• Setting Up Your Sewing Studio

    (contributed article)

    Setting up your sewing room or studio depends on the size of your space. If you have an entire room you will be able to set up more work stations than if you are working in a corner of a room designated for another purpose. It is possible to put a sewing area in a large closet.

    The less space you have the more organized and compact you will have to be. And with a very small space you may wish to have fabric, pattern, and book storage in another part of the house. The main importance is to have your sewing area as convenient and user-friendly as you can. If you are unhappy with your sewing space you won't enjoy sewing in it.

    Subscriber comments:
    I know from experience that my new sewing/quilting area will not have south facing windows - it gets hot, fades fabrics, and there are times I can not sew because the sun is shining in my face. Our south facing wall is entirely windows, as high as 24', so curtains, drapes, or blinds is not an option. In our new home, my area will be facing north and have plenty of electrical lighting!

    First you need to assess the amount of space you have in your home to designate for sewing. Then assess your particular sewing needs. Do you use only one sewing machine or do you wish to have a serger? Will you need space for a long arm or short arm machine and quilt frame? How much storage space will you need? Will you want to store all your fabric, supplies, and books in the same room with your sewing equipment? These questions will need to be answered.

    Each studio needs space for sewing, pressing, cutting and a design wall. Additionally you need storage for fabric, books, patterns, and notions. How much storage you have in your studio depends on the size and the amount of "stuff" you need to store.

    There are four basic work stations -- Cutting, sewing, and pressing, and designing.

    Cutting -- you will need a space large enough to accommodate at least an 18" x 24" cutting mat or larger. A larger mat is suggested if you have the space available. Purchase as large a cutting mat as your table will accommodate. Remember that if your arms are short you won't need as deep a cutting area as a tall person with longer arms.

    I have done most of my cutting on an 18" x 24" mat. If I need a larger cutting area, I take my cutting project to a church, library, or community room where large tables are available.

    You will need a wall or pegboard near your cutting area to hang assorted acrylic rulers and tools. If you have a drawer in your table you could use it for storage of small acrylic tools, rotary cutters, and replacement blades.

    Sewing -- you need space for your sewing machine and basic tools that you need near your machine such as scissors, pins, and ripper. You will also need a drawer or box for bobbins and extra feet and sewing machine attachments. You will need space for thread storage.

    If you have an open sewing machine table rather than a desk with drawers, I suggest purchasing inexpensive three drawer units with castors available at discount stores and home centers. These units can be rolled out and to access the drawers and then back under the sewing table when not in use. You might also put a small cutting mat or padded pressing board on top of your rolling carts to have near your sewing machine. If you don't have enough drawers or boxes near your sewing machine, consider placing inexpensive thread racks on the wall above the sewing area. They will hold many spools of thread and are quite colorful.

    My sewing machine is located directly under a window so I have a wire rolling cart beside my machine for thread storage. Each level of the cart contains two clear plastic boxes of color coordinated thread containers. The six boxes contain all my sewing thread and bobbins. On the top of the cart is a very small pressing board. Multi-colors of thread and bobbins are readily available and so is a pressing area.

    Pressing -- If you don't have space for an ironing board you will need at least a padded pressing board. I use an 18" x 24" padded pressing board purchased at the fabric store. This one does not have a cutting mat on the reverse side. It is only used for pressing. I have placed it on a rolling microwave cart that can be moved around the room on casters. The microwave cart has a drawer and storage space behind small doors where I can store spray starch, spray sizing, and a water mister. This works well for most pressing. If I am pressing a very large quilt or large cuts of fabric, I have a large pressing board 18" x 48" covered with cotton batting and closely woven cotton fabric. I place the larger pressing board on top of the smaller one to press larger items. When I am not using the large pressing board it stands on end behind shelving units.

    Design Wall -- Your quilting studio will not be complete without a design wall. Suggestions for a design wall are a large 4" x 8" Styrofoam board from the home center. It can be permanently attached to the wall and can be covered with flannel or felt. If you have the space two boards together will make an eight foot square design wall.

    Another option is a wide window shade covered with felt or flannel using spray adhesive. This can be mounted with window shade brackets on a high shelf and pulled down as needed. Then it can be rolled up and put away.

    A folding design wall can be made from a folding display board made of heavy cardboard. These are available at discount and office supply stores. It can be covered with flannel or felt with spray adhesive or an iron on fusible product.

    Buy a vinyl tablecloth with flannel backing. Attach a sleeve to the vinyl side, or simply fold a few inches to the front and stitch a sleeve. Thread it on a curtain rod and use it for a quick inexpensive design wall.

    I have a free standing design wall made with felt and PVC plumbing pipe. It can be taken apart and stored in a long narrow fabric bag in the closet. A portable design wall can be taken almost anywhere in your house or to a class or guild meeting.

    Storage Area

    You need to decide how much storage area will be needed for fabric and notions. Do you have a large fabric stash and buy every tool or notion that is made available or do you only have basic tools and fabric? Open shelving is available to purchase at discount stores and home centers. Many different storage and shelving systems are available. Don't forget to check out the rolling carts made of plastic or closet organizers available. If you need more drawer space for notions and tools, individual plastic drawer units may be purchased and placed on the shelving.

    Fabric Storage -- There are several ways to sort and store fabric. Fabric can be placed on open shelving or enclosed shelving. Fabric can be placed in plastic storage containers on shelving. If fabric is in open shelving a method of covering to keep fabric from light fading is necessary. Some quilters use simple window shades and pull them down to cover fabric or place inexpensive curtains covering the shelving areas containing your quilting fabric.

    There are several ways to sort fabric. First you can sort according to color family. Put all the blue fabrics together, the green fabrics together, and the red fabrics together and so forth. Another way to sort fabric would be by type of fabric. Place plaids and strips together, and then solids. Place all the juvenile fabrics together, all the floral fabrics together, and all the geometrics together and so forth. You need to have your fabric sorted so you can find what you need with a minimum of searching. It is a waste of sewing and quilting time if you have to hunt for an illusive fabric you know you have in your stash.

    If you find it is easier to go buy more fabric than to look through your stash maybe you need to have a sorting session. Sort your fabric according to these criteria. Do I love it? Will I use it? I don't know why I bought this! This is ugly! Or any other questions you may need to ask. Sometimes you just need to sort out the fabric you have and will never use and donate it to your guild charity or have a "yard" sale at your quilt group. Another person may find treasures in your fabric discards.

    Office and Computer area

    Will your sewing area include your computer, a television, or a CD player? All the things you want to have in your studio need to be considered for the best and most convenient access.

    Consider putting your television at eye level. With a remote control you will be able to access your TV from anywhere in the room.

    Your CD player should be where you can access to change CD's and volume control. Remember you'll need space to place your speakers if they are separate.

    For your computer you will need a desk or table adequate for your CPU, monitor, keyboard, and printer. A drawer or box for CD and disk storage will be helpful too. Don't forget the other desk items you'll need such as pencils, pens, drafting supplies, a hand-held calculator.

    Organize large furniture items first

    Once you have decided what you want in you sewing space save your back and temper. Measure your room and draw a diagram of your room on graph paper. Measure each piece of furniture you need to put in your studio such as sewing tables, cutting tables, ironing tables, televisions, and computer desks, etc. Draw these on graph paper and label them. Cut them out and arrange them on your graph paper room drawing to see how most pieces will fit to the best arrangement. Remember to leave space for drawers and doors to open and try to plan a space for a design wall. Also leave space for simple items like wastebaskets.

    If possible a sewing area should be U-shaped, L-shaped, or T-shaped. When you are facing your sewing machine, you could have a small cutting or trimming area at one side and a pressing area on the other, unless it works better in your space to have the pressing and trimming side by side. I personally have my trimming on the left and pressing on the right of my sewing machine making my basic sewing area U-shaped. An L-shape or T-shape will be equally useful if it works for you and your room arrangement.

    Vertical Storage -- climb the wall!

    If your studio is small you need to consider all storage options. Remember to purchase tall shelving where needed as low shelving will leave a lot of unused space above that could be utilized. Items that you use less often can be placed on the higher shelves. A small inexpensive stepstool is a helpful for reaching occasional items on the higher shelves.

    One studio I have visited has a shelf 10" wide and about 12" down from the ceiling. This shelf goes just above the window frames and around the entire room. This is an excellent place to store items used infrequently or display collectables.

    Book and magazine storage

    The obvious solution to book storage is bookshelves. Be sure to buy sturdy bookshelves. A shelf of books can be very heavy and some shelving may not hold up to the weight of books. Buy bookshelves as tall as available. Again use the vertical storage rule. My bookshelves have six shelves. I purchased two additional laminated shelves and placed them on top of the existing bookshelves. I added two additional shelves to my books storage area with only a few dollars investment.

    Magazines can be stored on your book shelves if you have space. Plastic magazine files are available at office supply stores and are very convenient to keep each year of issues separately and easy to access. If you don't have space in your bookshelves, reserve a space on your utility shelving.

    Pattern storage

    Patterns that come in 6" x 9" zipper bags need to be stored in a convenient location. I suggest turning them on the side and storing them in clear plastic "sweater" storage boxes or in a drawer of the same size. If you have room on your shelves, you might wish to purchase cardboard boxes sized for dress patterns and available at fabric chain stores. The boxes come with covers and the patterns can be stored vertically.

    With the wealth of free downloadable patterns on the internet, the amount of printed 8 1/2" x 11" papers can expand very quickly. I began with a few loose leaf three-hole binders and expanded into too many binders. My computer generated pattern collection was getting out of hand. Many patterns for downloading are given in monthly chapters and are many pages of printing when the entire series is finished.

    With such large unmanageable amounts of pages in one downloaded pattern, it occurred to me to put them into a booklet. There are no loose leaf three-ring binders available that are narrow enough for space-saving storage on a book shelf and the paper report covers do not allow the pages to lay flat when open. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could have these "booklets" bound using the plastic spines. This service is available at copy shops and office supply super stores. Some have a minimum charge so you would want to take several to be bound at one time. Once your documents are bound this way the pages will lay flat for use and the booklets will store in a minimal amount of space on your bookshelf.

    Another option would be to purchase your own Comb Bind tool. One rated for home use is relatively inexpensive at office supply super stores. The model I have will punch 10 sheets of paper at one time and comb bind up to 125 sheets of paper with a 9/16" plastic comb. The majority of quilting patterns I bind are less than 50 sheets with a 3/8" plastic comb or smaller. The plastic combs are very inexpensive and it only takes a few minutes to bind a booklet. Once you have made the investment in the tool you can do it at home at your convenience.

    Some quilters prefer to have a file cabinet and file folders for pattern storage. Zip-close bags with patterns can be contained in plastic magazine files. With the zip-close bags it is easy to see the pattern through the clear plastic. Use whatever method works well for you.

    After you get your sewing room set up to your specific needs, don't hesitate to make small changes, or "tweak" as needed. You will find the first few months small changes will be made as you find specific things that work best for you. Remember your sewing room studio is your personal workspace. You need to make it as close to your needs and personality as possible. Each individual will have specific needs to her own quilting style. Some things will work for one quilter that may not be good for another quilter. So plan your space and make it work for you.
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