Of course the biggest benefit of my career is the guilt-free indulgence of buying all the fabric I need (or want!).
Each new project requires a different “palette” of fabrics. Wherever I travel, a visit to the local fabric store is part of the itinerary. This in turn leads to stacks, piles, leaning towers, bales, barrels, truckloads, torrents, and floods of fabrics—or so my husband, Tom, claims.
Okay, I have a lot of fabric. In my defense, if I look at a bolt of fabric in a store, I can probably tell you whether I have it already. However, I may not be able to lay my hands on it without a search. The trick, then, is to organize my fabric so that when I need something I can find it (eventually).
How I organize and store my fabric is of interest to my students. Many of them have a lot of fabric themselves, though where they may own yards of a relatively few fabrics, I own small chunks of (literally) thousands fabrics. That can be a major difference between traditional quilting and fabric collage quilting. A traditional quilt may employ a handful of different fabrics. In my quilts, I always lose track of how many I use.
When I was done piecing the 20-foot salt-water crocodile, “Crocodylus Smylus,” I had drifts of fabric mounded up in front of my pinning board. While I was folding them to put away I counted close to 300 different fabrics. When making a much smaller piece, “Polka Dodo,” I used over 100 different fabrics—every one of them with polka dots!
There are obvious ways to organize fabric:
- Color (reds, blues, greens)
- Pattern (stripes, animal prints)
- Fiber content (cottons, silks, synthetics, sheers)
- Novelty fabrics (Christmas, Aboriginal)
Then there are less obvious, some known only to me, ways:
- Fabrics I collected on a particular trip (New Zealand, Yellowknife)
- Fabrics by a particular designer (Kaffe Fassett, Jane Sassaman)
- Future quilts I have in mind (Daisy, Hassan, and Max)
In order to categorize a particular fabric, I identify its most dominate characteristic. When I look at that fabric, what’s the first thing I think of? The fact that it’s a particular color may not be most important to me. In fact, I may have several fabrics of different colors but with the same pattern, all of which I group together in my head. If they coalesce in my brain, they probably ought to go together on the shelf.
So, in the winter of 2013 I built a new studio. Or rather, we had it built and Tom did a lot of the work himself. (See a future blog for that story.) This gave me the opportunity to set up my work space exactly how I would like it. I knew I would need a lot of shelf space, so Tom built me a whole wall of shelves.
As you can see, the shelving fitds a lot of fabric. Folded fabric. The larger pieces of fabric, up to a couple yards each. Most I organize by color and shades of color. For instance, there’s an orange pile, with red-orange next to that, followed by reds with a maroon cast, then magenta and pinks, purples, cool blues… you get the picture. It’s a rainbow. Blacks, browns, tan, beige, whites are in their own sequence on another shelf. With my palette, these don’t require as much space.
Certain chunks of fabric are big enough to fold, but would get lost in the shelves. These I store in clementine orange crates. You’ve probably seen them in the grocery store.
But there are even smaller pieces. As I cut up my fabric, I end up with odd, often quite small scraps. What do I do with all those pieces that other quilters would probably throw away? I have a couple of solutions.
Do you buy lettuce in plastic containers? Those things are great! They’re just the right size, they’re clear so you know what’s in them, and I feel good re-using them instead of discarding them, even if it’s off to be recycled. It’s easy to organize scraps either grocery-oriented way, by color or whatever criteria makes sense.
Sometimes the scraps build up, however, and drastic steps are necessary to find them a home. That’s where the suitcases come in. I collect those nostalgic, hard-cover suitcases. So far I have more than a dozen suitcases full of scraps (my husband made me stop counting), most bits no bigger than the palm of your hand.
The scraps I save are a great inspiration to me. In fact, I’ve created entire quilts out of scraps. For the quilt of my son Sam, “Samuelsaurus Rex,” I used the bits and pieces I had gathered just as they were, with almost no cutting whatsoever, using value as much as color to create a kinetic likeness of my little dinosaur lover.
Whether on shelves, in transparent tubs, or tossed into a suiltcase, I need to be able to see it, touch it, compare it to others, hold it up to my quilts, or set it aside only to pick it up again later.
However fabric is stored it has to be accessible. I, and probably you since you made it to the end of this post, will always be attracted to fabric. It’s the fuel of our creations, or possibly just the way we decorate our shelves. But, if we’re lucky, we’ll re-discover that perfect piece at the perfect time. How else will fabric work its inspirational magic?
Do you have a good storage idea to add? Leave it in the comment section below!
NEXT WEEK: Quilt Stories: Schools and Schools of Fish
A walk down a watery memory lane when I harken back to some of my earliest inspiration.