keep fabric in clear plastic bins so if my creative haven must for any reason move to say, the basement - then critters, spiders, and mold will be no match. What kind of bins you say? Well this girl likes options. I choose large bins for yardage, medium for cuts larger than a fat quarter, and both small and large bins for my teeny tiny scraps. The key here is to be flexible. Be willing to donate what you know you will not use or toss it in the bin until it is needed for a project. At times we may need to be a little ruthless with our stash. If it is outdated, donate it. Some may choose not to save the very smallest size scraps, and if you are ambitious like me you may appreciate onto them for “someday” scrap quilting. If you collect strings, those work well in a shoe box type of plastic bin so there is less folding, which means less ironing later. My first choice is always clear bins, for obvious reasons – I want to see the fabric! Not only will this inspire creativity, but it sure makes pulling colors for quilts easier! Occasionally it is good to go through that stored folded fabric and press it or re-fold it to prevent permanent creases, as well as color fading from uneven light exposure. Once a year is good for this refolding task, you can make it fun by declaring this your inspiring spring project. While we sewers love to be optimistic about the quantity of our production, however, very often at least some of that fabric will take a few years before making its way into the perfect project. Rotation and refolding are good habits to get into to preserve the longevity of those calicos and cottons.

    Cones of Thread

    A note on threads. My favorite way to store threads is on a shelf where I can see them. There is nothing like looking at a beautiful array of threads organized by color rather than tossed into a big box. If you are fortunate enough to store them in such a manner, I encourage you to choose one with a door to again prevent light exposure and dust accumulation. The next best place is a thread caddy. Generally, these are see through as well, and they prevent moisture or dust from damaging those precious threads.

    Trims and thingamabobs are a little different. Those items are better tucked off into opaque boxes with neat clean labels. Trims can get messy once you collect a few and so out of sight and out of mind is the idea.  Better neat and tidy out of mind so you aren’t off imagining the mess in your trim box. You can get fancy here when it comes to labeling if you like, but I tend to stick to a tried and true stand by – a black sharpie and blank side of an index card. If I decide I need that bin to house something different in the future, no harm no foul. I can easily repurpose the container.


    Rulers are always tricky for storage, but a couple of solutions have worked well for me over the years. Large bins from a three-tier rolling storage organizer is wonderful, especially if you are working at a long arm and using multiple rulers. Your rolling bin can roll right along with you down the length of the long arm machine. If your ruler stash is still modest and in the process of being built, a small three tier shelving united with clear drawers is another great solution.

    The key to maintaining organization is really a small amount of time dedicated daily or weekly to tidying. While often overwhelming at the thought, dedicating just 10-15 minutes of “clean-up” time into each project day  you plan to prevent the clutter from becoming overwhelming can work wonders. Make it habit so you do not feel any loss of sewing time. Above all else, take time to enjoy the organizing process! Let that color sorting and time spent playing in the sewing room add to your creative experience, even use it as the catalyst for creating something entirely new with items you forgot you already had!


    Valerie Smith is an Urban Elementz pantograph designer who lives in northeast Ohio on the coast of Lake Eerie.

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