Thursday, August 28, 2014

More on managing digital content and some tips on making technology really work for you

To jump back to last year's post on Managing Digital Content, I threw out a couple of ideas on how to deal with our increasingly digital world.  So, since I'm in the mood to revisit the past, I thought I would write a bit more on the subject.

I wrote last year that I would recommend going digital with your manuals.  Is your phone a complete replacement for your manual?  Absolutely not.  I still have times when I will open up my paper manuals, but I love the ability to have the appropriate manual with me when I attend a class.  I don't have to worry about packing another item, I don't have to worry about losing the manual, and I don't have to worry about papercuts (yes, that really is an issue for me).  I know that I will have my phone with me, and I know that it has manuals for all of my machines.  One of my absolute favorite things about digital manuals is the ability to zoom in.  This has been extraordinarily helpful with my serger's threading guide because some of those tiny pictures can be hard to read.  To be clear, I do not advocate for the end of paper manuals, I would just take advantage of some of the resources put forth by our device manufacturers (the ability to view such files) and machine manufacturers (for making the PDF versions easily accessible and FREE) for giving us the option.

So, I've refined my methods for tracking my increasingly large stash of patterns, thread, and fabric since my last post.  I do stand by what I said before, but it wasn't working as well for me as I knew it could.  I had to take drastic measures, so I opted to go for a database.  The word "database" might sound scary and complex, but it really doesn't have to be.  You can make it as complicated and complex as you want, but it should always be useful.  Here are some things that I track in mine:

Patterns - I take a photo of the front and back of a pattern envelope so I know what the item (doesn't matter if it is a garment, quilt, or bag) looks like, and I have a picture of the yardage requirements.  Why is this important?  Ever bought a pattern and forgotten to bring it with you when you go to the fabric store, or maybe you found a cool new shop that you didn't anticipate visiting?  I know you answered yes to this question.  So, by taking a picture, you suddenly have the information in the palm of your hand.  Can you accomplish this without a database?  Absolutely.  Use the camera on your phone to snap a picture of your pattern.  Since I do use a database, I also store information that I find useful including whether or not I've made the item before and whether or not the pattern has been cut.  Having the item stored in my database and checking it before buying a pattern also helps to ensure that I don't accidentally buy multiple copies of the same pattern.

Thread - With as much sewing as I do, I use a lot of different types of thread.  I don't often go to the fabric store with the intention of buying a pattern and all of my fabric and notions in one trip.  I tend to buy patterns and fabric that I like with the hope that I will find the right project to match the two together.  Is it the most cost and time effective way to operate?  No, it isn't, but at least I'm honest with myself about that.  So, my thread database.  This is probably the least refined part of my system.  I track the type of thread (cotton, polyester, embroidery, serger, etc), who makes the thread (Aurifil, Mettler, Superior, etc), which product line is is from (Mako 50/2, Mako 40/2, Metrosene, So Fine, King Tut, etc), a color number (and name too if there is one), the spool size (small, medium, large, cone), and how many I have (< 1, 1+, etc where the plus just means that I have more than 1 but less than 2 full spools).  To really get the most out of this, I should snap pictures for my database, but I've been a little lax on that part.  When I am starting a project, I rely on real thread color cards from the manufacturers.  What is a real thread color card?  It is a card with actual thread wrapped around pieces of cardboard.  You get great color matching abilities because you aren't reliant on printer ink or the color calibration of your computer/phone/tablet screen.  I have color cards for Aurifil, Metrosene, and several lines from Superior.  Superior has a great selection of their cards on their website.  If I can get the thread I want locally, excellent.  If I can't find the right weight and color combination, I will order online.

Fabric - Tracking fabric can seem like a chore, but there are some substantial benefits.  When I buy fabric, I add another entry into my database.  Do I do this at the point of sale?  Nope, but I will usually try to record the information within a day or two of purchase.  For each entry, I will take a picture of the fabric, record the quantity purchased, information on which designer/manufacturer produced the collection, a color name and part number, where I purchased it, and fabric content if it is a garment fabric (100% cotton, for example).  Where do I find this information?  For quilting fabric, it's usually printed right on the selvage edge.  I recommend doing this right away before you chop up the fabric so that you can give yourself an easier way to find it again later if necessary (it's amazing how much old fabric you can find if you plug the part number into a search engine).  Employees at your local fabric store may or may not remember collections from several years ago especially when they are given a 1/2" wide strip of it and you tell them that you don't remember where you bought it (this happens WAY more often than you might realize).  Within each entry, I also record how much of a fabric I have left.  So, let's say I bought 2 yards of a fabric.  I've used 1 yard, so my database would reflect the original purchase of 2 yards and a quantity on hand of 1 yard.  Why do I add this information?  I don't want to have to dig through my stash to see if I have a certain fabric, and then I don't want to have to pull it out to measure it.  I just pull out my phone, and the information is right there.  Now, what happens if you can't remember the name of a certain fabric?  You took a picture, remember?  Scroll through the database and find it.  Maybe you only remember where you bought it?  If you record where and when you bought it, you will have extra ways to narrow down your search.

So, that's how I manage most of my stuff (the largest exception being digital patterns / other miscellaneous files).  If you want specifics on what I use, I have recently converted from Bento (which is now, sadly, discontinued and unavailable) to Tap Forms which is available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad through the iOS App Store or the Mac App store.  I don't use Android, so I don't have the name of an Android app that does the same thing, but I know there are available apps that will give you similar functionality.  

If you have a big stash of anything, you can pretty much count on enduring the pain of having to go back and enter information.  Yes, it sucks, and you can't really get around it.  However, the longer you delay, the worse the problem will get because you will probably buy even more stuff.  I will also add that you may be (I have been) teased mercilessly about the fact that you have a database to track your sewing stuff, but I can't tell you how many times a day that I reference things in my database to satisfy my own needs or to find information for somebody else.

With these recommendations comes with some warnings.  You must charge your device.  Seriously.  If you have a dead battery, these solutions will not be useful. You should also take the opportunity to back up your device to your computer like the manufacturers recommend.  The same thing goes for the software... BACK IT UP because hardware/software do fail and devices get lost / stolen.  Backing up your phone / tablet / computer can save you a lot more heartache on top the headache and expense (time and/or money) of having to get a new device.

p.s.  I also track my sewing projects too so I know which fabric/pattern/thread combination I used plus when I started and finished the project.  :)

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