Ephemera Dilemma Solved

26 May 2009

Hi everyone,

In this episode of In the Studio with Cate, we address an email from Betty Anderson, who writes:

I have tons of clippings/old mags/postcards/etc/etc/etc

I'd love to see an article on organizing the small pieces of paper that are to integral to our art but a pain in the BUTT to store and retrieve!

Here's my drawer:


Betty sent several more pictures of her drawers stuffed with ephemera, but you get the idea. In fact, you may have drawers--or bins, that look just like this. Fortunately, we know of ways to deal with this problem, based on the many creative solutions we've seen in Studios. There's the semi-organized way and the highly organized way.

Semi-organized: Sort your ephemera by how you use it, such as color, type of paper (like tissue, found papers, vintage, handmade, cardboard), etc. You might want to have subcategories, if you use a lot of images or types of papers (for example, birds, animals, Victorian ladies, labels, postage, and so on). Then, get clear plastic bins to contain each category or sub-category. Label them. This way, you can see what you have and where it is. Whenever you've finished working with the papers, put them back in the bins they came from. When you acquire a new piece of ephemera, immediately put it in the appropriate bin (after admiring it for several minutes.)

Highly organized: This is best if you use a lot of small pieces of ephemera like tickets, old postage stamps, images cut from magazines, etc., or bits of ephemera smaller than the size of an 8 1/2" x 11" page. Get yourself some clear plastic paper protector sheets--some that will hold full sheets of paper and some that are segmented with pockets, such as the ones used for slides, baseball cards, etc. Sort your ephemera by category as described above. Go as crazy with this as you would like, for example, we know some people who not only have a category for bird images, but sub-categories for red birds, yellow birds, etc., and backyard birds, waterfowl, etc. Use the larger protectors for the bigger sheets: say, a full magazine page of flowers or a piece of cardboard with an interesting texture. Then get yourself some loose-leaf binders and assign a binder to each of your categories. Label them. For larger sheets of paper, invest in a set of flat files to keep them orderly (don't forget to sort and label), and a tall plastic or metal rubbish barrel where you can keep rolls, such as wrapping paper. Don't forget to put everything back where it belongs and file it appropriately when it comes in. That's the key (and the hard part.)

Of course, Betty, you must adapt these methods to your own style, type of art, and space allotment. And I'm sure there are other suggestions that our readers would be happy to provide. If you have a suggestion for how to sort and organize ephemera, please leave a comment here.

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pmal wrote
on 26 May 2009 4:07 PM

My husband use to buy wine online and I kept the boxes.  They come with dividers to fit the dozen bottles and are perfect for storing rolls of specialty paper, wrapping paper, contact etc, anything that gets rolled into a tube.  I cut off the top lid but other than that they are perfect.  You can decorate the boxes and tape the dividers in place if they move around.  I don't find that a problem but if you had a lot and were cramming them in it might make them bulge :).  You can fit a few rolls per segment and divide according to colour or paper type if desired.  These boxes can usually be picked up at wine stores as they keep them stacked near the checkouts for customers to use to carry their wine home.  



jperaino wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 6:14 AM

One of my close friends is a collage artist and she uses a file cabinet.  Need a picture of a bird?  Pull out the bird file!  Its simple and it works great!

Joan of Harp wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 6:16 AM

Loose leaf binders are a great way to organize "stuff".  I have several loose leaf binders that I have jammed with inspirational pictures, articles, patterns, techniques, magazine articles, etc.  I put each item/article in a page protector and then I also purchased several sets of tab dividers.  In each binder I have several different categories.  The trick is to keep up with the filing--you need to designate an evening or day to file new items.  You also need to designate a place to put things to be filed in the binders otherwise you will find stuff all over the place and it never does get into a binder!   I find that a Christmas wrapping paper holder -found in the rubbermaid aisle --is a great place to hold larger rolls of paper, fusibles etc.  It can easily be slipped into a closet when you don't need these items.  I find organizing to be almost a never ending task.....and staying on top of it is the key to staying organizing!


Kitty2820 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 6:19 AM

I like the smallish boxes that the grocery store gets their lunchmeat packed in.  They are very sturdy, I decorate them with contact paper and label each one so I know what type of "stuff" I have in each one.  I hate to admit it but I have been known to chose one product over another because of the box it was in!

Stephanie112 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 6:48 AM

I too will be be traveling to Quilting by the Lake for two weeks taking two separate classes requiring many different supplies.  I tend to overpack then find I have way too many items never knowing what I'll truly need.  The cases look like just the thing to get me to organize (not to mention how pretty they are)more efficiently.  The small iron looks like a wonderful take along instead of my usual big bulky iron.

I found many great idea from reading the article and other posts and wend a thanks for all those who took the time to share their tips with your readership.

Happy creating to all,

Stephanie Greenberg


artfox2 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 6:58 AM

I am a retired art teacher as of 2 days ago!  I used the plastic coffee "cans" to keep large papers rolled up.  I would cut out the bottom and then I had a nice large, sturdy ring to put over those large sheets, such as poster board.  


gpsusie wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 7:07 AM

I save clippings in a file folder till I have a day when the spirit moves me to actually put them in page protectors in binders.


Maralyn@2 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 7:10 AM

The divided plastic sheet protectors are an awesome solution for lots of small items -- easily viewed and kept in one place.

shanaann wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 7:39 AM

I love all the great suggestion to help keep things in order,  I really like the idea of an accordian style file folder to keep smaller clippings organized.  I utilize the binders for project that I wanna try.  Alothough I needed to get a bookcase to store these 3 inch binders.   I also printed out the index for quilting arts so I could find articles quicker.  Thanks for the suggestions, very helpful

cmattes wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 7:43 AM

Wow, how old are those S&H green stamps books in the drawer???

A pack rat after my own heart!!!

LaVerne6 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 7:43 AM

I use 5-drawer storage units to store my ephemera. Each drawer is labeled. These (plastic) units have wheels so are easy to move around the work space. They are available at stationery and department stores.

Julie@77 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 8:06 AM

Great conversation!

I'm a runner & save the boxes when I buy shoes. They're all very strong,flip-lid boxes, very uniform in shape & stack beautifully.

Now I just need to label them properly …

on 5 Jun 2009 8:08 AM

I too, have lots of paper around.  I do better if I can sit and read the articles rather than try to read them off the computer.  I do the binders, but put the papers whether they are crafting, sewing or knitting items.

jms in beautiful Pacific Northwest

tiny3 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 8:34 AM


jbear22 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 8:50 AM

ii use wune boxes bur also wine carrier bbags that are divided into 6!


Koomasmom wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 9:16 AM

I recycle shoe boxes and also buy the plastic ones when on sale.  I use a folding clothes rack (the kind you hang your "delicates" on to dry) to hang larger sheets of paper.  The top dowels can be used to slide spools of ribbon onto.  I recycle, and use new, 9 X 12 envelopes to hold smaller bits of treasure.  The side opening kind are really good for this.  I reinforce the sides with tape so they last a long time.  These can be "filed" in desk letter holders if you don't have a filing cabinet.  I've loved the tips I've seen here and hope that mine will help someone else.

Pat Varney wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 9:25 AM


I use the clear plastic paper protectors and folders but sometimes I think I spent too much time organizing and not enought time playing.

I am starting to use the thick file folders that have sealed side for several catagories of material- they are faster and let me play more. It is nice to be able to find what you are looking for quickly but play time is also important.

Pat from Portland

on 5 Jun 2009 9:32 AM

I am a binder fan! Binders are in plain view on the shelf, no hunting through boxes, and the labels are clear on the spine of the binder!  Plastic sheets are inside and dividers are there too, telling me what  section to go to for certain topics!  And, this is a great project to do, late at night over a 1940's movie when you need to keep your hands from wanting to eat ice cream!  Win/win if you ask me!  Not only do I get organized too, but culling somethings out is cleansing.  Thanks Cate for giving us a forum for all these great ideas!  

on 5 Jun 2009 10:01 AM

I found that when I cut out a photos, quilt, art, etc., that once it has disappeared into the abyss of storing them, they're gone. Kaput!  

But the only reason I cut them out is that I loved them to begin with!  So, I stick 'em on the wall next to my bed,

believe it or not, neatly...like a gallery.  And, better yet, I change them regularly. This way I can enjoy!

on 5 Jun 2009 11:30 AM

At the summer workshops with the Oiseaux Sisters in Moravia, NY, Susan showed us her idea for keeping small bits of paper and stuff

She uses inexpensive photo albums (dollar store) and slips the images or bits into the sleeves.  One might collect images in a "Circus Gallery" or Blue Bits Gallery.  I made one for Faces Gallery and Feet/Shoes Gallery.  It is super for collage work.


DarlaDx3 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 12:04 PM

I too use storage units. I also stack them two high and I have also taped to together side by side and put a piece of plywood on top and made myself a taboret. The units are great as they have wheels and you can roll them to the location you are working, or in the case of the taboret I have additional working space and it too can be moved about the room. Thanks for all the other neat ideas.


marciabyrd wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 1:21 PM

I have very limited space in which to work and found stacking plastic drawers that are about three inches deep, three to a unit, and they stack.  I've organized my stash by category and type - I have lots of left over scraps of paper fabric I've made, am a compulsive hoarder of fancy foil wrappers, old stamps, etc. so I have a small drawer unit for those types of tiny pieces.  I also use plastic page protectors in large looseleaf notebooks for storing larger items, and bulky things go in another plastic bin.  I've found that if I am just moderately organized often stirring about in my drawers and bins really sparks my creativity - I'm not a planner.  I have lots of collections, from sea shore items to dried leaves and twigs, and a rather large box of vines that have twined around other branches and have lots of curlicues.  Part of the excitement of creating is digging through boxes looking for that special something that works.

NancyS@120 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 1:39 PM

I have recipes that I have organized in a drawer and ziplock bag with the grouping written on the outside, ie: pork, chicken, desserts, ground beef, and favorites. I decide what to cook by checking the bag. This is for my once-a-week cooking for our kids. Works for me. Other papers have gone in plastic sheets and then stored in large three ring binders.

Nancy in IN

carroll wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 2:44 PM

Love the cheap photo album idea.  I use slip sheets & binders.  For 3D items like buttons, findings etc I use the IKEA shallow pullout drawers with the divider insert as the middle shelves in a cabinet. Then I can see at glance all my trinkets & treasures.



Sam54 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 3:15 PM

I can't wait to try some of these new bags designs. Lately I am really into these. I am making bags for shopping at the grocery store, to b used anywhere. lv them

on 5 Jun 2009 4:09 PM

S&H Green Stamps?  I remember them.  I think I have a book right here if I could just find it.  With Giggles Louise

lovenonna wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 4:10 PM

I use the plastic protector route, especially for patterns and designs and the odd but important notes you make after working one or a brilliant idea that relates to one. They are then organized in the appropriately labeled binders. it WORKS!!!

1camagueyana wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 4:32 PM

I use three-ring binders and adhere with the removal glue the small pieces of paper to colorful typing paper and slip them to plastic protective sheets.  I keep the binders divided by what it is.   Some of the pieces are for inspiration only and in that case I permanently glue them to the paper.  Another thing that works for me are the bags that fisherman use to put the baits in.  These come in different sizes and have plastic bags inside.  I am not talking about the large container bags, these are small and made out of canvas.  I use them to separate items by projects and carry the bag to wherever I am working.  Hope this helps!

quiltlamb wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 5:44 PM

I love the answer to this problem.  I too have alot of ephemera and this has helped me alot.  Must get busy organizing.  Thanks.  Ann Marie

JaneS4 wrote
on 5 Jun 2009 5:45 PM

I bought a cabinet meant to hold stamps.  It has 50 clear acrylic drawers 1" high.  I put in my stamps, Brown Bag Cookie molds, ribbons, trims, jars of paper flowers, and most of all, all the cutouts from magazines for collage and inspiration.  I am still working on the many boxes that I had just kept the full torn-out page and am now cutting them up to the small images I really wanted.  Now I can store them in categories such as Christmas, Santas, angels, landscapes, ideas for texture, etc.

SusanM@198 wrote
on 6 Jun 2009 6:01 AM

Thank you for all the great tips!  I'm almost ready to get started organizing.

bonneylorene wrote
on 6 Jun 2009 11:26 AM

Unfortunately, I don't have a solution; I have the very same problem except that mine has gotten so out of control it has engulfed my whole sewing studio. My husband won't even come in...he says my studio is a safety hazard!!! He is even afraid for me to go in. I'm trying very hard to figure out how to organize this mess so that it is safe and a pleasure to enter but I am overwhelmed by it all. All I can say is HELP!!!!   Bonney

on 6 Jun 2009 3:51 PM

I went to a thrift store and bought a few old record sets that have about 5-6 records inside a cardboard sleeve. Then I buy folders that are the same size and I store my ephemera in the files in those sleeves. You can decorate the surface of the sleeves to match your other things. A few of these can hold a lot of papers. It's easy to find these record sets at sales and thrift shops.

ginnyballou wrote
on 6 Jun 2009 5:58 PM

Wow, I can really relate to this discussion!!  I use category file folders and plastic file boxes but I still spend a lot of time looking for just the right piece.  I'm going to try the Oiseaux Sisters method with the albums.  Organization here I come!!  Thanks all - some great suggestions to a never ending challenge! Ginny in MA

mloudavis wrote
on 7 Jun 2009 6:44 AM

For some of my pictures and paper, I have large notebooks with plastic sleeves so that I can easily see the images.  Works pretty well.  

Still sorting,

Mary Lou

RdL wrote
on 7 Jun 2009 9:36 AM

Look forward to all the ideas that can be interchanged with lots of medium. I knit and find that even paper ideas can be incorporated into knitting even if only by color choices. Thank you.

Motherart56 wrote
on 7 Jun 2009 12:10 PM

WOW some great tips!

on 7 Jun 2009 6:19 PM

I am a fan of the database.  I agree that the ephemera should be put in plastic protectors.  However, once the item is protected, take a colored dot and place it on the plastic sleeve.  Number the dot, and record it in a database.  The database can capture as many or as few characteristics as you want.  You can use Microsoft EXCEL or ACCESS to create the database.  All of the descriptive information is in one place, to be searched sorted, filtered, and so forth.                                                                                                                            

charmin wrote
on 7 Jun 2009 7:23 PM

I have so many things that need to be scrapped together and it's kind of hard to get started! I have so many things running around in my head that I need to get  them down and get started.....Thanks for helping out!

Sandy in SF TN

Christina G. wrote
on 8 Jun 2009 7:36 AM

I used to do Decorative Painting, and needed to store all of the patterns I had to trace by hand. I really didn't want to have to keep tracing the same pattern every time I wanted to paint someting again. I got a small  hanging file organizer and labeled each file with whatever the subject matter was. I got lots of page protectors and filed  them in folders to keep them from damage. You can see everything and they are organized.

elainehunter wrote
on 8 Jun 2009 11:20 AM

I am semi-organized, especially after making a major move, but I am not quite  "there " yet and you have some good ideas on your site. I have a Slyvia craft table with lots of drawers and Ikea cabinets with baskets for my fabrics. The little things need more help.



jstoness wrote
on 8 Jun 2009 1:27 PM

I like clear or wire boxes so I can see contents readily.  I key is returning items to their proper place and not leavong them on your work bench


QE2 wrote
on 10 Jun 2009 8:31 AM

I think the key is in the doing.  Once again I am shoving things around, sorting stuff and shoveling the garbage out.  I'm talking every few years I get 'the urge'.  I never found the cartoons about overflowing stash to be too hilarious so I had set a limit that my STUFF could not be in the car trunk, under beds, and generally spilling over and out.  So it does bother me when I am  into four rooms, not including the basement, and the dust bunnies play with my stuff under the beds.  So every time I edit, I get better organized physically, and mentally.  Now  I am in 2 rooms (not including the basement) and only under 1 bed.  

Everytime I 'edit' I reaquaint myself  with what I have and if I'm liking/using it.  This is good for acquiring new stuff and I am much wiser than when I had to have it ALL.  I also have  better categories and that means more accessability.  When I rearrange I keep what is working and try newer combo's places, accessories.  

Page protectors seem popular.  I shall try them as I know bins/tubs/boxes don't work because I can't see to find.  More stuff then rolls in.  But the clear stacking shelving units now have all of one thing in them and I can finger ribbons, or buttons, etc. when I need.  I agree the sorting/looking sparks all kinds of creative ideas.

Creativity is messy work but messes hamper the flow.  Organizing can facilitate ideas but it can also be the stall; the excuse to actually NOT create something.

It is in the doing that we learn about ourselves, our art and how best to do it!


luckydog23 wrote
on 12 Jun 2009 2:39 PM

My work room is organized at a couple of different levels: specifically colored bins have been set aside for quilting, sewing projects, and art supplies such as painting.  Photographs and magazine pages are sorted into clear coverd totes that can easily be identified from the shelf.  Smaller items like clipped articles and individual cutouts are in binders and colored pendaflex files sorted by subject.   Items that I use frequently such as when sewing are kept together in a small handled tote that I bought at an after Christmas sale.  this tote was originally designed to hold ribbon supplies: scissors in the upper snap section, ribbon rolls in the lower.  It now holds needles, bobbins, and favorite feet for my sewing machine all available at a touch.

arlee wrote
on 28 Jul 2009 7:35 AM

Tool boxes, lots of tool boxes :} I regularly go with my Greyman to auto supply stores (Princess Auto is the best in Canada) and nab my storage there. I use the double sided screws/nails/odd bits carry cases for embroidery threads, fishermen's worm binders for small projects--lots of clear zipped "pages", wooden tool boxes for actual tools and one for metal bits and ephemera, small plastic easy carry tool boxes for specialty threads, large screws cases for sequins and larger beads--they hold the vials and tubes easily and even fit in old film canister cases full of things, and magnetic sets with canisters for easily accessible current project work. My dream though is to have one of those huge red metal tool chests with all the wonderful drawers :}

Colette10 wrote
on 2 Apr 2011 9:00 AM

I find all those plastic bins horrendously expensive when you count how many you need. SOOOO my solution is to collect the clear plastic containers of LEttuce, organic or not, from the grocery stores, -eat the food and save, I have stacks and stacks of these which are so great to sort ribbons, nottions, laces, embellishments etc etc.. Free !!!