Household Sewing · Vintage Sewing

Sew a Storage Solution

Long, slim fabric organizer hangs on the back of a door. Made of a beige cloth printed with red flowers and green leaves, it's a busy pattern, but functional.
Make a pocket for door storage.

Last winter I had a problem. I needed to sew a storage solution for cloth dinner napkins and other kitchen linens on their way to the washing machine.  

My washer and dryer are in the kitchen. This is exactly what I wanted when we moved to our house a few years ago, and it took a few houses to locate one with very accessible laundry. Unfortunately, that means that I have nowhere to store the normal soiled linens waiting to be laundered, like dish towels and dust cloths. 

I also needed a place to store a set of reusable “paper” towels. I love them. They are wonderful, easy to clean, and they work great for small projects like “oops! I just overwatered the cactus again. Grab me a paper towel, will you?” However, they are not easy to store. I solved that problem by sewing a storage solution called a door pocket. You can see the happy perpetual paper towels peeking from their pocket in the picture below.

Closeup of fabric door organizer showing wipe up cloths sticking out of the top pocket. A bottom set of two pockets is empty.
My cloth paper towel stash peeps at you from the top pocket.

Door Pockets in History

Door pockets have been around for a long time, well over 100 years. They became popular in the 1920s in small bungalows and apartments that afforded very little storage space. These homes usually provided a small pantry or cabinet door, and these became prime real estate for the door pocket storage rack.

Then the Great Depression hit and many people barely managed to eat, much less afford supplies for decorating. But they did have access to outgrown clothing and flour sacks. And flour sacks make wonderful door pocket organizers. They’re colorful, wash easily, and the happy prints brought a smile in the kitchen or wherever else they appeared. 

Plus, sometimes a shopper ended up with one or two mismatched flour sacks. Each sack when opened created one yard of fabric. What could you do with one yard of fabric? You can cut it up and create quilt blocks. Another alternative is to make an organizational or household helper like one of these door pockets.

Making Your Own

Illustration from the Thirties showing how to assemble a door pocket organizer.
Visual instructions for your door pocket

You can sew a storage solution like a door pocket to fit your own needs. Sure, you can purchase a fabric over the door shoe rack (where do you think that idea came from?) but everything doesn’t fit into a shoe-sized hole. The benefit to making your own is that the pockets fit the objects you need them to. 

Originally, the instructions for these items told you to sew bone rings at the top and bottom of the completed pocket set and then hook them onto the inside of your door. That assumes that we all have hardwood pantry doors, which since the 1960s at least, most of us do not. In the United States at least, room doors are often made from a wooden framing and wood veneer. Hooks will not hold in the very thin wood layer that forms the large flat part of the door. If anyone or anything poked a hole in one of your plywood veneer doors, you know exactly what I mean.

Modernizing the Instructions

Instead of the rings and hooks, I purchased some over the door hooks from Amazon. Something like this may be available from your local hardware store as well. I sewed thin strips of fabric into sturdy straps. I folded them and cut them into lengths suitable for over the door hooks. If I were to make another one I would make the top loops much longer. Over the door hooks only hang a couple inches below the top of the door, and I am quite short. Reaching the perpetual paper towels proves to be a challenge.

To make your own door pocket organizer, you will need a medium weight cotton fabric. The original diagram suggested chintz, which you can find in the drapery department of your local fabric store. It’s a shiny cotton, usually with flowers on it. 

When this design was originally published in the Thirties, fabric was sold in lengths that measured only 36 inches wide. Some fabrics, like woolens, were wider, but the majority of cottons appeared in the local store sewing departments at 36 inches. So a door organizer that measures 24 inches wide by 36 inches high would need 2 1/2 yards of fabric. If your fabric measures 41-43 inches wide, you will still probably need about 2 1/4 yards fabric. You may as well purchase the entire 2 1/2 yards and make a matching potholder from the leftovers. If your pocket will be less than 24 inches, you will end up with extra fabric. Or you can use it to make matching binding instead of buying prepackaged bias tape. Everything is cut as one layer; nothing is lined in this organizer.

You will need

To make your own door organizer, you will need:

  • about 2 1/2 yards of fabric. This is a great project for leftovers. All the pieces don’t have to match.
  • 8 – 9 yards bias tape binding. You can make your own from spare fabric, see below.
  • over the door hangers. Here’s a set I found on Amazon. You may be able to find some closer to home. You will want to make sure that the door hanger width matches the width of your door.

First, you calculate

The only one who knows exactly how to make your door storage pocket is you. You know how wide your doors are, how long a space you have for hanging something, and what you need to store. If you look at the illustration of the construction, and then at mine at the top, you’ll see that they don’t look much alike. My pantry door was only eighteen inches wide. There was no way I could fit a 24-inch organizer on the back of it. 

Once you figure out how wide your pocket can be, grab a spare sheet of paper and sketch what you want the pockets to look like. My whole reason for making a door pocket was so that I could have a large bottom pocket like the illustration. I needed that to hold my cloth napkins. I also made a large pocket in the top to hold my reusable paper towels. 

Your upper pockets will be eight inches deep. A large pocket might be 12 inches to 18 inches deep. 

Each pocket will have a box pleat in the middle to give you room to actually store something in it. If you don’t know how to make box pleats, here’s a tutorial: How to Make Box Pleats.

When you measure for the pockets, take the width of your finished item (24) plus 1 inch for each 1-inch pleat per pocket: 24 + 4 (1-inch pocket pleats for four pockets) = 28 inches for each strip. (It’s much easier if you cut them a couple inches longer so you have some material to play with. You can always trim it even later.)

For a 2-inch pleat in a larger pocket, add 2 extra inches to your width (24 width + 2 inch pleat = 26 inches long). 

Assemble the organizer

Trim each pocket top with bias tape. It will act as a top hem and strengthen it at the same time.

Then attach your pockets one layer at a time. Since you will have two to three inches between pocket layers you can start at the bottom. Attach the bottom pocket by basting along the sides and bottom. Remember to pin your pleat into place before you stitch the bottom edge.

Take your next pocket strip. Fold in your box pleats and pin them into place. Determine where you want the pocket to sit. Mark the bottom edge of the pocket by pinning the two sides of your backing piece. Turn the pocket upside down, with the bias tape towards the bottom and the wrong side of the fabric facing you. Move the pocket up so that the edge is 1/2 inch over the marked pins. Sew along that line, and fold up. You now have a 1/2-inch seam on the bottom and your pocket base sits exactly where you wanted it to sit. Your pocket will be about 7 1/2- 7 3/4 inches tall.

Reinforce the seam you just sewed by sewing again 1/8 inch above the seam line to hold everything in place.

Then sew two seams close together between each pocket, as you see in the illustration. Baste or sew the sides of the pocket to the backing.

Repeat with your other pockets, all the way up. Leave a space between the new pocket and the one below it so that you can insert and remove items easily.

When you are finished, baste the sides of your pockets to the backing and then apply bias tape all the way around. At the top, cut a 9-inch strip of bias tape, and sew it along the open long side to create a strap. Cut your strap into three 3-inch pieces and fold them in half. 

Pin each folded strap upside down to the front of the top edge of your organizer. The raw edges of the strap should meet the top raw edges of your backing. 

Then apply the bias tape across the top, catching the loop ends as you go. After you’re finished, fold the loops up and sew over them a couple times to strengthen them so they won’t pull out.

Make your own binding

You don’t have to purchase pre-made bias tape. You can make your own. Or you can use straight strips as binding.

Here’s a YouTube video on How to Create Your Own Bias Tape.

To use straight binding strips, cut long strips of fabric straight on the grain that measure about 1 1/2 inches wide. Two of them should be a bit longer than your backing sides, two a couple inches longer than your top and bottom, and several long enough to sew along the top of your pockets before you attach them.

You sew straight binding onto a piece of fabric just like you would bias tape. Sew 1/4 inch seam on the back and press or fold 1/4 inch hem down the long loose edge. Then fold the fabric from the back to the front and sew down along the folded edge, covering all the loose edges. When you attach the last two pieces, usually the top and bottom because they are shorter, fold the two ends in to match the width of your fabric before attaching the binding to your project. This will create a smooth hem on both ends.

Show Off Your Work

Drop a comment and show how it came out. If you made this project, are you interested in making it again? Once you make one, any others will go much faster. Like lots of home decorating projects, the most difficult project is the first one.

If you enjoyed this project and you have some fabric left over, you might also like making a Patchwork Fan Potholder from leftover scraps.