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My questions:

  1. Is there an 'ideal' size to cut / store fabric for making clothes?
  2. Do other sewers have an efficient system in place for cutting / preparing their fabric for future sewing projects?

There are many resources online providing methods of storing fabric stashes in a small living space. The focus of my question is on cutting, preparation, and planning, rather than just storage.

Background:

I am starting to build up a large fabric collection, which is a mix of different sizes/areas of material. I have large bolts of fabric (up to 4 metres long), smaller pieces like fat quarters, and also small off-cut scraps.

I started buying longer bolts of fabric when I realised that it can be tricky to follow patterns for clothing when you only have small scraps of fabric available. For example, when I want to follow a pattern for leggings, I need a length of fabric which is at least as long as the leg shape, plus extra length for hems etc. I purchased a few metres of fabric at a time in one continuous bolt for this reason, but have now realised that I am finding it difficult to store, wash, and cut. (One of the reasons I find the cutting difficult is because I have a small work space and the largest flat surface I have is just under 1m square. I have read about other sewers cutting out fabric on the floor, but the floor of my space is not suitable.)

I have considered cutting my large bolts of fabric into smaller pieces to help with storage, and this should also help me with cutting out, because I won't have long pieces of material drooping over the edge of my work space. However, I'm not sure if this is the correct solution, or if this will cause problems later on when I try to sew garments like leggings or trousers.

Edited to add chosen solution:

After receiving several great answers, I am going to use the following process:

  1. Plan which patterns are going to be used
  2. Cut lengths of fabric to the size needed for those patterns (eg. 1m, 0.5m)
  3. Zig-zag stitch the cut ends of the fabric before washing
  4. Wash the cut fabric pieces
  5. Cut out the patterns carefully without letting fabric hang down over the edge of the cutting surface
  6. Store the remainder of the fabric as before, unwashed
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I do cut long lengths of fabric into shorter pieces for storage.

I know from experience what lengths will be good for how and what I typically sew, and for me 2 yard lengths cover just about anything I need. For you, it may be 3 yard and/or 4 yard lengths.

I wash and dry my fabric before cutting, then iron, cut, and fold for storage.

I store my fabric by color family; I love having everything ready to go.

In the past, when I didn't have a cutting table, I used my bed. But be sure not to cut your sheets or bed coverings.

Two solutions for safely cutting on your bed are:

Buy a thick plastic dining table protector from Bed, Bath & Beyond (for example). They come in several sizes and are easy to trim if you need to.

These table covers are thick enough to protect your bedding and you can tightly tuck them around your bed to avoid wrinkles:

Vinyl table pad/cloth example

Another method is to buy a thick folding cardboard cutting surface (Joanne's, etc.) that will fold open to a long length and the width of your fabric, and fold back up to easily store in your closet or under your bed. This surface is stiffer and easier to work with than the table covers, but you may need to experiment to see which works best for you.

Joann.com cutting board example

Good luck with your fabric stash and happy sewing! There is an old saying, “She who dies with the most fabric wins.”

  • I appreciated and found value in all of the answers I have received so far, but this is my chosen answer because it provides me with a safe and usable process for cutting fabric into shorter pieces, which will aid me with both storage and organisation of my projects. – Candlejack Aug 3 '17 at 12:35
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I would hesitate to cut my fabric into smaller pieces for storage, just because I can pretty much guarantee that as soon as you cut your fabric, the universe will send you the perfect pattern for that particular piece of fabric--but the pattern will require about 1/2 yard longer than your chosen cutting length.

But the reason I wanted to post an answer is because I just took a sewing class where my instructor insisted on teaching us how to cut fabric when you only have a small cutting surface. The basic tenets were that you should NEVER let fabric hang over the edge of the table, as this can pull parts of your fabric off grain. Instead we spent a lot of time folding and refolding unused and/or already pinned sections of fabric as we laid out our patterns in preparation for cutting.

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You should keep your fabric in sizes that are at least at big as the "average" size for the type of garment you'll make out of it. Take a look at your patterns or browse a few online to get an idea of how much different projects take. If I'm buying fabric without a particular pattern in mind, my rule of thumb is:

  • Tops: 1 - 2 yards (sleeveless top - long sleeve tunic)
  • Bottoms: 1.5 - 2 yds (depending on how long)
  • Dresses: 3 yds

Again, these are just estimates -- there are certainly patterns that use less, but having more fabric gives you more options. Also note that you might need more of fabrics with nap or directional patterns to account for matching.

I would not recommend cutting your fabric into smaller pieces. It will still take up the same volume, but now you might not be able to place your pattern pieces as efficiently, or at all if you cut it too small. If storage space is an issue, you could try vacuum-packed bags for fabrics that you won't use for a while.

As far as cutting out pattern pieces, most sewists without a dedicated space just use the largest flat surface available -- a clean kitchen table or counter, the floor. I've even cut out pieces on my mattress before! You could try laying something on top of your floor or bed, like cardboard or foam tiles, to make a stable surface. You can roll up the excess fabric to keep it from dragging off the surface.

The main reason for having enough space to lay out the pattern piece is to ensure that your fabric is not wrinkled, distorted, or misaligned. If you are very careful, you could roll it out and pin as you go (kind of like how quilters quilt). But it is easier and less error-prone to get a surface big enough for the biggest piece you will need.

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Don't cut your fabric until you know what you're making out of it.

While it is possible to "piece" fabric when your pattern pieces are larger than your fabric, it's a pain in the neck, and the results are never as nice as an un-pieced garment.

I know it can be nice to store your fabric pre-washed, so you can just grab what you need and start sewing, but it's not always practical to wash (and dry!) long lengths of fabric. In that case, it's better to store the fabric unwashed than to cut it into lengths that might then make it impossible to make what you need out of it. (One note from bitter experience: when you do get around to washing your fabric, zig-zag or otherwise edge-finish the cut ends! It seems like a waste of time until you encounter that piece of fabric that turns into a tangled mess of matted threads in the dryer.)

As far as storing fabric, I tend to go by the philosophy that if it works for the fabric store, it should work for my stash, too. This means folding the fabric lengthwise (or leaving it folded that way, if it's such a long length that I haven't washed it), then folding/rolling it as if it were on a bolt.

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I always use my cutting board wherever the cutting takes place: table, bed, floor. The boards have numerous markings on them and helps amazingly to keep things aligned. Nothing worse than having fabric go off-grain because the off-grain piece is generally unsalvageable for the project. (Could be used for something else though; scraps are always handy to have.) Cutting boards also keep the fabric clean; I have pets so the floor can be chancy. :D

I also use my bed to cut out things. Even though I have a sewing room and a table next to a desk for optimum cutting space, at times I have those spaces in use for items that need cooling after heavy steaming on seams.

When cutting using my bed as the cutting board, I always make sure it's the space I need because bending over to it will give me a back ache. It is best for wide cuts that require opening the fabric so the fold goes selvage to selvage instead of the usual fold from the bolt.

If you have a way to raise it from the bed like with a series of boxes (all same height), that can help. I suppose you could raise the bed also; there are gadgets for that to increase under-bed storage.

Another idea for cutting space when you have really large pieces to cut (like wedding dresses or evening gowns) is see if you can use the conference room table at your office. Another option is asking your local fabric shop (such as JoAnn Fabric) if they have a classroom you can borrow for an hour or two.

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