Book: Let It Go by Peter Walsh

Readers,

I haven’t seen a decluttering book specifically for sewers–yet–but when I came across the phrase “material convoy” to describe “the massive pile of stuff that you collect and carry along your winding journey” in Peter Walsh’s new book, Let It Go I ruefully nodded.

A snapshot of my “material convoy.”

In his latest title the organizing expert addresses the daunting task of downsizing your own home or that of a parent, other family member, or close friend.

I wanted to see which of Walsh’s observations or guidelines might apply to sewers and sewing spaces. Here’s what I found valuable:

  • In Chapter 1 Walsh quotes gerontology expert David J. Ekerdt, “Our possessions are extensions of ourselves. All of these things in the convoy are part of our past selves, but they’re also part of our possible selves. They’re selves I could become, so I hang on to the object to accomplish that.”

Aren’t fabric and patterns seductive, even–or especially–in their pristine state?  Years ago I attended a neighbor’s estate sale that included musty old dressers and file cabinets crammed with at least 1000 1500 patterns from the late ’40s through the ’70s–untouched except by moisture and mold.

What dreams Maureen must have had! But how many remained sadly unfulfilled?

Maureen’s estate contained hundreds of patterns like these, at 50 cents apiece. I limited myself to 12. (Hard!)

Well, of course I can’t say, but I do know the siren call of aspirational buying, and in the end it’s rarely satisfying. I’m sure she never meant for her patterns to be hauled away in grocery bags by eBay vendors.

What steps am I taking to see that my vintage buttons don’t meet a similar fate?

  • “If your home is like most people’s,” Walsh writes in Chapter 2, “it probably contains half-completed projects that the kids abandoned a year ago, an old coffeemaker that you keep in the kitchen, just in case you need it again, a broken printer that holds up the working printer, and gifts gathering dust in cabinets, still in their packages. Such homes are filled with what I call un objects: things that were unwanted and unopened, that go unused, that are unappreciated, or simply unnecessary.”

If I remember only one thing from Let It Go it will be this brilliantly simple concept of un objects. And now I have a new question for myself:

Is this item an un object? 

If I have to ask, probably so.

When I set up this sewing room 3 years ago I saw this baker’s rack as a parking garage for projects. Today I see it more clearly as a graveyard. Now I am limiting the number of projects I have going.

  • “All the stuff you own will fit into one of three categories: Memory Items, I-Might-Need-It Items, and Trash/Recycling. It’s easy to determine where each goes, and this will be your first task when you start doing the hands-on downsizing work.”

You’d be either a genius or a fool to whittle all possible categories for stuff to just three. Walsh is a genius.

  • In Chapter 4 Walsh describes four kinds of Memory items: treasures, which you keep; and trinkets, the forgotten, and the malignant, which you don’t. “Here’s a good rule of thumb: If something makes you smile, fills you with joy, brings back a good memory, and makes your heart sing when you look at it, then chances are high it’s a treasure. If not, it likely isn’t.”

    “Treasure” objects: Souvenirs of Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store in St. Leonards On Sea, a little town on the English Channel.

  • Most things by far might appear to be I-Might-Need-It items, but the only ones you’ll bring to your new home will be the ones he describes as “worthy:” “Your worthy items must have a readily visible purpose in the next stage of your life, and you need adequate space to store them appropriately. You must have a better reason for keeping them than ‘I just don’t feel like getting rid of this yet’ or ‘I can’t make a decision now, so I’ll box it up, take it with me, and deal with it later.'”

    I was going to bind the ragged edges of these towels, but you know what? They would still be old towels. They don’t meet my “worthy” standard. So off they’ll go to the humane society.

  • In Chapter 7, Walsh warns that “Thinking ‘I’ll move this to my new home’ is an overly broad and general statement that discourages downsizing. So I recommend ‘shrinking’ your ‘thinking.’ This means viewing your new home not as one space but as many smaller individual spaces, each of which will be used for a specific purpose. Not only should you break your new home into rooms but you should also consider the spaces within each room.”
  • “You only have the space you have. This is worth repeating, since it’s so important.”

“You only have the space you have.”

Walsh adds, “Accept this fact now or you’ll struggle with it later.”

Walsh recommends recording the measurements of cabinet space, closet space and shelf space as well as the dimensions of rooms and assigning them purposes as crucial steps in downsizing to your new space.

It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought about this reality check so clearly before:

Do the Math.

“You only have the space you have:” Figuring out the sewing room floor plan in 2014. (It was fun, by the way.)


Walsh is writing about physical space, but it’s occurring to me that I need to do the same with mental space. I can manage only so many sewing projects in my head at a time. Or, for that matter, in a lifetime.

So, of the dozens of sewing projects I could consider, which ones strike me as the treasures? Which, no matter how difficult (or easy) they may be, would yield me and their users the deepest satisfaction? What physical and mental space am I prepared to dedicate to those special endeavors? “Treasure” projects might take a greater investment of resources, but the rewards would be greater, too.

Downsizing can be an intimidating undertaking, but Peter Walsh argues for engaging fully with your stuff to win the life-enriching benefits .  If you follow the Let It Go process, he writes, “You’ll have less focus on the amount of your stuff and greater happiness with the quality of the treasures that surround you. The possessions you carry forward will support your daily activities, bring you joy, resurrect happy memories, say something important about you, and perhaps serve as treasured heirlooms after you’re gone.”

From here on out, when I evaluate my fabrics, patterns, and equipment, I’ll ask myself, “Honestly–is this an ‘un object,’ or do I have a plan to make something wonderful from it?” And when I think about the things I could possibly make, I’ll ask myself which could be the “treasure” projects.

Because this sewer certainly doesn’t have time for “un projects.”

This vintage fabric by Souleiado is one of my favorite possessions, and I want to turn it into something wonderful. I just have to commit to doing the practice runs before I cut into this beauty.

De-stash Follow-up

Readers,

Last Saturday I joined fifteen other sewers in Sew to Speak’s first annual De-Stash on the Lawn yard sale of fabrics and notions.

Apron pockets stuffed with dollar bills and quarters and ready for business!

The weather was gorgeous, and the nearby bustling farmers’ market brought inquisitive browsers and buyers.

As I suspected, my buttons attracted the most attention, and at 25 cents a bag they were priced to go.  They went.

The banana buttons I’d had for 30 years (!) went to a woman who has a banana-themed running joke with a friend and who was thrilled to find them. I think I made her day.

Ribbons, elastics, and fusible web came back home.

My best customers, however, were the other sellers, who browsed tables between sales.  One of them joked, “De-stash and re-stash!”

Nobody wanted the grommets, cording, window shade cleats, gathering tape, weights for shade pulls, or buttons to cover.

I left my post briefly, too. to look at the other sewers’ wares, but since most of those were quilting fabrics and books I wasn’t tempted.  Besides, my purpose in clearing out the sewing room was to make space for new activities, not new supplies.

What sold?

  • Most of my buttons
  • A bolt of fusible hair canvas
  • A thread rack
  • An upholstery stapler that was almost impossible for me to use with my smaller hands
  • Some cheery yellow and blue quilted placemats I bought in France 20 years ago.
  • A tube turner
  • A neon-orange measuring tape
  • A yard of felt used in tailored jacket undercollars
  • A gadget for evenly marking the placement of buttonholes or pleats
  • A darling table runner dating from the 1940s or ’50s
  • Some upholstery tacks
  • A book on making fabric flowers
  • A remnant of perky blue and white checked cotton for tablecloths

Also coming home again were the point turner, gadgets for bound buttonholes, a hanger for oaktag pattern pieces, a needle point tracing wheel, a magnetic wrist pin cushion, and scissors.

I made $28.50 from the sale, but subtract the $12 for the table rental and I actually cleared $16.50.

And then there were the things that came back home.

What will I do with them?

Do you remember where you were when you bought each of your fabrics? I almost always do. These purchases date from 1986 to 2015.

The buttons, gadgets, notions, and yardage would be perfect to donate to The World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale, an annual fundraising event of the Textile Center of Minnesota, in Minneapolis next April. The donation would need to be personally delivered two days before the sale, and I can’t think of anyone better qualified to do the job (–or to attend the sale, of course!).

The shirt I sewed for Jack from this plaid reminds me of our visit to Paron’s fabric store in New York’s Garment District last year. Sadly, Paron’s has since closed.

Then there is every sewer’s dilemma: fabric scraps too small to donate but too good to toss.  They deserve to be used somehow.  I checked my library system for books on using fabric scraps, and requested Wise Craft by blogger and Craftsy designer Blair Stocker for inspiration.

But inspiration can come from anywhere. At lunch I was browsing the Annie Selke catalogue that came in the day’s mail and saw a footstool upholstered with a rug remnant for…$1300! Really?

We have a footstool begging for a new cover, and one of my remnants fits both the footstool and the decor. Put on the shopping list: a better upholstery stapler.

Our sad little footstool…

…could get a nifty (and thrifty) little makeover.

I’ll keep an eye open to dispersing my sewing leftovers wisely, but I’m also going to be more careful about what I let in, in the first place.

Now, a great big tailor’s ham did get past the velvet rope. Tailors’ hams must be my weakness because when my sister pulled this beauty from her stash I whined for it.  She has visiting privileges, however.

Weighing in at an impressive 3 pounds, 10 ounces.

Papa Ham, Mama Ham, and Hamlet.

Also, when she unearthed these woolens from our mom’s stash from who knows how long ago I decided to keep them for wearable test-sewing if not for actual garments.

The De-Stash on the Lawn may be over, but Sewing Room 2.0 continues.

What I gained was much more than a little pocket money.  What else?

  • Shelf space. The sewing and home dec book collections are slimmer and better.
  • Floor space. Worktables can be moved around more easily for big drapery, shade, or lined coat projects
  • Better access to my beautiful vintage buttons.  They were in bags, in boxes, on sheet pans on the baker’s rack.  That was one step too many. Eliminating the boxes and spreading the buttons on easy-to-pull sheet pans–basically shallow drawers–vastly improved accessibility.

    Still waiting for their new work assignment: living room draperies I sewed for our cute little Minneapolis Cape Cod did not transition to our mid-century Columbus house. Yardage could be harvested for new home dec projects.

What did I lose?

  • Some supplies I wasn’t using and had no ambitions to use.
  • Dust bunnies.
  • A lot of visual clutter.

Admittedly, some of that clutter was moved, temporarily, to the guest room, to be dealt with later. Over the next few days I’ll bring back the stacks of pattern folders, unsold fabrics and notions, and a box of clippings to triage.

Sewing Room 2.0 is about creating a space to support the whole range of activities required to create clothing and furnishings that serve Jack and me. When I evaluate those fabrics, patterns, notions, and clippings piled in the guest room they’ll have to make it worth my while to manage them.

And if they can’t serve my purposes, there probably is somebody else, like the lady who bought the banana buttons, who would be delighted to give them a good home.

Bye bye, bananas!

De-stashing on a Deadline

Readers,

I got back from our New York trip to find an e-mail from my local little independent fabric store. Sew to Speak, in Worthington, Ohio, was announcing an event it was calling “De-stash on the Lawn”–a yard sale especially for sewers September 9.  What a brilliant idea.

For a small fee sewers could rent space on the tables on the lawn in front of the store to sell stash fabrics and notions not only to Sew to Speak customers but also to passersby on their way to pick up some basil and tomatoes at the nearby farmers’ market.  Presumably, with our yard-sale earnings we vendors would then be primed to browse Sew to Speak’s beautiful fabric selections for fall to restock our sewing room shelves.

I read Sew to Speak’s announcement first as a customer, and since I’d hadn’t even unpacked my purchases from the Garment District I thought, no, I’ll pass up this event.

Then I thought, hey–I need to be part of this–as a seller.

I slept on the idea but the next morning I was so concerned that table space would sell out fast that I registered to secure my place.

Of course, I saw the De-stash on the Lawn as a convenient solution to the pesky problem of disposing fabrics and scraps, buttons, and sewing gadgets that no charity or consignment store would accept. If all I did was lightly edit my fabrics and notions, spend a pleasant Saturday morning in some good-natured haggling with other sewers, and earn back the $12 I’d spent on table space, I wouldn’t consider the time ill-spent.

But then I wondered how I might leverage the opportunity further, to yield a bigger benefit.  After all, I’ve been mulling over Sewing Room 2.0 for months.

Yes, the sewing room is due for an overhaul.  In the first round, three years ago when we moved into this mid-century fixer-upper, I was happy just to have a biggish room with natural light and good heating (unlike my Minneapolis basement sewing domain).

Now I want more.

No, not more space–more function.  A 17-foot by 13-foot room should work fine, but I’ve got to get a lot smarter about supporting the whole getting-things-sewn process, start to finish.

I sewed for years in a space that just–existed. It performed moderately well and I got moderately good results.  I never even thought about designing my sewing space until I began blogging.

The big lesson I learned from designing my Minneapolis basement sewing domain was:

Space not otherwise assigned a function tends to get filled with stuff.

I’ve found this becomes a serious problem when stuff interferes with doing activities.

Obviously, fabrics (and patterns, books, equipment, etc.) are physical objects and need cubic feet of storage space. That’s a fact.

But designing garments–outfits–even a seasonal collection for a wardrobe–what space does that activity require? Isn’t that important, too?

I had never considered that question until recently. In Sewing Room 2.0 I want to shift the default.

In Sewing Room 2.0, supporting activities will take precedence over storing stuff.

Readers, I am stating this without completely knowing what a Sewing Room 2.0 will look like. But now, I’m eager to find out.

Setting Up My New Sewing Room

Readers,

My sewing room, occupying the largest bedroom in Jack’s and my new home in Columbus, Ohio, is about 90 percent set up now.  It was fairly easy to plan the layout, and fun, as well.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

From my little desk I merely have to turn around to bask in the morning light streaming in from two directions. This morning I’m enjoying a clear blue sky and the last bright leaves of fall.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

Then, without leaving my chair, I can roll a short distance to my sewing library and survey titles without bending or squinting.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

Pulling my pattern catalog from the shelf, I can swivel half a turn to a work table to page through it.

From pattern illustration...

From pattern illustration…

If I think, “Hmm–what fabrics would look great with that pattern?” in no more than an instant I’m unfurling yardage and scattering buttons over it.

...to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

…to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

From my other chair I can stitch and then swivel to the ironing board to press open a seam–or stand and use my new steamer.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

As you can tell, I’m thoroughly enjoying the new headquarters of Getting Things Sewn. I am really glad we made a sizeable sewing space a high priority in our house hunt.

However, it took imagination, a leap of faith, and lots of work to transform this into a room I love being in.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

At first, the entire house smelled like a giant ashtray. Everything was in desperate need of freshening up.

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper dated from the 1960s or '70s, probably. Out!

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper in the closet dated from the 1960s or ’70s, probably. Out!

Much of the oak flooring was covered with decades-old carpet underlaid with disintegrating padding.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

The windows were covered with cheap, unattractive blinds and valances. All the walls were dingy.

These valances and blinds must go!

These valances and blinds must go!

A month and a half before the moving van came, Cynthia (my sister, photographer and now neighbor) and I pulled out the ratty old carpet and padding and pried out hundreds of carpet staples . Jack flew down from Minnesota for a long weekend to paint the whole upstairs, plus the living room, with a potent primer called Kilz.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

We had the floors refinished, and they turned out gorgeous!

We had the floors professionally refinished.

We had the floors professionally refinished.

The final coat: wet...

The final coat: wet…

...and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

…and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

July 10, Jack and the moving van both arrived from Minneapolis. Reunited at last!

July 10: the moving van arrived.

July 10: the moving van arrived.

And then we opened lots and lots of boxes.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

Messy!

Messy!

And before we got settled in, we had the exterior walls insulated to save on energy costs in the years to come. There was never going to be a better time to have this done, but waiting for the insulation guys to finish the job required a boatload of patience.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in. Then the holes were filled.

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

As soon as the insulation job was done, Jack set immediately to work painting the sewing room so I could execute my grand plan. It was a fun puzzle to solve. I had learned so much from planning the basement sewing domain in our previous home in Minneapolis, creating a zone for each activity.

Before: an unsightly closet.

Before: an unsightly closet.

After: neat and clean!

After: neat and clean!

The room measurements were 17 feet by 13 feet. I measured my bookcases, metal shelving units, work tables, desk and printer stand, rolling chairs, the ironing board, steamer, and even the base of my mannequin, Ginger–anything that would take up space. On a large sheet of graph paper from Cynthia I laid out the locations of doors, electrical outlets, and windows.

The floor plan.

The floor plan.

From a colorful old file folder I cut out scale representations of all these sewing furnishings and started moving them around my graphed-out room. It was immensely satisfying to do this.

I imagined how much more I would enjoy my sewing room if only I positioned my fabrics to be easily seen from the hallway.  So that decided where I would put my metal shelving units for storing fabrics and buttons.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway. The rest of the arrangement fell into place.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

Then I assigned the rest of the zones I needed: places for writing and planning; consulting my sewing library; cutting and stitching, pressing and steaming; photographing garments on the mannequin, and closet storage.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

When I first saw how close together my work tables, shelves, chairs and pressing equipment were on my graph, my heart sank. I thought I wouldn’t have enough room to do my work. Then I realized that 90 percent of the time I’d be in here by myself and wouldn’t need much clearance. Plus, I could find this smaller space to be  more efficient than my other, larger space.

In my previous sewing space my most frequently used tools were hung on pegboard or stored in a wide, shallow box on a work table. They were easy to see but often just out of reach, on the other side of a table. Over the years the minutes I spent walking around a table to reach for a hemming gauge or pair of shears resulted not only in lost hours but lost concentration.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

In a moment of inspiration I saw using our Elfa file carts more profitably to store my sewing tools than our papers. I have filled one with pressing tools and the other with sewing gadgets and my patterns. The carts roll to wherever I need them and stow handily under the work tables.

The Ikea file cart has three drawers, space for hanging files, and enough surface to open a book. It’s awaiting its work assignment.

Someday I'll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

Someday I’ll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

My baker’s cart, which holds unfinished projects (and anything else, these days), fits perfectly in the closet. That was lucky. I also use the closet for interfacings, wearable-test fabrics, muslins, threads, notions, rolls of paper, and the serger.

The rolling baker's rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The rolling baker’s rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The baker's rack rolls out for easy access.

The baker’s rack rolls out for easy access.

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests...

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests…

...notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

…notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

What’s left to do?

  • Improving the lighting. I’m making do with a couple of clip-on utility lamps and a five-headed goose-neck floor lamp from Home Depot until I make a plan.
  • Decorating! This room is functional, but it needs personality! Fashion clippings! Swatches! I used a neutral paint color for photography, but I want color, pattern, texture on my bulletin boards.
  • After a seven month hiatus, SEWING!

    The stage is set.

    The stage is set.

Getting Things Sewn is Getting a New Home

Readers,

Last week Jack and I bought a house in Columbus, Ohio that will be the new home of Getting Things Sewn!

With Kelly Myers, the world's most wonderful real estate agent.

With Kelly Myers, the world’s most wonderful real estate agent.

Built in 1958, with the same owners from 1959 to 2013, the house is structurally sound but needs updating. Carpets need to be ripped out and floors assessed for refinishing, and all the walls need paint, just for starters. Everything needs refreshing.

Assisting me in this first round of improvements will be my sister, photographer–and neighbor–Cynthia DeGrand, who will be just two minutes’ walk away!

Our creative spaces being so close together–my sewing space and Cynthia’s photo studio–means wonderful new opportunities to experiment with the subject matter and images for this blog. I have often had ideas for posts but didn’t have the imagination or technical expertise to create the images. Meanwhile, Cynthia has had ideas for composition or modeling, but I was not in Columbus often enough for her to experiment with and perfect even a tenth of those ideas.

With the 764 miles between us reduced to a tenth of a mile, we can easily experiment with indoor shoots, location shoots, documenting sewing processes, and more.

This 13- by 17-foot bedroom enjoys natural light and more warmth than my basement sewing space. (The carpet and window treatments are going.)

This 13- by 17-foot bedroom enjoys natural light and more warmth than my basement sewing space. (The carpet and window treatments are going.)

I will also experiment with designing my new sewing space–or spaces. In Minneapolis I devised a pretty satisfying basement sewing domain, which I wrote about in 2013. In Columbus I will start over in a 13- by 17-foot bedroom, possibly using part of the sizable basement for cutting tables.

I have new local sewing resources to discover: people, classes, supplies, collections, and events, which is exciting, but I also want to keep in touch with the sewing community I cultivated in Minneapolis.

For the last few weeks I’ve been decluttering, packing, cleaning, and painting (lot of painting) in preparation for selling our Minneapolis house. While Jack manages the selling, I’ll fly ahead to Columbus to get some repairs and improvements underway. They will be so much easier to do before the moving van arrives.

I have been impatiently waiting for the day I could say Getting Things Sewn is getting a new home. At last I can. I will be testing everything I’ve learned so far about creating sewing spaces and cultivating new sewing ties and look forward to recording my new adventures.

Goodbye, old sewing space!

Goodbye, old sewing space!