Sewing Vloggers

Thursday, December 9, 2021

I'm a Stacker, Are You?


 Sewists love to ask each other how they organize their patterns, fabrics and all the other fun goodies associated with our craft. My method is a bit different but it has great flexibility.  This is how I organize my projects. 

Many sewists approach their projects binge style, often taking a day to just cut out a lot of patterns. Then they are faced with the obvious fact that these will not all get worked on in the near future, just maybe one or two. So, now what is the method to keep all these cut pieces, their patterns, their notions all together?

Well, I actually used that method back in the 80s. Cutting binges really made me feel like I was doing a lot of sewing. But I really wasn't. With work I had little time for my favorite hobby.  All those cut pattern pieces and fabrics would go into individual large zip loc bags along with any needed notions like thread and buttons, etc. The actual pattern envelope would sit inside, with the cover facing out so that I knew in an instant  what project was in there.  Each bag was a dream almost realized. They were then put in a milk crate to be worked on as soon as I was able. This made me feel like I was on my way and getting it done.  I tried to work on the most needed garment first. But then a work event, or an unexpected social affair would popup and I would pull out one of the zip locs and start a new project off and shove everything back in the zip loc on the project I  had already started and needed. Time was sparce.  The frustration would build. Newer fabrics and patterns would beckon and I would succumb.

This method really didn't work for me and may not for you but it may be your best option. I get that but hear me out. 

Demands would come and go,. Those zip locs would travel down to the bottom of the milk crate, even get forgotten. I needed that other project NOW.  I had to go buy another milk crate. Maybe if I separate the bags by season in the milk crates. One for winter, one for summer. Yes, I was feeling brilliant and back to sewing. 

Another frustrating drawback with this method was fabric, just awesome, gorgeous fabric. Those were the days of several Mom and Pop fabric stores in my area and they had access to the garment district's best and the prices were so enticing... and I had this party... and I really really would have the perfect outfit if I bought that plaid I saw... and It wouldn't take that long to sew and I could get it done this weekend and,,,and,,, and,,, another shiney new object would get cut and maybe even made for that event but now another got shoved in the milk crate. Was it winter or summer? 

One day I wanted to work on one of my old projects, purely out of guilt. I didn't even like it any more. I just knew it would let me be free to move on if I got it sewn and worn. I couldn't even find it. Buying, cutting, ziplocs, no time, oh, my......This had to stop and it did. 

On my next day off I went through my bags and literally threw most of them out. They had marinated so long that most I didn't even want any more. Oh, the shame and guilt but those bags staring at me were even worse. They were all chucked except the one I was working on. Oh, I would have gladly given them away but could find no one, my size, who could even sew, never mind want my dated choices of often difficult Vogue designer patterns. I swore then and there I would never let this happen again. 

I haven't. 

My pledge, which I have stuck with for years now, is to only work on one garment project at a time, from cut to last press and then wear. My sewing is far more enjoyable for it and definitely more productive and less guilt ridden. 

In the first picture above you can see my system. I will admit, I have the space to work this system. This home had a great sheetrocked heated basement set up for work by the electrician who owned it. He built an 8 foot work table, bolted to the floor and wall with shelving underneath. (Why?)  Love it.  This became my cutting table. I also had a great light over it. I had one of the 5 or 6 foot Joann cutting tables that fold down. I placed that at the end of the 8 ft work table, in an L shape, and that is where I work my "system" of no ziplocs.  When I have a specific project planned the fabric is prewashed and pressed, grain straightened and folded nicely.


This project has 4 fabrics in it. I plan to do a boro jacket with all the fabrics. Under the pattern are several threads as well as sashiko needles and  a paintbrush for some inks I will be using. I can stare at my stack as I work on other projects, swap the actual pattern or fabrics. I have changed the pattern  on this 3 times already. Staring at it in my mindful moments lets me do that. This palette is working even when I am not and I love that I have access to it and can change it on a whim. I can disassemble the project and move all the parts back to their regular homes if I tire and feel i won't really get to it that it was just a fabulous pipe dream. It was fun having it live in my imagination for a while. Maybe something more interesting has come along. Nothing cut, no time or money wasted. Love this. It works for me. It can be disassembled and reassembled months later and projects have and been sewn.


You can see other stacks on this fold up table as well. Will the next start be the quickie MimiG turtleneck or will I start the boro project? I watch my stacks every day and move and change and make decisions, but nothing is lost, spent or become a chore or a bore.  So very flexible!!! and my creative juices are always flowing with my stacks working silently next to me. 2 weeks ago there were 6 stacks on here. If I am bored or the sewjo is down, I go looking for more stacks to put together.

This method is also a reminder of what is cooking in my brain. It's not parked away in a tote somewhere or a milk crate. If I don't see something I don't create with it.  I like my goodies and my projects out in the open. That has always been my inspiration. If they need to be in closed, stacked totes, I have too much, and am a hoarder, just my personal opinion about how I buy and sew. 

At the bottom left of the folding table you can see a rather messy bunch of stuff, not quite a stack. Its my sheet pan and holds my current project. I learned this trick a long time ago but only recently started using this technique and I am hooked. I took a class from a great dressmaker and professor at UNH in the textile program some years back. She taught us to put all our cut pieces on a cookie sheet or tray as soon as they were cut. Whenever they need to be moved the slightest, you moved the whole tray, not the fabric pieces. She also never stay stitched. She claimed with  the tray method and care you did not need to and that the act of stay stitching only stretched out your fabric more. I know, controversial. Anyway, I like the tray habit.  My room is large so I walk over to my machines and my ironing station and can just lift up the tray and not have to handle the fabric unnecessarily. I recommend. I like the way everything is organized on the tray as well. 

This is my system that after many years and now being blessed with a lot of non-gorgeous but highly functional space I find works best for me. I did do the same in my last sewing room which was smaller but kept it down to one or two in there. I would make other stacks that I would put on a shelf on the Rubbermaid unit where my fabric was shelved in an adjoining basement area. I guess it's sort of like sewing the garment but not really. It works for me. What is your method? Are you a Zip-loc-er? A multi-project sewist? A binge cutter? How does it make  you feel? Does it matter?Fess up and share! Happy Sewing.............Bunny 




31 comments:

  1. I also lay out future projects in a similar fashion, though I am envious of your large table. I make do with a card table. I have a long, written list of projects, and set out the next 3 or 4. Inevitably something comes up to jump the line: emergency Halloween costumes, Christmas presents, charity needs.
    So some of my plans may be put off until another season. I do not cut ahead of time. I may have changed sizes, or the fabric may be calling to be something else in the interim.
    I like the tray method you use and will be looking for some. Trays would also be useful for keeping quilt pieces sorted.
    I noticed your container of stones. Do you use them as pattern weights?
    Happy sewing!

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  2. Yes, those are my pattern weights. They are stones from the cove my Sis lived on for many years in Maine. Great memories walking the beach with her there. As for my table, when we went to look at the house, one of countless "looks" I saw this room and that table, all the outlets he put in, all the lighting and SOLD! I figured anything else we could fix and it was a very fixer upper home but we did it. It is not beautiful but it is comfortable and very functional. Thanks for your comments. I hadn't thought of the size changes that could ensue while waiting to get to those UFOs. Thanks for bringing that up.

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  3. Oh, I have had a similar experience, everything cut, ready to go, set aside. Like a dog chasing a squirrel, there was always something new to tempt me. I stopped doing that several years ago for the same reason. I did donate my bags to the Salvation Army annual sale here, marked with sizes etc. Every bag was snatched up for a fraction of the cost of the contents inside. But, it was moving on, where it needed to go.

    Now I use a similar system. I do not pre-cut. When I work I keep cut pieces in a tray and/or on a small table in front of my main machine. I have 3 large plastic drawers (about 2 inches deep) from a discarded wheeled cart that I will stack in front of me with the next 2 project planned. It gives me time to consider the plan, the project, the time element. The 3rd drawer collects scrap fabrics large enough to keep, thread to be returned to their storage area and misc. like elastic, zippers etc. I try to clean up the work area after each session and that third drawer helps me with that. Thanks for sharing. Process is so important for productivity.

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    1. Love your last sentence. It is one of those rules of creativity that takes a long time to sink in. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  4. Great read - thank you. I get so frustrated by having to "look" for everything so anything that keeps me organized is a real plus. My best tip I have adopted from a much more organized sewist than me is to put all your pattern pieces as you use them under your cutting mat. Simple but oh what a time saver. I also have a long heavy weight plastic refrigerator box that I keep next to my cutting surface. It contains all items that I will need for that project. Now nothing gets lost or very little gets lost and I am a much happier sewist !

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    1. Thanks for your great tip. It's all about happy sewing.

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  5. Binge cutter here -- but I binge cut several garments in the same colorway. I work a little bit on all of them, as I railroad pieces through my machine. Then I can "binge press." Takes a little longer to finish an individual garment than doing them one-at-a-time; but when I finish I have several things that will all work together.

    I have two unfinished bags o' dreams right now. One has a short-sleeved tee that I won't need until spring. The other has a dress that will want some stenciling on all the pieces before I sew it up. That one will have to wait until after Christmas to find room on the work table.

    I like your system, too.

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    1. Thanks. I've seen many sewists work by the colors threaded in their machines.

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  6. I'm a one project at a time kind of person, but sometimes I keep the finishing touches of two or three at a time. It's easier sometimes this way for me. Thanks Bunny for your wonderful tips I learn a lot from you .

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  7. I do something similar, generally stacking a pattern with some fabric. Often I find I change my mind, but since nothing is cut then no harm no foul. I like the idea of stacking works in progress on a tray. I could even stack them on the floor if there's no room on any of the other surfaces.

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    1. My tray is a half sheet cake pan. I was able to get a deal on a pack of two. I rarely make a half sheet cake but needed to for an event. I took the other for my sewing needs. I like the rimmed edge as it keeps thread spools and such inside.

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  8. I have rarely batch cut for the same reason you decided to stop. The only exception was when I was stash busting my late MIL's quilting stash and making funky swirl skirts for the high school clothing bank. Then I cut, assembled and sewed in several marathon sessions but it worked for that. Now I pull patterns, fabric, etc and put in a big ziploc bag for future cutting. I only cut when I am ready to start sewing. And like you, the patterns and fabric may change as the sew jo takes me. I like the idea of the sheet pan. I saw a blog (can't remember who) of a stitcher that used a cafeteria rack with trays like the ones at IKEA in the lunch room. That looked like an excellent way to keep track of projects.
    Theresa in Tucson

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    1. That sounds positively awesome. I worked in a bakery once, lasted two weeks! But those rolling racks would have been wonderful. Thanks for your comments.

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  9. Absolutely a member of Team One-Project-At-a-Time. My other projects and project ideas "reside" on The List, an old fashioned hard copy typed list. I keep The List updated with new ideas and priorities, and have become very disciplined about sticking to it.

    I've never tried the sheet pan as a gentle way to move cut fabric pieces. I am very, very careful as I handle cut pieces, and hardly EVER staystitch. (I thought I was the only one, but now that you've mentioned it, I'll 'fess up.) Sometimes I'll staystitch a vulnerable edge immediately before using the piece in construction, but otherwise it's just "light hand" and let the cut pieces sit undisturbed until needed.

    (Note: I am fortunate to have a dedicated sewing space with a large cutting table and a separate large surface next to my ironing board. I totally get how easy this makes my approach. Especially for those who don't have this space, the sheet pan idea is downright brilliant.)

    P.S. When I see a post from Bunny in my morning blog feed, it makes my day!

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    1. That's so sweet, SilverMom. Thank you so much. I always hesitate, myself, to tell people I hardly ever stay stitch. We'll make it our little secret.

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  10. I'm solidly on "Team One At A Time". I finish a piece even if I'm not happy with it. (Many have become favorites.) An exception would be a toile for a summer top, but I guess that's the point!
    The rimmed tray idea looks like a game changer for me.

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    1. It took me a while to jump on the sheet pan bandwagon but I am so glad I am there now. I admire your persistence. So many quit when there is still much potential.

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  11. also on Team One at a Time over here....and the sheet pan is a brilliant idea.

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    1. Credit goes to that teacher, not me. It is quite smart.

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  12. Bunny, I pretty much follow your method for many of the same reasons. I like to be able to change my mind about what I want to sew next. If I have things precut then sewing seems like a job (I have a work queue), and that doesn’t feel very fun. I have enough of those pressures at work & don’t need them in my hobby. I work on one project at a time and I change plans when I want to, and that seems best for me.
    Right now, I have a lovely wool fabric (which I’ve had for several years) sitting on my sewing table, along with the lining & muslin fabric. My plan is to start sewing a coat in January. I finally chose a pattern about a month ago, and that is sitting right on top. I think about it every time I go in there to sew. But just last week I was going through one of my Burda magazines and spotted a pattern that I think would be better. I can easily make the switch – I haven’t made my muslin or cut any fabric yet. I like the flexibility.
    I like the tray method suggestion and am going to try that.

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head with your job analogy. So much that. The stack method is just so much more fun and your switching out your coat pattern like I have done for the boro project just gives such a fun creative tickle when you do it!

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  13. Now you know I'm a cut pile believer. BUT and this is a huge but, I'm just coming back around to this method of sewing because like you I ended up throwing out bags of fabric and cut patterns when my size changed, I got bored etc. So I respect your one at a time projects. While marveling that this is working for me. One more thing, I try to add diversity to my cut pile so if I don't feel like sewing one item now, something else in the pile will satisfy me. The great thing about sewing is that what works for me, may not work for you but we all get to work in the craft that we all adore.

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    1. Absolutely. I totally recognize that we all have different work styles and if it works it works. As far as diversity, I do have hand work that provides that for me or some projects like beadwork that I will switch with. I'll switch out with those. You definitely need diversity to prevent burnout/loss of sewjo. Thanks for checking in, Carolyn.

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  14. I'm a one at a time sewer. I *might* pull out a 2nd pattern/fabric combination at the same time, but I do not cut it out. Too many times I got derailed and the cut out but unsewn garment would no longer fit. Or I changed my mind. I'm similar with my quilting and needlework projects too. If I have too many projects kitted up, I feel like I'm not getting anything done, just flailing away on them. Odd how seeing those piles and boxes of un-sewn fabrics and patterns in the closet doesn't have the same effect.

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  15. Yes, I love a new post from Bunny. You always challenge my thinking and creative possibilities always abound after reading. Like Carolyn my sewing has evolved. I used to be solidly in the one project at a time, but now cut more at once. It depends on what is happening at work as I use sewing as my stress buster. Like others I do not stay stitch, my grandmother was a tailoress and was very stern on how to handle fabric and it was rare that she stay stitched. I often find myself nodding when reading of how particular you treat patterns and fabric. Enjoy the festive season and I look forward to reading more of your creative journeys.

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  16. I am trying to break the habit of starting and not finishing. I usually try to make myself something, over-fit it to the point of somehow messing it up, then setting it aside. I have so many started and unfinished projects, all in bags, of course! The last thing I started for myself was over a year ago (!!!) and it is hanging on my dress form. I absolutely adore the fabric and I made a huge mess of it. The other night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I came up with a plan to salvage what fabric I can and make a slightly modified version of the dress to wear to my daughter's February beach wedding. I plan to attack that after Christmas! I will not let myself start anything else for me until something is done with that fabric!!

    I do make a list of what I want to make, and review and update it every month, but gosh I get side tracked all. the. time. The kids ask me to make something (mask mandate reinstituted in Boston, and that family needs more masks, etc.), the grandkids ask me to make something, I've discovered machine embroidery and it is so fun and not as hard to get a finished project out... Looking at my list from January 1st 2021, I have finished a whopping 7 things on that original list, yet I've done a total of over 200 finished items this year. I do try to finish what I start, but I obviously start and finish a lot of what pops up!!

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  17. You named the problem with cutting out more than one or two pieces at a time: boredom! Or I need something but it isn't what I am sewing or have cut out. Your method is much more controlled. I even have the top of a flat file that would be perfect for your method, and I have to walk by it to get to the side of the cutting table I use. Of course it has to be cleaned off! I have thrown out plenty of cut out fabrics too. Such a waste!

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  18. I've done this now with my Christmas projects and it is GREAT to see the empty places on the table! I have to admit, I do sometimes move from one project to another, but I like to have a hand project and machine project going PLUS always a "side project" that just has to get made.:-) Thanks for your posts, Bunny, I really enjoy them. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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  19. I find binge cutting and ziplock baggiing helps immensely.

    Since most of my projects are historical (historical reenactment in a wide range of periods) they don't go out of style (out of that size, yes, out of style no) and many of them are for dolls (lifelong doll enthusiast), which dont change size, it means I have a stock of ready-to-sew projects in their ziplock baggies all ready when I feel the urge to flit (butterfly crafter, flitting from project to project) to a fresh new project as an as-yet-unfinished older one becomes stale and unappealing, or hits a point where the next stage requires more brainpower than I currently have available, or whatever.

    What I need is a reliable method of getting me restarted on the many many crates of abandoned unfinished projects. I've been known to start and finish an entirely new project (or more) just to avoid having to pick up and restart an unfinished one that got put aside. The curse of the butterfly crafter.

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