My sewing room/sanctuary just went from functional to highly efficient. I loved my personal space from the day it was first set up. As they say, however, there is always room for improvement.
So I took a long hard look at my sanctuary and decided that after eight years, it was time for some changes.
I actually use this room for more than just sewing. As a former radio producer and on air personality, I have tons of music… vinyl, tape and digital… plus all of the necessary equipment on which to play all of these different formats.
In addition to my love for music, I am also a writer and an avid reader. There is not a single room in my home that doesn’t have at least one bookcase – and that includes the bathrooms.
In addition to all of my music, sewing equipment and craft supplies, my sanctuary also had three bookcases as well as a television, and of course a comfortable chair and ottoman where I sit to write with a little side table nearby to hold my coffee, water, pens, whatever book I might happen to be reading at the moment and my phone.
The chair and ottoman actually belonged to my parents before I was even born. It’s been reupholstered a few times, and could undoubtedly benefit from another facelift, but I chose to cover it with a crochet throw that a friend made for me.
There is also a card table that I use when sketching and scrapbooking [did I tell you that is also a pastime that I enjoy?]. Oh, by the way, the walls of my sanctuary are covered with family photos, sewing paraphernalia, and mementos.
Prior to deciding to take on this task, the two sewing machines were on the west wall with the television, the serger sandwiched between two bookcases along the north wall along with the cabinet holding the vinyl recordings and CDs, and the music equipment on the east wall with the music equipment and cassette tapes. Everything fit and getting around was not difficult, but on a busy sewing day, rolling across the room from a sewing machine to the serger and back became tedious.
I was wasting far too much time and energy must getting from one machine to another. Needless to say, rearranging all this stuff took a lot of planning, time, energy and good old fashioned muscle power… which I borrowed from my adult son.
With so many things in one space, it was absolutely essential that I plan everything very, very carefully. The slightest miscalculation would have meant moving some things more than once… and no one was interested in a single item in this room more than once.
The first thing I did was take measurements of every single piece of furniture and each wall. There are two windows, one on the north and west exterior walls.
A ten foot closet with two sets of double sliding doors takes up the entire south wall, leaving me with only one solid wall to work with which was on the east end of the room, and the door opened onto that one, eliminating two feet of workable space.
Obviously, anything that went in front of the closet would have to be moved easily. That was the one no-brainer in the entire planning process.
The only pieces in the entire room that can be moved with only one hand are the wheel mounted drop leaf cutting table and card table, so of course, they go in front of the closets.
On the right side of the closet, I keep my fabric stash, patterns, zippers, trims, the sewing notions that use least frequently and all of my jewelry making and scrapbooking supplies.
Yes… jewelry making. I don’t do it often, but every now and then I get an idea for a piece of jewelry that I want right on the spot. When that inspiration hits, I pull out my beads and supplies and go to work.
I also use my jewelry supplies to repair broken earrings, bracelets and necklaces that I am not yet ready to let go of.
The next step in the planning process was to group things in some kind of logical order. One thing for sure… both of my sewing machines and my serger would all be on one wall with the serger in the middle.
This way, all I had to do was roll a couple of feet to the left or right as I was sewing and serging a garment. I don’t know why it took me so long to decide to move my machines so that I could get to them without having to go from one side of the room to the other.
It makes so much more sense to have the serger placed in such a way that it is easily accessible regardless of which sewing machine I was using.
This way, it doesn’t matter if I am using my portable sewing machine or the industrial one, the serger is no more than a couple of feet away.
However, the configuration of the room meant that there were really only two walls to accommodate that layout… the north and west walls. Then there was the consideration of lighting.
I like to work with natural lighting as much as possible. The windows in my sanctuary are very large. With windows on both the north and west walls, I could have put the machines on either wall and had enough natural light.
The wall with the west facing window was long enough to accommodate all three machines, but it would have been a very tight fit. I had the option of putting the serger in the corner and putting one sewing machine on each of the windowed walls.
While this might have worked, I still had to consider placement of the rest of the furniture. Besides, since I sometimes watch television while sewing, I didn’t want to place the machines where it would have been necessary for me to turn 180o to watch see what was happening on the screen.
For me, turning to one side or the other was far more desirable. Therefore, whichever wall the machines were on, the television had to be on an adjoining wall.
I wanted to group the music equipment and television together and keep the bookcases near each other as well. The music collection consists of nine of those old three drawer cassette cases stacked one atop the other, with a CD player on top of that and a microwave cabinet that I use to hold even more cassette tapes.
On top of that sits one of those gizmos that allows you to record vinyl and tape recordings onto a compact disc and a solid wood six shelf cabinet loaded with vinyl … hundreds of albums, 45s… and compact discs.
Because I wanted my ironing board to be stay up all the time and placed close to the sewing machines, I decided to put the smallest bookcase in the dining room. The television sits atop one of the bookcases and the remaining bookcase is about six or seven feet tall. Then there were the chair, the ottoman and the side table; and of course, the chair needed to face the television.
The dimensions of the room made it impossible for me to have the music and the books all together, so I had a decision to make. Which was more important having the music together or keeping the books all in one part of the room?
I decided that the more practical solution was for the vinyl records and CDs to be near the card table because I liked to play disc jockey – a holdover from my days as a jazz DJ back in the 80s and 90s – and that requires space to spread things out.
My final decision was to put the music equipment and television on the east wall, the tall bookcase and sewing machines on the north wall, and the side table, chair and ottoman and the cabinet with my 45s, albums and compact discs on the east wall.
The next thing was to plan the placement of all the things I had hanging on the walls. I have a bulletin board that is used to hold mementos as well as notes, appointment reminders and things that have special meaning to absolutely no one but me; a pegboard that I use to hang scissors, embroidery hoops, and tape measures; and a wall mounted thread stand which holds my small spools.
My cone thread is stored in a box that has a home on the shelf of one of my sewing tables. Then there are the framed certificates that attest to my most recent educational achievements; a couple of plaques; a collection of framed posters commemorating art exhibits at the Schomburg Center in New York and Howard University and countless family photos.
If I didn’t live so far from my loved ones, I wouldn’t plaster my walls with their pictures, but since more than a thousand miles separate us, it’s my way of staying close between the times when I go to visit them or they come here to see me.
The posters are the only things that I can honestly say I can do without, but when you consider that I paid upward of $100 to have each of them mounted and framed, I reconsider tossing them out.
You might ask why I don’t put them in another part of the house. That’s a reasonable question, but then I’d have to decide which oil paintings or charcoal sketches to take down.
You see, I love art and over the years, I have collected art to the point where every wall in the house is adorned with SOMETHING… and they are all beautiful. I have stopped colleting art because I simply don’t have the space to hang anything else. Unless I decide to move to a bigger house, my art collection is complete.
Back to the sewing room. It took several hours of planning and mulling over placement options, but my plan was finally complete.
The Physical Work
I enlisted the assistance of my son to help move the heavy stuff, but not before putting all the albums, CDs and 45s in the Florida Room. The case that holds them is heavy enough when empty.
When it is loaded down with my music, it literally weights a ton or more. I also had to move everything off the top of the tall bookcase and all of the bric-a-brac that’s scattered about the room.
All of these items were taken into the dining room and master bedroom to protect them from falling and breaking. I was actually able to figure out how to keep most of the wall hangings in their original positions.
The wall hangings that did need to be shifted from one position to another were carefully placed in the living room.
Because I have a very real disdain for clutter of any kind, all of this work had to be perfectly timed so that everything could be put in its proper place in a single afternoon.
When my son arrived, we went to work immediately. The first thing we did was to line the machines up in a row. The industrial Singer to the left, the serger in the middle and the portable machine on the right.
Next was the tall bookcase. Except for the bulletin board, pegboard and thread caddy, the north wall was finished. The project basket, where I keep all of the plastic bags containing my planned projects grouped together and sealed in plastic bags sits at the west end of the north wall.
I put the ironing board in the corner at the east end of that same wall, next to the portable machine. When I’m ready to put it to use, I simply slide it out a little bit and then slide it back when I’m done.
Next we finished the east wall… television, cassette tapes and the music equipment. The last furniture to be moved were the items on the west wall… the heavy wooden music case, chair and ottoman and side table.
Finally, the cutting table and card table. With the heavy work done, my son bid me a fond farewell and left me to finish up. His part took about an hour or less.
The card table sat in the middle of the room until the albums were once again categorized and put into their proper place on the shelves so I could find what I wanted when I go in search of a particular song.
I did the same with CDs and 45s. This was the most time consuming part of the entire process. I’m certain some things are still out of order, but that will be worked out as I come across them.
After I finished putting my music in order, I put all of the breakable items in place and finally re-hung the pictures, certificates, bulletin board and plaques.
The bulletin board and pegboard which were originally on the west where the music cabinet now sits, were hung on the north wall above the industrial sewing machine.
The thread caddy was hung on the west all, beneath my academic certificates. A few of the photos were re-hung to accommodate the placement of the furniture, but the job still wasn’t done.
Once all of that was finished, I tackled the closet. On one side, there is a chest containing my fabric stash, and lots of shelves which contain my sewing, beading and scrapbooking supplies.
On the other side, I hang works in progress – unfinished garments that need hemming, buttons and buttonholes, snaps, hooks and eyes, or pressing. The cutting table sits in front of the sliding doors where I hang my unfinished work.
When I need to open it up, one leaf hangs over the card table. This way, I have plenty of space to walk in and out of the room and since the card table is in front of the side of the closet where the sewing notions are, I can get to them with ease as well.
A very long time ago, I discovered that storing my patterns in plastic dishpans and labeling each one as to the type of pattern inside was a very effective system for keeping them in order and readily available.
Around the same time, I also invested in a few plastic shoe boxes for storing the sewing supplies that I don’t use frequently such as trim, zippers, etc. Things like extra bobbins, presser feet, screwdrivers, pins, and the like are kept much closer, in the drawers and on the shelves of my sewing tables.
I also use shoeboxes for most of my jewelry supplies and some of my scrapbooking supplies as well. It finally occurred to me that it wasn’t really necessary to invest in plastic shoe boxes since I was buying shoes all the time.
So, now I simply save the boxes my shoes come in. At some point in time, I decided to cover all those mismatched cardboard shoeboxes with contact paper to give my space a more cohesive, aesthetic feel. The contact paper also reinforces the cardboard, making the shoe boxes sturdier and more durable.
The problem, however, was that none of these boxes were labelled. Therefore, each time I wanted something specific, I found myself going through several boxes before finding what I was looking for.
Since my objective was to make my sewing room more efficient, I decided to take one more step. In addition to grouping my collection of plastic and covered shoe boxes according to their contents, I used a felt tip pen to identify what was in each of the shoe boxes, thus finally eliminating the guessing game.
Since this system has been working so well with my pattern collection all these years, I don’t know why it took so long for me to do the same thing with my notions and craft supplies. From now on, finding the right trim, zipper or notion will be a whole lot less time consuming.
After a full day of steady hard work, my rearranged sewing room and sanctuary was finally finished and once again ready for me to get busy with some serious sewing and crafting.
Before taking on this task – which by the way turned out to be far more intense than I had at first imagined – I was content with my space, but everything is a work in progress.
When I decided to move my machines so I could get to them faster, I had no intention of spending an entire day rearranging everything else in … including the contents of the closet.
But once I got started, it didn’t make sense to leave everything else as it was. What started out as a job that I thought would take a couple of hours took an entire day. It wasn’t until late that evening that I was finished with the entire task. I want to bed totally exhausted, but completely satisfied with a job well done.
No matter how long your sewing space has been set up or how comfortable you are with it, take a long hard look around. Is there something you think you can do to make it more efficient?
Would you like to do something different with the way your workspace is arranged? If, like many of us, you do not have the budget to invest in room full of brand new furniture, rearranging what you have is the next best option.
I am lucky in that I have a closet with lots of shelving already in place. The good news, however, is that you can get relatively inexpensive shelving from just about any home improvement store and customize it to suit your individual needs.
Anyone who has been sewing for even a little while already has two of the three basic tools they need to hang wire shelves… a ruler or tape measure and a pencil to mark the placement of the supporting brackets.
Depending upon the type of walls you have, you may need a drill or power screwdriver. The shelves in my sewing room were already in place when I purchased this house, but I have hung wire shelves in other places where I lived using only a ruler, a pencil and a Phillips head screwdriver.
The shelves come with instructions, and after you have installed your first shelf, the rest is a piece of cake.
If you don’t want to put your carpentry skills to work, there are lots of other options for storing all of your sewing and craft supplies and keeping them in order.
Before making a plan, why not set aside an afternoon and visit several different stores that sell storage systems to decide which would work best for you, your space and your personal style.
You might be surprised to discover that rearranging your workspace might be just the boost you need to re-energize your creative juices. With a newly rearranged workspace, there is no limit to the great things your imagination will unleash.