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.

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.

Door Number 1 Revisited

Readers,

This way to the basement sewing domain!

This way to the basement sewing domain!

Yesterday I flew home after a visit to my photographer in Columbus, Ohio.

While I was gone, Jack pulled up the carpet on the basement stairs, in another chapter in the sewing domain renewal. He pried or pulled out hundreds of staples. What a guy! We figured we would cover up the dark-stained steps with paint and then a couple of coats of polyurethane for durability.  It would be just a matter of deciding on the paint color.

Jack also made an appointment with our builder-repairman to come over this morning to advise us.

The staircase awaits refinishing, and the handrail, replacing.

The staircase awaits refinishing, and the handrail, replacing.

Looking over the 1940 staircase, Daniel said, “These stairs are in very good condition. They could be restored with light sanding and restaining.” The way he said it, it seemed as if painting would be missing out on a great opportunity to enjoy the wood. Plus, painted steps are slippery.

For softening the sound, increasing safety and adding beauty he recommended installing a carpet runner. He pointed out a little shadowing on each tread that indicated that there had been a runner on those steps at one time.

He would replace the handrail to meet code. The new handrail would be safer, and I would bet more attractive into the bargain.

The top step, a patchwork affair, will be replaced.

The top step, a patchwork affair, will be replaced.

All of these suggestions sounded wonderful. We went downstairs.

In the sewing domain proper, Daniel asked, “Where does that door go?”

This was the mystery door I had opened a month ago. One glance at that benighted spider hole and we decided nope, we weren’t going there.

I was curious to know what Daniel thought, and, like a builder, he had to know what was on the other side.  We untaped the outer door, which I pulled open to reveal the 1940 door. Then I pulled open that door, as I did a month ago.

I must edit my boxes of patterns and reinstall the cabinet doors. Shelving added to the alcove will house my sewing library.

I must edit my boxes of patterns and reinstall the cabinet doors. Shelving added to the alcove will house my sewing library.

Daniel switched on the light, unfazed by the mass of cobwebs, and looked in. “This is great. It’s already got electricity.  It’s got only a little moisture. That can be fixed.” He went on to describe how he could make this a clean, dry storage space for us. “You’ve been paying for this space all this time,” he said. “Why not use it?”

Why not? The thought of more storage space was admittedly enticing.

We went on to discuss better task lighting. Covering the ugly old wallpaper with drywall. Painting the walls (Jack ‘s and my contribution). Installing adjustable shelves in a recess to house my sewing library. Cleaning the carpet.  Raising the ceiling in one corner to match the height in the rest of the room.

My serger will come out of its dark corner to its own table.

My serger will come out of its dark corner to its own table.

Not knowing what’s reasonably doable the way a builder does, I’d kept my expectations low. I realize that I assume existing walls, or wiring, or or ceilings, have to stay as they are, pretty much. A builder doesn’t. A builder has a much greater sense of what’s possible, and ways to realize it.

Wow.

Daniel took some measurements, made some notes, and promised to get back to us soon with an estimate. Then he was off to his next appointment.

All the rest of today I’ve been giddy with a new sense of possibility, imagining great task lighting, my sewing library on their new shelves in the planning corner, my serger finally assigned a zone, the new storage space, and the restored staircase.

It’s easy, of course, to get excited about home improvements–there’s a whole cable channel devoted to that vast topic.

To boldly go...

To boldly go…

But what’s grounding my decisions is that chart I worked out, that I want so much to explain to you, readers. My sewing space is going to be driven by my sewing projects, which are driven by my wardrobe.

So, although today was a red letter day in the history of the basement sewing domain, much remains to be decided, planned, executed, tested, and revised.

Forward march!

Planning Zones

Readers,

Part of getting things sewn (the activity) and Getting Things Sewn (the blog) is designing my sewing space.  I was going to write “redesigning my sewing space,” but that implies I designed it at one time.  I realize now that the most I’ve ever done is solve some organizing problems piecemeal.  That is not designing.

My fabrics are in reasonably good order.

My fabrics are in reasonably good order.

Now that I’m focusing with laser intensity on getting things sewn, I see how much the design of one’s workspace can dramatically help or hinder one’s creativity and productivity.

I have a finished basement space of more than 200 square feet that’s helped me produce dozens of shirts, skirts, pants, dresses, jackets and coats, shades, pillows, valances and draperies. So I already have a somewhat functional space.  Nevertheless, a little thought and planning put toward improving its usefulness would be richly rewarded. I’m sure of it.

As I look at my workspace now I see I’ve done a pretty good job with storage. I store my fashion fabrics on open shelves sorted roughly by season and color. Muslin, linings, interfacings are all sorted and have assigned spaces.  I’ve created pattern catalogues from photocopied pattern envelope fronts and backs, page protectors and binders. Sewing projects go onto full-size sheet pans on a commercial, wheeled baker’s rack.

My catalogues arrange patterns by year.

My catalogues arrange patterns by year.

Storage gets pride of place in my sewing space–but that approach has its drawbacks.  It’s as if my space is a holding tank for inventory first, and a place of production a distant second.

I certainly didn’t say to myself, “I’m going to deliberately design a holding tank for fabrics, buttons, patterns, books, magazines and DVDs and then underutilize them! Ha!” But that’s what’s happened by default.

And I didn’t say, “I’m going to buy a serger and deliberately not dedicate a space to it! Ha!” But that’s what’s happened by default.

My experience has been that whatever I dedicate space, time, energy and attention to tends to get done. If any of those things is missing, guess what?

So, as I consider how I can accomplish getting things sewn, I’m looking at how I can intentionally design my workspace to assist me.

Preparing for my planning corner.

Preparing for my planning corner.

I’ve looked at a lot of articles, books, and online forums specifically discussing sewing spaces. But nothing I’ve read has sparked my imagination and spurred me to action like Julie Morgenstern’s idea of identifying activities and creating zones for them from her 1998 book Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life.  Morgenstern calls it “the kindergarten model of organization.”

Yesterday morning I followed Morgenstern’s exercise for defining zones for my sewing space. In under an hour I had listed activities, the supplies to perform those activities, and the types of storage needed for those supplies. (In some cases, I haven’t decided on storage.)

The computer desk and the bulletin board-shelf unit in place.

The computer desk and the bulletin board-shelf unit in place.

In under an hour I’d identified at least a dozen activities: not only sewing, pressing and cutting but researching and planning projects and outfits, writing blog posts, serging, watching sewing DVDs, pattern-altering and -drafting, exercising (which I do daily in that space), repairing garments, photographing for the blog, and entertaining sewing friends.

I listed supplies and storage for each of these activities: work surfaces, tools, equipment, shelving, Peg-Board…not an exhaustive list, but a good start. I included lighting as a supply, too.

This was an enjoyable and instructive exercise that led to action steps right away. I started with the activities I wanted to perform in my space, not a generic list. (No article will advise me about including exercise space in my sewing space plan.) Seeing the activities written out reminded me that they matter, that they deserve room, and that making the room wouldn’t be difficult. It might even be fun.

It's beginning to feel like home already.

It’s beginning to feel like home already.

I love planning sewing projects, but this exercise showed me I had neglected giving it the importance it deserved. I needed a spot where I could gather patterns, swatches, clippings, magazines, and buttons. I’d want a table or desk, lighting, and the laptop, preferably close to my magazines and books.

It would be so easy to create a zone for this essential task; I just had to give project-planning as much importance as I’d given storage all these years. An underused corner of my space worth trying was about 22 inches deep, 45 inches wide, and about 6 feet high at its lowest point. A little desk and a bulletin board would raise my productivity and enjoyment ridiculously.

It so happened that yesterday over a hundred garage sales were going to take place in my neighborhood in a much anticipated annual rite of spring. I pocketed a little metal tape measure, the measurements of my planning zone, and some cash and strolled and browsed for a couple of hours.

The future home of my serger.

The future home of my serger.

An hour and a half into my leisurely search I found a sturdy little computer table 20 inches deep and 47 inches wide, with a desktop unit combining shelving and a bulletin board. A third piece, a matching 20- by 26-inch table, had held a printer.  The three pieces went for $75 total.

I paused. $75 seemed like a lot after seeing so many yard sale furnishings in the $3 to $20 range. Then I came to my senses. I could have my planning zone furnished for $50 and a table dedicated to my serger for $25! Such a deal!

Sold!

I don’t know who was more pleased, me or the owner. His daughter, a Harvard grad now toiling over her thesis at Cambridge University, had used this set. Her dad tried to peel off some stubbornly sticky masking tape placed on the shelving unit years ago that would be at eye level when one was seated at the desk. On it was written “The Communist Manifesto ↓” in the scrawl of a high schooler. (I wondered, “Why the ‘↓’?”)

A souvenir of the previous user.

A souvenir from the previous user.

“What’s she studying?” I asked. “The history of intellectual thought,” he said. “We’re proud of her.”

“Well, this set is going to the home of a sewing blogger. I can’t believe my luck. This is great.”

This afternoon I set up my planning zone. I call it my planning corner. It and I have been inseparable for hours. Within reach are my swatches, pattern catalogues, project binders, camera, laptop computer, phone, Threads magazines, my chart…and that’s just for starters. How did I ever get along without this?

How much better will I get along with this? is the better question.

I’ll do some research and get back to you.

Part of my chart. My wardrobe drives my sewing projects, which drive my sewing space design.

Part of my chart. My wardrobe drives my sewing projects, which drive my sewing space design.