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.

Editing My Pattern Stash: How It Turned Out

Readers,

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

If you’re short on time (I know I am), I’ll get right to the point: editing my pattern stash turned out surprisingly well.

Move 'em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I'd never wear it. Brings the eye down, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

Move ’em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I’d never wear it. Too much ease, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

As with editing my fabric and button stashes last year, editing my patterns was informative, fun, and productive. Even painless. What more could I ask?

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

The trick in editing my stashes, I’ve found, is designing a process that’s intuitive and easy (are those the same thing?) and that helps me do something better than  before.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

The process has to be intuitive, so I understand it; easy, so I actually do it; and helps me accomplish something that matters, so that it’s worth the trouble–worth the trouble of executing the process, but also designing it, which has been the real bugbear.

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

But on to the results.

Using the rating system I devised, I assigned one to five stars to each of 200 patterns.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Basically,

  • 5 stars: I’ve made these and they were successful. Keep.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

  • 4 stars: I haven’t made these, but they’re flattering and I love them. I can definitely imagine making them. They would work in my wardrobe. Keep.

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

  • 3 stars: I haven’t made these. I’m ambivalent about something here: some features are flattering and some aren’t; the style might work or it might not. These would probably never be tops on the sewing to-do list.  Are these worth keeping? Look at these again and decide.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

  • 2 stars: I haven’t made these. Something is a dealbreaker: the style no longer suits me, or I now know that’s not a flattering silhouette, or this duplicates other patterns. Out they go.

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

  • 1 star: I have made these. Face it: they’re duds. Maybe they’re fixable, but I will never make it top priority to fix them. I’d rather choose a different pattern. Bye-bye.

    I wouldn't wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I'd wear it.

    I wouldn’t wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I’d wear it.

The 3-star pile was the most interesting and instructive. Seeing all the 3-starred ones together, I could see similarities in design features that just didn’t work for a triangle figure like mine:

  • Insufficient shoulder definition: dropped shoulders, kimono sleeves, raglan sleeves
  • Little or no waist definition
  • Features that drew the eye down or just didn’t draw the eye up
  • Too much design ease

    Scoop neckline--no; I'd never get around to sewing this; boxy

    Scoop neckline–no; I’d never get around to sewing this; boxy

I saw styles I wouldn’t wear now; I wasn’t that person anymore, if ever I had been.

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what--MORE boleros?

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what–MORE boleros?

Some patterns looked costumey to me now.

I have another shawl collar dress that's better; wouldn't wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

I have another shawl collar dress that’s better; wouldn’t wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

Whenever I found myself saying “There are better choices,” I paid attention.

Given how many 4-star patterns I have sitting on the bench begging to be put into the game, when would I ever sew the 3-stars? Like that famous New Yorker cartoon, how about never?

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

Because I understood why I was keeping what I was keeping and weeding what I was weeding, I had no second thoughts and no regrets.

I hadn’t set out to weed out a certain number. It came to about 60, or about 30 percent, just using this star rating process.

When I looked at the keepers, their winning qualities stood out all the more for not being lumped together with the ones that were only pretty good. For me, that’s the ultimate value of an edit: to clarify what interests and inspires me the most, and identify the resources–the fabrics, buttons, and patterns–that are the best matches.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

There was another unexpected result from this edit: I changed how I arrange my pattern catalogue.

Years ago, to sidestep the problem of choosing one category for a multi-garment pattern, I arranged patterns by year.  But I realized recently that arranging my patterns by year emphasizes the historical period of the garments, which doesn’t help me plan a wardrobe.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

When I want a coat, I should be flipping to the coat section of my catalogue and examining all my coat choices regardless of the era.

In a couple of instances, it turned out, did I want to put a pattern into a couple of garment categories: both “Jackets” and “Tops,” for example.  In those cases I can just make an duplicate page.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

What I had feared–that my catalogue would be the size of an unabridged Webster’s dictionary–has not materialized.

Abridged, then?

Perhaps.

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Editing My Pattern Stash

Readers,

I think I’ve come up with a pretty good way to edit my pattern stash.

Is this too many coat patterns?

Is this too many coat patterns?

Although I’m writing this on the road from Ohio, where Jack’s and my househunting adventure is taking exciting new turns, my mind has not strayed far from life’s really important questions:

  • Do I have too many patterns?
  • What’s the right number, anyway?
  • Will I ever know how (or care) to make my own t-shirts?

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper.

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper. 5 stars.

I know these questions have been plaguing you, too, readers. That’s why I have been spending all my waking hours this week–the ones not on the phone with our real estate agent–pondering a process for evaluating pattern stashes.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

I’ll spare you the details of those first 30 hours of pondering and first two drafts of this post, and cut to the chase: I now have a working model for sorting patterns.

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

Another great in my pattern pantheon. 5 stars.

When I get back to the sewing domain in Minneapolis in a few days, this is what I’ll do:

1. Bring together all my patterns. I have about 200.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

2. Sort them into categories such as:

  • Coats
  • Jackets and suits
  • Blouses, shirts, tops
  • Vests
  • Skirts
  • Pants
  • Accessories
  • At-home wear (robes, pajamas, exercise clothes, aprons)
  • Menswear
  • Home decor

    From 1936, another favorite pattern.

    From 1936, another favorite pattern. 5 stars.

Patterns will be judged and compared within their category.

3. Make space for five piles.

4. Patterns will be rated from one to five stars.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

5. Each star rating has objective and subjective statements related to it.  Assign each pattern to the pile with the statements that make the best match:

5 stars

  • I have made this.
  • I love it.
  • I would make it again.
  • Even if I don’t make it again, it’s worth keeping this pattern.
  • This flatters my figure type.
  • This works well with my other wardrobe items.
  • If this is a new direction for my wardrobe, it’s worth building outfits around this.
  • This works well with the life I’m living or am looking ahead to living.

    I can see this in my mind's eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

    I can see this in my mind’s eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

4 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • This flatters my figure type. (For me, a triangle figure type, that would include emphasizing the upper body with a defined waist and shoulders.)
  • I love this pattern.
  • This would work well with my other wardrobe items.
  • I can vividly imagine fabrics or buttons I’d use. (Even better: I have the fabrics and buttons.)
  • I can vividly imagine where or when I’d wear this.
  • I can vividly imagine what I would wear with this.
  • I can imagine loving wearing this.
  • If I had to learn new skills or get help to make this, I would.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

3 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • I like this pattern, but I can’t say I love it.
  • This has elements that flatter my figure type.
  • This also has elements that do nothing to flatter my figure type–they’re either neutral or detract.
  • Something appeals to me about the style.
  • I might be able to make this work.
  • I have never vividly imagined the fabrics or buttons I’d use.
  • I have never vividly imagined where or when I’d wear this.
  • I have never vividly imagined what I would wear with this.
  • If I had to make multiple muslins or learn new skills to make this, I would choose a different pattern.
  • If I were in the mood to experiment, or had the right help, and the time, I would make this.

    From 1947. I like this.  Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

    From 1947. I like this. Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

Two stars

  • I have not made this.
  • Even if this is right for my figure type, it’s not to my taste anymore.
  • This doesn’t match my life now or how I expect to live in the future.
  • I am not willing to experiment with this pattern. I would choose a different pattern instead.
  • I like it well enough, but have never vividly imagined anything about it, I realize.
  • This is a perfectly good pattern, but it duplicates others I have.
  • If I let this go, I wouldn’t really miss it.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I'd have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I’d have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

One star

  • I have made this.
  • This is a dud. It doesn’t work for me in fit or style.
  • If I made it in a different fabric or color it would still be a dud.
  • It is not worth it to me to fix the problems with this pattern. I’d rather choose a different pattern.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

The 5-star patterns are keepers.

The 2- and 1-star patterns can be let go.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

Then I’ll look at the 3-star and 4-star piles again. What can I learn from those piles? What makes one pattern a winner in my mind and another an also-ran? How much am I swayed by the front-of-the-envelope illustration? Is the technical drawing on the back just as appealing, more appealing, or less? In my experience, some patterns have fallen short of the promise on the front of the envelope–but others have exceeded it.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I may notice more patterns that are similar enough to consider duplicates, and choose to edit a few more out.

I won’t limit the number of patterns I can own in each category. However, I do have limits of time, money, and attention. I’m likely to accomplish more by perfecting a smaller number of patterns that I love, especially ones that adapt more easily to different seasons or occasions.

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions?  Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions? Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

As I work through this process, I may notice different questions and statements occurring to me, as in the menswear, accessory and home decor categories. “Make, or buy?” for instance. How willing am I to perfect a hat pattern? In the past, not very.

In the future? Put that question in the 3-star pile. I’ll deal with it later.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.

Getting Things Thrown: Reading About Decluttering

Readers,

Between looking for a house to buy in Columbus, Ohio (where I am writing this), and preparing our house in Minneapolis for sale, organizing is on my mind.  I have a lot of decisions to make about what’s worth keeping, packing, and moving, and what’s better to let go.

I’m not intimidated but am actually deeply interested in this whole process, and have wanted for years to go through our house, top to bottom. But it’s taken a watershed moment–moving–to put this project of projects at the top of my to-do list.

Dispense with the flotsam and jetsam!

Dispense with the flotsam and jetsam!

Jack has already done his part, taking out shelf feet of novels and plays, literature anthologies and English grammar reference sources, many of which were gifts or examination copies from publishers. He seems not to have gone into a Hamlet-like paralysis of indecision over toting duplicate Jane Austens to Half Price Books. Out the door they’ve gone, with a lighter load and a fatter wallet as rewards.

Meanwhile, I’ve been brooding over how I will cull the home decorating clippings I’ve amassed over the last twenty years. But that’s about one cubic foot of storage space to ponder–not exactly a lot to lose sleep over.

Then, of course, occupying a few more cubic feet–okay, cubic yards–are the equipment and supplies in my sewing space.

And here’s my big question.  Should I automatically pack all of my sewing accoutrements for our new home, or should I subject them to a greater scrutiny of soul-searching intensity? Is any of that stuff clutter?

What is clutter, anyway?

The word derives from the Middle English word for “clot,” which puts one in the mind of obstacles, stuckness, clogs. Are my UFOs clutter, or are they simply works in progress? How about my serger, barely touched since its purchase in 2007 but holding out the promise of a new sewing frontier? How about my stashes? Am I kidding myself that I will put them to use? Are they actually clutter in sheep’s clothing?

Never one to miss an opportunity for introspection, especially if it involves fabric, I decided to inform myself about this perplexing topic.

And that’s why I found myself in the stacks of the Whetstone branch library in Columbus a few days ago, mesmerized by the books in the Dewey Decimal 648s: Housekeeping.

That section was roughly divided between books addressing how to edit your stuff–decluttering–and books helping you make your stuff more accessible–organizing.

To me, organizing is function-based and fairly free from emotional highs and lows (unless you get a charge out of alphabetizing your spices). Organizing is about “what” and “how.”

Browsing the titles in decluttering, you can see what an emotional minefield it is. Decluttering is about “who” and “why.”

The decluttering books I chose promised to help me identify the stories I’d attached to my stuff, the excuses that kept me in a state of inertia, the shopping addictions I hadn’t owned up to, and even the mental clutter that was keeping me from the life I was meant to live.

I walked out of the library with nine titles and have spent several days immersed in them. They’ve been absorbing reads.

No, really. I thought I would read a lot of guilt-inducing, finger-wagging moralizing, but that style is apparently out of fashion. No, these books earnestly want you to live a great life, and I’m all for that.

Peter Walsh writes,  “The key question you should ask yourself when looking at the clutter that fills your home,” in It’s All Too Much Workbook, “is ‘Does this item enhance and advance the vision I have for the life I want, or does it impede that vision?'”

“You’re attached to the story that you’ve attached to your belongings,” write Mark Brunetz and Carmen Renee Berry in the oddly titled Take the U Out of Clutter. “In order to live clutter-free, you need to organize your stories, not your stuff. Truth is, once you’ve organized your stories, your belongings will organize themselves.”

In Live More, Want Less  Mary Carlomagno describes clutter as “piles of deferred decisions” and “the antithesis of decision-making.”

Gail Blanke writes in Throw Out Fifty Things:

The point is to have a reason for both–keeping and throwing out. That’s where the deciding comes in.

Remember, if it makes you feel bad, it doesn’t add anything to your life, or you have to agonize over your decision too long, let it go. If, on the other hand, it makes you feel good just to have it; if there’s a positive emotional attachment to it, regardless of whether you’ll ever ‘use’ it again: keep it. Our aim is not to create a merely tidy or well-organized life. Our aim is to clarify who we are now, to decide what’s important to us now, and to answer the question, what the heck am I doing here?

“What the heck am I doing here?” Hamlet never did come up with an answer for that. I bet he had a lot of clutter–especially of the mental variety.

Well, it’s easy to poke fun at decluttering books, but actually, I found them bracing and inspiring.

The one thing I did not find them was helpful in determining how to evaluate my sewing stuff. The closest I came was a section in Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Rooney Doland called “Hobbies and Making the Most of Your Personal Time.” That section was based on a couple of posts on the blog Unclutterer.com, which can be seen here and here, both followed by dozens of readers’ comments.

One comment on the first post of the two-parter, by a reader named “mud,” caught my eye. “Mud” felt that sewing and gardening, both previously considered essential household tasks, had been downgraded to hobbies. I thought that was quite a valid point, and helped me see my sewing in a new light. Or, was it an old light?

Because “mud” got me reminiscing about a time-tested system, part art, part science, that I’d worked with that, I think, can be applied to a sewing space at least as effectively, and possibly more effectively, than the clarifying-who-we-are-now approach. (Being a dropout of two leading life coach-training programs, I know my life-clarifying stuff, by the way.)

I’d write about that system in this post, but that could take another 1000 words. So I’ll save that for next time.

Organizing by Messing Around

Readers,

Sometimes the best solution I’ve discovered for a pesky problem turns out to be the easiest, cheapest and laziest.  I have to be in the right state of mind though, for that solution to occur to me.

I ran a little test hanging button bags and swatches over the ironing board. I stopped noticing them.

I ran a little test hanging button bags and swatches over the ironing board. I stopped noticing them.

A couple of days ago I had wrapped up a big sewing project and series of posts and was not in the mood to plunge into the next project just yet. I felt restless. I didn’t want to sit at a computer or sewing machine or stand at a cutting table or ironing board. I didn’t want to decipher 1940s pattern instructions, or plan.

I didn’t want anything to do with words or thinking.

A bulletin board + tacks + bagged supplies = fun.

A bulletin board + tacks + bagged supplies = fun.

This turned out to be a very good thing.

Because what I instinctively turned to was playing with the buttons and buckles I had sorted and bagged but not yet stored to my satisfaction.  For weeks they’d been in a jumble in a big plastic basket. I hadn’t made them much more accessible than before, and that bugged me.

The bags can hang on tacks, easy to remove and rehang.

The bags can hang on tacks, easy to remove and rehang.

I had hung some buttons on pegboard hooks in view of my ironing board for inspiration. But I concluded that when I’m pressing and grading seams I’m focused like a laser on the task. Those buttons had become invisible in full view.

In sight, in mind.

In sight, in mind.

It was only when my brain was tired that a quick, easy, cheap and lazy solution occurred to me: hanging the bags from tacks on a bulletin board.  I began to sort into colors and sizes but quickly gave it up.  I just feverishly grabbed bags and tacked in horizontal rows starting at the bottom and working my way up, overlapping like roof tiles.  In a matter of minutes–not hours or days, and with no seam-ripping–I was done.

Forget the chicken and the egg--which comes first, the button or the fabric?

Forget the chicken and the egg–which comes first, the button or the fabric?

I  liked the unexpected juxtapositions of colors, shapes and sizes. I liked using ordinary office supplies lying around the house. I liked the portability of this storage and the ease of taking bags off and rehanging them.

Having fun worked, too.

Now my buttons and buckles are organized (but not too much) in view of my stash, ready to stoke my imagination anew.

Buckles, a pair of dress clips, even some vintage initial tape available to be planned into a garment now.

Buckles, a pair of dress clips, even some vintage initial tape available to be planned into a garment now.