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Nov 24, 2012

Peter's Pattern Storage Secrets!

Readers, I own roughly three hundred patterns, maybe a few more, most of them vintage. 

I don't know exactly how this happened.  I purchased many of them myself -- mainly on Etsy, eBay, and at the flea market -- but others were gifted to me by desperately decluttering MPB readers.  I appreciate these donations, I really do, but larger numbers of patterns has meant better organization is a must.  Today I'd like to share my system with you.

While there are many different ways to organize one's pattern stash, whatever system you choose has to work for you and you only.  Organizing three hundred patterns is a lot easier than organizing three thousand, of course, so perhaps my methods are most effective for sewers with small-to-medium size pattern stashes.

Here are some of my storage secrets.  Some of them will no doubt elicit a duh from more than a few of you who have been sewing (and organizing patterns) a whole lot longer than I.

In no particular order....

1) Ziploc bags.  Every pattern I have opened and used ends up in its own plastic ziploc (also known as slider) bag.  I love these bags because they keep my patterns clean, they're clear, so I can see what's inside them, and they're large enough to make folding pattern pieces into them easy.  I never try to fold the pattern pieces back into their original envelope.  Sometimes if it's a pattern with pieces I'm unlikely ever to use, I'll leave those pattern pieces in the paper envelope, but it all will be stored in a ziploc bag.  I purchase these bags at the supermarket, usually in boxes of thirty or so.  They are gallon size and measure approximately 10 1/2 x 11.

The other thing I like about these bags is that, with most of the air squeezed out of them, they store relatively flat.

2) Online photo archiveI created an online archive last winter when I realized I no longer remembered which patterns I owned and feared purchasing the same ones twice.  I took a single photo of every pattern I own, and posted these on two separate Picasa files (men's patterns and women's patterns), along with a photo of (most of) the finished projects I made with them.  Whenever I purchase a pattern, I photograph it and upload it to the file.  They are maintained in approximate chronological order.

You can see the women's patterns I own here.

You can see the men's patterns I own here.

3) Collapsible Storage Boxes.  I am a big fan of Reisenthel fabric storage boxes.  These collapsible fabric boxes come in a variety of colors and have sturdy metal frames.  I use the Medium size, which neatly stores two rows of standard-size sewing patterns.  While you can stack these fabric boxes, they're not really strong enough to stack as high as hard plastic boxes.  Reisenthel boxes have zipper tops, velcro to keep the top secure, and a plastic window for labeling.  They're plastic coated on the inside and very easy to keep clean. 

I bought mine at The Container Store but you can find them on Amazon here.  There are certainly cheaper storage boxes out there, but since I keep mine out in the living room, I appreciate their (relative) good looks.  I use these boxes primarily for patterns I haven't opened and/or used yet (hence they're not in separate plastic storage bags).

4) Open shelves.  My living room credenza has wide doors with open shelves.  I use one side of men's patterns and the other for women's patterns.  This is where I store patterns I've used, or expect to use soon.  They're not the best organized but, with a little digging, I can find what I'm looking for pretty easily.

Someday I may need to get a metal filing cabinet.  Maybe because I worked in offices for so many years, I hate filing cabinets and always find them unwieldy.  We have one in the entryway that's mainly for important documents.  I try to keep my distance. 

Since I rarely am working on more than one pattern at a time, I try to have only that pattern out.  Occasionally a pattern I've recently received will be lying around, but never open or -- heaven forbid -- with pattern pieces scattered about.

Friends, those are my secrets -- now in the public domain.  How about yours?

I'm especially curious to hear how some of you who juggle multiple projects at one time (and there have been some scary confessions of late) manage to stay organized.  And of course, if you have a particularly juicy "I learned the hard way" or "Don't make the same mistake I made" tale, well, everybody loves those.

Organized and not-so-organized sewers, jump in!


  1. I wrote something about how I store my own patterns a couple of months ago which (full circle times) was inspired by a post you wrote about downloadable patterns. Funny! (I use a mix of mailing envelopes and a digital picture file. So very similar.)

  2. We use a system similar to yours to organize all of our patterns for our theater company's sewing room, but we have plastic storage boxes that we've labeled with eras/types of patterns, and unless the envelope is very large, it's in a gallon bag. I've seen people use manila envelopes with a photocopy on the outside but going through those drove me batty.

    Might have to steal your photo archive though. We have a flickr account that we should really use for that.

    When we're working, we have evolved to where we wash, treat, iron, etc the intended fabric and hang it up on a rail with the pattern clipped to it (in its bag). Sometimes if we've ironed out the pattern pieces, we'll clip those on the same or an adjacent hanger. After it's cut, if we have to pause, it goes back on the hanger, all pinned or clipped carefully together, and the (admittedly grandiose) goal is to put the bits back in the plastic bag as they get used. We've decreased orphan pattern bits greatly like this.

  3. I'm also a big fan of the ziplock storage bags. I buy the gallon ones because I also usually do not fold the pattern and put it back in the envelope. I don't have near 300 patterns though, so I'm able to keep mine in a credenza.

    I love the idea of keeping a photo library of patterns because it's hard to keep track of the patterns I do have. But, I'm trying to reduce my lifestyle so I plan on going through each of my patterns, making the outfit and probably donate the pattern to Goodwill.

  4. I put some of my patterns in bags like you do when I don't want to fold them all back into envelopes but then put the envelope in the bag too. Though I stick them into my storage containers that I've purchased at Hancock Fabrics. I've included my sewing room tour on my blog so you can see my storage boxes. They are pretty and they fit about 20 patterns in each box. I buy the ones that only fit one row of patterns, in case I decide to move my patterns then I can still use the boxes for something else and they are not too big.

  5. This is a timely post, because I'm at the outset of examining every single sewing-related item I own and how I store it as part redesigning my workspace.

    I have about 150 patterns, nearly all 1930s, '40s and '50s, which I store in Ziploc bags in file folders in bankers' boxes, arranged by year. Some fragile patterns I've traced onto heavy paper, and I've stored those pattern pieces in gigantic corrugated cardboard folders (about 30 x 23 inches) I bought from a school and library supply company. These take up a lot of space, and I want to rethink this method. (Oh, for a set of map drawers!)

    I've created my own pattern catalogue by photocopying envelope fronts and backs and slipping them into clear page protectors.

    But I'd also love a database of my pattern information. (Former librarian, if you hadn't already guessed.)

  6. I do the ziplock bag thing too. I also take photographs of the pattern envelopes and file them on my computer rather than go through them manually to see what I have. I really don't have a lot of patterns though. However, I do have a lot of craft ideas and patterns that I am using.

  7. There is tons of filing cabinet makeovers ideas on the web, but I loved this giant cabinet wall and wanted to share it with you :

    Love to read you Peter!

  8. How do you keep your pattern pieces organized while you're working on the garment? I ask because the jeans pattern I was working on had 14 pieces (and then I modified the front and back pieces for my muslins, so I had multiple fronts and backs...) so I wound up with all these bits everywhere....I wound up using my thread drawer like the map drawer idea mentioned above to try to keep it all together, but I wish I had an empty drawer for that.

    Also, the non-big 4 patterns typically come in larger pattern envelopes, and for now I have them in a magazine holder but they will outgrow that soon.

    I am glad to hear that 300 pattern is small to medium!! :)

  9. I don't use vintage patterns so all the patterns I work on I hang on pattern hooks from my sewing drawers. I always have either a large manila envelope or file folder stapled around the edges to make a pocket which I tape the pattern information on. In the envelope goes the smaller pattern piece and instructions if any.

    I have primarily been using downloadable patterns/indie patterns/self drafted pattern so this works well for me and I can store patterns in the closet. If it was a tissue pattern then this would be a no go.

    I have a rabbit punch but have found a bulldogs clip threaded onto a pattern hook works well as does a wooden trouser hanger.

  10. I stash my "normal" size patterns in a couple of those shoe-storage thingies that velcro to the wardrobe rail and unfold down. I can get about 8 or ten patterns in each cubbyhole and organise them loosely by type (tops, dresses, children etc). Because I don't live in a New York apartment, I'm lucky enough to have a spareroom with a small wardrobe, so I keep them in there. Burdas and large patterns like Jalie go on the top shelf. And my Style Arc ones in a folder. I'm still getting round to electronic recording, I like the picasa idea for its simplicity.

  11. Even though filing cabinets cause you the jitters, I keep my patterns in a lateral file. It works quite well with the patterns facing front, approximately 5 rows to each drawer. I found my 4 drawer file sitting by the side of the road with a sign for $20 one evening on my way home from work. We don't get the free treasure piles that you always seem to find in the city. I keep my patterns by type, ie kids, costumes, blouses, jeans/slacks, home decor, accessories, etc. It can be difficult when a pattern crosses into two catagories, but it is easier than piled in a big box in the corner.

  12. Storing my patterns is relatively easy. I mostly sew for myself and everyday wear, so I do destash from time to time if fashion (or size...) or taste or living conditions do change.

    What I keep comes into punched transparent pockets. One pocket keeps the original envelope, the original pattern, ironed to the size of the pocket and the instructions. The second pocket contains my copy of the pattern and all additional pieces that happened due to necessary alterations. (I have to do a lot of alterations, so I prefer not to cut the original pattern, but I trace a copy of it on transparent plastic sheet. I like to be able to go back to square one if I srew everything up... :o) )

    The punched pockets go to ring binders, one for children pattern (relatively few, because only done for gifts), mens pattern (same, DH has no special demands and fits fairly well into store bought clothes) and mine are sorted after function: one for pants/ trousers, one for all kind of tops and shirts, one for jackets and coats, one for dresses,... down to one for the rest. Unused patterns share one punched pocket and are in the appropriate ring binder.

    But I don't think I have 300 pattern. Pattern are very expensive in Germany. But we have pattern magazines which contain many patterns.Those are stored separately. (If I would count all those patterns it would be far more than 300...) Here I have burda every month, ottobre twice a year, Meine Nähmode (contains Simlicity patterns as traceable patterns) four times a year and occasionally Knipmode, Patrones and whatever I stumble upon.

    Burda I resell after about two years (it's a fashion mag after all), the rest gets a reevaluation when the storing place is full. Every some years. Same for the ring binders.

    For my projects I use those:
    They are big enough to hold all the material and the pattern for one project and also partially sewn clothes. (If a piece is sufficiently assembled it will go to a clothes hanger.) I have several of those. Once a project is finished I clean it out, put remnants to the remnants bin, unused buttons in the buttons box, thread back to the thread boxes, pattern to the ring binder,... and can assemble pieces for a new project then.
    (They exist also in a lager version, but since I normally do not need 20m of fabric for a ball gown the small ones are big enough to keep me organised.)

  13. Tissue patterns that I use a lot I stabilize by ironing light weight fusible Pellon to the back.
    They are folded and stored in big ziplock bags.

  14. I have two huge (or Lowe's "medium" moving boxes) stacked two deep and two wide. I'm in process of moving my patterns to less ragged boxes and I hope to eventually get them into long comic book boxes.

    Oh, I have something I'd like to send you, Peter. Would you please email me with where to mail it to?

  15. I have no system, (hangs head in shame, blushing) . They are in a file cabinet sorted by tops, bottoms, dresses and then large envelopes. On the bright side, I get to visit half of them every time I look tor a specific one. I have been scanning them, but that's a big project.

  16. Willy sighting in one of the Reisenthel pictures!

  17. I admit to working on multiple projects at once. I do this to cut down on project-fatigue (although I haven't sewn anything recently). To keep each project and its collection of supplies orderly, I use a 6-drawer plastic container designed for scrapbooking. The drawers are just big enough for pattern, fabric (up to about 3 yards) and all notions. Six drawers is the perfect number and seems to be the maximum number of projects my brain can handle at one time.

  18. I sell patterns so I have thousands to keep track of. I put everything in supplies from a comic book store. They have acid free clear bags in several sizes and sturdy lidded boxes that fit patterns perfectly. Ask for 'long boxes' for regular sized patterns and 'magazine' size for larger Vogues. They also have nice hard plastic dividers to help keep track of what you have.
    Comic book folks are interested in keeping paper goods safe and protected...just like we are.

  19. Pattern envelopes are stored in transparent sleeves which are kept, sorted by type, in 3 ring binders. Pattern pieces and instructions are kept in large manilla envelopes w/the pattern number written on the right hand top. Those are stored in numerical order in a, gasp, file cabinet. If I'm looking for a particular type of pattern I can look through the corresponding binder and pull the pattern from the file cabinet. It has ended up being much quicker than trying to paw through a bunch of patterns.

    It's neater also. I've been able to store several hundred patterns in a 2 drawer file and 4 binders. I don't have all sorts of containers everywhere storing them. Which for this clutterphobe is a god send! Plus I've been purging some that I realize I will NEVER make.

  20. Most of my patterns that come in envelopes are in zip-top bags and then sorted into clear small rubbermaid totes by type (dresses, skirts and pants, jackets and vests, costumes for kids, costumes for adults, etc.). I use a label-maker to label each tote, the way I label each tote for my fabric stash.

    I do have patterns that are traced from magazines like Ottobre and Burda, or from European pattern companies like Farbenmix or BizzKids. Those are all in zip-top bags, sorted by issues for the magazines (1/2012, 2/2012, etc.) and each bag has a piece of card stock in it with the name of the magazine and the issue at the top, followed by a list of the traced patterns that are in the bag, along with notation for the size of each one - some are traced in several different sizes. I keep all these in a cube-shaped basket, in order by date. The magazines themselves are also filed by date in magazine files. I separate the Ottobre Woman issues from the Ottobre kids issues. The Farbenmix patterns come in zip-top plastic bags and so it's very easy to simply keep the traced pieces in those same bags. I file those patterns in a magazine sleeve. I have some of the Farbenmix women's patterns and I keep them in the same magazine file as the Ottobre Woman issues.

    When I have projects on deck, I try to get all of the things together - fabric, interfacing, notions and pattern - and store them in collapsible storage boxes on a shelf next to my sewing table.

  21. Being well organized is a really big part of being more creative. I am creating new ways to organize myself, after a long depression. I have a huge pattern cache, and, like Peter, I find the envelopes inspiring. I organize patterns by categories, and put in plastc, see-through bins, some quite small. Like Vintage, Tops, Skirts, Dresses, etc. I really have a lot of vintage, and prefer these in smaller bins. Almost all my patterns are from charity shops. Of late, I am giving duplicates to my sewing niece. By duplicates, I mean I bought a lovely style in whatever size was available. later I found a larger one. So, if she likes it, she gets the smaller one. As she loves them, she gets a lot!!!!!!!! Cathie, in Quebec.

  22. I guess I will have to post a blog entry about my own pattern storage and retrieval systems!

  23. Great ideas! I put everything related to a work in progress in a basket together. It all stays in there unless I am working with it, when it may end up scattered all over the sewing room. I have so many UFOs what with clothes, quilts and other craft projects, I have to keep them organised like this!

  24. I have almost 1100 patterns, but in my defense, I sew not only for myself, but my children and even occasionally my husband. I have home dec and craft-type patterns as well. I used Pattern File (software with cloud storage and a mobile app), but I also have a system for my rather extensive fabric collection. You can use Google docs spreadsheets and create a database with sortable fields. You can also image link the pictures you have stored online!

    For the actual pattern storage, I have baskets in a cabinet as well as a couple of fabric bags that I use for categories of patterns. I also use pretty reuseable shopping bags for my "current rotation" of patterns that I intend to make soon. I rotate those every couple of months.

  25. The designer who lives in my mom's neighborhood told me she just keeps a folder of the envelopes in clear sleeves and then she puts the patterns away separately in a manilla envelope. That way the bulk is out of the way and she can quickly look through what she has.

  26. I can usually manage to get the pattern back into the original envelope, but it's tougher now that I've been tracing them. I need to make lots of alterations, so fear having nothing to start clean from if I really get off track. I have 10 of the pattern boxes from Joann/Hancock, stuffed, sorted by type - tops, pants, dresses, wardrobe, etc. I have a spreadsheet on my Nook with pattern numbers and brief description, but those descriptions aren't very helpful - too vague.

    I should purge - I mean really, how many wrap dress patterns does one who doesn't wear dresses need?

  27. I am seriously thinking about cataloging my patterns (perhaps with Excel) by brand, number, type(s) of garment included, comments, etc. That way I will be able to rearrange the list at will to find all skirt etc. patterns together when I want to decide which to use. The patterns themselves will be arranged by brand/number and stored in plastic boxes. Now all I need to do is brush up on Excel which I have not used for ages.

    1. Try the spreadsheet in Google docs - it's easy and since it's stored on the cloud, you can access it anywhere.

  28. I just went through my patterns again. I dug out about 30 to donate. I organize them basically like the pattern company categories. I have at least 5 large boxes full. I do accidentally buy the same pattern sometimes! Sometimes I WANT the same pattern in a different size. I do alterations directly on the pattern, so it's difficult then to change them to another size.
    I have a hard time ignoring those $4 vogue pattern sales and $1 or 2 for other companies.
    I started teaching sewing to refugees again, so I like to have basic skirt and pant patterns in smaller sizes and ones for kids also.
    It's an interesting idea to take a photo of each one and put on Picasa etc but it sure would take a lot of time.
    I got rid of my Barbie patterns 5 years ago when I moved. Now I find there are only 1 or 2 still for sale!
    I just traced off my tried and true Kwik Sew for Children pattern for a pull over fleece hoodie.

  29. Pattern storage. Oh boy. First yes to the zippered storage bags. Love them. But, I also use these file folders that are clear plastic. I keep my most used patterns or patterns that have been altered for fitting a certain person in these. Next line of pattern defense are the plastic folder boxes from the office store. Variety of colors, sizes, with a snap close lid. I prefer the clear ones for patterns, and they have a little lip on either side, so I can use hanging folders for patterns like my husband's favorite 1880's shirt that he wears for his fast draw competitions, that pattern I have in multiples because it is one that is popular and I frequently make those shirts for charity auctions held in conjunction with our events, they are amazingly popular. I make sure to keep a large size note card on the outside of the box with pattern numbers printed on them. Also have a 3 ring binder with a photo of the pattern, short description and dates of use.

    For projects in the works, I hit my local dollar/discount store and found plastic and wicker baskets in flat rectangles, Into it goes the pattern and fabric that I'm going to use, along with all the threads, notions, any zippers, interfacing or buttons that will be used. If it has to do with the project, it goes in the basket. I also leave things like a little tool kit in each basket (seam ripper, good scissors, pinking shears if needed) and a pin cushion with the pins for the project (like satins, longs, etc.) The baskets are stored on shelves that my wonderful husband put together that are kind of narrow spaced. A 3 x 5 note card is hung on the outside of the basket with the pattern number, which of my guys it is for, if it is one I've made before the card will have notes on changes I made, usually specific to the person I made it for (example one son prefers a French cuff so he can show off his collection of cuff links, but I use the same pattern for his brother who prefers a narrow cuff). Once I've made it, a picture goes on the card, and depending on the success and the opinion on the guys it can either be moved from the Ziploc to the file folder box. I also make sure to note which machine I used, special feet or attachments, seam treatments, bindings, trimmings, etc. For some projects like my son's utility kilts I use the skirt style hangers, with the work card clipped to the cross piece with a gator style clip. Fabric stash is stored either in plastic storage boxes for true stash items (stash is getting slim these days) or I found a couple of the hanging closet organizers for sweaters at the thrift store. Garment fabric (that really good stuff for my guy's formal wear and fancy silks) are folded in good tissue, placed in a clean white pillow case with a swatch of the fabric pinned to it and stored in the closet in those (after they are either washed or dry cleaned according to care instructions). If I purchased the material with a project in mind (which I mostly do these days) a copy of the pattern I intend to use is pinned to the case. When my daughter was little and stilled like the fluffy crinoline look, I was forever stashing cute fabrics and laces. Now with only the boys still making use of my sewing room, I'm shifting to more suiting and good shirting materials.

    So far, my vintage collection is well over 400, with about half being children's clothing infant to teen. Am thinking I might have to start weeding them out and put the proceeds into expanding my very vintage women's collection. Since I prefer patterns from Pre 20's, it can take a bit of searching and once they are found the pattern nearly always needs to be altered. Modern patterns are nearly all men's wear, or prom wear (sure my mom can make you a prom dress... nah don't worry she can do it by this weekend).


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