Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stash Mastery at long last

Be warned!  What you are about to see took 16 months and untold hours of time.  Hours and hours and hours and hours of ironing and folding.  So much ironing, in fact, that I burned out one steam press.  This task is not for the faint of heart or anyone who does not just LOVE ironing.  (It's not that I'm all that crazy about ironing, but I do love my steam press.)

16 months ago this was all on the shelves and organized by color but the pieces were folded any old way and all the various lengths were mixed together.  The only way to discover what I had in any particular color was to dig through all of it in search of the hidden gems.  Fat quarters were especially good at disappearing.  Studio Maxim:  If you can't see it, it doesn't exist.  It was always a horrendous mess.

Bicentennial fabric
I've been a quilter since the American Bicentennial in 1976 and I am a thrift shop-a-holic.  About 3/4 of the stash was bought for 50 cents a yard or less at thrift shops.  Before I retired I spent decades collecting but not quilting much.  I have a fabulous stash, if I do say so myself.

The key to designing any organizational system is to think about how you will use it. What do you need it to do?  I need to be able to see all of my fabric, and I need to know approximately how much of each piece I have.

The way they are folded tells me how much there is
              • 5 yard lengths or longer are wound on bolts on the top shelf
              • 2 to almost 5 yard lengths are folded to a width of 11" 
              • 1 to almost 2 yard lengths are folded to a width of 5.5"
              • less than 1 yard lengths are in clear plastic boxes
                • yes, I do know that this is forbidden by the quilt police 
Although it is organized mostly by color, I do have separate stacks and boxes for special items like my own hand-dyes, novelty fabrics and very large florals.

      Start by folding your yardage in half width-wise (hard to figure out how to describe this!), and then again.  For example, a 3 yard long piece that is 44" wide becomes a 3 yard length 22" wide on the first fold, then 11" wide on the second fold.

      An 8.5" x 11" plastic cutting board is the only tool you need.  In step 1 it measures the 11" width.  Home dec fabrics and other fabrics of different widths may need an extra fold and the plastic board helps.

      Rotate the cutting board so that you are folding around the 11" side. 

      Flip it over and over until the whole length is folded around it.

      Slide the cutting board out from the center and you have a nicely folded piece to put the on the shelf.

      For shorter lengths, add an extra width-wise fold at the beginning.
      Fold 1:  from 44" wide to 22"
      Fold 2:  From 22" to 11"
      Fold 3:  From 11" to 5.5"

      For lengths at least one yard but less than two, wrap it around the cutting board.

      approximately 4.5" x 5.5"

      For lengths less than 1 yard but at least a quarter yard, fold to 5.5" wide and then fold in from both ends to form a little bundle.  Small plastic boxes from Walmart hold the little bundles.

      For the first half of the project I was measuring everything and putting a half sheet of paper in the folds with the dimensions on it. Eventually I decided that this was overkill.

      I had also planned to scan a bit of each piece and put the photo and the dimensions into EQ (Electric Quilt quilt design software).  Also overkill at this point, because I rarely use EQ.  If I had my own fabric database I might use it more.  Someday.  Maybe.  Probably Not.

      I also started out by pressing everything with a spiffy new digital steam press, which I loved and overused until it died.  Heartbroken, I stopped pressing everything, but did press the selvedges flat on each piece, and tumbled the worst wrinkles out in the dryer.  Pressing everything was also overkill because wrinkles will form in the folds anyhow, but having the selvedges flat makes folding much easier.

      Then, in one of those amazing turn of events that makes people believe that the universe is genuinely  interested in their personal welfare, a steam press appeared before me at a local thrift shop.  On Senior Citizens 10% Discount Monday.  I have been going to thrift shops avidly since 1968.  This is the ONLY steam press I have EVER seen in a thrift shop.  $10 minus the geezer discount and another 10% discount on my membership card. 

       Even better, it is not digital.  It's the electronics that went wonky on the one that died.  The memory of what I paid for that one still burns, believe me.

      and speaking of burns, if you buy a steam press you will burn yourself, probably badly, probably repeatedly.  Ask me how I know.

      and although the name of the object is "steam press" I never put water in mine.  I just use a spray bottle to dampen if necessary.  I've gone through so many steam irons that I finally took the pledge to give up the steam. 

      It took a year to get all of this organized.  I enjoy projects like this, and I have the time to take my time.  And although this took untold countless hours, the payoff has been huge. I found many wonderful fabrics that I had forgotten about.  I can now lay my hands on anything at a moment's notice.   It is very easy to maintain the system once everything is tidy.  Slide the plastic cutting board into the stack and lift a bit wherever you want to remove or replace a piece of fabric.
      The real question is:  how many more decades or centuries would I have to live in order to use up this fabric?  None of these photos shows the full 9 feet of the wall, by the way.  I'll be 62 this summer so even the most optimistic estimate would only give me another 40 years. 

      At 3 or 4 quilts a year, this looks like more than 40 years worth of fabric to me, even if I stopped buying fabric tomorrow (sounds of hilarious laughter offstage).  What do you think?


      1. Oh my, that is so incredible. Not only the fabric but the organization. Awesome.

      2. If I only had a place to put my fabric. It's all in plastic bins in the basement, since I don't have a sewing room. It all looks nice. Aren't thrift stores great? I spent half of Saturday in 4 thrift stores while I waited on my son (he was at a scout meeting).

      3. Leave me some in your will, Cheryl. Kathryn and I are building a quilting/craft studio in our newly renovated garage... YEAH! I was enthusiastically describing your sort by color family method, and now I see this new level of perfection! I am amazed! Miss you! Brenda


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