How I Organize My Patterns And Sewing Books

I showed you how I organized my fabric stash and now I thought I’d show you how I organize my patterns and sewing books.

Most of the patterns I make and choose to keep are for historic clothing. I choose to keep them so that I can use them as a reference for future garments or so I can reuse them as is. A lot of these are garments that I’ve made for myself, but some are also patterns I’ve made for work. Probably 85% of the patterns I keep are historic or vintage. And probably 90% of my patterns are self-made. (I really like having self-made patterns–I find it easier to see what’s going on when there is only one size on the pattern, no seam allowance included.) Some of the envelopes contain vintage and modern commercial patterns for which I’ve traced off my size for the given garment pieces, sometimes making changes to them as well. At that point, I choose to keep those pattern pieces separate from an original purchased pattern.

Given these factors, I choose to organize my patterns by historic period. I use the post-it notes so I can easily change which folder the label is on. Purchased patterns (of which I only own very few) are stored separately, because there are so few of them.

Each self-made pattern is folded and put into a manilla or recycled envelope. I label the front of each envelope with:

  • the month and year I made the pattern
  • the name of the garment
  • other pertinent information: such as the measurements the garment is made for, whether a mockup of the garment is also in the envelope, and an image or drawing of the garment if possible, etc.
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Each section is also organized chronologically.

At this point, I’ve maxed out the number of patterns I can fit in this one basket, so I’m trying to decide what categories of patterns can be stored somewhere else, and where that somewhere else is… Someday when I have a sewing room I hope to change these over to a filing cabinet.

As for my books, I keep all of my personal books at home and bring them into work only on an as-needed basis. I do this for two reasons: first, that I’m very protective of all books that I own and want them to stay in the best condition possible; and second, that I enjoy seeing these books regularly.

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The books are organized by the type of information they contain, then chronologically, if possible. The binders peeking up from the bottom shelf on the left are all full of notes and samples and other construction-related information. The books on the bottom right are other things including a binder of cooking recipes, wedding research, knitting books, and my Janet Arnold books.

How do you organize your sewing related patterns and books?

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How I Organize My Fabric Stash

As with most people who have a sewing professional life or sewing hobby, I have a collection of fabrics, patterns, and books. Today I thought I’d share my fabric stash organization with you.

As I designed my system, it was important that my fabrics by organized in a way that was easy to access and maintain. I also wanted to know what I have without needing to physically dig through a box to see the yardage. Here is a pictorial walk through the bulk of my storage:

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Fabrics are stored in plastic boxes. There’s more fabrics than will fit in the boxes I currently have, so you can see that there are bags piled on top as well, but even the bags are organized! I have some other boxes as well, but this is most of them.
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The boxes have folded fabrics stacked inside. Fabrics are organized by fiber content. There is a post-it inside each box telling me what categories that box contains.
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The boxes are in a corner, so there is a space behind them for more things! (You can also see some of the fabrics stashed on top of the boxes here, like the reproduction cottons on bolts poking out on the left.)
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I also have some fabrics on rolls. These stand against the wall.
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The area between the boxes in the corner is where I keep items I access less frequently, such as lace and trims. These are organized by type in large plastic bags. The large plastic bags are all contained in one large shopping bag.
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Also in the corner are my millinery flowers. I’ve had multiple opportunities to purchase large numbers of vintage millinery flowers at super cheap prices, so I have lots of them. These only scratch the surface! The flowers are organized by type (if I have tons of the same exact flowers) or color in plastic bags, which are then either contained in plastic boxes or shopping bags (once I ran out of plastic box space!).

When I first made this system, I tried to remember what was in each box. (I don’t label them on the outside.*) As I went along though, opening multiple boxes to jar my memory just wasn’t working out. So I simply wrote a list of which boxes have which categories and stuck it in the front of my swatch book.

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My cheat-sheet box content list.

Ah ha, but I haven’t mentioned my swatch book yet! This is probably the best organizational part of my stash organization. My swatch book is a binder full of information on every fabric and trim that I own (or most of them… sometimes new ones take a bit to make it into the binder). I just add pages as needed to each section as I log new fabrics and trims.

The binder is organized by fiber content for fabric and then by type when it gets to lace and trim. Each item has the following information:

  • A swatch of that fabric or trim
  • A description
  • The yardage I currently own
  • The width of the fabric or trim
  • Where I purchased it and the year (if I can remember)
  • Extra notes
  • And I’ve started adding price paid per yard, though for older items I generally just can’t remember and haven’t gone through my records to figure it out (though I do keep receipts and records of these things)

The random blue and pink post-it bits are marking the pages where I’ve removed one of the fabrics from my stash and brought it home to work on a project. That way I can keep track of what is in boxes and what is at home.

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Page one of the silk section.
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One of the lace pages.

It’s quite a great system, because I can take my binder home with me to consider options and ideas without having to drag out fabric yardage. I can also see at a glance if I have enough of a fabric or trim for a project without having to measure. It did take some time to set this up, measuring everything and taking swatches, but now that it is set up it is very easy to maintain. Even if I stored everything in an easily accessible location I would still appreciate my swatch book system!

*I store all this in my office at work. The room is actually a converted star dressing room, so my desk is a makeup counter. Unlike most offices, where boxes of fabric might be obvious, out of place, or unacceptable, my office is essentially a fabric/trim/jewelry/accessory storage closet even without my personal items, so more boxes and more fabric aren’t out of the ordinary at all, and since it’s technically my office I can store whatever I want in there. Also, I spend very little time in my office and hardly ever do work in there, so lots of space devoted to even more fabric, etc. is not a big deal.) Also, because my “office” is a general storage space with labeled boxes that other people are allowed to access, I choose not to label my personal boxes to make it clear that no one should be digging through them. That’s also why the boxes are opaque.