Swatching Your Fabric

Products mentioned 

Avery Labels 5264

Glossy Photo Paper

Paper Trimmer– I have two: one with guillotine for big projects. And a small one for quick cuts.

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Swatching Your Fabric

[00:00:00] Lisa: [00:00:00] 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.

Hello, stitchers and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host Lisa Woolfork. And we're talking today about swatches and swatching and swatch cards. [00:01:00] this episode has a special Patreon bonus. If you are  a Patreon subscriber, you will receive a file that has the swatch card template that I use to swatch my fabric.

And I will be talking about these cards in great detail. And as well, if you're not a Patreon subscriber, I'll tell you how I did it. It's just that if you're a Patreon subscriber, you have this already pre done for you since this is what I use all the time.

Okay, so to begin, let's define what a swatch is. A swatch is simply a sample of a fabric. You purchase a fabric, it comes into your collection. You take a snippet of it. Usually I get mine from the top left ncrner near the selvage, but not including the selvage, because I want it to be a very stable peace.

It also, if you have already made a fat already made something, you can swatch it from any scraps or leftover, [00:02:00] but I like to begin any sewing project with a swatch of fabric. Now, the swatches of fabric can be used for a variety of purposes. Primarily, it's a reference, it's a reference. And so for me, I'll have a fabric swatch.

And if I need to refer to the colors in order to create coordinating looks to buy coordinating fabrics, to pick out thread, all of these are ways to use the fabric swatch. Similarly, I've seen people who are building like a fall wardrobe, take samples of their fabric and lay it out on a sheet of paper or on a notebook or something or on Trello or some digital medium, and use that to see if the look works together, are these are the colors that we're working with this season. And so a swatch book, a reference book is really important for that. And so I wanted to talk about how you would build that on your own. So today's episode is going to be talking about what, [00:03:00] why, how and when to

use swatches and your swatch cards. I call them swatch cards because cards are what I use. I've seen other folks use, spiral bound, notebook, stitched, bound notebooks. Trello, airtable, other digital planners. But for me, I liked the swatches because I like having the tactile feel of the fabric near me  in this great archive of a library that I've created over the years.

And so I would love to help you get started with that too. Or just to figure out if this kind of thing is right for you. I enjoy keeping swatch cards because I like having a record of what I've purchased. And in some cases, hopefully many cases records of what I actually made with these fabrics. And so it's a really useful tool for me to keep track of what I have to help me understand what my buying habits are.

it helps me to avoid [00:04:00] duplicates.  these are some of the reasons why I use my swatch cards and that's to plan for projects, to keep track of what I've purchased and to build an archive. It also makes it easier when I buy a pattern. I can look at the pattern requirement, like how much fabric does it require?

Then I could just go over to my swatch cards, find a fabric that I think I might like just flip through the catalog and I find a fabric and I'm like, Oh, this is how much I have. So this will be fine. So I don't know. I had to measure it out every time I know how much I have, because I've written it down.

I've talked a bit about what a swatch card is and why I use it.let's get into some details about how I build my cards. I will talk about the materials and supplies that you need to build them, as well as the information that you put onto the cards themselves. For me. A good swatch card begins with paper.

Paper is essential for my system. I know other folks [00:05:00] prefer digital systems and there are ways to do it that way. I prefer paper. I am such an old school nerd. I just love paper. I love stickers. I love, I don't know if I will say I love washy tape, but I like stationary. So for me, A swatch card is a tactile expense.

Not only am I putting a swatch watch of fabric on this card, the card itself looks good. It's sturdy, it's reliable bull. It's not going to just crumble up. And then the way that I store them, they also stay in good condition.  here are the supplies that I use. To build my swatch cards. First, I use, an Avery label and I know that there's certain generic properties of the labels, but the ones that I use are Avery number 52 64.

Now you don't have to write all this down cause I'll put all this stuff in the show notes.  Avery 5264  it's just a shipping label, but [00:06:00] it allows you to put six card templates on one sheet of paper. And that's the reason I like this Avery template 52 64. And this is for inkjet.

Another thing that I use as an important part of my swatch card process is premium photo paper. I like glossy paper. This is called a brilliant gloss. I first purchased it years ago at Sam's club. I've found it since at Costco. I found it on Amazon and a few other places you can even buy it directly from the manufacturer.

But feel free to use whatever paper, whatever photo paper that you like and whatever paper is going to work again for your system, if you are going to have the card standing on their own, which is what I do. I have my cards bound in rings. So each of my fabric drawers and there's ,24 of them, each of them has a ring  that index is whatever is in the drawer. So if I want to [00:07:00] go to a drawer, say A 7, I pull out the drawer, I'll look at it. And actually I don't even have to pull out the drawer. I pull out the ring of swatch cards that has. Everything in that drawer indexed.

So rather than even having to look through the drawers for fabric, I can just pick up the ring and flip through that. And because I want to flip through it and use it regularly, it has to be sturdy and reliable. And this paper really helps with that. Some other supplies you'll need, if you want to use it.

The way that I use mine is a paper trimmer and a hole punch as well as some book rings.  I have my swatch cards. On a ring, like people might have a bunch of keys on a ring and each ring corresponds to a drawer, but you don't have to be this elaborate with the system. If you choose to do this, all you really need is a space to put your swatches and a way to catalog information on them. And if you're doing [00:08:00] it in a notebook and you just want to add to the notebook over time,  that's way to do it . Some people also use binders for the same reason. I like the cards because they are flexible. And let me carry them easily to different places.

In addition, when I'm finished with the fabric after I've sewn it all up, I have a box where all of the retired fabri c lives. And so that's also a nice collection of swatches from the past, but I can go back and revisit projects if needed or if I want to. So here, the technical information or the technical process that I use to create these swatch cards.

Again, if you're a Patreon subscriber, you will just get these sent to you and you can modify the template as needed. But I'm going to explain the process for people who are not Patreon subscribers, just so that you'll know how I did it.  I started with, as I said, the Avery label. And  you'll  need to understand  thatyour photo paper and your label paper will be working together.

[00:09:00] You will eventually be peeling your labels. On to the non glossy side of your photo paper. I like photo paper too, because in addition to being sturdy and shiny, you can put some really beautiful digital paper on it to print it out and have some really nice designs. You can customize it. You can do all sorts of things with this photo paper for other projects, but it looks really good for your swatch cards for them to be cute and glossy as well as really sturdy.

now you're ready. You've got your photo paper. You've got your Avery labels  number 52 64. Again, you don't have to write all this down, I am going to put it in the shownotes, you've got your sticky paper andyour photo paper. Your next step is to sit down at your laptop or wherever you do your computing and pull up Microsoft Word.  I use Microsoft Word. I'm not sure if you can do the same things in Google docs. you probably can, but I don't know how to do that. I'm just [00:10:00] gonna explain how I do it in Microsoft Word. But if you don't have Microsoft word, it's also important too.

Note that Avery has a website that has templates that you can download and customize, not just from Microsoft word. But you can work right in their software program that they have online and you can design things there. So if you want to design your own and you don't have Microsoft word, you still have access to customize in cards.

In Microsoft word, open a new document and go to mailings and under mailings, they have templates and they have lots of different companies that make labels. You can go on under templates and you look for labels. And once you identify the label that you need  you're goingto put in the number  52 64. You find that label and call it up and create new document. This will give you a Microsoft word document that is perfectly formatted to the size [00:11:00] of these six labels on one, eight and a half by 11 sheet of paper. Now, you're looking at this document. It's six blank squares on paper, that's oriented probably, North to South with the eight and a half by 11 inch at the top.

What you'll want to do is to flip it sideways. You want to make that portrait view into landscape view so that now your 11 inch edge is at the top of the sheet. I like to start in the upper left hand corner and create two text boxes, one text box at the top of that first label you only want to work at one label at a time.

The top label in the upper left corner. Make two text boxes.  do that. By going to draw a text box, you draw one text box. That's about maybe one inch square. My might be one and a half inch square, and then you draw another text box. That's much bigger and you can set this to fit within the boundaries of the label. So my text box [00:12:00] that I've drawn, the second one is two and three quarter inches by. 2.75 inches. So what you're looking at then is your screen. You're looking at your label template that is now in landscape mode. You're going to the upper left side of the document and putting in two text boxes, a small one that's about one and a half inch square and a large one that's about three inches by two and a half inches.

that is your beginning. Now, inside each text box, you're going to write surprise some texts for your top box. You're going to write in paste swatch here. I know this might seem silly to tell yourself that this is what you're going to do, but it's a nice reminder and it's just, good practice.

And if you're having someone else help you, then that's good instruction.  for the larger box. This is where all the essential [00:13:00] information that I need for my projects goes, I always like to ask myself if I'm going to buy a piece of fabric, what am I going to do with it?

And have you ever looked at your fabric collection and look through your stash and flip through a drawer or a closet and been like, Oh, gosh, what was I thinking? What was that for? Now if you have swatch cards, you know exactly what it's for, because when you bought it, you wrote down some ideas about what your plans were.

And so that was my intention behind adding the, this information to my cards. So my large box that has all the content for the swatch, but it has the following information. I write the word yards. And then I put four blank dots or four blank dashes. So the word yards, and the reason I do that is because if I start with a certain yardage, say I bought six yards, I will probably [00:14:00] not use.

All six yards at one time, I might use four and then it's nice to know. Okay. I had six I'll scratch out six . Now I've used four. That means I have to. And that way you're watching the fabric. Be used and that number of the original purchase will gradually go down.

And that's just, again, a nice way to keep track of your inventory. In addition, beneath the word yards, I have the width. So it's a check box. Is it 45 inches wide or is it 60 inches wide or is it other, and then I'll say, no, it's 57. So you'll want to be careful because the salvage is extra wide and you can't use that.

Below that I put project ideas and that's something that I added later on to the swatch collection, because I wanted to avoid that confusion. like, why did I buy this? What on earth was I thinking? And so the way that I divided it up was if I was sewing for my husband or my kids. So I have a line there that says bin [00:15:00] or boys shirts, pants, underpants.

cause I make this, I make a lot of underpants shirts and pants for them, mostly shirts and underpants, a lot of those. And so is that what this is for? is it for a jacket? Is it for something else? But I had their projects, the stuff for my husband and kids were on a separate line. Then beneath that I have dress blouse.

Underpants slash exercise because that's one category of sewing for me. And then the other one I have beneath it is skirt slash pants or other, because again, I'm not writing a contract with myself. It's not written in stone, but I just wanted to have some idea about why I chose this fabric. And then after I've listed the project ideas, I also have a section called notes.

Now, let me tell you about these notes. The notes have been very helpful to me, and they've also been, maybe not a warning, but like a, like a self check, like girl, really? [00:16:00] What are you doing? So under the notes, I've written things like pattern numbers. So   if I want to make a dress and underpants, I'm going to use pattern number seven, eight, three, three, or pattern number.

eight zero two, three. These are the things I think I want to make, and so I wrote those down as notes, but in addition, something I started to do is to write the date of when I bought the fabric where I bought it from and how much it was, that part has been quite interesting to go back and look at and to see.

How much I spent for this fabric when I purchased it and have I even made it up yet, it's I'll pull out a project and I'll also, Hey, wow. I got six and a half yards of this fabric. This is great. I'm going to make a caftan with it. Oh, wait. I bought this back in when. so it's just a reminder for me to just to pay attention.

It's just, that's a four, I guess you could imagine this as a form [00:17:00] of mindfulness, at least it is for me. and I find it really relaxing to flip through the cards and to see the things that I have as well as very convenient to do that when I know exactly how much I need and I can look at a swatch card and not have to pull out the fabric and measure it and fold it and put it back.

I can just look at the card and I'll know if I'm prepared. You're listening to this ditch please, to podcast. And we are talking today about swatching and swatch cards. When we come back, we'll talk more about how to cut your cards out and when they become really useful, stay tuned.

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Welcome Back. Thanks so much for listening to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm Lisa [00:19:00] Woolfork, your host, and we are talking about swatch and swatch cards. So in the previous segment we talked about. where to get the materials you need for your swatch cards, what materials you need. We've sat down at the computer.

we have opened up the template for this particular size of labels that are going to go on top of our photo paper, or we have put in the information we've we have two text boxes. This is a small one at the top for the swatch piece and a much larger box that we then inserted text that has information about fabric yardage, the width of the fabric, project ideas and notes.

So again, this is something that you'll want to customize. you want to decide what's useful for you or sewing practice for your sewing life, right? If you know that you, so lots of dresses and blouses, then you can say, I'll put this down as a category for my swatch card, because I know it's going to come up again and again, or that I buy a lot of fabric for this particular garment.

You want the [00:20:00] card to have information that is useful for you and your sewing. That way you'll use it. If it's something that is not relevant to your life, and you're not going to use it, don't put that information on there because it's not going to be helpful to you. So you've made your card in your upper left corner. You group it together, then copy and paste those text boxes in the remaining five squares of your label paper. And now you have a full sheet of labels  that will print out.

So we have all the relevant information that we need on the cards. What's the next step. The next step is to print them.  and one of the reasons I like this particular Avery label is that it has this textured border that helps the pages not to stick to each other, and it helps it to feedevenly  into the printer.  so you feed it through your printer, it prints out and now you're looking at six wonderful, beautiful labels  ready to be attached to your photo paper.

because I know [00:21:00] that all six labels fit on one sheet of paper that gives me confidence that I can cut this paper with my paper cutter into six even pieces.  that's why it's important to measure  four and a half inches tall. And. The cross width for my other piece is like three and a half or no less than that.

Like three and three A's. And that kind of precision is important for this process, because if you cut one too big, one will be too small. So you just want to figure out how you want to transfer, the lines, or just wing it. I tend just to wing it. And I know if I'm cutting it into six, even pieces, this sticker will fit.

And that's all you need is the sticker to fit. So cut in half the long way first so I know I have two even pieces. And then I cut the crossways doing your best to make sure that you are cutting them evenly. [00:22:00] After I've cut them evenly. I'd peel off the stickers from the sheet and stick them onto my freshly cut cards and after that

I put a hole in the upper left because I keep mine on a ring. I used to put these circles that are shaped, the like donuts and they are meant to reinforce, punched holes in notebook, paper . I used to use those, but now that I switched to a  good photo paper, I don't need it.

now you have some beautiful cards. You've got a stack of cards. at least you've got six and you could always do more mine on the back. Have this pretty. Image of sewing patterns and dresses and scissors .

But you can customize it with whatever you want. You can make a digital paper of your own face. I guess I should maybe show you how to do that if people are interested, but you could do all sorts of stuff with this paper.  you want to make it. Fun and beautiful. You want to decorate this in whatever way that will make you pick up the cards [00:23:00] and use them.

If you don't need them to be pretty, if you don't need them to, have digital backgrounds or whatever, that's also fine, whatever it takes for you to use it is what's the word, the right thing for you to do.   now you've got this wonderful stack of cards. What do you do next? When do you use them?

We've already talked a bit about how you use them by taking the fabric swatch and attaching it to the, to the card and filling in the information. But when do you do this? I think that there's three distinct times that I have used them. And this is what I'm basing my recommendations on.

the first thing I would say is to use them before you need them, make them before you need them. And I love to say, I'm not that this phrase, but I think is true. If you stay ready. You don't have to get ready. And so for me, it's always important to have five or six, five or six swatch cards ready to [00:24:00] go, just so when I buy fabric and it comes into the house, all I need to do is take a swatch from it right away, fill it in right away.

it's really great if I order something and the invoice comes and they have included the yardage. Because sometimes I forget how much I ordered. They include the yardage on the invoice. So when I take out my swatch card, I can just look at the invoice and say, Oh, okay. I got two and a half yards of this.

I got to put that there. Oh, I got four or five yards of this. I'll put that there. So it makes it easy to get the information without having to do any measurement at all. So that's one of the reasons why I think it's important to. Have the cards ready before you need them? The second place that I've used them, that's been very helpful is when I go fabric shopping and I have done that when I'm shopping locally.

Or when I'm shopping for fabric. When I travel, whenever I go somewhere, I always look for the two F's: food and [00:25:00] fabric. I'm always like looking to Yelp to see what's the best good local spots. And where's the best fabric because I like having documentation or just from the different places that I've gone.

So it is very easy to pack a stack of swatch in your carry-on bag in your purse, in your backpack.having these swatch cards ready for a trip to the fabric store is my favorite way to use them because I can get a swatch right there as I purchase it.

And I know exactly what. The measurement is because it's being measured right there in front of me. And I, the idea about the project ideas and the notes, they're fresh in my mind. Like I just pick this up, cause I think it's pretty and it'll be a really nice off the shoulder elasticize  blouse or, Oh, this could be some really good pants.

for my husband, this could be some good shorts. Oh look, this is a remnant piece. And [00:26:00] I think this'll be really good. For underpants or for a bra, like all of these things that I might think throughout the course of a shopping trip, but after I've paid and left the store, I have no idea.

I'm like, wait a minute. Or if I put it down for it, and then I come back to it two weeks later, you can guarantee I have no idea why I bought it. I still think is pretty, but I have no idea. So for me, it's Making cementing my ideas as I am having it, I just grabbed it off the shelf.

I just took it to the cutting counter. Hey, when you cut that, can you cut me a little swatch? Oh no, you can't. Okay. Give me a scissors real quick. Or they cut the yardage and I have my own scissors and I cut my own swatches  after I have chosen to have the fabric cut. Now I know sometimes like when I ended up another place that I love to do, this is when I go to New York because there's just so many great fabric places there and something that you'll see, because I don't have to.

Cause I guess they have so many fashion students. That'll there'll be signs in the fabric stores that [00:27:00] say No Self Swatching. And I think it's because the students come through and just, take off big chunks themselves. So this is not what I'm recommending,

what I have done is. I go to the counter. I say, I want this fabric. I am going to buy it. And I take my piece right there and staple it to my card. Or I use a piece of scotch tape or whatever, because as I love having my cards with me while I shop, because it just helps me to keep track. And it helps me, it helps keep me accountable, okay, you have a bunch of cards at home or you really want to add to this collection.

It's yes, of course. It's okay, sure. so that's that tends to be how my inner dialogue goes with buying fabric has yeah, just go ahead. A lot of encouragement around that and the swatches and the swatch cards helped me manage that. Then finally, when you think about when and how to use swatch cards is when you are  I think  the most difficult and time consuming way to do it is to do it when you're [00:28:00] facing a fabric mountain. And let me explain what I mean by that. You can probably get the visual, you have been buying fabric, you have stacks of it. Do you have. bins of it. You have drawers full, you have closets full, you have so much of everything that is a fabric mountain.

And so I've also had excellent success with tackling the fabric mountain by having my sisters come when it, my sisters, I didn't have them come to visit to tackle my fabric mountain. I had them come for Christmas because that's what you do. and so they came for  I think it was Christmas time and they helped me tackle my fabric mountain.

So I said, Hey, here's the cards. Here's the mountain. Can you help me measure this and just fill out the cards?  I don't know if they folded, they might've folded some too, but they helped me to measure it similarly. a few years [00:29:00] ago, I hired a group of high school student, who live in the neighborhood, and, or some who are just friends of my son or friends that I know their moms or whatever.

And they came and tackle the fabric mountain, and it was a team lift. Let me tell you it was a team. Lyft, there was somebody who was inputting data into the patterns. There was somebody else who was folding. There was somebody else who was measuring those, somebody. It was a lot of work, but at the end of it, we climbed that fabric mountain, and I have the great pleasure of saying, I now have this very extensive and detailed catalog.

Of my fabric that I can flip through and browse through like an old school card catalog and speaking of card catalogs, that brings me to my last point about storing your cards. I store my cards in a small shelf.  Each of my fabric.  Drawers are [00:30:00] organized by columns. I have three columns that are lettered, A, B and C, and within the column, there are rows numbered one through eight.

So that's 24 drawers of fabric that each have a set of cards that correspond to it. So that's quite a bit of cards. Because there's a lot of fabric in each drawer. And so that's why I have the, I use the hole punch in the upper left corner. So drawer, C1 and drawer B seven. These each have a distinct ring that says that on it.

Now I have recently been gifted a desk top. Old school, real life card catalog. Oh my gosh. It's so beautiful. The only drawback is that it's the card drawers are a little small for my current swatch cards. [00:31:00] So they'll work. I just need to trim them so that they'll fit in the card catalog better. And so that's the project for another day, but.

It is a project that I think will be doable and worth it to have them in this beautiful, actual card catalog drawer. I'm really excited about that.  another way to keep them is in a small photo box  they sell these boxes, at different craft stores.  it's this very firm box with a lid.

And  they're narrow. And so you can put photos in there. that's what they're for, but you can also put your cards in there. similarly, depending on if you're not gonna use this particular shape that I'm describing, based on the ship being labels you could do, for example, all baseball cards.

Imagine you made your swatch cards the same size as baseball cards and when you were done, you can put each card in a baseball card sleeve. They sell them that go with binders, baseball cards, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Pokemon cards. All of these [00:32:00] cards, havethese specially formatted vinyl sheets to protect them.

So you could always make your swatch cards, the size of a baseball card or a collector's card, and then you would have a place to put them all. and that could be another method as well. So we've been talking today about swatch and swatch cards. I hope this episode has been useful to you. I hope it inspires you to organize your fabric collection in a way that's useful to you.

You don't have to do what I'm doing. I'm not sewing your clothes, you are.  it's like they say, run your own race. You have to use this practice,  if it is useful to you. it's been very useful to me. I really enjoyed it over the years and I do love to  be able to have such quick and easy access to the fabric that I have as well as the way that the notes section of the cards gives me a chance to commit to a project before I even start.  not [00:33:00] all of the fabric that I chosen has notes and plans, but at least I know how much I have, and that is an important start. So hopefully this will get you thinking about swatch cards, if a swatch card and a swatch method or a swatch archive is helpful to you.

I hope you to enjoyed this episode.  We will be talking more about fabric organization and these kinds of things throughout the podcast because I know organizational tips are things that people are interested in. So that's what this episode is about. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time.

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women stitch, the sewing  group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us sending to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact [00:34:00] us at If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon P a T R E O N.

And you can find Black women stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month, you can help support the project with things like editing transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really help the podcast by rating it.

And reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews, but for those who do for those that have a star rating, or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us in the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful.

Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together. [00:35:00]

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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