Sorting Fabrics at FabMo

I bet you don’t know what “gack” is. Well, if you’re curious you have one of two options: 1) Volunteer to sort fabrics at FabMo, or 2) Read this blog post all the way to the end (no cheating, please!) 🙂

FabMo is the amazing non-profit organization from where I source most of the luxurious designer home-decor fabrics I work with. Many people in my area know what a fabulous resource FabMo is, and purchase fabrics there. Only a few, however, realize how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making these fabrics available to the public.

After I wrote a blog post about Hannah Cranch’s weekly trips to the Design Center in San Francisco, quite a few people–including long-time FabMo customers–told me they were amazed to learn how hard the collection work was. Many others wanted to know what happens to the fabrics after they make their way to FabMo’s warehouse. Well, today I want to fill you in about the next step in these fabrics’ journey: the sorting.

I already mentioned that, while at the Design Center, Hannah collects all the fabric samples into big plastic trash bags (which she reuses over and over again):

Hannah and a mountain of fabrics

She hulls these full, heavy bags into her truck, and packs them tightly:

Hannah organizing the half-loaded truck

Hannah and her volunteer helper then drive back to FabMo’s warehouse in Mountain View, where they unload the truck’s content into a back room.

The bags wait there for the next sorting event.

Bags Full of Fabric waiting at FabMo headquarters

Regular Sort

Every week FabMo hosts a few hours of “Regular Sort.” This “Sort” is a gathering of several volunteers (usually around eight), who open the bags Hannah brings.

Opening fabric bags at FabMo's facility

The volunteers spill the content of these bags onto big tables at the center of the room.

Fabric bag content revealed! FabMo

Then they start unfolding the pieces and sorting them by size.

Opening folded pieces at FabMo

Sorting rescued fabric samples at FabMo

Sorting fabric rescued pieces by size at FabMo

Sorting fabrics by size and kind at FabMo

Neat sorted fabric piles at FabMo

Fabric piles at FabMo

A “Regular Sort” typically lasts three to four hours. The volunteers stand on their feet for most of that time. I can attest that this sometimes takes a toll on the body, especially if you have back issues!

Once the volunteers arrange everything by size, they carefully place each pile into a plastic box, which they clearly label. They store the boxes on shelves with similar-sized fabrics.

By the time the volunteers complete a “Regular Sort,” they have emptied all the bags Hannah collected on Monday, neatly sorted and packed all of the fabric pieces she brought, and placed all the boxes on their rightful shelf. The fabrics wait there for the next step in their journey: The Regular Selection Setup.

A Few Words on Gack

So what is “gack,” you wonder… Well, not all fabrics are created equal. Many textile designers design beautiful pieces. Some, however, come up with textiles that are … uhmm … less exciting… For every beautiful and luxurious piece that comes from the Design Center, there is one that is just … not. Some pieces are so drab, in fact, that they are unlikely to find forever homes even among sustainable-fabric enthusiasts. Those usually come in shades of beige and brown, are synthetic or have boring textures. Some are torn, cut or stained. FabMo jargon (yes, there is such a thing!) refers to these as “gack”.

Hannah, by the way, assured me that “gack” was a real word. There is even a story behind it. If you know it, there will be brownie points for the first person to write it in the comments 🙂

FabMo volunteers put gack pieces aside during the sorting process. This, for example, is a gack bag:

FabMo customers never see these pieces. The larger ones go to resale stores to be sold there. Some are left on “free” racks outside FabMo. Volunteers take some pieces home, to use for things like pet bedding, stuffing or as rags. Everything else goes to a fabric recycling facility.

How You Can Help

If you live in the California Bay Area and are interested in supporting FabMo’s efforts to save fabrics from the landfill, consider volunteering a few hours of your time! Sorting is fun, and an entire community will thank you for it!

If you don’t live around here but would still like to help, there are other ways to support this amazing organization: http://www.fabmo.org/fabmo/Support.html

And, if you want to take a look at the kinds of things that can be made from small, rescued upholstery fabric pieces, stop by my booth at the upcoming A la Carte and Art Festival in Mountain View. I’ll be between Evelyn and Villa, and will love to see you 🙂

8 thoughts on “Sorting Fabrics at FabMo

  1. I am looking for a place to recycle clothing that I consider gack. Old socks that have holes underwear that the elastic had given out any clothing with a hole pills or stain that is past its useful life. I have gone through my dresser and closet and have a tall kitchen trash bag full. Where can I take it?

    • Hi Paulene. I don’t know where you live, but in the US there are several organizations that recycle fabric. The easiest way to find them is to Google “fabric recycling” and your zip code. You will probably get a list, and can go through it. This, for example, is one of several: http://www.usagain.com/. Goodwill used to take torn cloths for recycling, too. Not sure if they still do, but it’s worth asking!

  2. I was so hoping to see what you have made from the rescued fabrics! How disappointing not to see results – hopefully you’ll put me out of my misery & post some photos on FB 🙂

    • Hi Kathleen,
      It’s a lot of work to start something like this where you live, but totally possible. All you need is a few dedicated people. FabMo has a Satellite Committee that works with groups that are interested in bringing FabMo to their communities. You can send email to info at fabmo dot org and they would be happy to share more with you.

  3. I recently was staying at a lovely old hotel with huge windows and I was admiring the drapes. The next morning, the drapes had been replaced by new ones! I asked the concierge what happens to the used ones (because that’s a lot of fabric!) and she didn’t know. Do you know what hotels do with the used curtains when they replace them?

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