How I (kind of) organize my fabric

I found myself replying to this post on maintaining a fabric library and my response got so long it became a post in and of itself. Let me start by saying that I’m not as organized as I wish I were. In a perfect world, I would be Martha Steward like with my anal retentiveness and attention to detail. But I’m not there yet.

First things first, I love databases. I even have a database of just tidbits of information. Quotes, articles, all the stuff that I find interesting and useful but can’t always remember. It comes in very handy. Having said that, I will show you pictures of my database, keeping in mind, it hasn’t been “prettied” because I am the only one who uses it (some of my databases are actually quite aesthetically pleasing in case you were wondering).

To keep my information organized, I keep both an electronic database and an actual set of fabrics. The electronic side is very useful when I just need quick information, for example, I want to remember what a fabric looks like, the price, or if I don’t quite remember the name of it, but just bits and pieces here and there. It also helps to find fabrics from a specific manufacturer. Also, it makes costing so much easier when the fabric and trim info is already in a database. My electronic database consists mostly of prints where I was able to get the images online or from a CD-ROM, or where I have photos of the actual sample card or fabric headers. Sometimes I do just take pictures with my digital camera and pop them in the database.


The actual fabric samples I keep in “milk crate” file storage thingies. You can get them at any office supply superstore. They are stackable, and I use those green organizer file folders to hold a specific category of swatches (i.e. silk charmeuse).

Let me also state that every sample/swatch I have is not in the electronic database. It would be very bloated because I keep samples of fabrics I never intend to use because sometimes, being able to reference them comes in very handy. I tend to keep trims in binders because the cards for those are pretty flat and usually come hole punched for a three ring binder.

I need to organize my system more, though, to keep a better hold on things. If I had it in a perfect way, I would use one of those lateral file systems, similar to those in medical offices. I think lateral file cabinets are easier to work through than regular file cabinets. I don’t have the space for cabinets so I use the “milk crate” file containers instead. I also have stackable Rubbermaid drawers for the “junky stuff”– bags of buttons, small spools of ribbon, etc. But anything that I use, is more documented in the electronic database than on the actual product. I suppose one day I might get around to printing out labels for every swatch, using the data in my electronic database. I’m just not there yet. Having said that, I will give you a tour of my database and show you screen captures. Please keep in mind my database isn’t pretty and because of that, the actual order of information fields isn’t necessarily logical. Sometimes, it’s just where it is because it was an after thought.

Above is a screen cap of my trim information. Just to explain a few things, I have different fields for product name and the manufacturer product name. Sometimes manufacturers use product names that just don’t quite make sense to me. I also have bulk quantity and minimum bulk quantity, for example, buttons often come in a gross, but the minimum order might be 6 gross. I also have fields for retail quantity because with some trims, you can get them at a fabric store or other retail store and I find that information useful for sampling purposes.

Above is another view of trim information, but this one is set up more for my costing purposes. That’s why I like databases, because you can present the same information in a variety of different ways. It’s pulling information from the same data set, it’s just a different set of fields than the other set. This particular set of information is for a piping that had to be made at a narrow goods manufacturer. I was buying 50/50 poly/cotton fabric at Wal-mart to make the piping. Ah yes, all the incomplete information.

Above is a view of the different types of trims that I keep track of in my database. The trim codes are sequential and are auto-generated by the database. Many, many years ago I was somewhat of a hack of a database analyst so I’m a little anal retentive about relational databases and index keys and stuff like that. Please don’t ask me to explain, because I never will. But the gist is that it’s easier to relate data in databases by numbers instead of words, which is why each trim type has a code. I prefer 3 digit codes just because.

This is an example of the fabric information that I keep track of. As you can see, all the data is not complete. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to keep track of the price of the fabric or the price of the fabric, per yard, including shipping. I will probably add a field to the database for the shipping charge, per yard, and have the landed cost auto-calculated. It’s really important to keep track of the cost of shipping because it really makes a difference whether you should order from the manufacturer or a distributor, etc., especially considering how expensive it is to ship fabric. As a result, some fabrics have price including shipping and some have price only, so I need to clean that up and make the data consistent.

One of the reasons I like keeping my fabric in the database, is because I can very quickly and easily make purchase orders.

Above is a sample of the fabric/trim purchase order. This one is for fabric, but the one for trims is nearly the same I just show different data on it that pertains to trims. The address is usually always at the top, where you see the pink “get address” button, that’s where I select to either use my ship to address or the address of my contractor.

All the fields on the purchase order don’t print. They are visible, but they don’t print on the actual purchase order. The ones to the right that say received, cancelled or discontinued are there for my reference, but don’t show up on the actual purchase order. I print my POs as a PDF file and either email them or e-fax them to the recipient.

One note, I have a habit and that habit is that all my POs, no matter what I write them for, are always by date. So if I’m writing a PO to Acme Fabric, the PO number would be ACM021207. That way, I always know when I wrote it, which really helps when something is late. I look at that PO number and I know I wrote it on 2/12/07. Trust me, people will swear you wrote that PO later than you did and that date thing is so helpful.

Well, that’s pretty much it. Of course, there’s much more in the database than that, but I think this is a good beginning.

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8 comments

  1. Paize says:

    Thanks for sharing, I love looking at how people organize their information.

    I’ve been trying to figure out a way to organize all the random things I find in magazines and trade publications. You mentioned that you keep a separate database for them. Are they in the same software program? May I ask what program you use?

    I really need to start my own database ’cause all the info I am gathering is stacking up and it’s getting harder and harder to find the appropriate info.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, I think this can easily be a series of posts.

  2. Alison Cummins says:

    Date fussbudget here. I always tag my documents with a date, but I use a sortable format like so: Acme20070213. That way I can sort everything about Acme by file name and it will go from earliest to latest.

    But, um, wow. You are very organised.

  3. Sarah in Oregon says:

    You really are a Miracle! You wouldn’t believe how excited I am to read your post. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’ve gone totally fashion-nerd on this whole sourcing/database problem and talked to everyone from a master librarian friend to a pro database maker, and your solution just puts it all into something that makes sense. Thanks again! Sarah in Oregon

  4. MW says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out a way to organize all the random things I find in magazines and trade publications. You mentioned that you keep a separate database for them. Are they in the same software program? May I ask what program you use?

    I use filemaker, and I do use the same software for them all. I try to get images digitally as much as possible so that I can keep it in a database because it’s easier to reference and access.

    The photos are in a separate database file because the database size becomes so large (when you store all those images like magazine images), that I don’t want a smaller data-only database bogged down with that information.

    I always tag my documents with a date, but I use a sortable format like so: Acme20070213

    That’s an even better idea!

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