Thursday, April 5, 2012


At the risk of becoming better known for having a mild case of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) than for my quiltmaking, I am sharing "how I organize my quilt cave."  

Do I have a light, airy sewing space filled with fancy magazine-photo shoot fixtures?  No, but one can dream.  I live in a small house with an unfinished basement, but area rugs, lighting, mostly second-hand fixtures, and a TV make it a quilting oasis. 

I am one of those people who just don't function well amidst chaos.  I have little patience for hunting things I can't find.  I also have to share my quilt cave with my husband, daughter, and cat, so it helps to keep my quilting area as neat as possible.

There is a book that really put the importance of getting organized into words for me.  When I read it (devoured it, really), I realized that I had found a kindred spirit (it made me feel less like a freak - big grin).  Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morganstern is the definitive book on the topic of getting...and staying...organized.  She walks you through finding a system that works for YOU, helps you achieve your goal, then teaches you how to maintain it.

As I share my stash, please understand that this is what works for ME...organizing is a very individual thing, depending on what you have to organize, how you use your space, whether you share your sewing space (the dining room table), how much stash you have (remember, I've been quilting a long time...), etc. 

I recently shared how I organize my sewing space in a couple of classes at my LQS.  I thought doing posts with pictures might be helpful to the class participants, and perhaps to others.  Actually, this would have been a class better taught in my basement instead of a quilt shop classroom!  A couple of years ago, I was invited to guest post on Stash Manicure (now called  ), so maybe some of you have already seen my "wall of stash" before...

I will share about stash organization in 5 posts:
  • Part 1: Organizing Misconceptions/Method and What I Do With My Fabric (FQ and larger)
  • Part 2: Taming the Scrap Piles
  • Part 3: UFO's and Kits - Improving Their Odds of Being Finished Someday
  • Part 4: Tools and Supplies
  • Part 5: Media - Books, Patterns, Magazines, Ideas, Loose Ends
Here we go with "Part 1" kind!  :o)

At the beginning of my recent classes, I asked the following questions of the participants:
  • Do you feel comfortable having sewing friends just "drop in," unannounced, to your sewing space?
  • Are things lost in your sewing area?
  • Is there something lost that you have completely given up looking for?
  • Have you accidentally re-purchased items?
  • Have you intentionally re-purchased items, after giving up on ever finding them in your sewing area?
  • Do you have more than one project spread out on your work table right now?
  • Do you have a "double secret fabric stash" hidden somewhere in your home...or in a remote location?
  • Is there fabric in your car trunk right now?  (you're BUSTED, Ola!)
  • When you have a spare 15 minutes, can you enjoy 15 minutes of sewing "play time?"  (thank you Victoria of Bumblebeans...)
  • Does your sewing space fill you with anxiety and anger or peace and creativity?
I've been accumulating stash for 30 years.  In 1982, all my fabric fit in one big tub.  As my stash grew, I started sorting, first by color, then by theme. 

According to Ms. Morganstern, the biggest misconceptions about organizing are:
  • "Organizing is a talent."  Nope.  It is a skill that can be learned.
  • "It's hopeless."  No, not really.  It only seems hopeless.
  • "It's impossible to STAY organized."  Nope.  It just requires a good system and a little maintenance and EVERYTHING MUST HAVE A HOME, otherwise, it is just clutter.
  • "Organizing is a waste of time."  And looking for stuff and not finding it isn't?
  • "My only problem is a lack of space."  This is rarely ever the case.
Julie breaks the organizing process down into 5 steps:

  • Sort - identify important things, group similar stuff.
  • Purge - are there fabrics you will never use?  There are groups that will gladly accept donations of fabrics.  I still remember the day (only about 5 years ago) that I threw away my earliest, worst stash...don't panic, they were really horrible early quilting fabrics from the late 70's/early 80's.  There were also some BLENDS!
  • Assign a home - everything must have a home!  Put like items together. 
  • Containerize - don't do this can't do this step until you sort and see what you are dealing with.
  • Equalize - it works!  This is the "maintaining" step.  Periodically stop and put things away - in the places you have assigned.
I now sort by both color and theme.  Because my quilt cave is in the basement, I share my space with not only my family, but also spiders, roly-polies, dust and I have to containerize (thank God for Joann's and 40% off coupons).  I would love to have my fabric up in the civilized part of the house, out on closet shelves, looking all pretty and inviting, but that is not my reality.

Now that I am over 50, I find I don't like lugging around or lifting heavy tubs of fabric.  I also find opening some container lids can be hard on my fingers and hands.  I am using smaller and smaller containers when I can, so my "floating" labels are getting more and more specific.
There are all kinds of containers...I use plastic with lids, due to my basement.  I have plastic utility shelving (from Home Depot or Lowes) lining my poured basement walls, so my containers have to fit the space.  Container companies can be annoying, as they may stop making the kind of container you choose.  Even the shelving has changed over time.

I tend to mix and match containers, as I am in the basement and don't care too much about those things.  I have found storage containers at Joann's, cheap big box stores, garage sales, the re-use center, and even plucked them off the curb on garbage day...they don't have to be expensive, just clean. 

Fortunately, my two favorite types of containers by Sterilite and Art Bin are still manufactured...the lid colors come and go, but that is OK.

My labeling system "floats."  By this I mean I don't use permanent labels for many things.  Because my stash organization is a work in process, containers and container contents change.  I don't want to waste a lot of time peeling and scraping to remove sticky labels.  I love 3 x 5 index cards and a good, fat black marker.  Most of my containers are "see through" so I put the index card on the inside of the container so I can read the contents. 


This container of ballet fabric is the perfect example of my need for flexibility - I won't be replacing what I use (my daughter no longer dances).  I can move the contents/label to ever smaller containers as I use it up, then, eventually, use the container for something else and recycle the label.

Even though I mostly sort by color, I have found it necessary in some categories to sort by TYPE of fabric first then sub-divide by COLOR or SUB-THEME:

REPRODUCTION - divided into neutral, gold/cheddar, light brown, medium brown, dark brown, black, red, pink, purple, green, dark blue, light/medium blue

BRIGHTS - divided into pinks, blues, greens, purples, oranges, yellows, reds, holiday greens, multi bright, multi bright on white,  multi bright on black, freckles/spots on white, freckles/spots on black, white on black, black on white

30's - divided into blue, green/purple, red/pink, yellow/orange/brown/black

GENERAL - divided into very light blue, light blue, medium blue, dark blue, light green, light medium green, dark medium green, dark green, red, yellow/peach, orange, pink, purple, light brown, dark brown, black

NEUTRALS - divided into solid, tone-on-tone, dots and checks, geometric, sampler, large floral, sprigs/leaves/vines, light cream, heavy cream, big yardage (applique backgrounds), white on white, white on cream, solids

CHRISTMAS - divided into santas, snowmen, Christmas floral, Christmas blenders, Christmas misc, funky Christmas

HALLOWEEN - divided into pumpkins/geometrics, witches/"Ghastlies"/misc, spiders/ghosts/skeletins/cats/bats/candy 

MUSIC - divided into instruments, music notes, Andover 

PATRIOTIC - divided into neutral, red, blue

CATS, DOGS, HORSES, OTHER ANIMALS, BUGS AND BIRDS, FISH AND FRIENDS are all togther on one shelf, behind the...umm...litter box (not trying to be's just the best use of the available, isolated space for a shorter shelf unit that is tucked between the furnace/AC, hot water heater, and under the house electrical box).

Other things I like to keep separated are certain fabric collections I want to keep together (usually with a future project in mind) and weird things I collect, for example:

FALL/HARVEST                        HEARTS                      
CHOCOLATE BOX                    SPORTS
SOCK MONKEY                        DR. SEUSS/OLIVIA,
SEWING                                       BALLET
PLAID                                           FLANNEL
MISC NOVELTY-girl                 MISC NOVELTY-boy
FRUITS/VEG                               SCHOOL
BATIK (I don't have that many, so I don't sort by color)

I'm a fabric "washer" due to skin sensitivity and fading/running issues (THAT topic is a separate post...).  I rarely use soap...just soak, hand-agitate, drain/spin, then throw in the dryer with half of an unscented dryer sheet. I never iron at this point...just remove from the dryer warm and fold. I sometimes pink the raw edges with my rotary cutter/pinking blade before I wash to cut down on strings.  Since I don't put the fabric through a complete washing cycle, the strings are at a minimum.

I fold to make neat little stackable rectangles that are about 5-6" x about 11" (fold with selvages together (or selvage with cut/fold edge for FQ's), then fold the other direction until the piece is 5-6 inches wide, then fold again, putting first fold and selvages together).  This is the perfect size for the containers I use (let the container size dictate the size of your fold).  I put the neater, folded edge toward the front so I can see more of the fabric/color pattern.  

This may seem fussy, but uniform, neatly folded items take up less space, making storage more efficient.

This bundle shape works for flat or "on edge" storage in my smaller containers and also "on end" in my big containers.  My other goal is to see things without moving too much stuff around (makes for quicker retrieval).

The larger and heavier the tub, the lower I store it.  With the biggest tubs on the bottom shelf, I can just slide them out to the floor to find my treasure.

Batting scraps, larger yardages, and backings go in bigger tubs that live under the basement steps.

I have more small yardage and fat quarters than long yardage.  If you have more long yardages, maybe a chest of drawers would work better.  Just make sure the inside of the drawers is painted or sealed so that the natural Lignon in the wood won't stain your fabric (over time).

Tomorrow (Friday ), I will post about to sort, containerize, and turn them into piecing gold!

In stitches,

Teresa  :o)

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  1. Thank you for this post and future posts to come. This is a goal for me - though I dont have nearly the stash you have. But I want to controll what I have for a workable manner. I hate wasting time looking for something. And there may come a time I 'inheret' my Mom's stash that probably tops yours - but not properly organized.

  2. wow, an amazing stash and amazing organisation. Great to read through and get some tips!!

  3. I love your organization skills. I am getting better at keeping my area neat. I still have problems keeping it in order when I am in the middle of a project but i am working on that.
    I enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Oh Teresa thank you so have done an amazing job. I'm going to buy that book and get my sewing room organized. I've done every other part of the house this year and that's up next. Can't wait for the next post.

  5. I am already a follower. I am blown away by your organization. I am looking forward to your future posts. I have started cutting and sorting my stash ala the Bonnie Hunter method so I can start the leader/ender system. I will definitely have to blend that method with yours. Thanks so much.

  6. Wow, I thought I was organized but your system takes it to a whole new level. I was actually thrilled to see someone who has more fabric than I do! Looking forward to the next post.

  7. I first saw your organization with the post you did for Stash Manicure and I fell in love. My stash is kept in the basement too. My sewing room is on the second floor in the guest bedroom, so it's important to be able to know what I have when I'm working on a project and your system looked liked what I needed. Looking forward to the rest of the posts and thank you!

  8. I {heart} this post, Teresa; it is great info(--I have hurt my neck somehow!! So taking a break)--AND you have inspired me to RE-organize. I especially like the color/theme method you use. Thank you for posting--will be awaiting next installment. (Off to Job Lot to find bins...)Julierose

  9. I, too, first saw your stash on the other blog and I've never forgotten it. I don't have as much room, nor as much stash, but I do use the Sterilite containers that I just love.
    Right now I'm in the middle of a "purge" phase that will really help with space. I never want to actually toss stuff, so sometimes it's difficult to find a place that wants/needs what I have - but it can be done. Thx so much for taking the time to work with us here.

  10. Oh my goodness Teresa, I am in awe, both of your incredible stash, and by your awesome organisational abilities!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us, I love it. xo

  11. I enjoyed this post as much this time as I did when I read it on Stash Manicure. I am an organizer too but not with quite as much detail. Do you mind if I link to your blog in a post on my blog?

  12. I love the way you store and organize your very large stash of fabric and items. I do not have near what you do and I can find what I am looking for easily. For the amount of things you have this is such a good way to store. You must be able to find what you want almost all the time very quickly. A question for you though - how many quilts do you think you make a year and do you buy fabric all the time? You have so much do you try not to buy? Are you a stash buster :) I can't say I am envious of your stash though - I would know I would never use it all - I'm beginning to wonder if I will ever use all of my small stash!

  13. I think your cave is fabulous! This post is so timely for me as I am in the middle of rearranging and reorganizing my sewing room. This is just the post I need today. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  14. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to see someone (other than me) who works in a basement and shares space with other family members. I always longed for the large, beautiful, expensive studio space. After some reflection, I decided the cost of such a space would put my family into too much debt. The important thing for me, was not the space, but the sewing. So now I'm happy in my basement and have decided to collect no more than will fit in my space.

  15. All of your bins lined up with their colorful fabric colors looks like a candy store to me! :0) I don't mind my chaotic work space though - my whole house is rather disorganized.

  16. i've said before and i'll say it again, i love you. from my cave to your cave, thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  17. Fantastic post. I'm looking forward to the entire series:)

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your organization tips. I think that many are unsure how to begin to organize with what they have. You have given some valid reasons to start with what you have, in the space you have.
    Great post - looking forward to the other ones too!
    Thanks again.

  19. Teresa, I've admired the way you organise your stash since your Stash Manicure post....Is it really two years? lol It doesn't seem that long! Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading the rest of your posts about how you organise your stash.

  20. I always feel better organized and with some open space to work. You have made quite a sweet quilting kingdom there taking the best care of your fabric. I'm sure it has taken time for you to optimize it all and your efforts look stupendous! The perfect space to enjoy creating. Thanks for sharing all the tips...can't wait for more :-)

  21. I'm happy to "officially" follow your blog. I've always enjoyed it and dropping in to see your fun projects.

  22. I am a VERY happy follower! You are such a kindred spirit with your love of fabric and love of organization. I'm a tad OCD about organizing my quilting room. I LOVE when Google reader tells me you have posted a new post. Can't wait to hear the rest of your organization ideas. :0)

  23. You should hire yourself out. I know I would gladly pay you to come get me and my sewing room known as "Hurricane Liz" organized.

  24. I get excited every time I read about your organization; in fact I've had your Stash Manicure post bookmarked for over a year!! Thanks for sharing this gets me motivated to double check my stash and make sure I continue to be on track for my space/needs.

  25. I am a you get a prize if you answer yes to all the questions about your stash? Like one day of stash organizing help?! One question you left out "do you dream of having a home organization TV show arrive at your front door...."

  26. I've been a follower since your first organization post on Stash Manicure (actually I had search stash organization and that is how I found both of you - about 3 days after your post!). I loved your first post and have adopted your method, but I love seeing it in more detail! Can't wait for the rest of the posts.

  27. LOVE (and slightly envy) your fabric supply! I have had kids home sick from school this month, so I've taken the time to put my hands on every piece of fabric I own, and separate it all by color (and some other categories)... It feels great to know what I have to work with! Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to read more!

  28. Oh, I follow.

    I envy!
    I wish!
    I admire!


  29. I saw your post on Stash Manicure awhile back and was very impressed. I've run into the problem of too much stash (is that possible??) and no more room in my closet. I'm hoping the bigger pieces can be wrapped around a bolt cardboard and get stored on the top shelf to free up room on the other shelves. If not, I'll have to come up with another solution. Thanks for sharing your organization skills. I never get tired of seeing how others organize their sewing rooms; probably because mine is usually in chaos!

  30. Loved you post today. I wish I had the space to fill all those containers but I do have a little space that I need to organize better. Of course, if I had all that space. . . I'd need to buy more fabric.

  31. GREAT POST I am about to reorganize my sewing room and sewing closets, maybe I ought to read this book first!
    thanks for sharing your sewing space with us oh how I wish i could poke around in those bins!!!!

  32. I have been 'organizing' for a couple of years I have a system that works for me. I love to have anyone drop in unexpected especially quilters (I put them to work- lol)
    My big $$ spend was purchasing 10 large laundry baskets, I used them to toss/sort everything that was piling up. (That was a few years ago- now they are in use for holding scraps by color) Now when a basket gets full I die cut a kit!
    I have always enjoyed seeing how you process and work it is very inspirational.

  33. I love you for doing this! Thank you, I'm sure I could use lots of tips and tricks. My sewing room isn't a flash studio or anything like it but I'm so happy to have a space.

  34. wow, wow, WOW
    I'm in total awe of your skills. This was a fabulous post. I don't think I can do it like you, but I'm glad to know that you can. It's totally awesome -
    Happy Easter

  35. Thank you for once again showing some of your stash organization. I'm better organized that I was, but I am nowhere near your level. Still working on it though, so thanks for your help!

  36. Hi..can't believe the amount of fabric you have.It seems as though it would be cheaper to just buy the corner quilt shop and use that for your sewing room!!!...:)containers alone are quite an investment. Your stash must be years and years of accumulation. It all looks very neat and organized but gosh I wouldn't want to mess it all up now by sewing!!
    loved your site...:)

  37. Oh, my! Your pictures scare me. If it's all the same with you, I'll just move into your space and you can take mine!

  38. We don't have basements in our homes in Australia but my goodness is this organisation! I think you have missed your calling Teresa and could earn a living organising our quilter's stashes.

    I also hate searching for things and wasting time. This walk up and select method is fantastic!

    Chris from Sydney Australia

  39. This information is so timely! I have the totes but was trying to find a better way to organize my fabrics. This post has given me many practical suggestions. Vrooman's Quilts posted about your blog so here I am and I have just signed up today follow. Thank you!

  40. I hopped over here from Vrooman's Quilts, and I hope to use some of your suggestions to tame my stash! I signed up to follow!

  41. great storage ideas, my stash is teeny tiny compared to this. I have a few open shelves/ cubbies and sort by color on these.
    White, yellow/orange, red, pink/purple, blue, green, brown/black
    I try not to have too much scrap batting, but I have a clipboard where I measure odd size scrap batting and write on the clipboard and a note attached to the batting- the size of it and put it on the shelf, often for donation quilts I use that batting tape and iron two pieces together and they hold up on the long arm!
    GREAT post- I'm a new follower referred by michelle's romantic tangle

  42. You are the queen of organizing and labelling .... I bow to you!!! I will be setting up a new studio once we move and I will sit back and re-evaluate my studio to make it more functional. Thank you for all these tuts, they were amazing to read and understand.

  43. Im a regular follower, but somehow this is the first time I saw this.. and I'm so glad I found it.. OMG! On the fabric. I'm sure you have heard that before. I'm trying to figure out a system to organize my lil ol stash so that I can put it on the shelf in a nice neat order. I just have no color order knowledge. Like trying to make a rainbow of reds and browns, and oranges and maroons, and pinks, and such, when some are brights and some are dull.. they just don't seem to fit into an order.. for me it seems a foreign concept.

  44. Thank you! I stumbled across your blog when researching ways to tame my unruly fabric/scrap stash. I had taken a page from Bonnie Hunter's Scrap User's page and gave my fabric a trim into the four basic widths she suggests. This was marvelous and brought some order out of my chaos, but then I realised I was spending more time trying to find the right colours in the seemingly endless mass of cut strips. It was then I discovered your incredible blog!

    I have been working diligently to organise the strips into their own boxes much like you have done with your lengths of fabric. I am currently working on a flex system that allows for every piece of fabric to have a home. 3.5, 2.5, 2, 1.5" strips have shoeboxes in 12-16 different colour categories, FQs, Half Yards, Yards all have their own shoeboxes in 16 different colour categories, the "more than a yards" are being measured/tagged/bagged and put into bins, even the scraps which I have now decided will be anything that doesn't fit nicely into the above sections will be sorted by colour and the pieces that are just too small (smaller than a 1x1" piece or batting or trimmings, or whatever) will go into a catch all to be turned into a bed for my Xolo to snuggle in.

    So with all these words I wish to thank you again for your mad organisational skills and for sharing this bounty with the rest of us who are otherwise overwhelmed by our burgeoning stash!

  45. I would love to send you pictures of my fabric/craft mess. I have four rooms of unorganized fabric and books and supplies. I am so overwhelmed that I just look at it and sigh! There is no money for a lot of organization tools, so I need to be creative---and have lots of energy!
    Please help!! I can't keep my house clean and I guess you could say I am on the verge of becoming a hoarder.

  46. I'm working on organizing my fabrics on a shelf system in my basement with the idea of maybe moving my entire sewing area there (ok, maybe after the water leaking issue is fixed). But I'm loving your description of finding your boxes as you can and the frustration of changing designs!

  47. This basement is like a shop! You have thousand meters of fabric!!!!

  48. What do you do with extra small pieces that can only be used for applique?

  49. I just found this but I can't seam to find the next day or so. I want to keep reading. Rebascomfyquilts@gmail

  50. You just gave me a great idea - I have a lot of yardage AND an empty chest of drawers. I will organize by color and get those fabrics out of bankers boxes and into drawers that I can pull open and grab as need be. Many thanks!

  51. You are an inspiration to me as I face a similar task, similar amount of fabric and similar groupings. This is about my 5th time doing this LOL.

  52. I've been here many times and it always makes me smile and happy to see your organized sewing cave. thank you for taking the time to post this. I've even put a post up on your site back 2013 on my blog. I just love it all.

  53. Very helpful article! I was lucky enough to have inherited a large fabric stash from a sweet friend and my stash doubled overnight! I am about to tackle organizing it and am overwhelmed. Your style would work well for me!


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