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!
73 thoughts on “3 Tips for Best Practices in Fabric Storage”
I just nabbed some clear shoe organizers from the container store to hold my fat quarters!
What a good idea. I’ve got some of those and just yesterday was getting very aggravated searching through my stash. Guess what I’m doing today. Thanks!
Great information. Love it and thank you.
Thanks so much Gayle!
Thanks so much for answering this question. I totally suspected that leaving it out on a shelf was not the best idea…
Will you also be talking about how to store quilts? I’m super curious about that now! I had no idea the rules were different…
Absolutely! We’ve got a quilt storage post planned. That post will really build upon this one since doing in-home quilt preservation is usually a more long-term commitment than storing fabric that you’re likely to use. Coming soon!
Phew! So it’s ok to just have odd piles of fabrics on the spare bed …… well, actually during all the covid restrictions, the spare bedroom has been renamed the quilting room. Covid restrictions and lots of snow outside make quilting the ideal hobby in Perthshire, Scotland.
Sounds like a dreamy room!
Thank you for the information. I guess I need to grab me some acid free tissue paper . Good to know
Make sure to get unbuffered acid-free tissue! It’s the best for most textiles!
I keep my stash neatly folded and colour coordinated in a ceiling high shoe cabinet. What was a wrong buy first (no way were the shelves deep enough for hubbies shoes ;-)), turned out to be a blessing for my sewing room. When closed there’s no harm by light or dust. When opened it lookes to me like Aladdin’s Cave and my creative juices start flowing.
Happy accidents are the best – sounds like a lovely system! Sometimes you just want to see some pretty fabrics 🙂
Is is okay to store fabric in plastic storage bags? I’ve recently started to use this method to hold fabric and patterns that I plan to use soon.
This is exactly my question — I had thought that plastic (boxes or bags) was a poor choice because the container can’t breathe and therefore moisture can built up. I live in a humid area and so this is a greater concern for me than it might be for some living in a arid area.
Very interested to hear the answer on this….
Hi Moira! Moisture is unlikely to build up in your tub since it doesn’t really let moisture in. As long as your storage space is in an area of your home where the inside climate is well regulated, and as long as you look for that recycling number 5 if you want to be serious about your plastic choice, a polypropylene plastic tub is great!
I store my large pieces of fabric on pant/skirt hangers in a closet in my sewing room and bits and pieces in fabric containers that fit in the IKEA 5 x 4 storage unit, with a color swatch pinned on the outside.
And fat quarters and others fabric folded on IKEA(Billy shelves) and an IKEA CD storage unit..limited sunlight..can see all fabriceasily
I have a goal to reduce my use of plastic. I use fabric lined wicker and cotton or felt bins . I use older sheets to line the wicker. I also am a hobby quilter and work 50 hours a week so probably don’t have quite the stash that others have. So far so good; no fabric damage ! Thank you for the tips!
Reducing plastic use is a great goal! And you have the right instinct – using sheets as a physical barrier between textiles and potentially acidic storage materials is often recommended. 🙂
Hi June! As long as you’re not using the bags as long term storage, I say go for it! The materials I wrote about in this post are for very long term storage. It’s very unlikely that anything will happen to your fabrics in the short term like this!
I store “projects” in labeled plastic shoe boxes. My yardage is stored in plastic file boxes by color. One (or 2) boxes for 1 yd, 2 yd, 3yd, etc. I also keep my “special” fabric, like Liberty of London, in separate plastic containers. It is all the other quilting stuff, like patterns, that I can’t figure out how to organize. I could use suggestions!!!
You could try an over the door hanging shoe organizer for many things. I’ve found pattern envelopes fit in each shoe pocket nicely. Or you could sew one of these shoe organizers using up some fabric in the process.
We’ve got some future sewing studio organization posts planned, so keep an eye out for those!
I put my patterns in a large 3 ring binder that contains folders ,zippered 3 ring document holders, and clear page covers. I’ve alphabetized them, and have another 1 for used patterns.
Can you name the fabric maker/source for those pictured in the first photo (which has the article’s title on it)? Great info- glad to know I’m already doing a few thing right!
I’m pretty sure the fabrics with the little pluses are Diamond Textiles (manufacturer) Manchester Embroidered Cottons collection. They are available online at both Cottoneer Fabrics and Stash Fabrics. (I only know this as I’ve been on a woven fabrics buying spree lately.) Not sure exactly who the solids are but they also have a ‘woven’ look to them.
Hi Blythe! I love those sweet fabrics. They’re all Essex Linen by Robert Kaufman, and embroidered yarn dyed wovens by Diamond Textiles. I got the wovens from Fabricworm.
Here’s a follow up Blythe – I had time to go through my swatch cards and check on the color names. The bundle in the first photo is Diamond Textiles Manchester yarn dyed woven in twinkle dark sky, Essex linen in dusty blue, Essex yarn dyed linen in seafoam, Essex yarn dyed linen in pickle, Diamond Textiles Manchester yarn dyed woven in twinkle chameleon, and Essex linen in jungle.
Can you also identify the dark blue herringbone bone fabric that is part of this grouping? The photo can be located in the email just above the “Read More” link. Love your inspirations!
Thanks Connie! That’s from the Warp and Weft collection by Ruby Star Society. It’s a luscious woven. I’m currently using it in my Gather quilt!
I store my fabrics in an IKEA cabinet with glass doors so I can see my fabric but I also put the IKEA cabinet in a closet with louvre doors and I mostly keep the doors shut. I never find any damage to my fabrics. Please let me know if this is not a good storage method.
That’s great to protect it from light! I use an IKEA shelving unit too, and I know I’m taking a bit of a risk with it because of the materials it’s made of, but that’s ok with me. My plan is to use my fabrics! So I say as long as you’re actively using your fabric stash, it sounds good. You’re protecting it from the most pressing damage issue – damage from light can happen very quickly!
whats the problem with the ikea shelving, and is it ok if painted or is that the issue.
also, is it good to wash the new fabric and what about it having been ironed with starch.
Hi Judith! IKEA furniture is usually made out of a type of particleboard, and those often have chemicals that can be released into the air (in museums that’s called off-gassing). It’s not dangerous to people, but those chemicals are not great for long term care. So, I believe the risk to my stash to be minimal since I’m very active in sewing from my stash. But if I wanted to preserve any textile for years and years, I would avoid any furniture made of particle board! (But seriously, I am getting a delivery from IKEA tomorrow, so I still love them!)
Thank you Suzy–timely article for me. I’ve been worried about storing my stash. I now have a plan from information I can depend on. Thank you for being trustworthy.
Thanks for reading the article Sharron! We have some more posts planned that I think you’ll like 🙂
I bought a number of clear plastic scrapbook containers. I put all fabrics, pattern and any other needed items into the box. They are large enough to hold completed blocks together and I can tell at a glance what is where. With all my ToDo projects, I could easily use 50 of them🤣🤣. I guess I could actually finish a project, but where’s the fun in that!😉. Great article. Welcome to the gang!
Thanks so much, Susan! It’s been so much fun being part of the SQ crew! And I feel ya about the to dos – I use three tier IKEA carts to organize mine and I have…a lot on each tier!
LOL, I love those scrapbook containers!! I’ve got 3 or 4 of those, about 10 clear shoeboxes, and 2 very large containers for batting and backing fabrics. All this after only 1 year of quilting 😂🤷♀️🤦♀️
I made matching fabric totes, with drawstring fabric ‘lids’ to store my fabric. The ‘lid’ colors tell me what’s inside by color and fabric type. Neon colors are manmade fabric, natural colors are natural fabrics. This way I can still tell what’s in each one without light getting to them.
Cool idea! Storing fabric in other fabric is an excellent way to protect it – and they sound cute too!
I’m a teensy bit sad but also glad to know this information. And really, I guess it should be obvious but I’ve never thought to consider light being problematic. I’ve been storing my pretty fabric behind glass doors and I have an enormous window in my sewing room. My sad eyes also need lots of light to see what I’m sewing. 😳 What’s the chance I could use some clear UV film to line the insides of my glass doors? (For that matter maybe lining my window too.) Kind of like eye glasses with a UV protective coating? Would that save me from finding a new spot for my pretty fabric? 🤓🤷🏻♀️
UV filters on the glass is a great idea! Many historic house museums do that to protect their artifacts. Fluorescent lighting is also hazardous though, so make sure to turn your lights off when you’re not using them! I keep my fabric out on shelves too. I minimize the light by closing blackout blinds when I don’t need outdoor light and turn the lights off every time I leave the room. Also, I try to make sure none of my fabric lingers on my shelves for too long!
Great article, Suzy! What about metal wire baskets (like Elfa) for fabric storage? They’re okay, aren’t they?
Hi Chris! Wire baskets can pose a risk since it’s possible they can get rusty, but in general for a fabric stash, they are much less dangerous than having your fabric touching uncoated wood. If you want to be really safe, you could line the basket in unbleached muslin so that if anything bad happens, it would only damage the muslin. But in general, for a stash that’s being actively used, I think they’re fine! Protecting fabrics from light is the most pressing concern for most fabric stashes, so make sure to keep your room as dark as possible when you’re not using it!
Should fabric be refolded occasionally so that the creases don’t become permanent?
Good question! I personally don’t think that’s too crucial. I’ll cover that in the quilt storage post that is coming up in the future, but hopefully you’re using your fabrics fast enough that the creases don’t become too intense over time 🙂 Also, you can press your fabrics to get creases out, which for quilts that are being preserved in home, you can’t get creases out that way. So, spend that precious time quilting instead of refolding!
Bought 7 or 6 BIG plastic storage tubs at Meijer (on sale of course) and have my stash fabrics folded and sorted by color in these. The tubs are stacked into a deep closet in a spare bedroom that doubles as my sewing space and puppy raising room. The closet doors keep out light, heat and dust, yet upon opening, allow me ready access to quickly find what I’m looking for.
Puppy raising room?!?!?!? Well, my new goal is to have a home with a dedicated sewing/puppy raising room. That is literally my new dream. Sounds like you have a good set up!
I currently have half of my fabric hanging in a spare closet (which seems okay), and a gigantic seagrass basket holding the rest of it (which isn’t!). My question is how to store fabric remnants, scraps, etc– oddly-shaped remnants (say from sewing clothing) or tiny scraps that I’m saving to use for smaller pieces on a quilt top. Fat quarters or quarter yards are no problem to store, but anything else seems to just end up in a wad. I’ve been using cotton drawstring bags from my kids’ toys for the scraps/leftover strips or triangles, which does make it hard to see what I have (or find anything), but the biggest struggle is what to do with large irregularly-shaped remnants. Any suggestions?
Oh Kate, scraps are the eternal struggle, aren’t they? Now that we’ve gone over some strategies for keeping fabric safe in this post, we’ll be sharing some about fabric organization in the future! I’ll add scraps to the list of things to cover in the organization posts 🙂
I found your post very informative. When I buy fabric, first thing I do is record it on my Swatch Buddies. On the Swatch Buddies I mark with a red pen if the fabric has been washed. I then fold the fabric onto Comic Book cardboard. It is then stored in Plastic Covered Wire Baskets (like Elfa), sorted into projects or fabric types. If the fabric is over 1 meter, they are on a full card. If 1/2 meter or less they are folded onto smaller pieces of card. The wire baskets are in a wardrobe in a Fabric Storage Room with
Air – conditioning and a Air Purifier in a dark room. Living in Queensland, Australia, I am very Mindfull of light damage.
That’s great Ann! I use acid-free magazine boards to make mini-bolts (I’ll share lots of folding and organization tips in a future post). Your system sounds excellent! When you buy new comic book board, make sure to look for acid-free products. I’m planning to go over more of what that really means in a future post 🙂
Right now I have my fabric filed. My “sewing table” is an old desk, so had the filing drawers available. Most of it is in file folders in the drawers, and what doesn’t fit is filed away in a plastic tub. I don’t know how the file folders will interact with the fabric long term, though. Hadn’t really thought about that when I filed it away. It is nice for being able to find what I’m looking for. I have categories now!
That’s so creative Danielle! It is likely that the file folders you’re using are made of acidic materials, but if you’re using your stash often and not leaving fabrics in there for years, it’s likely to be ok. Love that you have fabric categories!
You write about “short-term” storage and “long-term” storage. Could you give us a ball park idea of when we crossing from short term to long term?
Great question Kate! So generally, there’s no exact time difference. In museums, we try to rotate textiles off of exhibit every three months if possible to prevent light damage. And it’s possible for damage from acidic storage materials to strike at any time. But for the fabric in your stash, if you have it sitting out for more than a year or two, you may start to see some signs of trouble. Museums are generally more cautious because we practice what is called preventive conservation, which is creating an ideal environment to avoid any damage happening to textiles or other preserved objects. But at home, you can be more liberal with your care since you’re not planning to pass your fabric stash down as an heirloom – you’re sewing with it! I’ll cover more specifics as it relates to heirloom quilts in a future post too! Hope that helps 🙂
Thanks Laura. Yes it does help. And maybe it will give me the impetus to use some fabric I’ve been “saving.” 😁
I store my fabrics in large tubs, with the fabric wrong side out, and keep in a dark closet. Have not had a problem with fsding.
Sounds like a great system for you Linda!
In your video you showed the storage for your fat quarters and half yard fabric. Where can we get those clear “acrylic” bins. They don’t look like plastic. I have started you’ll folding ideas and even bought the magazine cardboard. It looks so much better.
Hi Frances! My clear containers are linked in the last paragraph of the blog post about fabric folding, and also under Tip #3 in my most recent blog post about fabric organization. Hope you have fun folding and organizing!
I store my fabric on white wire shelving against a wall, with fabric panels that are held onto the upper shelving corners with loops of elastic… to keep the light off of my stash. I have many vintage linens also, and have found that one of the biggest flaws that decreases their value is fading… so I store both my linens and my fabric folded inside out to be extra cautious.
Thank you for this post, and for sharing your knowledge. I’m looking forward to hearing about storing quilts since they’re not as simple as fabric with a right side and a wrong side!
I have several small quilts hung on walls for decoration and we have lots of windows. I don’t want to close my blinds during the day because we love all the sunshine. After reading your post, I think I may need to take my wall quilts down. Is there any alternative? I hate to put them away and never see them.
Hey Cathy! I’m planning a post about quilt storage for later this year, so keep an eye out for that! The short answer is yes, light is bad for quilts used as decorations that hang long term. I always recommend rotating your decorations so they get a break from the light. Plus then you can show off more quilts! I’ll talk about that more when the post is ready 🙂
We are moving and I have to put my fabric in PP totes and store in a non-climate controlled unit from Nov-April in TN. We will be putting g damp rid in the unit but any other suggestions for protecting from damage would be much appreciated.
Sounds like you have a really nice plan! Most professionals will use silica gel over damp rid since it’s safer from a conservation standpoint, but that’s for long-term moisture situations. For a few months like that, the damp rid should be ok!
You guys have the best advice and suggestions. I have learned so much and am so happy I found this site.
I store my quilting fabric ( most of it) in an old buffet that I bought while in Germany. The doors are solid wood so there isn’t light damage to consider. All of my yardage and FQ are folded using my quilt rulers as a guides to wrap around. My FQ are in plastic bins on one shelf, yardage on two others. My “sets” are in groups ( Christmas, kits, flannel, baby, recycled, etc) are in opaque plastic dresser like bins. All of my scraps and precuts are in the bottom of the buffet. This system works well for me to be able to separate the fabric by colors.
I’m ok as long as I don’t exceed to limits of the buffet’s space…… lol!
Next I’ll try the fabric swatches!
I roll my fabric and keep in a wooden dresser. I save lots of space by rolling and I have dress fabric as well as thicker fabric for curtains and other home decor projects. I use selvage strips that I’ve cut off to tie the rolls with.