I'm currently wearing my new tee from Corrine Sovey that says "Fabric Museum Curator". One friend, upon seeing my fabric collection exclaimed: "This is a shop!" It's definitely not that level, but it is a lot. I've recently had to change how I store fabric so that it's not only easier to pull fabric for a quilt, but also so that I have room for it all. Guess what? How I store my fabric has affected how I shop for fabric in such a good way.
The most important part of fabric storage for me is color. When I pull fabric I'm looking for either a collection or trying to make a color palette. So I chose to store my fabric in two different ways.
Fabric Bundles: Since these are mostly Fat Quarter size or pre-cut sizes I have them in 12"x6"x4" Brightroom clear bins from Target. Any Fat Quarters that are not part of a bundle I sort by color in these same bins.
Large cuts of quilting fabric: I used to have these all on bolts, but soon realized that linear storage was actually wasting more space. Now I use 14" x 10.6" x 8.75"H white weave bins for each color and I can fit over double the fabric on the same shelf! It is pretty easy for me to guess the yardage size as I search through my pieces, so I don't sort by size within my bins, but many people choose to do that, or mark each piece with it's size.
Backing cuts: These large pieces I keep in a larger pink bin so it is easy to see what I have available for backing a quilt right away. I also use these for non-quilting fabric clothing often requires more yardage. They are 11.25"H x 12.63"W x 16.63"D. Since I don't keep a significant amount of backing fabric in stock I don't sort this in any particular order. I just squish it into the tub as best I can.
Scraps: This was probably the hardest to get under control. So much so that two summers ago I bagged up ALL my scraps and donated them. As I quilt and shop all of the scraps and fabric goes into a bin I have for sorting. When it is full, like today, I pull it out, and start sorting. My scraps are sorted by color too. Into zipper pouches, with coordinating zippers to the color that is inside. Those are all stored in one big bin. I use scraps for a lot of block testing so it's worth it for me to keep them. I also have a few scrap quilt projects in the works. If you don't have a use for scraps you can donate them in a bag marked "fabric scraps" to Goodwill, destash scraps on social media or sometimes through a local guild, or reach out local programs that might be able to use the scraps.
Projects: Finally, either as I shop from my own bundle or the store - when I have a specific quilt in mind I print the pattern and store the fabric together in a 14.18"L x 14.37"W x 3.13"H Iris paper box. There are different sizes of these. I get the ones for 12"x12" paper that are just over 3" tall, their product number is SBC-350E. You can buy them on sale at Joann Fabrics or Michaels. You know what's great? Since I already have the fabric in a box, I usually use it for storage as I assemble projects too! Sure makes it a lot easier to put a project away for a while when something urgent comes up. I also have some projects stored in the same zippered pouches I use for scraps. Most of them are either ones that I'm not in a hurry to finish or are different sewing projects like bags, clothing or something else.
I wish I could go back and tell myself to sort my fabric earlier. Something it has done is cut down on impulse purchases, and really helped me to build a quality stash! Now of course, there are occasionally purchases made that have no project in mind - usually it's fabric I can't live without. Here are some tips on how to shop for fabrics to build your stash and hopefully keep the impulse purchases to a minimum.
Shop your stash: Make it the first place you stop. It's really easy to get caught up in the social media momentum of wanting the exact same quilt as a kit or as the original pattern. I'll be the first to confess I have purchased a kit on impulse only to realize after the fact that I had a few of the fabrics in my stash already. Usually those are solids. When you are in the habit of shopping from your stash you can not only save yourself money, but frequently wind up with a quilt pull you'll love even more.
Swatches: When you are shopping for a specific color or one fabrics to match your pull color matching is important. When shopping online I have been known to ask shop owners to send me a photo of one of their fabrics next to a solid in their shop that I color matched from my solid swatches. It has really helped prevent a lot of mistakes along the way. Not only do solid swatches help, but taking swatches of my fabrics in person when shopping helps. If I have a pull that is partially complete, I make a simple swatch of the fabrics, toss it in my purse so wherever I go I have it on hand to help me find just the right fabrics. I am always amazed at the different fabrics that catch my eye or get added to a quilt because of that. This is handy for top fabrics, but also backing and binding.
Know what you need: One of the biggest benefits of having my fabrics sorted by color is I was able to see where my stash was really lacking. I probably only had two yard of yellow fabrics, but since I don't use a ton of it and I have several yellow fat quarters I am not too worried, but if a yellow fabric were to really catch my eye I would definitely consider it for my stash. Next up after sorting, I noticed how lacking my low-volume, light value fabric supply was. So when a shop listed a gorgeous full bundle of just that - you better believe I snapped it up. The other part of knowing what you need is having patterns on hand. I usually have a photo, screenshot or the actual pattern on hand, and a general idea of colors. This has helped me to not get too much or too little of a fabric!
Shop the clearance section: Oh the amazing deals I've found this way! Just this week I got some gorgeous fabrics for $5/yard! Because I know what I need to round out my stash, and I have a list of upcoming projects with swatches and amounts I need - I can make really great purchases. The clearance section had fabric with roads on it. I'm planning to make a baby sized Mod Roadway Quilt #modroadwayquilt (releasing October 14th). So I quickly double checked the yardage and bought enough for the backing!
Shop other places: We all know big box shops have good fabric prices but don't forget to shop in other ways. Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, and estate sales as well as thrift stores frequently have fabric. Sometimes it's a huge lot, sometimes a small amount. Also many guilds hold mini marketplaces, swaps and/or are emailed when there are estates selling off their fabrics! Finally, don't forget to check out #fabricdestash on social media. You can find great deals that way too.
Good luck sorting your fabric, especially those scraps! It takes time to find the system that works just right for you. Also - try to wait until bins are on sale before buying them!