Ten Tips for a More Functional Sewing Space
UPDATE: This post was written in 2015, and though Indiesew HQ has moved several times since then the guidelines in this post still hold true for how we go about designing our sewing space. In fact, this post has become our most popular blog post on the Indiesew blog!
For some time now, I’ve wanted to give you a peek at Indiesew HQ and where I spend my time sewing, blogging and writing emails. But I've always found a reason to delay it. For starters, Indiesew HQ's location has shifted between two different houses and an apartment. And then the aesthetics were never quite right. Those shelves weren’t hung, that filing cabinet wasn’t painted, or my ironing board cover needed a wash.
But the other day, I couldn’t help but think about how much I love my most recent sewing space. I enjoy the hours I spend here and the creative energy it gives me. So, despite its flaws, today I’m showing you where I sew, where I fulfill your orders, and where I photograph and write our blog posts.
It’s a small bedroom, only 12.5' by 9.5', on the second floor of my dated early-90’s rental house. But I love it. And that’s because I’ve finally figured out what my ideal sewing space needs. If your sewing space feels a bit "meh", this post might be useful for you. I've found that these tips have completely transformed the hours I spend at my sewing machine.
1. Decide on Boundaries
I don’t have kids, but I do have two somewhat needy dogs. Working from home all day means that our lab, in particular, tends to follow me from room to room. As soon as we moved into this house, I made it an absolute, no-exceptions rule that dogs were not allowed in my sewing room. The hard task of kicking them out of my space has been a game changer. I love their company, but now there’s zero dog hair to deal with. I’m not tripping over sleeping dogs right in the middle of the floor. And honestly, I’m less distracted.
When I was a kid, my mom sewed up a fabric playhouse (draped over a card table) that we played in while she sewed. It kept us busy, and away from her sharp fabric scissors and pointy pins. If you have kids, think about giving them a dedicated space to play while you sew. Tell everyone in the house that fabric scissors and rotary blades are off-limits.
Keeping pets and kids out of your space also creates a space that’s entirely yours. I may be singing a different tune once I have kids, but for now I love that I don’t have to share my creative space with anyone else.
2. Play with the Layout
No matter where you sew, it’s a good idea to experiment with where you place your essential tools to be most productive. I never expected the placement of my sewing desk, ironing board, and cutting table to affect how much I enjoy my time sewing. But if it’s important for chefs working in the kitchen, it’s important for sewists too!
Every sewist's hobby looks a bit different. For me, if I can reach my ironing board and cutting table without getting out of my rolling chair, I’m a happy camper. Constantly getting up because I forgot my thread snips or pins on the ironing board is my pet peeve. The upside of sewing in a tight space is that this isn’t hard to achieve.
My new favorite place for the ironing board? In front of a big window. During hot summer days when my iron heats up the room, the breeze from the window cools things down. Plus, it's fun to have something interesting to look at while pressing seams and hems.
If you’re in your dining room or kitchen, consider some storage options in that room for your sewing machine and supplies. A small bench with internal storage works great for keeping everything out of the way.
3. Install Adequate Lighting
In our current place, there are no overhead lights in any of the bedrooms. When we moved in, I immediately knew that we’d have to install some serious ad-hoc lighting so I can see what I’m doing when I sew.
In my studio I sew with a simple overhead light from Ikea that plugs into the wall outlet. It illuminates the area over my sewing machine and serger. I also have a floor lamp that illuminates the area by my cutting table and ironing board so that I can see when I’m pressing or pinning seams.
Even if you have to drag a few floor and desk lamps into your space while you work, your eyes will appreciate the help.
4. Get Organized
Being creative doesn’t always jive with being organized. When inspiration hits, I often find an aftermath of fabric, thread and notions strewn around my sewing space. But there are a few ways to be organized that will make storing and accessing your sewing supplies so much easier.
Source a few organizers to store your threads, scissors, fabric markers and other necessities. I thrifted a small metal organizer and it works great for holding the supplies I access on the regular.
5. Have the Essentials Handy
Along with achieving a functional layout, it’s important to keep your most-used tools an arm's reach away. I find I’m constantly using my pressing tools and rulers, so those live in a small metal box on a shelf within easy reach.
The same goes for the sewing books that I reference again and again. The Sewing Bible has been well loved and it covers most sewing techniques that I often forget (blind hems, mitered corners, etc). I keep these next to my printer so I don’t have to go searching for them when I need a quick answer.
6. Catalogue your sewing Patterns
Since starting Indiesew, large format pattern storage has stumped me. I trace my patterns onto cheap interfacing, so I also had the individual patterns pieces to keep contained. We have nearly a hundred patterns taped together and traced, so this issue was especially important for my sanity.
I recently bought a used, lateral filing cabinet (with plans to paint it white) that has been the answer to my prayers. I've created a file folder for every designer. The pieces for every pattern are placed in labeled, manila envelopes. The bottom drawer of the filing cabinet keeps the taped-together, rolled patterns out of sight.
If you have ample closet space, consider hanging your pattern pieces from hooks to keep them from getting creased or torn.
7. Adequate workspace
A large workspace (sewing desk and cutting table) can completely change your sewing hobby. I say this, because last week I bought this 60” x 30” cutting table (with composite wood top) and it is amazing. As a beginner, I’m a total proponent of cutting your fabric wherever you need to. The floor, dining room table, or kitchen island are all fine options for getting the the job done.
But a large dedicated cutting table will make your life so much easier. My new table is where I cut fabric for orders, where I pin my projects, and also where I place my laptop to read the pattern instructions. It’s the perfect height (37”) that I don’t have to bend over or strain to cut out fabric. It is heavenly.
The same goes for the surface you sew on. If you use both a serger and sewing machine for most projects, be sure your workspace can accommodate both machines. My desk is from Ikea, and has great hidden storage for cords and pedals in the back. But I’ll admit that even this desk is a bit small for both machines.
8. Display your fabric
Every sewist I know organizes their fabric stash a bit differently. My mom has several overhead cabinets of folded fabric piles. My oldest sister wraps her fabric around comic book boards. My friend, Erin, hangs hers on special hangers and keeps it in her closet.
Wherever you store your fabric, make sure it’s easy to view from one vantage point. I store my fabric in a vintage barrister bookcase in piles of related substrates. I’ll admit that I’m often refolding these piles, but I like being able to take a visual inventory of what I have before I start a project.
If you have long bolts of fabric, wall shelving is a great way to store your fabric. We store the fabric we sell in the Indiesew Fabric Shop on 6' long shelves that hang over my cutting table.
If your fabric is hard to get to, you’ll likely never sew with it. Consider storing it in clear bins or behind glass so you don’t have to rifle through it in search of the perfect fabric.
9. Load Up on Inspiration
This is probably a no-brainer for most of you, but don’t skimp on the lovely things! My sewing space is filled with things that I find pretty, creations I’m proud of, and items that just make me smile. While the rest of my house has bare walls and boxes on the floor, it was important to me that my sewing room was put-together from the get-go.
I’ve hung prints with colors and shapes that make my heart sing. These long horizontal prints are from a screen printing workshop I took in Australia. The small frames are art made by my dear friend Annie Bailey that really resonates with me.
Having a few small houseplants in my sewing room makes me happy too. Succulents especially seem to love the natural light the room gets. And since I’m in that room so often, I never forget to water them.
My vintage sewing machine is always on display. It’s not working right now, but perched on top of my bookcase it looks so cheerful despite some serious wear and tear. A vintage hem marker placed next to it, reminds me of how much this hobby has changed in the last 100 years. I feel so lucky to help keep it alive!
10. Love Its Imperfections
I have yet to live in a house or apartment where my sewing studio was 100% perfect. I always talk about my ideal space in a distant place of “when I own a house” or “when Indiesew has a cool, modern office”. But lately, I’m less focused on what’s lacking and more appreciative of what the space offers me.
I often think about how much sewing has gifted me (creativity, friendships, a business that offers me endless fulfillment). And I'm willing to bet you're like me: If my only option was to sew in my garage or at a friend’s house, I still would.
Yes, my sewing room doesn’t have overhead lighting and its tiny closet is already packed full of clothing I've made. But it’s given me a space to be creative. It’s offered me a hobby that I can get lost in for hours and a place to leave my messes.
I’d love to hear how you make your sewing space work for you! Leave a comment telling us your favorite tip for a functional workspace. Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter below to stay in the loop on new pattern releases and deals!
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