Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adventures in Costume Supply Shopping, Part 2: The Office Supply Store

I'll admit it, I love office supply stores. It's like the cosmetics counter: Hope you can buy. I wander around looking at all the wonderful organizational tools and imagine having a serene life with everything in its place and all my life tasks detailed on 3x5 cards. I can dream, right?

While I'm there, I also, of course, keep my eyes out for costuming supplies. Here's what I've found.

Every sewing space should have a bulletin board, for hanging swatches, sketches, take-out menus, and stray pattern pieces. Ideally, it should hang over your sewing area so that instruction sheets can be hung from it. If there isn't room there for a full board, consider a bulletin bar, a narrow strip of cork that can be mounted beneath something else.

If you need to enlarge gridded patterns, a flip chart pad with 1" gridded lines is perfect. The sheets are 2' x 3', so they're big enough for most bodices and sleeves, and can be taped together for bigger pieces.

Speaking of tape, stop torturing yourself trying to keep track of those little plastic dispensers and use them with one hand while you're drafting patterns. Buy yourself a good heavy desktop dispenser and a multi-pack of tape rolls. There. Doesn't that feel better?

While we're making patterns, go to the mailing department and get a roll of brown paper for cutting final patterns.

Now, on to what I call the "notions department": all the little things for hanging, attaching, and marking.

Binder clips are very useful. The small ones can be used to "pin" leather pieces together while sewing. They're also good for clamping pieces when gluing. The bigger ones are great for hanging pattern pieces, and for clamping slippery fabric to the table to keep it in line when you're cutting. You can also use two of them to clamp a trash bag to the edge of the table, or under the serger.

If you need to store lots of small things, install an Ikea curtain wire along a wall or the bottom of a shelf, and string binder clips on it. Clip zip fastener plastic bags on to it, and fill them with small notions, trims, fabric swatches, or whatever else you want to keep organized but visible.

Poster putty is handy for hanging your instruction sheets and other materials if you don't want to put holes in your walls, but be aware that it's a real pain to get off textured walls. I also like to stick a blob of it on the side of my sewing machines to hold small tools like seam rippers and tweezers.

Labels and stickers can be used for labeling, of course, but if you want to be really organized looking, get yourself a label printer. Having matching, professional looking labels on all my drawers and containers really helps my mindset.

You still want to visit the label section, though. Small labels dots for file folders can be used to create a marking system for sewing. Use them to indicate right and wrong sides of the fabric, in place of cutting notches and marking dots, or to label pieces when you're making multiple versions of the same garment. Be sure you do a test on a scrap of fabric, ideally leaving the sticker on for 24 hours before you try to take it off. Some fabrics, especially fragile ones, can be distorted or marked by the pulling when removing the sticker.

Check out the children's art and school supplies section for chalk (much cheaper than the fabric store kind) and washable markers, crayons, and glues. Be sure to test them on a swatch to be sure they'll really wash out. Washable Glue sticks are fabulous for "basting" trims and appliques. The ones that go on purple and dry clear are nice. Try not to put the glue on the areas where you'll be sewing, because they'll gum up your needle. If this does happen, a little rubbing alcohol will clean it up.

School glue, or washable white glue, is also good for basting.

If the store has an art or drafting department, look there for rulers, french curves, and squares.

Office supply stores have a wonderful selection of organizers and storage devices. Desk drawer organizers keep all your small sewing tools in order. A rotating desk organizer is handy to keep on your sewing table with your scissor and a few other often used tools.

Binders are good for storing instructions, inspiration pictures, printouts, and, of course, the instruction manuals for Margo's patterns. Plastic sheet protectors, hole reinforcements, and dividers help keep all this organized. Binder rings are good for holding things like swatch cards, plastic bags, and zippers.

Use an index card system to keep track of your fabric and pattern stash. Swatches of fabric can be staples to the cards. Punch a hole in one corner of each card and string some of them on a binder ring when you're going shopping for matching supplies. Another way to organize your stash is to use a business card binder with plastic pockets.

Rolling drawer units can be your best friend when you don't have enough storage space, especially if you don't have a dedicated sewing space. You can even sew covers for them so that they blend into your decor when not being used.

Office furniture can also work well in a sewing space. A file cabinet is the perfect place to store patterns. Make cardboard dividers so that you can store the smaller ones in double rows. Two 2-drawer cabinets with a door across them makes a good sewing table.

A folding banquet table can be used as a cutting table, although the 30" width can be annoying. To bring it up to a comfortable working height, stand it on a set of bed risers or use PVC pipe to create leg extensions (more detail in the upcoming Home Improvement Store section).

An armless rolling task chair is ideal for sewing, but be prepared to have to take a seam ripper to the castors to remove threads at intervals.

That's all for the office supply store. Next: Grocery and Kitchen stores!


  1. Thanks! There are things I never would have thought of (Elmers for basting!) here. Instead of brown paper for patterns, I buy a big roll of plastic painters drop cloths in a medium weight plastic and use that. It is see through, can be repinned multiple times, and is hard to rip.

    I can't wait to see the rest of these!

  2. I don't know why the idea of washable markers never even occured to me. Far less expensive and more 'permanent' than the water 'erasable' transfer kind I'd BEEN using.

  3. Also look for the pen and pencil holders that have 3 holes for a binder and a zipper to get into them. I have my Margo's patterns in separate binders and in the back I put the clear plastic pencil holders which are the size of a sheet of paper and store my patterns in them. Patterns are separated in catagories, like one pouch for hats, one for bodices, etc.

  4. These are great ideas. I would not have thought of these. Can't wait to visit the office supplies store. I already have a 4 drawer file cabinet full of patterns. It is two patterns wide. First I organize them by brand (Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls, etc., then by number. I reserved a drawer for costumes only but organize the same as above. Any time I get a new pattern, I make a copy of the pattern envelop then put it in a binder that is also organized very similar as the books in a fabric store. Thanks for the hints on other items.