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.

Button Storage Problems Solved!

Readers,

The bags I’d ordered last week in the hopes that they’d solve my button-storage quandaries arrived yesterday from Paper Mart.

A case of 1000 recloseable bags arrived yesterday.

A case of 1000 recloseable bags arrived yesterday.

As I wrote recently, I had stored my many vintage buttons in Ziploc snack bags. True, the bags were portable and fairly see-through, but they were stored in boxes in a closet. Supplies that are out of sight are easy to forget. After a labor-intensive session of punching holes in those snack bags for hanging from pegboard hooks I conceded defeat and ordered these see-through, recloseable bags with “hang tabs,” as Paper Mart calls them.

It's a little harder to see button details through the snack bags than the new bags.

It’s easier to see button details through the new bag than through the old snack bags.

I practically tore open the box in my excitement to give my beautiful buttons new homes.

My first impressions are all positive.

The new bags are clearer than the Ziploc snack bags, so I can see button details better.

The storage area of the bags is the size of a standard 3″ by 5″ index card, large enough to hold all the multiples I have of one button style.

The storage area is the same dimensions as an index card: 3" by 5".

The storage area is the same dimensions as an index card: 3″ by 5″.

Removing the protective strip, folding over the end and pressing shut were all pretty easy. The opening stayed closed but was easy to open and reclose. Under normal conditions it doesn’t appear that the bags would break open.

Pull off the strip to reveal the sticky strip. Fold and press to close.

Pull off the strip to reveal the sticky strip. Fold and press to close.

I put several bags on a big ring I happened to have. I could see carrying buttons, buckles, and other decorative elements this way to a fabric store.

Carry to the fabric store, or hang on a hook at home.

Carry to the fabric store, or hang on a hook at home.

Wanting to see how strong the hang tab was, I pulled hard on a bag on the ring. The hang tab unit stayed intact, and  while it did tear off, the bag stayed sealed. I wouldn’t recommend subjecting these bags to a lot of strain, but they appear to be strong considering how light they are.

When I pulled hard, the bag tore, but it seems pretty sturdy under normal conditions.

When I pulled hard, the bag tore, but it seems pretty sturdy under normal conditions.

The hole in the hang tab easily fits over a pegboard hook.

I had a few extra pegboard hooks, which I hung in an instant. Moments later they were filled with bags of buttons or buckles.

In a few minutes I had created open storage for big part of my decorative stash.

In a few minutes I had begun creating open storage for big part of my decorative stash.

I also attached a couple of sheets of cork to my pegboard with heavy binder clips for a quick, cheap, and easy idea board. I pulled couple of swatches from my recent visit to New York’s Garment District, buttons, buckles, and some vintage French initial tape for a red, white and blue summer theme.

Swatches, buttons, buckles, initial tape for a quick idea board.

Swatches, buttons, buckles, initial tape for a quick idea board.

On second thought, I’ll keep the pegboard for what it does best: hang stuff. I’m going to try making space to hang all my buttons, buckles and trims even if some equipment has to be moved.Next to the pegboard is just enough space for a large bulletin board to try out combinations of swatches, pattern illustrations, buttons, buckles, trims and other inspirations.

Trying out ideas for my wardrobe has just gotten easier.

Trying out ideas for my wardrobe has just gotten easier.

I’d never thought before about making a brainstorming space just above the ironing board, but what a good place for one. Whether I’m ironing clothes or pressing a sewing project, I can let my mind wander from routine work to plan beautiful new possibilities.

Ironing just got more interesting.

Ironing just got more interesting.

Before and After: The Alcove

Readers,

I now present to you my sewing library, properly stored and accessible, befitting the sewing space of a former librarian.

The sewing library finally has a proper home.

The sewing library finally has a proper home.

When Daniel installed the shelves this past week I just couldn’t believe how nice they looked and how practical and roomy they were. Why hadn’t I thought of converting this rec room bar, built by a previous owner, to book and magazine storage when we bought this house twenty-plus years ago? It’s such a no-brainer!

I’ll tell you why. Because I had never listed all the functions I wanted my sewing space to perform and then assigned zones for those functions. Now that I’ve done this homework–which was quite interesting and enjoyable, by the way–the results have been extremely rewarding.

Lesson learned.

I can swivel in my office chair from computer to print sources.

I can swivel in my office chair from computer to print sources.

I’m writing this in my neat and useful little planning corner almost exactly a year after I took the “before” pictures of my sewing space.

My sewing books, notes, DVDs, articles, and fashion clippings are all within easy reach. I can swivel in my office chair and read the spines of my Threads magazines, then pull an issue and spread it open on the counter.

You know what I like the most about my planning corner? Just entering this space puts me in the mood to plan and research–to act.

Crowded, cluttered, and no well-lighted surface nearby to lay a book on.

Before: crowded, cluttered, and no well-lighted surface nearby to lay a book on.

Compare that with a year ago, when this corner was full of–stuff. What I did, mostly, was react to that stuff more than interact with it. I reacted to the disorder, which came from indecision, which came from not being clear enough about what I wanted to accomplish.

The alcove before: Large and medium boxes of patterns. Duct tape double dress form (may she rest in peace). Flotsam. Jetsam.

The alcove before: Large and medium boxes of patterns. Duct tape double dress form (may she rest in peace). Flotsam. Jetsam.

As I have noted in a previous post, I would react to the visible disorder by organizing the stuff, be it sewing books, patterns, or fabrics–and there was some value in that. But all this organizing was built on a premise that my sewing space was a container for stuff. It felt static, and I felt static.

I’ve shifted. Now I see my sewing space as supporting activities. And now when I’m in this space I’m predisposed to taking action.

Paper for tracing off patterns is in the new closet now.

Paper for tracing off patterns is in the new closet now.

Readers, I’m a fan of stuff, but I now see the value of deliberately designing for activity as well as storage in a space.

Daniel, who built the shelves (and also reinstalled the cabinet doors I’d taken off), saw more clearly than I did how this little alcove could support action. “See?” he showed me, “I made the shelves adjustable for the heights of your magazines.”

And here,” he pointed to the counter under the lower shelf, “I left this open so you’ll have more space to use your books.”

I can read the tiny print on the spines of my Threads magazines now.

I can read the tiny print on the spines of my Threads magazines now.

I thanked him for the idea. But the next day, when I shelved my library I put all those issues of Threads on the counter, where I thought I could read the tiny print on the spines most easily. I shelved my shoebox of clippings on the shelf. I stood back and admired my work. Done.

Not so fast!

This morning when I saw that box of clippings I thought, “Every time I’ll want to use that box I’ll have to pull it down from that shelf.” Having to pull and replace that box would discourage use. Guaranteed.

At last, dedicated space for using sewing references.

At last, dedicated space for using sewing references.

In a trice I adjusted the shelf, moved the Threads issues up, and the clippings box to the counter. Now those clippings are super-accessible, and there’s more space to use them right there.

And use them I will. In fact, it’s time I examined the contents of this box. In the age of Google, YouTube and Pinterest, what sewing information is worth the trouble of managing in file folders?  That’s another mystery waiting to be unraveled.

Make or Buy?

Readers,

Being a largely from-scratch cook and baker (I have made my own crackers–not worth it–and bagels–worth it) I bring a DIY approach to food preparation. But when is it worth making something and when is it worth buying readymade in the pursuit of getting things sewn?

2002: Homemade bagels, fresh from the oven!

2002: Homemade bagels, fresh from the oven!

I submit three situations with my decisions.

Situation 1.

Earlier this week I moved my spring-summer clothes out of my small closet to a rolling clothes rack and moved my fall-winter clothes in. I had a big pile of sweaters that in the past I had either hung on padded hangers or folded and stored in makeshift storage cubes (bankers’ boxes turned on their sides, if you must know) on a shelf just beyond easy reach.

The hangers were convenient for me, but hanging is bad for sweater shoulders. The boxes were fine for the sweaters but inconvenient for me.

Ready to be properly folded.

Ready to be properly folded.

Then it occurred to me that I could have the convenience of both storage cubes and proximity. (Imagine!) Don’t ask why but I’d never thought of using those soft-sided collapsible hanging storage units in my own closet for stowing folded clothes .

Q. Make or buy?

A. Buy.

Thrilled by the novelty of defining and solving a problem in the same afternoon, I didn’t even think about sewing my own soft-sided closet storage cubbies. I flew to Target, gladly forked over $7.99 for a sweater storage unit, and had a tidy closet in an hour.

Sweaters (and shoes) are now stowed handily.

Sweaters (and shoes) are now stowed handily.

I went so far as to divide my sweaters into cardigans, pullovers, and turtlenecks and follow directions from Real Simple for properly folding a sweater.

Conclusion: Worth buying. I could imagine, though, enjoying using home decorating fabric remnants to sew custom-sized closet storage pieces.

Situation 2.

I saw an article about a closet makeover that used labeled disc-shaped dividers from the Container Store to organize clothes on a rod. I saw possibilities for my rolling clothes rack, where I store a mix of off-season clothes, clothes awaiting ironing or repairs, and muslins for future sewing projects.

Labeling the dividers made me think about what categories I had.

Labeling the dividers forced me to define categories.

The Container Store’s dividers are 99 cents apiece. And you supply your own labels.

Make or buy?

Make.

A yogurt container lid, a Sharpie, an X-Acto knife, a label maker, and minutes later I had my own clothes rod dividers.

Cut from the hole to the outside edge so the disc can be fitted around the rod.

Cut from the hole to the outside edge so the disc can be fitted around the rod.

Conclusion: Worth it, since I have these things around anyway and the making is quick. But really, I don’t want a wardrobe so large that it needs dividers.

This little divider works!

This little divider works!

On the other hand, naming the reasons why I’d parked clothes on the rolling rack so I could make the labels made me realize I’ve got some decisions to make. “Iron” and “Spring-Summer” are legitimate categories, but “I might take a pattern off this gift dress” is not. Neither is “I inherited this suit. What do I do with it?” (Therein lies another post.)

Situation 3.

For over a year I’ve pondered how to store my burgeoning button collection for easy access and for inspiration.

Closed storage? Open storage?

These buttons are bagged, but still not very organized or accessible

These buttons are bagged, but still not very organized or accessible

Compartmentalized boxes sold at craft stores, or at hardware stores? Resealable bags? Spice jars? Cabinets with tiny drawers?

Organize by color? Size?

Materials for the prototype hanging bag.

Materials for the prototype hanging bag.

What would let me grab buttons to try against a fabric at home or take to a fabric store and also return easily to storage?

Till I figure out a better system,  I’ve been storing my beautiful, mostly vintage buttons in Ziploc snack bags, organized by color–sort of–in shoeboxes.  In a closet. Out of sight. Where there’s not a chance I’ll be inspired.

A couple of days ago, heady from solving my closet storage problem, I tackled the button storage problem anew. How about using bags with holes for hanging on my pegboard hooks or from a ring?

First test passed: the bag hangs.

First test passed: the bag hangs.

Q. Make or buy?

A. Make.

I hauled out my industrial-strength three-hole punch and adjusted the spacing for pegboard hooks. Then I went to work trying to punch holes in those Ziploc snack bags. The holes came out ragged and only half-cut, requiring delicate trimming with embroidery scissors. Then, to protect the holes from being torn open, I affixed those little reinforcements.

Reinforcements are fussy to apply but protect holes from tearing open.

Reinforcements are fussy to apply but protect holes from tearing open.

Voila! My prototype worked. One down, just a couple hundred more to go!

Let’s see..at five minutes per bag that would work out to just…16 1/2 hours of work!

Hmm. Time to reconsider.

Both hole punches left shredded, half-cut holes that had to be trimmed with little scissors. No thanks!

Both hole punches left shredded, half-cut holes that had to be trimmed with little scissors. No thanks!

Q. Make or buy?

A. Buy!

From PaperMart’s warehouse in California a case (the minimum order amount) of “hang tab lip and tape” polypropylene bags is making its way to this sewing space. In plain English, they’re resealable see-through bags about the size of a 3″ by 5″ index card,  with cardboard tops punched with a hole to hang from a hook in a store display.

I learned about these bags almost a year ago but resisted buying a case of a thousand. But my curiosity has gotten the better of me. I’ll give them a try and record my impressions in this space.

From Spider Hole to Cedar Closet

Readers,

A carpet remnant and baseboard finished off the cedar closet.

A carpet remnant and baseboard finished off the cedar closet.

For 73 years the space under our porch was a dark, dank, unfinished space.

But our builder, Daniel, had the nerve to enter the spiders’ den. What a huge improvement!

We partially disassembled 36-inch wide shelving to move it in.

We partially disassembled 36-inch wide shelving to move it in.

The finished dimensions are about 29 inches deep by 63 inches wide.

Daniel used an inexpensive carpet remnant to finish the floor, and then mitered and glued in the baseboard.

These boxes store big folders of pattern pieces I've traced onto stiff paper from the original fragile tissue.

These boxes store big folders of pattern pieces I’ve traced onto stiff paper from the original fragile tissue.

I wish you could smell the cedar particle-board ceiling. It smells–well, dry and toasty and clean, if those can be smells.

The shelves, all loaded.

The shelves, all loaded.

Now it was my pleasant task to decide what to store in my new cedar closet.

A cart used for farmers' market shopping now stores rolls of paper and a pad for ironing.

A cart used for farmers’ market shopping now stores rolls of paper and a pad for ironing.

I had originally thought I’d put my fabrics in there. But then I decided to store things that are bulky (my big boxes of patterns traced onto stiff paper), remnants from home decorating, interfacings and muslins, fabrics for wearable tests, and rolls of paper.

This photo from Martha Stewart living gave me the idea for storing my paper in our cart.

This photo from Martha Stewart Living gave me the idea for storing my paper in our little shopping cart.

(If you’re interested in those storage boxes, go to Demco.com and search for “Poster Storage System.”)

These are all useful but either not needed very often or not sources of inspiration.

Jack and I partially disassembled the metal shelves to move them into the closet. That’s the nice thing about these shelves. If necessary, you could take them apart completely and reassemble them in their new location–unlike a wooden bookcase.

This heavy, unwieldy roll of paper for pattern-transferring is out of the way now.

This heavy, unwieldy roll of paper for pattern-transferring is out of the way now.

I had a whole shelf left. I’m putting my buttons there till I have a better idea of how to store and display them easily and cheaply. I haven’t found the perfect button storage solution yet.

The rolls of tracing paper, cellophane and newsprint that had been stowed in a corner are now corralled in a cart I bought at a neighborhood estate sale years ago.  There was a Martha Stewart Living article about organizing your workspace that showed a wire cart for posters or paper rolls, which always struck me as a great idea.

Then I thought of our farmers’ market cart. It’s not very sturdy: a wheel has fallen off several times when we’ve hauled produce back to the car. So the cart has been reassigned to light duty holding my paper rolls and a padded surface for ironing.

Moving the hatboxes here will free up a lot of closet space for me.

Moving the hatboxes here will free up a lot of closet space for me.

There was enough space to store four hatboxes, too, which frees up precious clothing closet space: an unexpected boon.

Jack has moved on to the next phase: painting the main space. It will be easier to explain that process when it’s finished and I have more pictures.

Ten weeks earlier, when we cracked open the two doors.

Ten weeks earlier, when we cracked open the two doors.