Friday, April 6, 2012


Welcome back to the Quilt Cave for some more organizing!  Today we will concentrate on SCRAPS!

Everyone who sews has scraps...some throw them away, some give them away, but most of us keep them...thinking we will do something wonderful with them at some time.

It is far more tempting to use them if we can first find them (it helps if they are in the same area) and secondly if they are stored in such a way as to make them easy (and fun!) to access.

First, I get together 3 laundry baskets, bags, boxes, or just three piles on the floor.  I do a quick rough sort into 3 categories:
  • STRIPS - can be leftover border pieces, binding, skinny remnants from rotary cutting - nothing is too narrow
  • LARGE CHUNKS - anything too small to store neatly with yardage and big enough to cut squares or regular-sized pieces from (generally fat 1/8's down to a rough 2 x 2 inch square)
  • LITTLE BITS - "grape-sized" or larger
First, I sort out the strips to store in bins.  As I sort, I try to put like colors together, just so I have little pockets of like color for quick, easy retrieval.  I stack them, despite the length, stretched out straight and flat.

I find, in general, that things take up less space when they are stored as flat as possible.  I do store bright strips separate from all the rest; sometimes I will use them in the same project, but I mostly don't, so I find it easier to sort them into separate piles.

These funny pill-shaped containers hold my strips.  As you can see, there are border pieces as wide as 4 inches.  On top, in the right hand bin, there are some leftover green template-cut pieces.  I put these in the strip bin because I can cut strips from them...they are from a "re-purposed" UFO (one I "fell-out-of-love-with" after I cut everything happens...).

When I can no longer close these two bins, I know it is time to sub-cut my strips into smaller units to "feed" my on-going obsession with scrappy quilts.

I LOVE to do log cabin projects, especially using 1.25 INCH STRIPS and 1.5 INCH STRIPS.  I press the strip, if necessary, then rotary cut what I can from the strip, without trimming the length.   I might take this opportunity to also cut logs for a specific project (the bin below with red and blue logs).  It seems more efficient to do that at the same time...that way I am only handling the strips once.

Anything narrower than 1.25 inches goes in my STRING bins. I have containers where I collect those. At some point, I may revisit these bins to cut 1 inch strips for a really skinny log cabin project, but normally I just use strings for paper- or liberated-piecing.

As I find leftover binding pieces, I store those separate.  I might use the bigger pieces to bind little quilts or coasters.  I always know that this is a good source when I need 2.25 or 2.5 inch strips (I usually cut most of my binding on the lengthwise grain, so no stretchy bias edges...).

I take this opportunity to remove selvages from remnant strips to store together.  I hope to try a project using them soon, as my bin is almost full!

Now that the strips are taken care of, I turn my attention to the large chunks.

I choose to segregate my large chunks by color...this is practical because I have a lot of scraps.  I also find that scraps take up less room when folded or stored flat.  I don't iron, unless something is just hopelessly wrinkled, just smooth with my hands. 

These are the categories I use and the way I label my bins.  I store bright large chunks separate from everything else in two bins...COOL BRIGHTS (purple, blue, green, bright on black) and WARM BRIGHTS (red, orange, pink, yellow, bright on white).

All NOVELTY and HOLIDAY scraps also go in separate bins, regardless of color.

I also keep REPRODUCTION, BATIK and 30'S large chunks in their own bins (smaller bins, as I don't have that many at this system is flexible and always changing as needed).

The rest of the large chunks are sorted into BLUE, RED, NEUTRAL, BLACK, BROWN/ORANGE, PINK, PURPLE, and YELLOW bins.

Sometimes, I keep scraps from a particular line separate, especially if I know I will use them together when I use them.  I have been saving Nancy Halvorsen bits for years...her fabric lines tend to blend well with each other.

I access these large chunk bins for both pieced work and applique.  I like that I can go right to what I need, and I can often make do with a scrap rather than cut a small piece from yardage. 

I really like these Art Bin containers for this purpose, and rarely a Sterilite bin, as above, using two sizes to meet my needs.  I like that I can grab a bin, small rotary mat and cutter, and I am out the door, cutting units while being with other people (too much "alone time" is not good for this cave troll...). 

I label my scrap bins just I like I do my yardage, mostly using my "floating," flexible system of index cards and a fat marker, then placing the label INSIDE the bin, using the contents to keep the label in place.  If I use up one of my two neutral large chunk bins in a scrap quilt, I can easily start using the empty bin for another purpose without removing a sticky label (yes, I'm still making grapes...).

Lastly, I deal with the WEE BITS.  As someone who LOVES applique, sometimes I think these little pieces excite me the most (and to think that most sane people just throw these away...big grin).  I keep the bright little bits separate, all together.

The rest of the wee bits are sorted into WARM (red, orange, pink and yellow), COOL (purple, blue and green), NEUTRAL, and BLACK/BROWN.

I did use sticky labels on these green bins (the colored bins are always bought after Christmas from the bargain table, usually at Joann's, and usually at a GREATLY reduced price!) that wasn't too bad, was it?!  Just hit the "easy" button and pat yourself on the back. 

So now you may we wondering, "now what?"  Well, as the scrap bins fill, I think of projects that use scraps.  Then I start sub-cutting FURTHER to fulfill the needs of the project chosen.

Sometimes I cut various sizes of squares, rectangles, or shapes to later turn into 9-patches, 4-patches, HST's, "postage stamp" or checkerboard borders, charm quilts, etc. Then I store these in bins and label them so they are easy to locate and add to easily, until I have enough cut to finish my project. 

I usually put the pattern, graph paper doodle, a picture, or index card containing particulars IN THE BIN with the pieces because I have been known to cut a bunch of stuff then completely forget what I was thinking of.  These bins sort of slide into the UFO category, and I will post about organizing them in the next few days.

Does everyone know about Bonnie Hunter and Quiltville?  She preaches the virtues of "leaders and enders," which are little pieces that are in a little container by the sewing machine, ready to pick up and piece quickly and simply when either starting or stopping a row of piecing. 

Currently, my "leaders and enders" project is piecing together scrappy HST's made with medium or dark scraps paired with light or neutral scraps.  When I get a few pieced, I press them and put them in a bin, labeled HALF SQUARE TRIANGLES, untrimmed and unsquared.  Someday, when I want some scrappy HST's, I will only have to choose some from my bin, resize them, and go!  Yee haw!  It's like a "two-fer" (two quilts pieced at the same time, sort of).

In my previous post (the first in this series about organizing your stash), I mentioned Julie Morgenstern, her amazing book Organizing from the Inside Out , and her Five Steps to Organizing:
  • SORT
We've talked about sorting scraps and containerizing, but not the other three. 

PURGING:  as you sort, it's OK to be picky.  If you know you probably won't use it, put it in a bag with others you don't want and either pass them to a friend, donate to a group doing charity quilts, put them in the free basket at your LQS, or just throw them away. 

ASSIGN A HOME:  think about how often you will reach for these bins or bags, then decide where in your sewing area you should store them.  I access mine all the time, so I want them somewhere I can get to them easily.

EQUALIZE:  this has to do with how you keep your great organizing system going.  Maintenance.  When you lose weight, you don't just simply go back to old habits.  You continue to exercise and eat right to maintain your new goddess body.  Well, there is maintenance to this, too.  (and sometimes it may seem painful like some people approach weight maintenance, but push through can do it!)

I do not always put fabric or scraps away immediately after using them.  I keep some simple containers (open) on the floor under one of my work tables.  I treat these like "in boxes."  When they get "full," I sort and file into my existing containers.  Sometimes I find the need to re-containerize something, or add a second container.

I use one of these bins for new yardage that needs to be washed before adding it too the fabric bin system.  This way I can keep up with what needs to be washed and what doesn't.

Sometimes, a "Scrap Fairy" (and you know who you are!!) will give me a baggie of scraps.  I put it in the filing tubs until I have time to process it into my system.  Easy, easy, easy...and really not painful.

Just a final note about CONTAINERS...don't containerize prematurely.  Sort, evaluate your sewing space, and consider carefully before spending money on something that may not work for you.  I mentioned buying containers at Joann's with coupons, but don't discount garage sales, the curb on trash day, re-use/re-cycle places, and re-purposing things you already have. 

I have built my quilt cave system slowly, over time.  When I do the post about storing tools, you will see LOTS of creative use of "found objects."  Since my sewing space is in my basement, I emphasize function and flexibility over form when putting together my sewing/storage space.  It's fun to make things you have work!  Just don't use any raw wood - wood with no sealer or paint on it.  The natural lignin in the wood will stain your fabric (the same compound that turns paper brown over time).

In stitches,
Teresa  :o)


  1. Wow! I'm utterly speechless. Your organization is amazing.

  2. Thank you for the shout out! It was great seeing how other quilters organize, I know I can always do better, or try something new...because the scraps do NOT go away! :c)


  3. SOO good to see Part 2! This part is what I REALLY need to work on. I have four of the largest tubs FULL of scraps. It's so daunting....but, since I love applique, too, I wouldn't dare throw any of it away. I'm hoping you will motivate me to start organizing those lovely scraps I own. :0)

  4. Teresa, you are without a doubt the Queen of organizing fabric!! From the first time we saw your "cave" at Sew We Quilt till today, I have found no equal to you anywhere in blogland!! I would love to spend an afternoon in your cave and watch you in action!!! None of the so called "big names' in the quilting world would crank my tractor as much as visiting your famous Fabric Cave and organization system!! Whoo Hoo!!! We commented with each other when you posted at SWQ and found out you used to live in Alabama..Auburn, I believe??? I live north of Huntsville!! Have you thought of doing some video series on your organization methods??? Like Leah Day does for Free Motion Quilting??? You could do VERY well my friend...think about it!!! I would actually BUY your videos. DVD's or whatever you wanted to call them. What about a series of UTube videos like they do at the Missouri Quilting Co. series.????
    You're the best!!!!
    Gmama Jane

    1. GREAT idea, Jane! I would buy the videos, too. Go for it, Teresa! :0)

    2. Me too! With this great a cheering squad, how can you go wrong?! LOL

  5. Fantastic! I need to do some major reorganizing. My sewing room includes quilting fabric, smocking and heirloom fabrics and laces and blanks for machine embroidery. Variety and quantity & VERY unorganized.

  6. Oh my goodness Teresa I totally agree with Gmama Jane, you are the Queen of fabric organization!!! I have loved reading all about it and seeing what you do, I am speechless! Oh what I would give for a tour around your incredible room! Ooh yes, a youtube vid would work...xo

  7. Just another great post. I have similar methods - not as large a stash or room, but like to keep on top of the 'containing'.

  8. LOL, I love it!! I have over 10 shoe box size of boxes full of scraps of various sizes - I barely know what is in the boxes because they are stuffed - I keep saying I will cut into squares, strips, ect and I don't - I really need to. When I start a scrap quilt I pull boxes looking for pieces - I need to take a week (or more) and just organize the scraps.Thanks for the motivation.

    1. I had the same problem until I discovered this blog. Between Teresa and Bonnie Hunter my stash is being whipped into shape in a lovely, organised way. I try to grab a few moments when I am doing laundry, or just taking a break to sort a handful of scraps then when I have a nice pile I put them away. It's going great and I know eventually I'll have all the scraps tamed and in their new homes.

  9. You know...I thought that I was organized, until I read this post! Wow - love your system!

  10. Your organization is amazing and inspiring, though I'm sure I will never be even close to your level!

  11. Do you consult? Or, better yet, just adopt me. I'll come on as stash steward.

  12. Wow! You are my hero. Thank you for all the photos and the pep talk!

  13. Makes me dizzy just to look at it!!!! Can you start on mine soon?? :)

  14. I enjoyed myself so much vicariously sorting with you... I didn't want the post to end.

  15. I still say you need to hire out and Seattle needs to be your first stop! I thinkim going to print ut these blog posts and keep re-reading them until they truly sink in or until you come vist (grin).......

  16. You are a queen of organisation and it's so great that you use these scraps because they're so organised.

  17. You have an amazing way of organizing your fabric. Really good ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Wow can you organize me....I would love to be so organized!! You are a true inspiration! Hugs, Mary

  19. Wow! I wish my sewing space was bigger. I love the way you sort all the small pieces.

  20. This is so great! Thank you so much!

  21. It's amazing how organized you are!!!!
    But you have many of every thing. I had never seen so many rulers together, even in a shop! You could put a shop with all your tools and stash...! I envy you!

    Thanks for sharing those wonderful ideas to store.

  22. Thank you for your thorough and clear tutorial. It makes so much sense. I can't wait to get started.


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