Organizing a Fabric Swap

Fabric swap - cotton wovens

In March I organized my first fabric swap for the Bay Area Sewists, a meetup group originally founded by Meg of Made By Meg. I took over as organizer of the group in January and we had our first meetup in February, a pattern swap at the Berkeley Public Library’s Community Meeting Room. You can read about that here. (If you’re a resident of the city, your group or organization can use the library’s meeting room space for free.)

I thought I’d share a couple of things I learned about putting together a fabric swap. Once you have a venue (make sure there are plenty of tables!), tell folks to organize their fabric beforehand. I initially told people to sort by type of fabric (cotton, knits, home dec, etc.) and be sure to bring pieces that are at least 1/2 yard so people would have enough to make something. I said that any leftover fabric would be donated to the nonprofit East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse.

A few weeks later one member sent me an email, asking  if there was a reason that the un-swapped fabric would be donated. She asked, “Is it just logistics? If we had the option to take home the fabric that is not swapped, I think it would be a real incentive to bring more fabric pieces, and also bring larger fabric yardage. That way we would have a lot more options to trade with, and it would be a true swap.”

This was an excellent point. So I updated the meetup description and asked members to note the yardage and type of fabric on a piece of paper and to put their name on it if they wanted it back. Not everyone got this updated message but all the fabric was sorted. I also brought a tape measure, masking tapes and a sharpie so folks could label their fabric in case they hadn’t done so beforehand.

The day before I wrote out labels for all the tables on sheets of copy paper: cotton, knits, wool, linen, silk, home dec, rayon, polyester, and mystery fabric. Meg arrived early to help with setting up the room. The tables are all on wheels, which made it easy to place around the perimeter of the room.

Cotton wovens took up more than two tables worth of space. There was a surprising amount of home dec fabric, some of which were smaller pieces but they could be used for bags and small items.

Fabric swap - home dec fabric

At the actual event, I told members we would follow the same procedure at the pattern swap: Each person has an opportunity to pick one fabric per “round.” Then I asked if they wanted to keep track of yardage or just have rounds like we did for the pattern swap. Most members just wanted to pick fabric and not worry about yardage.

The only difference  from the pattern swap was that I decided to play a song on my iPhone per round. We didn’t have any music during the pattern swap.

When I saw that everyone had picked their first fabric, I picked a different song and shouted out, “You can pick your second fabric!” I can’t recall which songs I played but the artists were Raphael Saadiq, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. I was mostly picking fast tunes with a strong beat.

All the “mystery” fabric – fiber content unknown was put in one corner of the room, which I dubbed “mystery fabric corner.” It had all kinds of synthetic, poly, shiny and loopy fabric.

Fabric swap - mystery fabric corner

Everyone brought fabric so everyone picked something in the first round. If someone arrived who didn’t bring any fabric, then I would have had them wait at least three rounds before they could join in. After four rounds, I told folks they could take whatever they wanted. When we hold meetings at the Berkeley Public Library, the meetings must be open to the general public.

We held a drawing for Sewaholic‘s new pattern – the Gabriola skirt, which was won by Liz! Thank you Tasia for donating your lovely pattern for our giveaway!

Sewaholic Gabriola skirt pattern

We drew up a circle of chairs, sat down, and everyone showed off their new stash and told about what plans they had for the fabric. In this photo Daiyo (@bydaiyami on Twitter) is going over her stash. I think she went home with more fabric than she brought! I brought about five pieces of fabric and took two home – one printed mystery fabric, which I think was cotton and a berry-colored bit of wool crepe (yes, I was really limiting myself because I didn’t really want to add a lot to my existing stash at home).

Fabric scored at fabric swap

Meg took a great group photo using the timer on her camera. I’m the one wearing a hat, standing behind Meg on the left. Here’s the caption info I took from Meg’s great post about this Meetup:  Front row – Meg, Ali, Jessica, Megan, Cassandra, Liz; Back row: Me, Sara, JanaLoran, Sarah, Leah, Daiyo, Kelina, Allison, Veronica

Group photo - Bay Area Sewists

Everyone pitched in to clean up and the room was put all the tables back in place in about 10 minutes. And a member with a car offered to drop off the leftover fabrics to the East Bay Depot. Bay Area Sewists members are great!

Have you attended or organized a fabric swap? What was that experience like? I’d like to know how other people put theirs together.

Our next meetup, “Show and Tell, WIPs, Tour Lacis and a Pattern Giveaway,” is on Saturday, April 19 at Lacis in Berkeley. We’ll be holding a drawing for Bluegingerdoll’s latest pattern – The Winifred Dress. Thank you, Abby for donating your pattern! It’s free to join Bay Area Sewists. You can RSVP to this meetup here.
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Author:Chuleenan

Chuleenan Svetvilas is a writer who sews and collects hats and shoes. She is a fabric addict and loves classic films and vintage clothes.

8 Responses to “Organizing a Fabric Swap”

  1. Jana
    April 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

    I loved hearing everyone’s plans for their new pieces of fabric! Thanks Chuleenan for making this happen!

    • April 7, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      You’re welcome! I’m looking forward to the next one. ;)

  2. April 6, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you so much for organizing! I thought the way you did the swap was great. The labeling was really helpful. And yes, I definitely went home with more than I brought.

    • April 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      You’re very welcome! It was fun. Glad the labeling was helpful. We’re lucky that we have so much space in that room so we’re able to spread out. :)

  3. April 6, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    OK, so I will be saving some patterns and fabric for the next swap!

    • April 6, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Yay! I’m sure you have plenty of goodies to share.

  4. April 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    I really hope to the next one.

    The swaps in London worked similar. We swapped in rounds. But nothing was labeled. It began with each person explaining what they brought to swap (yardage, fiber content, pattern, notions, etc.). The person who brought the most stuff picked first. The person whose stash was selected by the person who did the picking went next. And so on. After a few rounds it was a free for all and everyone could pick among what was left. We often did it at a restaurant so we could have bits to eat over some coffee or tea.

    • April 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      I hope you can make it!

      Oh, interesting that the person who brought the most picked first. That’s an interesting and more personal approach. So it’d kind of like you pick an individual’s style/fabric choices. It’s a good way to do it if you don’t have much space.

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