When quilters find out I work as a textile curator, one of the first questions they ask is about best practices for fabric storage. We invest so much time, effort, and (let’s face it) money into building a fabric stash, and everyone wants to know how to keep that precious investment safe!
The good news is that the best tips for storing your fabric stash are much simpler than for storing and preserving quilts. Making a few small changes in your sewing space will help keep your fabrics looking bright and fresh.
Just to give you a little background on who's giving you this advice, I've worked in curatorial roles in museums for over 15 years, from internationally known museums like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to small local history museums.
I inherited my love of textiles from my mom, who studied textile science in college, and followed in her footsteps by studying textiles through college, grad school, and a certificate in textile preservation. And I'm also a quilter! You can read more in my bio.
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We all have fabric that is extra special to us. For me, it’s my scrappy bundle of prints I bought on a trip to England and the coordinating prints my textile loving mom helped me pick out on our last trip to a fabric store together. I’ve had that little bundle of fat quarters for years, just waiting for the perfect quilt design to use them. Until I make up my mind, I want to keep those fabrics safe.
Follow these three simple best practices for fabric storage to keep your most treasured fabrics, or your entire stash, safe from damage!
1. Prevent Light Damage
The picture below shows two halves of a quilt that hung over a bed. The dark half was hidden behind the bed, and the light half was exposed to natural and artificial light for years. This is classic light damage, and no one wants it to happen to their fabrics.
Damage from light is the most serious threat to any textile, including your fabric stash. Light damage is irreversible, so once it happens, your fabric cannot be saved. This damage also accumulates, which means that it gets even worse the longer your fabric is exposed to light.
It’s ok to leave your fabric out on a shelf - that’s how I store mine! But I’m careful to minimize the amount of light in my sewing studio because I know it is a constant threat.
Make sure to close your sewing room’s blinds or curtains as often as possible, and turn your lights off when you’re not sewing. If you’re very serious about preventing light damage, consider storing your fabric in an opaque box with a lid (more on that later!).
There’s nothing like the disappointment of pulling a nicely folded fabric off a shelf and unfolding it, only to discover that it has faded areas where it was exposed to the light. So the top best practice for fabric storage is to minimize light exposure!
2. Monitor Temperature and Humidity
Chances are good that if you store fabric in a space where you sew, you don’t have to worry too much about the temperature and humidity. As a textile preservation teacher once told me, textiles are organic material, and so are we. If we’re comfortable, our textiles generally are too.
However, if your space is in an uninsulated attic or an unfinished basement, you may want to take extra precautions. Unfinished basements are often moist which leaves your fabrics susceptible to mold and mildew. You might want to invest in a good dehumidifier for your basement. Uninsulated attics are notoriously hot and dry, which can cause your fabric to become brittle.
The picture above shows textiles that have become dry and brittle. To prevent these issues, make sure your sewing or fabric storage space is kept at 65-75 degrees, and your humidity is at 45-55 percent. Your fabrics will thank you, and you’ll be cozier too!
3. Use Safe Storage Materials
You’ve likely heard that cedar chests will keep moths and other textile-eating insects away from your quilts and textiles. I hate to break it to you, but that’s an old wives tale! While cedar chests are gorgeous, they are capable of doing serious damage to your textiles and they don’t actually keep moths away.
Below is the back of a quilt that was stored in a wooden box. You can see that the oils in the wood have discolored the fibers, which can lead to deterioration.
If you’ve decided to store your quilting fabric in a light-tight box, avoid wood or acidic materials like cardboard. If you use an old dresser or cabinet to store your fabric and really want to keep using it, you'll need to take a few extra steps to keep your fabric safe.
First, coat any wood that will touch your fabrics with two layers of polyurethane varnish. Using two layers is important, because it ensures that any area you may have missed on your first coat is still sealed. Next, wrap your fabric in unbuffered acid-free tissue for an added layer of protection. These steps will help protect your fabric, but there is still a risk.
If you don't want to use wood, your best bet for storing fabrics long-term is to find a plastic tub made of polypropylene only.
How do you know what your tub is made of? Check the bottom for the recycling symbol. On a polypropylene container in the US, there will be a 5 in the center of the symbol, and the letters “PP” underneath. Note that you may not find every storage tub you want in polypropylene.
If you prefer storing your fabric in clear containers so you can easily see them, you can still look for the polypropylene symbol. And if you plan to only temporarily store your fabrics in plastic, feel free to use any container, knowing there is a small risk of short term damage.
When to Throw Best Practices for Fabric Storage Out the Window
With all that said, quilting fabric is made to be used! My advice to quilters who are concerned about best practices for fabric storage is to use it. Cut that fabric up and turn it into quilts for you and your loved ones to enjoy, and you won’t have to worry much about long term care.
These tips are great for preservation of special fabrics, but make sure you’re also using your stash to make lovely quilts too!
Above is a block from the Shine quilt. You can purchase the pattern in the shop!
Keeping the most treasured fabrics in your stash safe for years to come is a worthy cause. You might choose to take this preservation advice for a small bundle of fabrics, like my treasured scrappy fat quarter bundle, or apply it to your entire stash.
But if you’re more interested in clear storage so you can see your stash, keep an eye out for future posts on folding different lengths of fabric and strategies for tidy and organized storage!
How do you store your fabric? Do you have fabric questions or special tips? Share with us in the comments below!