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Monday, 8 August 2011

Tutorial: No-sew Fabric Mail Organizer

My main goal in this project was to create something useful out of nothing. So literally, I spent no money on this project. I already had my craft supplies and for the materials, I decided to use up the fabric from two old throw-away pyjama bottoms and an old cardboard box.

Here's the box I used; it originally contained a flat-pack garden obelisk. You could use any long flat cardboard box e.g. wall shelves packaging or a flat-pack furniture box.

I decided to make three main compartments out of it: "In", "Sorted" and "Bits n Bobs". Don't ask me why, we just don't have a lot of "Out" mail lying around so it made little sense to create an "out box". We are also always rummaging around for the odd pen/scissors/USB downstairs so a place to keep these bits handy made sense. Finally, where does the mail go after we've been through it? Temporarily in the "Sorted" compartment before being removed to make more room.

The lowest "In" compartment would be the largest; the top compartment would be smallest to keep the odd stationery items. Here's how I started measuring things out:

  • The bottom pocket would be 6 inches tall, the middle one 5 inches and the top one 4 inches tall.
  • Each pocket would be 1 inch taller at the back so e.g. a 6 inch tall pocket is actually 7 inches at the back, allowing me to make that slanty edge down the sides.

So in the image above, you can see the bottom-most pocket. It is 7 inches at the back and approx. 6 inches at the front. I drew a line straight across the front to mark the pocket line. I also drew a line connecting the front of the pocket to the back of the pocket (which is the slanty line you can see on the left of the image).

Right. So I continued the same way further up the box. Here's where I had to use a little logic because I was, after all, dealing with stiff cardboard that needed to be cut/bent and fixed into place.

The dotted lines (yellow arrow) were the fold lines. I simply poked slits along the dotted lines using a retractable cutter to make it easier to fold the cardboard. The solid line (orange arrow) is where I actually sliced along to make the opening of the bottom pocket. A little tip here: using a sawing motion really helps make long smooth cuts.

Right. So it all looks a little confusing at the moment but once I started folding along the dotted lines, the organizer began to take shape.

As you can see above, I folded that little sliver of cardboard back onto itself because under that's where the adhesive would go. And after tucking in the side lapels and the base, here's what it looked like. You can clearly see the bottom pocket's shape now.

Once one pocket had been cut out, the base of the next-up pocket naturally took shape. Now all I had to do was repeat the same thing for the pocket above. This time I left a height allowance of 5 inches at the front and 6 inches at the back of the pocket. Let me see if I can explain this with a photograph:

So you see the front of the pocket is 5 inches tall and the back is 6 inches tall, again allowing me to make those slanty sides (dotted line on the left).

I also want to point out that I left a space of 2 inches between the pockets to allow easy access, as you can see below:

Okay, again some more cutting and folding and here's what took shape:

Finally, for the top-most pocket which is 4 inches tall, you can see the lines I cut along below:

So after all the cutting and folding, here's what I was left behind with; you can clearly see the main skeleton of the mail organizer now...

Right. Time for some hot glue gun magic! I basically glued everything that folded and bended and then I reinforced the base of the pockets further by putting masking tape across the bottoms.

Here's the organizer after being glued in place. I forgot to take a photo of the taped product...

Now then, time to cover it all up. I did not have any fabric lying around the house; I did however, have a bag full of old clothes that I was planning to send away to recycling. I thought two of my jammies complemented each other beautifully: a red chequered one and a black jersey one.

I cut one leg off of each of these and then cut vertically along the stitch line which gave me a longish piece of fabric to work with. I pressed it out with a hot iron to give me a smooth finish. I'd read somewhere that if you want to achieve sharp crisp lines in fabric, it is better to glue the fabric onto a backing paper and then attach that backing paper to the project.

Here's where I took out my protractor, compass and ruler and drew out the shapes of the pockets on pieces of plain brown paper (I'd salvaged and smoothed out the paper from a parcel's packaging.) You could use any piece of paper that will accommodate the design of the pocket flat out. A tip here: it is better to trace out a slightly generous paper pattern than the actual size (by about 3mm all around) to allow for any mistakes.

When asked, my DH suggested "more black" instead of red in the organizer lol! :o) So I decided to make two black pockets (top and bottom) and one red chequered pocket (the middle one). Here's how the paper patterns looked layed flat out on the back of the black jersey bottoms fabric.

Now to adhere the fabric to the paper, I only had regular old PVA glue. I diluted it down by adding around 2 tablespoons of tap water. I applied the glue to the paper, completely covering one side...

Now to adhere the paper to the fabric took a little bit of delicacy. If you're doing it this way, you would need four hands. I asked DH to hold the gluey paper (sticky side down) at either end and then I asked him to carefully lower it down onto the fabric in a U-shape with the middle of the paper touching the fabric first. Now then, as soon as the paper touched the fabric, I started smoothing it out from the middle outwards. (I'm sure I'd read about this technique somewhere online as well; I'll post a credit to the link when I locate it.)

A couple of tips: 1. using the outer side of your hands and pinky fingers to even out the paper works. 2. Also, whatever happens, DO NOT stretch the fabric. If you have to fiddle, fiddle with the paper instead. (I learned this the hard way.) Even if you're as clumsy as I am, rest assured that by the time you get to the third pocket, you will still get a fairly decent finish out of things.

So anyway, once the paper was glued to the fabric, I cut all around it leaving approximately a 1/2 inch allowance. One down, two to go.

Here's what the three pieces looked like after all the cutting:

As you can see, the cuts aren't perfect but then again they don't have to be because the excess fabric will be tucked away out of sight.

Next, I took a tea break and let the glue dry out slightly. Now for those crisp lines, I folded the right, left and bottom lapels of each fabric cover back onto themselves and used a blunt object (the grips of a pair of scissors) to make a sharp crease.

Right then, time to glue the fabric onto the mail sorter! This time, I applied the watered-down glue directly on to the cardboard skeleton...

... and simply pressed the paper in place. I don't have a picture of the raw first draft but it still had all the loose edges that needed to be taken care of.

Another 30-minute drying-out break later, I fired up the hot glue gun and tucked in and hot-glued all the loose bits around the pocket openings and under and behind the pockets. Any ridiculous excesses of fabric/paper were clipped away.

Now then. The top lapel of the organizer (the original lid of the box) was all wrinkly and creased. To smooth this out, I traced out its shape and cut up another piece of cardboard and hot-glued it on; this ended up reinforcing the top lapel as well. Take a look:

Here's the cut-out shape of the top lapel:

Inside the top pocket, I added a smaller inner compartment for the odd pen/scissors/USB (otherwise they always fall in sideways and are very fiddly to lift out!). I did this by simply folding a small rectangle of flexible cardboard twice (yes, it's a piece from a frozen pizza box lol!). I taped it inside. (And yes, it's sad I only had electrical tape left to stick it in :P) But it worked! Take a look:

Right then: time for the trimmings. I wanted to put up contrasting strips of red across the black pockets. I also wanted to cover up any untidy fabric edges underneath the top two pockets. So I made three red fabric strips (two for the contrasting trimmings and one for the cover-up) and I made one black fabric strip (to cover up the bottom edge of the top pocket).

Now I don't know how to make bias tape. If you do, it's a major plus. But all I simply did was this:
  1. I made a long straight crease about 1/2 inch along the inside of one side of the fabric, pressing it down with a steam iron.
  2. Then I folded it in over once more, leaving a width of approximately 1 inch of fabric.
  3. I then opened both the creases and cut along the second crease, leaving a 1/2 inch allowance.
This gave me a long narrow smooth ribbon of fabric. Take a look:

Here's a close-up of the top two pockets. You can see the black and red ribbons securely hot-glued underneath the pockets, hiding away any frayed fabric edges.

Next, I hot glued the two red ribbons across the black pockets. The ends of the ribbons were tucked away and glued behind the organizer. Any excesses were trimmed. Here's the organizer at this stage:

Almost there. As an after-thought I wanted to do two more things: Add a trimming across the top (hanging) lapel and add some labels to the pockets.

Once again I folded and cut off a strip of the black fabric and hot-glued it across the top of the organizer. I left around 1/4 inch of extra ribbon on either end, tucked the ends under and hot-glued in place. This left no raw edges exposed.

For the fabric labels, I used the technique demonstrated in this Youtube video. Worked like a charm! (Thank you Crafty Gemini!) I left a 1/2 inch allowance all around the label, cut it out, folded and pressed in the edges and hot-glued the labels in place.

They're not perfect but I think they look cute enough :)

Finally, the moment of truth. Here's the finished product!

And here it is serving us in all its glory, lol !!

I'm really pleased with the end result. I've tacked it in two places on the wall- one on top and one above the bottom-pocket. This keeps it firmly in place and keeps it from swaying side-to-side.

What do you think? Thanks for looking and please let me know how your projects turn out!



  1. A must-have item in a scrapbooker's room! :) this would definitely make the workpace organized! I've been scrapbooking for ages and here's an advice for scrappers out there, if you want to finish your project on time make sure your supplies are organized! :)

  2. I love this. It's really good. Can't wait to make it, just need the right type of box... :)

  3. wow! so impressed! very inventive and functional! and someone would have thrown that box out!lol...great job!

  4. so glad you liked my blogs, just wanting to share the love! I have so many cool photos. and i love to craft. been layed up with my back the last couple of weeks so able to organize a little. hope you can join my blogs, I joined yours. looking forward to more great ideas!

  5. Hi mime glad you liked the tiles, try my site now to follow, i think i fixed it!??? glad to be friends...love the shoebox redo. too, will have to try it to organize my craft table!

  6. Mimi,

    This ROCKS! I love your approach and the recycled fabric. You got skills, girl!

  7. Congratulations for getting onto CraftGossip! This is a really cool project! I love that you used old clothes as fabric - very smart!

  8. Great tutorial! I've linked to it from my blog.


  9. I love this!! I was looking for something just like this, thank you for posting the tutorial! I can't wait to try it out.

  10. Such an amazing way to store all your important mails at one place. This hanging mail organizer will surely sort all problems of related to managing documents. Loved the idea displayed here. Keep sharing similar articles.

  11. Easy and great way to manage your important documents at one place. I loved the idea of the hanging mail organizer presented in this articles. Was searching for something similar to this. thanks for sharing this articles. Keep sharing similar stuff.