Monday, November 2, 2009

Fine China Storage

The year before I started law school, I worked for a fine china and crystal manufacturer. Needless to say, during my time with the company I amassed a huge collection of china, but I was soon confronted with the problem of storing it. My store sold "china savers," essentially thin, quilted fabric bags that would protect your china from dust, but not much else. I needed something durable enough to move my china across several states, not just keep it dust-free in my sideboard. I found a set of rigid-sided china storage containers online, obviously better than the quilted bags, but with a price tag to match. I eventually decided to make my own storage containers using doctored hat boxes. As a preliminary matter, I'll say that I was hesitant to put this project on the blog because it is rather complicated. The sewing is not difficult and the supplies are not expensive, but there are a lot of steps that must be done in a specific order. Because it is such an involved project, this post will be much longer than usual, so brace yourself.

For the bodies of my storage containers, I bought a set of 3 paper mache hat boxes at a craft store, although they can also be purchased individually. When choosing a size for the boxes, remember that they will be lined with foam, so this should be taken into account along with the diameter of the plates. I also bought 1/2" thick green foam and inexpensive fabric. I opted for plain black fabric with white accents, but you could use any pattern (leopard print, floral, whatever strikes your fancy). I used both spray adhesive and fabric glue for my china storers, but you could use hot glue in place of the fabric glue. I also purchased nylon strap material (like the kind used at the bottom of backpack straps); it's usually sold by the yard. The handles are made from a single length of this strap material that is threaded through the guides (see below) and sewn together into one single loop.

To begin, I cut a round of foam to fit in the bottom of the hat box and a rectangle of foam to line the inside "wall" of the box (see picture). Then, I cut out all of my requisite fabric pieces: three circles and six rectangles all together.
1) One circle should be the size of the bottom of the hat box (this will be part of the interior lining)
2) The second circle is for the bottom of the box and its diameter should be about four inches greater than the diameter of the bottom of the box (when affixed to the hat box, this circle should hang over about two inches all the way around)
3) The third circle is for the lid of the box, and should be about 1" greater in diameter than the lid of the box (it should hang over about 1/2 inch)
4) One rectangle should be as long as the circumference of the box + 1" seam allowance. It should be as wide as the heighth of the wall the box + 2.5" overhang (so use a measuring tape to measure the outside of the box, add an inch, and the depth of the box + 2.5" as the dimensions of the rectangle)
5) One rectangle will be a band to cover the exterior edge of the lid. It should be as wide as the lid is deep + seam allowance. It should be as long as the box's circumference + seam allowance.
6) Put the lid on the box and measure the distance between the bottom of the lid and the bottom of the box itself. This (+ seam allowance) will be the width of the rectangle that will be a band around the exterior of the box. The length of the band should be the circumference of the box + seam allowance.
7) The three remaining rectangles will serve as guides for the nylon straps (see photo to the right). Size isn't terribly important here, they just need to be long enough to accommodate the straps. When I sewed the guides on, I essentially stitched "tunnels" for the straps to go through.

Next, I pressed all of my fabric pieces. I also pressed under the top and bottom edges of the two rectangles that will be bands around the exteriors of the box and lid. I did the same for my strap guides, this time pressing all of the raw edges under. I topstitched the edges using contrasting thread (for looks), but this step isn't really necessary. Next, I sewed the lining together (circle from step 1 above + rectangle from step 4 form the lining for the interior of the box). Once sewn, it should be a cylinder with an open end, like an empty soup can. Then, I stitched the short ends of each exterior band together (rectangles from step 5 and 6 above), creating two "belts," one skinny and one wide. The three strap guide rectangles (step 7), should be sewn into their places before the pieces are adhered to the box. One guide should be sewn to the center of the circle for the bottom of the box (circle in step 2). Two should be sewn to the band that will cover the exterior of the box (on opposite sides of the circle from eachother, see photo). I also sewed buttons and loops of bias tape to the band for the lid, and corresponding buttons on the exterior band for the body (see photo of finished container). Now the pieces can be assembled.

I used spray adhesive to adhere the circle from step 2 to the bottom of the box, taking care to keep the strap guide centered on the bottom of the box. I also adhered the overhang to the vertical side of the box (see photo). I repeated this process for the top of the box, although there was no strap guide on the top to worry about. It's not too important that the edges of the overhang are even, because they will eventually be covered by the finished "bands. " Next, I tucked the lining of the fabric inside the box, over the foam, then glued the overhang to the exterior of the box. Then, I worked the "band" over the exterior of the box, making sure to keep the overhang from the lining and the overhang from the bottom of the box tucked under the finished band. It is important orient the strap guides correctly, lining them up with the strap guide on the bottom of the box. I repeated the process for the exterior band of the lid, although (as mentioned above), there are no strap guides to line up here. I used the fabric glue to adhere the edges of the bands to the box and lid. My last step was threading the nylon strap through the three strap guides, leaving enough excess for handles, then sewing the strap ends together. The length of strap MUST be threaded through the strap guides before the ends are sewn together. Ultimately, once the ends are sewn together, you will have a single loop of material that forms two handles and supports the bottom of the box. Then I worked the nylon loop around until the seam was hidden beneath the strap guide on the bottom of the box.

As I said before, these storage containers could be made using fabric in any pattern you would like, hopefully something that you won't tire of quickly. I'm also trying to work out storage for my serving platters and bowls, so perhaps more posts will come. Hat boxes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so this idea could be used to store almost anything. Skip the foam and cover rectangular boxes in fabric for storing photos, cds, dvds. Cover them with baby or child-themed fabrics for nursery or kids room storage. Christmas cards or decorations? Sewing supplies? Be creative and enjoy!


  1. I love this project for saving space in my buffet. Removing the china plates and storing them in these containers would leave enough space all the serving pieces and accessories.