My genetic/socialized tendency to hoarding manifests in books and fabric. It may be genetic, or just a result of generational dysfunction, or both; I know that mine is less extensive and more amenable to remediation and cognitive hacking than that of certain family members, but we’ve also spent years cleaning out an enormous house, several large barns, sheds and shops on the ancestral farm full of… everything… because after seven generations of farmers, the stuff had accumulated, and often, their solution to lots of stuff was to build another house, barn, shed, or extension.
Books are kind of obvious; I’m an academic, most of my (non-paying) work is in a field of study that extensively uses out of print and primary source documents, and having copies at hand makes the work simpler. The academic work that pays is less printed source intensive; most of that is available electronically, but I still keep some references. Chuck Tingle and Jenny Trout will encrypt upon my death and not embarrass my niblings with Auntie’s weird porn preferences. Win, win.(Also, I love fiction.) I am still a written word hoarder, but now, I only buy print when it’s a) out of print, b) likely to be needed should an extended disaster occur (so first aid and fixit manuals) or c) for project references where I’m also likely to be using video tutorials or other online resources (knitting machine books, some sewing books.) Otherwise, I’m mostly a digital hoarder, with an epic collection of ebooks, audiobooks and digital scans. It’s not a significant improvement, but it’s much easier to move, and since we believe in crypto and the right to digital privacy, my collection of
And then there’s fabric. I’ve been collecting since I was in my very late teens, and moving it, storing it, organizing it and slowly using it. My stash does not currently exceed my life expectancy, but it’s gonna be a photo-finish. Part of the reason I have such a stash is because I wasn’t confident in my skills and would become emotionally paralyzed when faced with fabric I loved and knew I could not replace. Fabric represented a gigantic financial commitment for extremely impoverished me at 21. There was a mill ends jobber reject resale store near my university. It was fabric by the pound, and it was usually jumbled in 3 to 10 yard knots in 4 foot wide and deep by 3 foot tall cardboard containers, with no tags or content information or organization. Sometimes I’d patiently unravel something to find that the reason it was in the bin was a giant streak or stain or hole right in the middle. Even at those prices — around fifty cents to two bucks a yard in early 1990s money — I couldn’t afford a lot, ever. Spending $20 on fabric often meant a month of eating a daily egg, one apple, whatever vegetables I could score from the deep discount rack at the supermarket, and half a loaf of the 37 cent a loaf bread I could make in the breadmaker I was given for my high school graduation. (One of my father’s few actually useful gifts, but at the time, it seemed wildly inappropriate for a kid headed to college.)
My theory on fabric buying then was to buy what I could afford, and figure out what I’d do with it afterwards. I knew what fibers and weaves I liked — I didn’t sew with knits then — and what colors I preferred, but I couldn’t afford to go into the shop where fabric went to die with any intentions. They wouldn’t have anything that fit a plan.
After grad school, when my income finally started to rise above half the poverty level, then the poverty level, then into the actual middle class, I started to switch to buying for plan, but I still had doubts about my skills, so even with a plan, I’d be afraid to start a project. I can still get paralyzed with certain fabrics; I have some lovely Liberty Lawn (source: Shaukat in London — great prices, excellent service for international mail order buyers, and better prices when the pound is low versus the dollar) that I only feel ready to cut now, and I’ll still build at least three test garments from Fashion Fabrics Club sale lawn first. Because yes, indeedy, anxiety — I HAZ IT.
All this means that I’ve gotten good at fabric storage. I care deeply about keeping my fabric safe for future use, and I always plan to use it. I have lived almost all of my life in a very dry climate, which means I don’t have to worry much about wool moths — they just don’t survive at my altitude and aridity. But while I can be a bit cavalier about moths, I have to be deeply concerned about UV light.
There are two schools of thought about light storage: secure the fabric in opaque tubs with lids, or secure the room against light. I have used both. Tubs have the advantage of being easy to move, stackable, mostly water and rodent proof, and relatively compact without being fixed to a wall. Tubs work best if you maintain a swatch book that has a sample, location and description of every piece of fabric you have and if you keep the tubs sorted by color or content or intention.
I don’t use tubs (mostly) anymore now that we’re homeowners and never, ever, ever moving again. (Says Spouse, who believes a house is something one is born into and leaves in a body bag 90 years later. As opposed to me, who moved at least every year from birth until age 25, and attended 12 schools before college, including skipping a grade.) Now I store my fabric like my personal fabric store — on bolts made from pieces of foam-core board, grouped by color and weight (mostly) and prepped (pre-washed and pressed) for use. The shelving is the super-cheap, super-flexible IVAR system from IKEA. It’s decent pine, and can be stained or waxed, but it’s dry enough that it doesn’t seep onto the fabric. It must be fixed to the wall, so it’s not suitable for rentals where you’re not allowed to use anchors or drill into the studs, but once fixed, it’s very stable.
But to do this required infrastructure. The first thing was to film the windows with 99% UV exclusion film. I did this with every window in the house before we moved in, at least as much for efficiency and privacy as because I’m paranoid about fading. We have a total of 20 very large windows and I filmed them all with about 4 rolls of film. It took about two days of steady work, but I did it right after we closed and before we moved most stuff in (while cleaning carpets and painting a couple of walls) so it wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. The film has been on the windows for almost two years and it keeps us a bit warmer in winter, a bit cooler in summer, and hasn’t bubbled or failed.
I also replaced all of the metal Venetian blinds that came with the house with fabric roller blinds. We have dust and pollen allergies and we have historically had cats. (And will probably have them in the future.) Venetian blinds catch dust and cats think blinds are impediments to their access to the throne of the window sill. Again, this was less because of the fabric, and more for personal taste, but I picked the one for that room to be light-excluding. And then I added curtains to that window, just to be certain. Roller blinds are excellent for low-profile and fitting inside the window frame, low dust and adjustable light and visibility, but if they don’t have a cord control, they are NOT SAFE for children or pets. Children have strangled. Every cord must be fixed to the wall.
I happen to be most comfortable in a relatively low light room. I grew up in the desert. Bright sunlight tells me I’m gonna be burnt in 10 minutes and going outside is going to be like stepping into an oven, so I have negative associations deeply conditioned. If you’re not comfortable in relatively low-light situations, consider using the tub and swatch method. A bright, airy, sunny workspace is great for some people, but not so much for the fabric. Also, if you have children in the climbing stage, tubs are safer for them. A wall of fabric is a challenge that should be avoided with your personal Brans.
I also have a palette of colors and I just don’t buy anything not in our palette. (This works less well for quilters, but is great for garment makers.) Spouse likes black, grey, purple and oatmeal (and anything which hides coffee stains, so heathers); I add violet, blues and sometimes red. Spouse doesn’t like any patterns (though I can get away with tone-on-tone with him); I like florals and damask, and a few novelties like the cat print ITY. Spouse likes cotton, some rayons and cotton/nylon ripstop, but no Lycra. I am not big on most synthetics except for ITY jersey and some lingerie Lycra. This also makes buying buttons, zippers and thread easy — I can buy in bulk rather than matching. If any of the niblings want something, I send them directly to an online fabric store to pick, and their stuff never goes into inventory. All four have access to some sort of messaging app, and that’s the best way to get them to communicate. (I have two teens and two almost tweens, but we’ve been doing this since they were toddlers and using their parents’ accounts.)