Fat Quarter Episode Swatch Card Switch

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Episode 138 of Black Women Stitch, Fabric Intake Process

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Lisa Woolfork  0:01  

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Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please. The official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together

Hey friends, hey. Welcome to this Fat Quarter episode. A fat quarter if you don't know already is a quarter yard of fabric that has a little bit of junk in the trunk, if you know what I mean, a little body yadi yadi.

It's designed to be more useful for quilt projects such as applique, or craft projects that require a more robust piece of fabric. So a fat quarter is a more consolidated version of a traditional quarter yard of fabric. A quarter yard of fabric measures nine inches by 44 inches wide, typically for quilting cotton, and that is not particularly useful if you are using paper piecing, for example, as a way to assemble your quilt. So instead of using that long, skinny rectangle, they use a fat quarter. A fat quarter in the context of Stitch Please means that each Fat Quarter episode will be 18 to 22 minutes or less. So here we go.

Hey friends, hey. So happy to be here today. Hey, friends, hey and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. As I say every week. This is a very special episode because this episode, y'all, you would not believe what happened. A very simple change in my sewing space led to a wonderful transformation of the entire thing. Just something so small. It involves my swatch cards. It involves this long, delayed unboxing of fabric that I got from Los Angeles and was very excited about when I bought it and much less excited about it when it got to the house and needed to be put away. So that will be a future episode, the Procraftination episode.

But for now, I just wanted to share in a Fat Quarter episode a short episode, as a fat quarter is between 18 and  22 inches long. This episode will be a short episode between 18 and 22 minutes or less. But I wanted to talk about how shifting your perspective and shifting something small in your environment can lead to positive changes overall. 

To begin, those of you who've been listening to the podcast for a while know that I am very enthusiastic about all aspects of sewing organization. I love to get my stitch together. I feel out of sorts when things are out of place and all over the place. And I feel very calm when I'm cleaning up and putting things away, and I feel the calmest when things are clear and put away. I feel like I can think better. I feel like I can, I'm more excited to create. I know that some folks love the chaos and sometimes I do too when I'm working on a project and I'm just doing something and I'm throwing a little piece on the ground or I'm doing this and I got instructions here and part of the other instructions over there and a piece that I need. So I can sometimes work in that environment. But when it's all over and done, I need my space reset to calm, reset to zero. And so for me, that's like a clear table, or that's typically a clear table and I would say, a clear floor, but yeah, a clear floor. Sometimes I take the lint roller out or the vacuum cleaner or the broom or whatever, but a few threads here and there is not going to make me distracted from a calm environment. But a cluttered table will absolutely distract me.

All is to say, when I was getting ready to work on the fabric from Los Angeles, I realized the great benefit that past Lisa had given future Lisa, by insisting that past Lisa bring swatch cards to Los Angeles just in case, haha, she decided to buy some fabric at one of the most wonderful fabric districts in the United States, just bar none. And so I had all of these cards, and I had to put the fabric away. And this gave me an opportunity to look at the way that I was currently organizing my swatch cards. 

My swatch cards are deliberately designed to work with a few Avery labels. And in this way, the system is pretty regimented. I have a series of drawers, wire shelving, and these pull out. You pull the drawer out and you can look inside and you can see the fabrics. But each fabric drawer has a swatch card that is connected with each drawer. So if you pull out drawer A-1, and you pull out the ring for A-1, you will find all of the fabrics that are in the drawer indexed on that ring.

This is great. I love this system. I find it very helpful. It keeps me from wondering what I bought and why. And it helps me to know where things are. I have one column, column A that has eight drawers. There's only knit fabrics in that section. And if you look back at the episode I did on fabric acquisition, you know that when I put fabrics in a drawer that is three yards or less. It's between one and three yards if it goes in column A or column B. Column A is for knit. Column B is for woven. I also have sections in the sewing space where fabrics are over three yards or more. And if they are woven, they go in one section. And if they are knit fabric, they go in another section so that I always know which way to look or just have a rough idea of where I put something and why.

But still the cards themselves. Those are the things I'm really excited about. I love the swatch cards. They are a giveaway. They are a benefit for the Black Women Stitch Patreon supporters. So if you are a Patreon supporter, you have access to these same cards that I use. And I also include the template number that you would need in order to print them out. It makes it really easy and ideally customizable.

So these, my swatch cards, which are adhesive labels that I then put on to photo paper, glossy photo paper that I have printed a digital pattern on the back. So I like this kind of uniformity. It really is very calming to my eye. It really does call me to see rows of things and things in a certain order. And the swatch cards are no exception. My plan was, years ago, when I got the swatch cards and started building out the collection this way, was that I would eventually transition to a card catalog system.

I failed to realize two things. One, the cards I made were a little too big for a standard, classic slash vintage card catalog. The second thing I failed to realize is that it is really hard to find a nice tabletop serious card catalog. Fortunately, through the generosity of a librarian, I absolutely now do have one. I have this really lovely one. It has four drawers. The outside is in really pristine condition. The inside needs a little bit of tweaking, but the cards can one day go in there, except that it's just going to require I think, unfortunately, some cutting down of the cards to get them to fit in the right way.

In the meantime, I thought, perhaps Lisa, you can order your cards in alphabetical slash numerical order. So you have all your A's, A-1 through 8, in one section and then B-1 through 8 in another section. That would be nice and easy. And so I had this wire basket. I mounted the basket to the wall and I stood all the cards in that basket. They were all connected by a ring. This is an important detail. It is so important. I will tell you about it when we come back from this break.

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Welcome back to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork, and we're talking today about how a small change can have a big impact in making your sewing space or sewing workflow that much more happy, cheerful and organized. The secret of course to this blissful new sewing ecosystem is only to be found in the office supply aisle or the school supply aisle, because they're office supplies! These book rings have been so helpful in organizing my swatch rings. And I turned them into a ring because I wanted to flip through the cards. I put a hole punch hole in the upper left corner, then I surround that punched hole with an adhesive sticker that keeps the hole from fraying when you're taking the cards around the ring. But the book ring itself is the star. It is such a cute little perfect circle of a device. So let me tell you a little bit about book rings. Book rings are substitutions in some ways for a loose leaf or a three ring binder. Some folks you can take, I've seen paper that is perforated on the left side, and you can include your own rings. And sometimes they do this I think in the planner community where you add a front and a back and you can make it into an actual book in the bindings of the ring. The book binding is really helpful for that. So I just want to talk a little bit about them because I am geeking out and I love stuff like this. The preferred bookbinding that I like to use are binder rings. And let me just clear up the terminology. What I'm talking about are known as index card rings, or key chain key rings, metal rings for index card, book rings, or loose leaf binder rings.

I call them book rings. I don't know why I call them that. I don't know who told me that was the right answer but that's the one that I felt in my spirit was correct. And it is just such a cute little device. Mine are two inches across. And this is important because the smaller your ring is, the less your card has to travel. Unfortunately, that means you can't get that many cards on a small ring. The rings that I prefer to use are two inches in diameter, and this means it can put in a ring up to 400 sheets of loose leaf paper. That is a really big stack. And when you measure that stack, you know how tall it is? Two inches. It turns out that it's two inches. I noticed for my rings that I had about maybe 20 or 22 cards that could fit well on a two inch ring. I didn't want it to be too many cards, because then it would be too crowded and it might start to wear and tear on the perforations. So I made sure that it was something that it could be easily flipped through and really accessible and not a hassle. So I did that. And that worked fine. And so now here we are. I have put this cute little wire basket shelf on the wall. I have 16 rings of cards that are between one and a half and two inches tall. And I am trying to organize them into alphabetical slash numerical order.

This solution, which was good in theory, was less so in practice. This thing always looked like a hot mess express. Even as I tried to organize it in such a way that I could put, "Okay, oh, this is what I'll do. I will make sure that the left side only has the A's. And then I'll make sure that the right side,"  all of it was difficult to manage. For example, if I needed something from the B-3 drawer, and I wanted to say, okay, I'm going to take this fabric that I just bought. I folded it up. It looks nice. It's ready to go. Let me put it away in the proper drawer. I will put this in drawer B-3. Now, let me retrieve the card for B-3.

Do you know that that was like matching socks after the dryer. It took forever for me to locate B-3, which should not have been that hard. But it was. And it made something that was meant to be simple, more complicated and frustrating than it should have been. Very recently, I was out for a walk with a friend who was also interested in organizing art supplies and organizing materials and stuff. And she suggested, “What about a dowel?” And I was thinking, you know, that could be really great. I think I have one that I'm not using. And it turns out, y'all, all I needed to do was to switch, just switch one dowel from one place to another to take the basket that had the cards in it and to turn those cards into the best use of what even the book ring was meant to do. So let me explain. 

The book ring opens up. It's a circle, and if you twist it a little bit, it has these teeny tiny jaws that lock. So you can open the circle and you open it so wide that it's almost like a curvy letter W. And it opens pretty flat and allows you to slide your paper inside or in this case allows you to slide the cards on. And I had been doing that for years and years. I've been using this system for quite some time. But I didn't realize how perfect the book rings were until it came time to put them on a dowel. One of the ideas that I had before I remembered I already had the supply, was to imagine making a curtain rod type thing. I would install this rod to the wall. And then I would thread the cards through it. The only challenge with that, is when I wanted to take a set of cards or the whole ring off, I would have to unhinge the entire thing. That just didn't make any sense. It felt too impermanent. Then I remembered, you have something that you're not using to full effect. Why not try putting it over there and seeing what happens? 

Y'all, when I tell you this was like a divinely inspired idea down to the fact that I didn't even have to drill new holes. The same holes that were in each spot worked for the other tool. When I took down the dowel from the wall, it's an 18 inch across rod that's mounted with two double eyed set of circles that mounted to the wall and you screw through those little holes into the wall, and there's a similar feature on the basket, but with small plastic tabs. The holes, the spacing, was identical. They were both about 18 inches across, and I didn't have to drill new holes in order for this to work which felt like "Oh, this is perfect. This was as it was meant to be. Very exciting". And then the book rings turned out to be a perfect thing because I could open up the jaws of the book ring, lift it up, wrap it around the rod, and then lock it shut. I did that. And there's a video I shared on Patreon before the episode that shows me doing this, and it is so satisfying. And now, I can go through my cards in alphabetical numerical order and slide through them, like sliding a shower curtain back and forth. And then when I want to take one of those rings off, all I have to do is grab both sides of the book ring, slightly untwist and pull, and I can pull the whole ring off, close it back up, flip through what I need, take the card off, if I'm retiring the fabric or whatever, and I'm good to go. And it's just so orderly. One of my goals has been to have the sewing room operate kind of like a library, so that I can know when I'm out of something, when I need something. It just felt like that was something that to me, in the way that I like to organize things, is a model of organization, a library. 

Now that, even though I don't have my card catalog in action, I feel as though this puts me a lot closer to being a library. It really transforms this, you know, which I think was already a pretty well organized thing into something that's more calming. It's more accessible. It's less of a headache, and I didn't have to buy anything new. I use what I had and it made the space better. And that just feels amazing. So that's the topic. That's today's episode, everybody. Thank you so much for listening to this Fat Quarter episode. Come back next time, and we will help you get your stitch together.

You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women, girls and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community with giving levels beginning at $5 a month. Your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support, and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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