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How to Organize Fabric Swatches with Magnets

I love how this fabric swatch magnet board is both a helpful tool and a piece of art on its own. It looks so good in my sewing room!

Fabric swatches are so helpful when choosing fabrics for your sewing projects. Just like paint chips help you select paint colors, fabric swatch cards help you select just the right color for whatever you’re sewing.

Many fabric manufacturers sell color cards that have swatches of all the fabrics in a collection – such a great resource when making color palettes for your projects. But the problem is that the swatches are often affixed in a set layout, not allowing you to mix and match individual fabrics to your liking. If you’re like me, you want to look at fabric colors independently and arrange them to create unique color combinations.

The answer? Cut them up, just like paint chips! I’ll show you how to cut out fabric swatch card sections, stick magnetic sheets on the back, cut out the individual swatch magnets, and slap them up on a dry erase board. Whiteboards are magnetic! Who knew?!

In this tutorial, I’m sharing two methods: using a fabric swatch card that IS cut-out-friendly, and using one that’s not. Kona Cotton color cards (by Robert Kaufman) are cut-out-friendly, since the fabric swatches and text are all separated and glued in place so that you can easily cut them apart to make individual fabric swatch cards. Most all of the other manufacturer swatch cards are NOT cut-out-friendly, meaning the fabric swatches overlap each other and the text doesn’t line up. No matter which type you have, you can hack your color card – I’ll show you how.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

UPDATE: I’ve put together a kit of supplies needed for this tutorial. Just go to https://kit.com/angelabowman/how-to-organize-fabric-swatches-with-magnets, click BUY ALL ON AMAZON, and adjust your cart/quantities as you wish. Easy peasy in a couple clicks.
NOTE: All links are to amazon.com and most are affiliate links.

IF USING A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT HAS A CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY LAYOUT (KONA COTTON COLOR CARD)

  • Fabric swatches. I’m using the Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton color card with 303 fabric swatches.
  • Magnetic sheets. Adhesive-backed 8×10” sheets work great.
  • Scissors. Use mixed media shears for cutting through card stock and magnetic sheets.
  • Color wheel. Optional, but fun and helpful.
  • Magnetic dry erase board. I used a 35″ x 23″ whiteboard and this smaller 23″ x 17″ whiteboard would work well for fewer swatches. Make sure it is magnetic – some are, and some aren’t. Also, make sure it’s big enough to fit all your fabric swatches.
  • Installation supplies. Use an artist easel as a nice display support, or use hanging hardware & tools to put the dry erase board up on the wall.

IF USING A SWATCH CARD THAT IS NOT CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (OR IF USING YOUR OWN LOOSE FABRIC SWATCHES)

  • Same items as above, plus the items below. Make sure the fabric swatches are at least 1” or 2” square (your choice). I prefer to use 1” for fabrics that read as solid colors and 2” for prints.

  • Printer.
  • Card stock. Inexpensive white 8.5×11” sheets will do just fine.
  • Printable swatch card template, available for 1” and 2” fabric swatch squares. Choose between two PDFs:

PDFs that you hand write the fabric details:

PDFs that are pre-populated with the fabric details:

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT IS CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (LIKE KONA COTTON)

1. Cut out large sections of cards. Cut out the name of the fabric collection, too.

2. Cut out matching-sized adhesive magnetic sheets. To do this: with a pencil, trace the edges of the large card sections onto the paper side of the magnet. Then cut them out. Or, if you cut them a tiny bit smaller, they’ll be easier to align in the next step.

3. Peel away the adhesive paper from the magnets and press the card sections onto the exposed sticky surface. Align them as best as you can.

4. Cut out the individual swatch cards. Just cut on the lines. You now have a bunch of little fabric magnets!

5. Arrange onto the magnetic dry erase board. Use whatever layout you want!

6. Apply a magnet strip to back of a color wheel and place it on the whiteboard. Use it as a guide to create color palettes! I pressed the adhesive magnet to the back except for the middle portion, so the wheel can still spin around.

7. Install your fabric swatch organizer (formerly just a plain ol’ whiteboard). Put it on the wall, on an artist easel, or just keep it mobile to move around as you want. Enjoy! This whiteboard measures 35″ x 23” and is holding 303 1” fabric swatches, with lots of extra room for creating palettes.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT IS NOT CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (OR IF USING YOUR OWN LOOSE FABRIC SWATCHES)

1. Print the swatch card template PDF onto white card stock. Print at 100% (no scaling).

2. Cut out 1” squares of each of the fabrics. Or 2” squares if you’re using that size of template. A quilting ruler and rotary cutter make it easy. Make sure to keep the fabric squares in order, so you can label them correctly later on.

3. Apply Elmer’s washable school glue along the top 1” of the card rows. Smooth the glue with the foam brush. If using 2” squares, glue along the top 2”. Or, only apply a glue line to just the very top area if you want to keep the swatch loose to be able to feel the fabric between your fingers.

4. Press the fabric squares onto the glued area. After pressing with my fingers, I use a spare sheet of card stock to temporarily place on top and smooth out the entire sheet with my hands – like a pressing cloth.

5. Hand write a fabric details caption under the swatch. Use a fine-point black marker and very small print. TIP: You don’t have to do this step if you get the pre-populated PDF, linked above.

6. Repeat for each of the fabric swatches. To keep everything in order, I do one row at a time.

7. Cut away and discard the empty outer margins. If using a manufacturer’s swatch card, cut out and keep the name of the fabric collection.

8. Cut out matching-sized adhesive magnetic sheets. I’ve sized the swatch card template PDF to be close to 8×10” (a common size for magnetic sheets), so trimming will be minimal or not needed at all. With a pencil, trace the edges of the large card sections onto the paper side of the magnet. Then cut them out. Or, if you cut them a tiny bit smaller, they’ll be easier to align in the next step.

9. Peel away the adhesive paper from the magnets and press the card sections onto the exposed sticky surface. Align them as best as you can.

10. Cut out the individual swatch cards. Just cut on the lines. You now have a bunch of little fabric magnets!

11. Arrange onto the magnetic dry erase board. Use whatever layout you want!

12. Apply a magnet strip to back of a color wheel and place it on the whiteboard. Use it as a guide to create color palettes! I pressed the adhesive magnet to the back except for the middle portion, so the wheel can still spin around.

13. Install your fabric swatch organizer (formerly just a plain ol’ whiteboard). Put it on the wall, on an artist easel, or just keep it mobile to move around as you want. Enjoy! This whiteboard measures 20″ x 16” and is holding 50 1” fabric swatches, with lots of extra room for creating palettes.

TIPS

Make one of these for each color card and have fun making color palettes!

Consider making a single large 2” swatch card for each fabric collection, and only glue the top of the fabric square in place (about 1/4”) so you can feel the fabric and compare to other brands.

The 2” swatches work well for prints. I like making these for basic fabrics that won’t go out-of-print (OOP) anytime soon. These larger swatches show more of the fabric motif and help me visualize combos with other lines of fabric.

Go ahead, hack your color cards and make them into useful magnets!

How to Sew Half-Square Triangles (HST) – 8 at a Time

I’m going to show you how to sew half-square triangles (HST), 8 at a time. This is great when you want a large number of identical HSTs.
Watch the video and follow along with the photo tutorial below.

The basic process is to start with 2 same-size squares, mark lines on one of the squares, layer, sew, cut, press, and trim.
In this tutorial, I’m starting with 10-inch squares, a standard size in the quilting industry. Another very common size is 5-inch squares. Stacks of these pre-cut squares are widely-available, found in most any quilt shop, so it’s no surprise that these are my two favorite sizes to work with.

  • 10” squares make (8) 4” trimmed HSTs
  • 5” squares make (8) 2” trimmed HSTs.

To calculate the size of the original 2 squares: take your desired HST size, add one, then multiply by two. So for 4″ HSTs: 4 + 1 = 5 x 2 = 10″ fabric squares.
1. Start with 2 same-size fabric squares. Quilting cotton is best.

2. Mark 4 centered lines on the wrong side of one of the squares: one vertical, one horizontal, and two diagonal. I like to use a regular pencil, but any fabric marker would work. You could even use creases instead, using an iron or a creasing tool.

3. Layer the 2 squares right sides together. You could pin them together, but I usually don’t. They always seem to stick together just fine.

4. Sew 4 seams, 1/4-inch from each side of the diagonal lines. Repeat, the diagonal lines only.

5. Cut on the marked lines. Use scissors or a rotary cutter, whichever you prefer.

6. Press the seams. I like to press the seams open. But if you like to press seams to one side, cool. Do what works best for you. I almost always press open so the quilt block lies nice and flat. Also, at this point I may not know the final arrangement of all these HSTs in the project I’m making. Depending on the HST layout, if I press seams to one side, some might double-up on each other making it bulky and bumpy. Not good. I don’t like my design decisions to be dictated by seam direction. Pressed-open seams give me design flexibility, which is good!

7. Trim the HSTs.
Why trim? Because it helps to ensure accuracy, which is important when trying to match all of those HST points when you sew them all together. Trimming is a last step that helps to attain precision despite any flaws made in the process, like imperfectly cut squares or a seam that is not an immaculate 1/4 inch. Also, you’ve just sewn on the bias, which is where fabric stretches most. So let’s correct any stretching or flaws with a simple trim, to align our seams the best we can!
You’ll need a cutting mat, a rotary cutter, and a gridded transparent ruler with a 45-degree line.
First, determine the desired cut size. In this example, we’re trimming the HST down to 4 inches square.
Line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, then make sure the desired cut size is within the appropriate lines on the ruler.

Here, I’m picturing the 4-inch square lines on the ruler, and I can see that I have excess fabric on all four sides.

Using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

Lift the ruler and rotate the HST so the un-cut corner is now at the top-right. Just like we did before, line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, but this time make sure the freshly-cut corner (now at the bottom-left) is aligned nicely with the appropriate lines on the ruler. This quilting ruler makes it easy.

Again using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

All trimmed and precise. Do this for each HST. See how the diagonal seam goes corner to corner? That’s important later on, for when you want to sew a bunch together and get the seams to match!

How to Sew Half-Square Triangles (HST) – 2 at a Time

I’m going to show you how to sew half-square triangles (HST), 2 at a time. This is great when you want a variety of HSTs with different fabrics.
Watch the video and follow along with the photo tutorial below.

The basic process is to start with 2 same-size squares, mark lines on one of the squares, layer, sew, cut, press, and trim.
In this tutorial, I’m starting with 5-inch squares, a standard size in the quilting industry. Another very common size is 10-inch squares. Stacks of these pre-cut squares are widely-available, found in most any quilt shop, so it’s no surprise that these are my two favorite sizes to work with.

  • 2.5″ squares make (2) 2″ trimmed HSTs
  • 5” squares make (2) 4” trimmed HSTs
  • 10” squares make (2) 8” trimmed HSTs

1. Start with 2 same-size fabric squares. Quilting cotton is best.

2. Mark 1 diagonal line on the wrong side of one of the squares. I like to use a regular pencil, but any fabric marker would work. You could even use a crease instead, using an iron or a creasing tool.

3. Layer the 2 squares right sides together. You could pin them together, but I usually don’t. They always seem to stick together just fine.

4. Sew 2 seams, 1/4-inch from each side of the diagonal line.

5. Cut on the marked line. Use scissors or a rotary cutter, whichever you prefer.

6. Press the seams. I like to press the seams open. But if you like to press seams to one side, cool. Do what works best for you. I almost always press open so the quilt block lies nice and flat. Also, at this point I may not know the final arrangement of the HSTs in the project I’m making. Depending on the HST layout, if I press seams to one side, some might double-up on each other making it bulky and bumpy. Not good. I don’t like my design decisions to be dictated by seam direction. Pressed-open seams give me design flexibility, which is good!

7. Trim the HSTs.
Why trim? Because it helps to ensure accuracy, which is important when trying to match all of those HST points when you sew them all together. Trimming is a last step that helps to attain precision despite any flaws made in the process, like imperfectly cut squares or a seam that is not an immaculate 1/4 inch. Also, you’ve just sewn on the bias, which is where fabric stretches most. So let’s correct any stretching or flaws with a simple trim, to align our seams the best we can!
You’ll need a cutting mat, a rotary cutter, and a gridded transparent ruler with a 45-degree line.
First, determine the desired cut size. In this example, we’re trimming the HST down to 4 inches square.
Line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, then make sure the desired cut size is within the appropriate lines on the ruler.

Here, I’m picturing the 4-inch square lines on the ruler, and I can see that I have excess fabric on all four sides.

Using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

Lift the ruler and rotate the HST so the un-cut corner is now at the top-right. Just like we did before, line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, but this time make sure the freshly-cut corner (now at the bottom-left) is aligned nicely with the appropriate lines on the ruler. This quilting ruler makes it easy.

Again using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

All trimmed and precise. Do this for each HST. See how the diagonal seam goes corner to corner? That’s important later on, for when you want to sew a bunch together and get the seams to match!