I decided to create that visual inventory, and this is how I did it. I used Microsoft Picture Manager (usually included with Office) and Windows Explorer. (Note that I work on a PC - Mac users may have to modify). These instructions assume that you have or can get the software, and know how to use it.
1. Corral all your freebies from your hard drive. Discs too, if you have them. Get them all into one folder using Windows Explorer. You need to round up everything you've got so you can see what you're working with - and delete duplicates. Don't start deleting yet, though. You want to make sure you don't have 2 different files with the same name. (Rename files temporarily if you have to).
2. Start sorting. Create subfolders for categories as needed, but try not to make them too specific - the more folders you have, the harder it is to sort, file and manage. The categories I use are these: Alphabets, Altoid Covers, Angels, Baby, Biscornu, Blackwork, Bookmarks, Borders & Corners, Cards, Celtic, Dollhouse, Family, Flowers, Foods Gifts, Hearts of America, Holidays, Ideas, Miscellaneous, Months, Motifs, Needlework Tools, Pattern Scans (More on that later), Samplers, Scenic, Seasonal, Sports, Wedding and Zodiac. You can change them to suit your freebie collection, but that is what worked best for me. You can also sort by designer or website, but I would think that would make things more complicated if you're looking for a certain theme.
If you don't know what a file is, open it and rename as necessary. Keep going, adding categories and subfolders until you have every single file categorized. Depending on how many freebies you have, this may take a while and you may get sick of looking at them. Take a break. Don't start throwing things in folders because you don't know what else to do with them.
3. Create your Visual Inventory. Every file should have a visual representation that can be viewed in a picture manager such as Microsoft Picture Manager. As you can see (I know the picture is a little blurry, but I made it small to save on space), there is a filing system on the left and a visual representation on the right. All of those pictures represent a file that contains a freebie, and I can quickly look over my inventory and see what I have without opening all those files.
Getting to this state is the not-so-fun part, which is why I would recommend working with a folder or two a day, going through it and organizing your files. Don't try to do this all at once, unless you have just a few dozen to look at. Work on it in small chunks, or you will run the risk of frustrating yourself and abandoning the project.
Freebies that are in GIF or JPEG format are easy. They will show up automatically in the Picture Manager.
PDF and PC Stitch files are a little harder and will require you to create jpeg or gif files to represent them. You can do this by opening the file and capturing a screen shot, which can then be cropped and resized in your graphics software. (With PC Stitch, I'd recommend using View --> View Pattern to view the file, then capturing a screenshot without the grid.)
Alternatively, you can use Google and Yahoo image searches to look for pictures of the stitched pieces online. I try to do this whenever I can because I like to look at stitched examples rather than screenshots. I save screenshots as GIFs and convert JPEGS I obtained from the web to GIFs because they take up less space. You don't need a super crisp, clear picture - you just want the gist of what the file is in the least amount of storage space.
Files should be renamed so that the PDF or PC Stitch pattern has the same name as the picture of the piece. That will keep them together as files when you sort them alphabetically and allow you to open the correct file that corresponds with the picture. For example, I have a file called blackwork snowflake.pdf, which does not display in the Picture Manager. The file blackwork snowflake.gif, however, does display, and when I want to stitch Blackwork Snowflake, I open the PDF file.
If you have a chart in jpeg format (chart.jpg), but find a picture online that you want to save, either save the picture as a GIF with the same title (chart.gif - the extensions prevent the new file from overwriting the old) or as chart_pic.jpg. The files will still stay together, but you'll maintain 2 separate files. I do not recommend converting actual charts in JPEG format to GIFS because the chart itself may become blurry and unreadable.
4. Properly credit your sources. This is something wasn't as conscious of until I started blogging, and I can't stress the importance enough. If you use someone else's work to make something, please respect their copyright and give them credit for the design. Designers work hard and provide complimentary charts out of their own generosity. If we as stitchers want them to keep supplying us with these goodies, the least we can do is recognize their efforts and generosity by giving them proper credit.
Anyway, once again, PDFs are the easiest as they usually include the name of their designer and other copyright info right in the PDF. JPEGs and GIFs can be modified in a graphics program to add credit information. Simply add the credit text to an unstitched part of the chart and save the pattern. For PC Stitch files, use Tools --> Pattern Properties to indicate the designer, the website, etc. If all else fails, create a text file with the same name as the graphics file and enter the credit information there.
Take the time to note the designer or the source when you save the pattern, and you'll save yourself a lot of aggravation later. Trust me, make a note - you will NOT remember it later.
5. Follow your system. Once you've done the work and sorted out what you had, take a few seconds when you get a new freebie and label it properly. Make sure you have the source and the designer's name and a visual representation for each freebie before you file it, and file it right in the folder it belongs in. If you label and file properly as you collect, you won't have a long and painful sorting process down the road and you'll have easy access to the files you already have.
- You can use pre-fixes for grouping charts together. For instance, I group Lizzie*Kates together by using LK_ in front of the file names. All files designated with the LK_ are grouped together, but still maintain their individual file names after the prefix.
- Keep folders to a minimum. Don't make a new category for every file or you'll drive yourself nuts. Try to keep your categories broad enough to encompass as many designs as possible. For instance, you don't need to have Christmas Ornaments, Tree Skirts, Christmas Samplers, etc., when one "Christmas" folder will do.
- Pattern Scans - I often borrow books from the library for pattern ideas, but it's hard for me to stitch out of a book. Usually I scan the patterns I am interested in and make a digital copy that I can either print out or transfer into PC stitch to create my own patterns or make modifications. Also, it helps me get the book back to the library faster so that other stitchers can use it as well. I note the designer and the book these patterns so I can credit them when I go back later.