Sewing Organization

Sewing organization  -

I didn’t participate in Bimble & Pimple’s Sewvember Challenge – post a sewing photo every day in November – but after seeing all the photos on Instagram (#bpSewvember), I was inspired to organize my notions, fabric, and related books. (Plus I had the additional incentive of the hubster was complaining (a lot) about the fabric: “It’s everywhere! You have to do something!”)

OK, I admit there were about a couple of fabric piles in the bedroom – sitting on top of some large clear plastic tubs, which were full of fabric, my notions were also crowded in couple of small carts, and my patterns needed some organization. It was starting to get messy but really, it wasn’t as bad as the hubby made it seem. The challenge was how to find more space in our cramped apartment. And that’s partly why I procrastinated doing anything.

I don’t have a sewing room (if only!) and nearly all of the wall space was already taken up by bookshelves. The hubster is an avid reader and book collector. His books fill more than a dozen bookcases (really!). I have a few bookshelves, too but nowhere near as many as he does. So I decided I needed the following:

  • a freestanding shelving unit of some sort to store some fabric and other sewing items
  • a place for my sewing and fashion books
  • another rolling cart for notions or sewing projects
  • more plastic storage bins for fabric
  • something to store patterns

I searched “shevling unit” on Ikea‘s website a few times, trying to find something that didn’t cost too much, wasn’t too wide, and didn’t necessarily need a wall to rest against. The website can be a bit overwhelming – too many search  results – so I popped over to the store in Emeryville to see what some of them look like in person and decided to get the Vittsjo shelving unit ($49), which has four shelves with a lot of space between the shelves. I thought they would be good for storing containers of fabric and other stuff. It looks like this after you put it together (yes, like most Ikea furniture, assembly required.)

Ikea Vittsjo shelving unit - sewing storage -

It was freestanding on Ikea’s floor display but it does come with something to attach to the wall at the top. Maybe I’ll use some bungee cords to attach it to the desk. I wouldn’t want it to topple over in an earthquake.

It’s nearly 69 (175 cm) inches tall with metal supports and three glass shelves in the middle, the top and bottom shelves are wood. As you can see, it’s not very wide (about 20 inches/51 cm) or deep (14 inches/36 cm), which was exactly what I needed. It had to squeeze in next to my desk in the bedroom and not block the television.

Here’s a shot of it in the bedroom, right next to the bed. You can’t see my desk because it’s right behind the Vittsjo shelves. My back was against another bookshelf behind me so this is as far back as I could get to shoot it. You can’t see the bottom shelf.

The two larger clear bins (fabric inside!) that you see on the two middle shelves are the deep sweater box from the Container store (dimensions: 15 5/8″ x 13 1/8″ x 13 1/4″ h).  These boxes aren’t very wide but you can fit a lot in them if you neatly fold your fabric. My larger bins of fabric are on the other side of the bed.

Sewing storage - Ikea shelf

I discovered that I could fit several of my smaller plastic containers next to the fabric boxes. This is the side view.

Ikea shelves - Vittsjo - side view -

Some of my notions are in the small plastic boxes, which had formerly been piled on top of my rolling carts in the dining area.

Containers on shelves -

It’s nice to have them out of the way.

Next, I wandered around Target to see what they had and found what they call a small three-shelf organizer – really a small, skinny, cheaply made bookcase ($21.49, assembly required). Part of Target’s “Room Essentials” line of products, it’s made out of that heavy pressed board stuff, except for the back, which is actually a flimsy piece of black cardboard(!). I got it because it fit in the space – on top of a small chest near another bookcase and left enough room to put another stack of books in front of it.

Sewing book case -

I got a purple fabric bin ($6) at Target, which sits on top of this skinny bookcase. The bins are also part of the Room Essentials line; they fit inside of various shelving units. I put sewing magazines and more books in it. They are made of polypropylene textile, which is a very lightweight, nonwoven fabric. (A lot of promotional tote bags are made from this fabric.)

Sewing books and magazines -

Moving onto our dining area of the apartment where I have a row of small Sterilite rolling carts. I  already had two and I needed another three-drawer one, which I got at Target for $12.99. It’s the one on the left, which is now full of fabric and project stuff.

Rolling carts - notions -

These carts are lined up against our dining room table, which is essentially my sewing table. We don’t eat there. 😉

I’ve got three short carts, including one 5-drawer one. which has thread in zip lock bags, fusible bias stay tape, fray check, and other notions in the shallow drawers and fabric paint, glue and other things in the deep bottom drawer.

Notions in rolling cart -

On top of this cart, I’ve put this three-drawer organizer ($8.99), which I also got at Target that day. I’ve got bias tape and seam tape in the top drawer and zippers in the other two.

3-drawer storage - Bias tape and zippers -

On top of the three-drawer cart on the right, I’ve put a fabric file box I got on sale at the Container store earlier this year. I put several sewing patterns (vintage, indie patterns, patterns I’ve traced, and tracing paper) in it.

To the right of my small carts, you can see a tall, 8-drawer storage cart, which I got for $57 last year from Office Depot. At the time, it was cheaper than other multi-drawer carts I saw. I like it because the bottom two drawers are deep and the rest are shallow. This cart is now $74.89.

Here’s a closer shot of it. As you can see, it leans slightly to the left. I don’t know why it’s doing that. I moved some of the heavier stuff to the bottom drawer to see if that would make a difference but no. Oh, well, it still does a good job storing stuff.

8-drawer cart - notions -

I went through it and reorganized the drawers – tape measures, marking pens, sewing machine needles, hand sewing needles, scissors, etc.

8-drawer cart - notions -

And that’s my current sewing organization. Now I feel ready for sewing in the New Year. How do you store and organize your sewing stuff?

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How to Make a Fabric-covered Belt Buckle

Maxant fabric-covered buckle kit -

I love fabric-covered belt buckles! So when I saw this kit at Lacis in Berkeley, I bought it right away. I had only seen some vintage buckle kits at second-hand places. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, you can order this kit and other styles and sizes (square, circle, rectangle) from Lacis’s online catalog. Just go to this page and type in “hand cover buckle” into the search field and several buckle styles will appear. (Prices range from $3.20 to $9.)

It’s very easy to cover a buckle with this kit. However, I think it works best with lighter weight fabrics. My fabric was medium weight cotton and going around the corners was a little tricky. The metal of the buckle is very light and easily dented so be gentle!

Here’s what you’ll find inside once you open the kit: two buckle pieces (fabric goes over the larger piece and the other piece fits inside the back, holding the fabric in place); the metal prong goes into the belt holes/eyelets; and that white thing is a double-sided piece of adhesive that you stick to the fabric.

Fabric-covered buckle kit pieces -

Instructions are on the back of the kit. You remove the center part and then peel off one side of the double-sided sticker and place it on your fabric. I placed my sticker on the bias so it would go around the curves more easily.

Fabric to cover belt buckle -

Then I cut around it and removed the remaining bit of paper, revealing the second sticky side, which goes over the buckle.

Adhesive on fabric for belt buckle -

Then I placed the buckle in the dead center of this piece of fabric, clipped the inside corners, and began sticking the fabric to the buckle. I began with the corners and stuck them down. I didn’t think about clipping the curves until I stuck the corners down. Oops. Note: clip your corners so the fabric isn’t so thick in those areas.

Sticking fabric to belt buckle - csews.comAttaching fabric to belt buckle -

Then I went around the edges and stuck the fabric to the buckle like so.

Back of fabric-covered buckle -

After that’s done, you put the other buckle piece on top of the fabric-covered one…

Back of fabric-covered buckle -

and then you put the circular part of the metal prong in the center and use pliers to close it and you’re done!

Fabric-covered belt buckle -

I bought a yard of cotton/rayon Petersham ribbon for the belt. It’s rather thick, which was perfect for my purposes. And I loved the royal blue color. A couple of years ago I got this Dritz plier kit (on sale!) to install eyelets and snaps but I never used it. So I finally took it out of its packaging, discovered that it came with a few blue eyelets, which I then installed on the ribbon, about an inch apart from each other.

Pliers for eyelet installation

It’s pretty easy to use. Just mark where you want the eyelets to go, use the pliers to punch a hole, place the eyelet on the pliers and then put it over the hole and squeeze the handles.

Pliers for rivets -

I was nervous I was going to screw it up but I just took a deep breath and squeezed and it worked! And in case you’re wondering, here’s how I finished the belt…

Finishing ribbon belt -

which then needed a snap installed to keep it from flopping down because of the added weight of the folds on the end.

Eyelets in ribbon belt -

Have you made a fabric-covered belt buckle before? I made one once but I was totally fudging it. It looked fine on the outside but it was a total mess on the other side. I just cut some fabric and hand sewed it on the back – thus the mess.

How to make a fabric-covered belt buckle - Maxant buckle kit

What Color Is Your Basting Thread?

Green swiss dot fabric - basted

I’ve basted fabric together using thread that matches and thread that’s a contrasting color. When I’ve used a contrasting color I usually pick black or white for two reasons:

  1. I always have plenty of those colors on hand, and
  2. it’s easy to see and then remove the thread.

However, the benefit of using matching thread is that it’s not as critical to remove every single stitch of basting thread because it blends in with the fabric. And in some cases, you may just want to leave it in – something I never thought about doing until I read Natalie Chanin’s book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. I made a tunic from that book, which features patterns for clothes that are all hand sewn, and it calls for you to baste stay stitches around the arm holes and neck area (still need to do a post about that hand-sewing experience). And she says you could just leave the stay stitches in place if you want – of course that’s assuming you are using matching  thread. When I basted this Swiss dot fabric for my Fall for Cotton project, I decided to go with matching thread. So what color is your basting thread? Do you use matching or contrasting thread?

Choosing the Right Thimble

My thimblesLast fall I began doing a lot more hand sewing and I quickly realized that a thimble could be pretty useful. But what I didn’t know was that the most important part was choosing the right thimble.

I had a metal one that I got a while ago but when I tried it on, it was too tight – uncomfortable!  Not only was it too small, it dug into my callus. Previously, my hand sewing had been limited to sewing buttons, making small repairs, and hemming so I really didn’t need to use a thimble. But once I started embroidering last fall and then hand sewing some garments, I really needed a thimble.

Last year I bought a cheery red “jelly fingers” thimble, which was made out of a translucent rubber. However, I got the wrong size because it kept slipping off when I began using it. I confess it was an impulse buy because I liked the color. But I only paid a couple bucks for it at Lacis in Berkeley, which has the biggest selection of thimbles I’ve ever seen.

Adjustable thimbleAbout two months ago I tried an adjustable thimble, this was one that had an opening on one side. I got this one at Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley. You put it in hot water to soften it and then put it on your finger so it would set to your size. This seemed workable. It put less pressure on my callus but still wasn’t that comfortable.

My thimble finger is the middle finger of my right hand. How do you know which is your thimble finger? Well, pay attention to which finger you use as you push the needle through your fabric. This is your thimble finger.

For a while I just didn’t didn’t bother with a thimble but the skin around the tip of my middle finger was getting sore. And after hours of hand sewing without a thimble, the skin around that area was getting tough and the needle end had poked through my skin a couple times (ouch!) when I was sewing through four layers of knit fabric. (Yes, this was the state of my finger last week.) At that point, it’s pretty obvious which finger needs a thimble!

Clearly I needed to get another thimble but I really didn’t know what I should try this time around. So last Friday I tweeted (@csewsalot) “Any using a thimble they like? Tried gel, metal & plastic but they’re not very comfortable.”

And I got a couple responses! Linzee Kull McCray (@seamswrite), who blogs at Pearl the Squirrel, tweeted: “I  like the ones that combine gel and metal–best of both worlds.” Angela (@sewmentalmama), who blogs at Sewmentalmama, tweeted: “Mine are porcelain! So not practical – but leather is worth a try” and followed up with another: “I remembered seeing a leather thimble pattern by @threadsmagazine See what u think!

Some of the thimbles for sale at Lacis in Berkeley
Some of the thimbles for sale at Lacis in Berkeley

I do have some leather scaps but I didn’t feel like making a thimble just yet. So the following day I went to Lacis and looked at rows and rows of thimbles. Frankly, I had no idea there were so many different variations, ring thimbles, palm thimbles and thimbles made out of horn, brass, leather, nickle, and more. I tried on a horn one but that wasn’t comfortable (pressed into my callus). So I looked for a gel and metal version.

Gel and metal thimbleLo and behold, I found one! I tried it on and it felt great. I bought it and began using it later that day. It’s definitely the most comfy thimble I’ve used so far. The gel is flexible and the metal top works well to push the needle through. Definitely worth the $9 I paid for it.

What’s your favorite thimble?


Fabric at the East Bay Depot

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland, California, sells all sorts of things, including art supplies, fabric, notions, and sewing patterns. All items are donated to this cool nonprofit organization whose goal is to “divert waste materials from landfills” and to increase awareness about the benefits of reusing materials. Teachers get a discount for things they buy for their classes (paint, paper, etc.).

Toward the back is the section where you’ll find all sorts of fabric in varying lengths that people have donated. I’ve seen wool, cotton, brocade, knits, velvet, and vinyl rolled up in the cubby holes here. And sometimes rolls of fabric are donated. The price per yard? $3/yard for fabric on the bolt, $2/yard for fabric in bundles, regardless of the type of fabric. I’ve also spotted leather scraps and belt buckles here at one time or another.

Fabric section at the East Bay Depot

Sometimes the fabric selection isn’t so great but you never know when something new will turn up, such as a collection of home dec fabric donated by a furniture upholsterer.

And if you have too many fabric scraps and remnants, it’s an excellent place to donate some of your stash. Someone will put them to good use.

The Depot sells notions and patterns as well. They aren’t particularly well organized but if you’re willing to spend the time to hunt through the bins, you could be rewarded with something unique. I’ve found vintage patterns, zippers of all kinds, a vintage fabric belt kit, and buttons. Patterns are just 25 cents. Loose buttons are sold by weight – about $8/pound, which isn’t very much when you’re only getting a handful.

Happy hunting!

Notions at the East Bay Depot







Buttons are sold by weight
Patterns for sale at the Depo