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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!


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.