How to Sort Fabric Art Scraps – Or Not

The other day someone asked me how I sorted all the scraps I use for my fabric collages. I laughed ruefully and said, "I sort them by color in drawers."

fabric art studioWhy the rueful laugh? Because, in reality my scraps are in a big pile on my studio floor.

And why is that, you ask? Here's the main reason: Laziness!

When I sew at my machine, I snip and automatically let whatever is in my way fall to the floor. I didn't realize how hard it was to break myself of this habit until I was on the set of "Quilting Arts TV" last year and found myself doing it on camera . . . embarrassing, but true!

I do clean up the small threads and scraps (saving some of them for my collaged nests and other scrappy projects), but I often wait until I am done with the current project to do so.

When I'm not in the throes of a project, I store my scraps for collaging (usually small, less than 6" square) by color in clear shoe totes and wooden clementine boxes. I can easily rearrange them on shelves or in the cabinet drawers in my studio.

jane lafazio's fabric art studioMy most precious scraps are arranged by type of fabric and stored with the yardage pieces. Antique kimono bits sit right next to larger pieces so I can easily find them. Felted wool, no matter the size, is all together as well, as is my collection of plaid. (Yes, I have a plaid collection. Don't you?)

These methods work well for me (except on a TV studio set), but I'm always curious to see how other fiber artists store their quilting fabric and collage bits. I was especially excited to open up the Spring 2012 issue of Studios magazine and see a fresh crop of creative spaces, including that of Jane LaFazio and Annabelle Ozanne.

It was interesting to see that Jane works in a similar drawer-and-worktable kind of arrangement as I do. Annabelle's studio is dreamy, and beautifully tidy like mine is–in my dreams.

Because my studio floor is so often covered in fabric and thread snippets, I don't pay that much attention to it. But the next time I sweep up I'm going to give it some careful consideration. The Spring 2012 issue of Studios offers many ideas on how to create decorative and functional floors, many on a DIY budget.

P.S How do you sort and store your fabric pieces, especially scraps and snippets? Share your success, or failures, in the space below.

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29 thoughts on “How to Sort Fabric Art Scraps – Or Not

  1. Yes, of course I have a plaid collection! I have big bins of fabric sorted in various ways meaningful to me and shelved on a specially built rack. One bin is “woollen scraps”, one is “flannelette”, another “cotton” since they are useful in piecing.

    I used to do theatrical costuming. I would pull stacks of fabrics I thought useful for a given production at the beginning of a show. While in construction, I would toss all remnants and scraps into a bin labelled for that show until I was finished in case I needed co-ordinates, matching, mending, design changes . . . whatever. After the show I would sort everything back into its proper bin . . . eventually. (After I retired, I had a bin marked “Rocky scraps” from my last production for years!)

    While sewing or – worse – serging, I have a wastebasket nearby and aim threads and scraps toward it but I am not OCD. The floor gets vacuumed weekly. The studio has a wide, “distressed” board floor and the older section, over the downstairs den, has shrunken, leaving fairly wide cracks through which pins, needles, threads and the occasional small scraps have been known to flutter down, amusing the cats.

  2. Our experimental art group, the Spirit Sisters have been working with fabric scarps at the moment. We have actually been making greenpieces with recycled material. The substrate is a brown paper grocery bag that has been covered with acrylic medium. Then the fabric scraps are pieced together creating the desired design continuing to use the medium as with collage. By the time all the layers are done and the piece is finished, the bag feels like wonderful soft leather. The color of the bag is a wonderful background or can be completely covered. I have even done one piece using the side with the printing from the store on it that showed through in places. All 5 of us are coming up with our own approach to this challenge and as always, we find it so exciting to see how differently we all “see the world” using the same materials.
    Stephanie Kolman,

  3. Don’t feel too bad,my happy place is most definately not super organized or tidy either. But I’ve always been told that creative minds are rarely tidy so there you go!My scraps however seem to be an exception-there is some reason in the rabbit hole!! I use computer paper or bankers type boxes,the kind with the separate lid and shoe or boot boxes. I picked 2 patterns of contact paper and covered all the boxes so they look good sitting out in the open. My sorting system is rather loose,”fancy” fabric-satin,etc has it’s own box,really small’crumb size’ pieces also have their own space.Beyond that I press all the pieces,cut off the strings,put a little potpourri in the box and use as the mood strikes me.Hope this helps at least a little!

  4. No plaids for me – too many sewn men’s shirts in my past. I keep scraps that I really like or that I think will work in the color palette that I normally use. The rest I put in a large bag or box and send off to a friend who makes the most incredible scrap quilts for charity. I send her anything that is 1 1/2″ wide and larger as she uses string piecing quite a bit. Some of the larger scraps go back with the larger piece of fabric, like your system, and the rest go in a plasctic box with a lid. I don’t feel the need to keep my studio space that tidy. I usually clean up between projects so that all work spaces are once again available. Thanks for bringing up this subject. I like to see what people do with scraps.

  5. Is there a problem with the floor? Mine is a very colorful soup of beads, fibers, pieces of fabric! I do try to periodically sort them into their appropriate bins, but who has time to clean up during the creative process?

  6. When I do fused applique, I save the fused back scraps in a bin and when the grandchildren come to visit, they cut them up, put them on a background until they like the arrangement and then we iron it all down as a fabric collage. Their first projects used ideas from the Snippet Sensations book by Cindy Walter but after that, their youthful imaginations took over! LOTS of fun.

  7. Oh I’m anxious to read everyone’s comments on this! I have a ton of scraps, UFO’s and everything quilt related. We just moved into our new house and my sewing studio is an open loft that measure 20x24ft. Never having all of my sewing stuff in one room before I am at a complete loss on how to store this stuff. My budget is EXTREMELY tight and with this being an open loft, it can be seen from the main living area of the house and I don’t want it looking messy. Right now I have some plastic shoeboxes and totes everywhere but I would like to find a way to make those look neater. P.S….I store my scraps by size…mostly and then I have my yardage labeled with the size but nothing is sorted there at all.

  8. While in the midst of any project, I keep a bag or a bowl on my cutting table to collect any pieces too small to make a decent-sized quilt square–or part thereof. (My latest favorite receptacle is an oblong bowl with ceramic birdies perched on ths side.) Whenever I have some down time, I sort. Some long strips and selvages get wrapped into fabric balls; some others end up in a little hanging basket outside for birds’ nest materials (NEVER offer them thread or really thin strips that can wrap around babies’ legs or necks). And then I have another box dedicated to really colorful small pieces I’m collecting for art collages. Everything else goes into a tin tub next to the cutting table–not sorted by size or color or anything, just available in case I need a scrap.

  9. I do a lot of strip-pieced quilting, so most of my scraps are the ends of strips – pieces that weren’t quite long enough to use in the block. I sort them into six 12″ x 12″ x 2″ drawers by width (2.5″+, 3.5″+, 4.5″+ 6.5″+, 9″-13″). I have warm colors on one side of the drawer and cool colors on the other side. A roll of paper divides the sides and adjusts easily. Also I keep a grocery bag where I toss smaller bits, maybe 1″ to less than 2.5″ wide, as well as any fabric scraps that I don’t care to work with anymore. The bag is donated to my church yard sale or to Binky Patrol. Anything smaller than 1″ goes in the trash.

  10. My problem when dealing with scraps is color — what categories should I use? When does blue-green shift over to green-blue? Does the blue-ish purple go in the bin with purples or blues? Does a bright terra cotta go in the brown bin or the one with oranges? (or burnt orange!). Should I have 5 groupings, or 7, or ….ACK! And this doesn’t even start to deal with neutrals! I’ve tried the cold/warm method, and just using values, but that doesn’t seem to work for me. And size too gets to be a problem — sometimes I just put a smaller container inside the larger bin for tiny bits. That works, sort of.

  11. I am primarily a fabric artist and therefor treasure all scraps, many of which are given to me by my quilter friends. We travel south from Canada to AZ every fall and I bring my scraps with me, condensed as small as possible to avoid irritating the car packer! I sort my scraps by colour, in good quality Zip Lock bags that can be compressed for transport. Regarding the tidyness factor, who can stop the crative process to sort in mid stream? Never going to happen. I make a terrible mess until its time to sew, then I clean up so I can find my machine and work space! I find a lint roller very effective for picking up threads and bitty bits off the carpet

  12. Once I cut into any fabric I put the scraps and pieces in a small zip lock bag and place them in the appropriate labeled bin. My bins are clear and I have labeled them by color. I don’t have a lot of orange so I put my orange and yellows together. I immediately know that the fabric is leftover because it’s in a baggie.

  13. I sort much of my fabric scraps the same way you do, but I do have an additional idea to share. I keep all my solid-ish hand-dyed/batiks in card collection boxes. They’re big, shallow boxes for big collections of baseball cards, etc. They have horizontal dividers and I sort my color groups in these boxes. These fabrics I use mainly for landscapes/portraits and it’s really nice to have them out on my work table as I’m designing. These boxes are available at comic book and card shops (or steal them from your kids like I did!)

  14. ** One should never own more Stash than they can hope to use in one lifetime** I hope to have 9 lives as a cat might..

    I was not so recently gifted not only my sisters stash and my mothers stash, also my neighbors mom ‘s gifted storage unit plus very dear to me crochet hooks with tip covers..
    With a plan of moving into a new home in a different province I began taming my Feral Stash a number of weeks ago.. I bagged matching fabrics for quilting, I sorted yarns then bagged them according to color and or project UFO. It’s all coming together, I now remember where I last saw the particular item! In a little bit of time I will have a room all my own in a new home, the room at 9 ft x 9 ft will have a wall full of cubbies, just big enough to fit certain totes.. I hope to fit all my feral and not so Feral stash in it.. A folding banquet table will become my cutting table, my sewing table will fit under a window.. as for the clean up, it drives my hunny MR Vacuum crazy on some days; he so dislikes the idea of scraps being tracked to other rooms and especially finding a straight pin underfoot.. (in foot?) oh my plan as I put those totes in their new home will be to paste a photgraph of the contents on each tote.. Am I ever looking forward to being this organised! The room shall have a door I will just close it weile I’m deep in a project.. A photo of this new room will arrive as soon as it is built!
    Happy Valentines Day.. Sandra ♥

  15. I hate having bunches of “stuff” around so once I cut into a piece of fabric, I finish it off. I cut the scraps into the largest possible pieces from 5″ x 5″ on down to 2″ x 2″. I store the small pieces in clear plastic shoe boxes with a size card on the end of the bin. I slide the bins onto a shelving unit.. If I need a quick gift, the pieces are probably already cut …

  16. I store most of my scraps, ribbon, yarns, wool scraps etc in interesting baskets on a 1 x 9 inch shelf that is about 10 inches from the ceiling around the entire tinly room I have for all my creative fiber art work. The baskets are easy to get down to eye level and add texture to the folded fabric and books that also acompany the shelves. Some of the baskets with handles are too tall so I hang them from cup hooks attached to the bottom of the shelves. Makes for a fun “studio”. The thing I have learned is when you move from larger to smaller and yet smaller spaces, you have to be extremely creative on sorting, keeping and storing all the precious items needed in your art/craft work.

  17. I sort my fabric s by folding the bigger pieces like fat quarter up and put them on
    my shelves. The smaller pieces I sort and cut into 2 1/2 in squares, then 2 in,
    then 1 1/2 and sort those in containers. I cut 2 1/2 in strips if possible. Then other
    narrower strips I save to make clothesline baskets etc. The salvage I keep in my
    garage to tie garbage bags with. I try to used every possible thread of my
    material. I like to read how other people do their spaces also. I sew all things,
    quilts, clothes, just starting mixed media, home dec. I love it all!

  18. Vivika,
    First of all, I must admit, I have a Fabric Room! My fabric is stacked from floor to (almost) ceiling in bookcases. The majority is color-coded, but some “collections” are sorted by theme – Halloween, Christmas, butterfly, trains, etc. My grown daughters call it “The Store” when they come over to raid it!
    I hardly ever buy Fat Quarters (I might run out!), but I do store most of my scraps in clear containers. But one of my favorite ideas is to store cut strips in plastic silverware organizers. It keeps them neat & you can have a tray for each different size strips.

  19. I am fortunate enough to have a sewing room that should have plenty of space! My cutting table is made from an old Civil War era sqaure grand piano. Under it is my boxes of garment fabric and a rolling cart that holds my thread, machine embroidery hoops, stabilizers, etc. In the closet are boxes of my quilting fabrics. I use paper storage boxes for the big chunks of fabrics. and sho boxes for strips of 3″, 2 1/2″, 2″ and 1 1/2″ . At the end of every quilting project, I cut all my leftovers into strips, 4 1/2″ squares, 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ squares and 4 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ rectangles. I have found that those sizes allow me to jump into a quilting project on a moments notice. I also have a box that I throw odd shaped strips that are at least 1- 1 1/4″ wide for making string blocks and have ended up with several quilts from throwaways. I do admit to pitching anything smaller than a 2 1/2″ square. My biggest problem in my sewing room is I also love to read and I love to read anything and everything about sewing, quilter and needlecraft so I have 3 bookcases in the sewing room that are completely full and 2 more bookcases have snuck on over to the bedroom and gotten filled up too. Not sure what I’m going to do now and I just keep collecting books and magazines. I have bad arthritis and many times for weeks on end I can’t sew, so I like to read about sewing. I also have a dresser filled with patterns, and other sewing supplies. I think I could control the chaos if I stuck to one or two sewing things, but I makemy own clothes, quilt, make charity projects, embroidery and other craft items

  20. A tip I learned long ago when sewing anything: Take a small paper bag, and tape it onto the table where you sew, right at your right hand. When you cut the threads, or trim anything, it goes right into the little brown bag, and helps keep things tidy.

  21. A tip I learned long ago when sewing anything: Take a small paper bag, and tape it onto the table where you sew, right at your right hand. When you cut the threads, or trim anything, it goes right into the little brown bag, and helps keep things tidy.

  22. After losing a special piece of fabric and later finding it in a box marked “Lamp Shades” I knew I had to organize. I purchased a large nunber of 12″x15″by10″ colorful cardboard storage boxes. Starting with box #1, I folded my fabric to fit, and snipped a small sample as the piece was placed in the box. The sample is adheared to a 2″x1″ card, notated with the yardage, width and box number. The card is mounted in a loose-leaf binder according to color, or a specific use. The boxes are stored in numerical order on steel utility shelves along one wall of the basement guest bedroom (seldom used), with an attractive curtain mounted over the front. There 12 boxes on each shelf unit, and 4 units. I know, Iknow–my children tell me it is a sickness and I need to join a support group! I am no longer allowed in a fabric store unless I am on a leash. My quilts in progress are in medium size clear plastic containers stashed on shelves on one wall of my sewing/craft room. My “snippets” are presently all in one box, but must be organized soon before the task becomes overwhelming. I am thinking of photo boxes when they are on sale at the craft stores.

  23. I sort my scraps by size and by color theme. I am currently using up scraps from a large project to make a crazy quilt so I am using up my tiny snips all the way up to 3 inch strips. As I trim I try to keep my remainders sorted by size so I can build from the smaller pieces. Goal is to end up with no tiny pieces.

  24. I sort my scraps by size and by color theme. I am currently using up scraps from a large project to make a crazy quilt so I am using up my tiny snips all the way up to 3 inch strips. As I trim I try to keep my remainders sorted by size so I can build from the smaller pieces. Goal is to end up with no tiny pieces.

  25. I sort my scraps by size and by color theme. I am currently using up scraps from a large project to make a crazy quilt so I am using up my tiny snips all the way up to 3 inch strips. As I trim I try to keep my remainders sorted by size so I can build from the smaller pieces. Goal is to end up with no tiny pieces.

  26. I too have a plaid collection. I love this little article and it made me laugh. Sorting by color always brings up the question about: Does this pattern have more pink than red and which color does it belong with (as and example). Being an ex doll designer and working with miniatures makes it hard to toss out scraps, however I too set the size to about 4″ to 6″ square.
    I began rolling the fabric up and keeping it in boxes that I could see the top of each roll. I keep all felts, leathers and special textures separated. I hang ribbons and trims on a dowel when I actually use my cold little work space.
    When I had an actual studio, I loved the snip and fall method, as it really does save time, unless you have a cat or dog in the room with you.
    Using see through plastic boxes is the best for quick picking.
    I think anyone who works with fabric a lot will testify to the use and pile methods that happen because some ideas only last a moment in the mind and a slow day is for sorting.
    I use ziplocks for the small scraps, also sorting by color.
    I also have a recycled fabric section for any fabric from clothing that can be reused due to texture, colors, pattern or otherwise and I use to separate by what the fabric could be used for, from backing to cutting out pieces like butterflies or anything.
    And finally, there are times when my workshop is organized and times when it is chaos. If the work area is chaos, creative juices are flowing and it is more important to keep that going than to clean up. I also have a good memory and know what I have on hand….even if I cannot always find it.
    Cali Wild Violet Creations

  27. You could probably create a contest for a collage, created from ‘Workshop Floor Collections”….It might be hard to regulate, but it might also be interesting. Take a photo before a project begins in a day and at the end of a day…or a longer time period, photo prior to clean up. List the items that are being used in the collage and add a small list of other items that can be randomly chosen to add to the collage if needed, such as stiffener, fusible webbing..or some limited embellishments… …who knows, what might develop from that pile of discarded creative fury…

  28. I’ve had all my fabric stored by color like a rainbow on glass shelves mounted on store display white grid shelving but I’ve found that when everything is stored so perfectly it inhibits my spontaneous creativity because I don’t want to disturb how neat everything is! I have seven white Elfa drawer units and have moved my fabric collection into these units with the baskets which are lined up along a wall by colors like the rainbow. I think it is easier to be truly creative when you can just “root around” to find the exact piece you want without having to refold each piece after playing around to find what might work for your project.