One of the big projects I wanted to tackle during this time at home has been reorganizing my sewing area. After months of going full speed on one project after the next, my work space was a complete disaster area, and it's taken me weeks to get things back into shape. I'm not finished yet, but the changes I've been able to make so far have already made me ten times happier every time I walk in the room. It's always amazing to me how a pretty space makes me feel so much more excited about sewing. I know that some of you are working on organizing your creative space too, so today I'm sharing some of my favorite tips with you.
Your sewing space and how you organize it are completely dependent on who you are, how you sew, and what you love to make. If you want a detailed plan on how to give your room a total overhaul, check out my book Sew Organized for the Busy Girl, but if you just need a quick refresh, making one or two changes can be enough to make a real difference. When it comes to any of the organizational ideas you pick up from me or anyone else, I can’t stress enough how important it is to:
- Be honest about what your organizational needs are and what you can actually maintain given your time and situation.
- Find a solution that looks like a good fit.
- Give that system a test run of at least a week or two.
- Be willing to adjust or start from scratch if it isn’t working.
A sewing space is usually divided into four main stations: storage, cutting, sewing, and pressing. The more room you have, the more clearly separate these stations probably are. If you’re working with a small area, however -- maybe in the corner of your family room or on a desk in your bedroom -- things get tricky. It’s even more difficult if you have no real space to call your own. I remember my early days of sewing on the dining room table, timing myself so that everything could be cleared away in time for dinner and scrubbing the table after each meal so that my fabric wouldn’t end up with spaghetti sauce all over it!
Challenging situations are always a great opportunity to see how creative you can be. I’ve learned that it’s helpful to have some portable options for organizing your sewing materials whether you have a lot of room to work with or not. Listed below are some ideas for making your work space more organized and, yes, more fun. A lot of these can be done using things you already have around the house, so there's no need to buy something new unless you really want to. I personally like to use family antiques and vintage finds in my sewing room because I love them so much Wherever I can, though, I've included links to special items that I've bought myself and found useful. Ideas are classified according to the four stations above, but there’s definitely overlap, so adjust these as needed to make them work for you in any part of your creative space.
- Picnic baskets and small suitcases can hold a surprising amount of fabric, and some even come with special pockets where you can store your notions. Best of all, they have a handle for carrying and a lid that shuts everything away from view. These can be really helpful if you're working in a smaller space.
- Spice jars are the perfect size for storing buttons and small pieces of hardware like magnetic clasps, rings, snaps, and zipper pulls. (Bonus points if you store them in a cute spice rack!) I also like to repurpose our jam jars for this job too, because who can resist a red and white gingham lid?
- Old photo drawers or card catalogs are a great fit for fabric scraps, notions, and small precuts. I use one for my charm squares, and it's the perfect size. You can easily label the drawers too, giving you the chance to sort materials by style, color, designer, or manufacturer.
- Mason jars and clear candy or cookie jars will store anything from scissors to thread, and they will always look beautiful while doing it. Best of all, you can see at a glance what supplies you have on hand.
- It took me years to find the best system for storing and organizing my quilting fabric, but I couldn’t be happier with the results. I prefer to organize my quilting cotton prints by color in identical tall woven plastic baskets measuring approximately 15” x 12” x 9”. Every print (usually half a yard or less) is folded to a width of about 5” and placed in the basket with other prints of the same color (red, orange, yellow, etc.). I can fit 2 layers of 2 long rows in each container, and I can always start a new basket if one fills up. The containers are stored on a pair of long, double shelf carts in my sewing room right beside my cutting table. It’s like having my own personal fabric shop right there whenever I need it! I also keep a reproduction soda crate for storing my solid fabrics, a metal cart with drawers for my linen and canvas prints, and a larger drawer unit for quilt backings and other special substrates like rayon and lawn. Almost all of my fabrics are arranged by color because that’s how I like to choose fabrics for my projects. This system makes finding what I need easy and fun, and that’s exactly how I like it.
- A desktop office supply organizer makes a fabulous tool center for your cutting station. Rulers can be sorted by size in the larger sections, and there’s usually a small compartment that’s just right for your rotary cutter and extra blades.
- Have a return basket for your cutting table. Once you finish cutting what you need from a larger piece of fabric, fold it and place it in the basket. Take five minutes each week -- or every other day, depending on how often the basket gets full -- to return all the folded fabrics to their proper spots in your fabric stash.
- Keep a scrap basket on your cutting table for all the little pieces that are too small to stash but too big to throw away. Whenever the basket gets full, find a home for the contents. Share them with a friend who loves scraps, hold a giveaway on social media or at your sewing guild, or celebrate a full basket by using them to make a scrappy project of your own.
- Wire baskets are a wonderful way to showcase bundles of fabric that you don’t want to separate. I also love using them to hold sets of fabric that I want to keep together for upcoming projects, including ones that are labeled by number so I can easily organize them in the order that I need to finish them. Just recently I ordered a rolling cart with removable wire trays that I can slide out and set on my sewing table while I'm working, and I absolutely love it. When it’s time to start working on a project, I just grab the tray and get to work. If I need to take a break, everything goes back in the tray so I don’t lose anything while the work is in progress, and it slides easily back into the cart, leaving my sewing table clean.
- Ceramic containers for kitchen utensils are the perfect place to store packaged zippers.
- I keep a small cutting mat just to the left of my sewing machine so that I can do quick seam trimming without having to get up and walk over to my main cutting table. This really comes in handy when I’m working on blocks like half square triangles.
- Tins and lunch boxes make fantastic travel sewing kits. The hard sides of the box keep everything inside from being crushed, and there’s plenty of room for all your supplies.
- I keep a small ceramic basket filled with stuffing next to my machine for projects like pincushions and stuffed animals. It takes up less room than a full bag of stuffing (which I store elsewhere), but is nice to have at hand when I need it.
- A pretty soap dish makes a quick landing spot for embroidery scissors and binding clips next to your machine.
- A lap desk with a lid is the perfect organizational accessory for English paper piecing or hand quilting. I keep one in my bedroom so that in the evenings I can pull out my latest project, have a nice flat surface in my lap for sewing while I watch a movie with my husband, and then slip everything back inside when it’s time for bed. A small serving tray will work just as well in a pinch when balanced on a pillow in my lap.
- Trays of all kinds are wonderful for organizing block pieces or small notions. My daughters gave me a retro cafeteria lunch tray for Christmas, and I keep it stocked with all the little things that I want to be able to find in a hurry when I'm at my machine.
- Vintage glass measuring cups are wonderful places to corral binding clips or basting pins, and I love that they come with a handle that's easy to grab when I'm working.
- I love using a tin picnic utensil caddy to store larger tools like scissors, chopsticks, pencils, notepads, and my sewing machine accessory kit.
- Use a small homemade ironing board for most of your pressing needs. There are great tutorials online for making both tabletop and TV tray versions of this little gem, and it allows you to keep your full size ironing board stored away unless you need it for a larger project. All you need is a board, batting, fabric, and a staple gun.
- I like to keep a small tray or basket next to my pressing board filled with spray starch, the small flask I use to pour water into my iron, a seam ripper, a hera marker, and fabric pens. It’s amazing how much time you can save when you get in the habit of grouping items together that you use at each station so that you can find them when you need them.
- After I finish pressing my strips of fabric for quilt binding and sewing them together, I wind the long strip into a small circle and place it into a heavy, clear glass cookie jar, pulling one end out of the jar to start sewing. The jar keeps the binding from unrolling and spilling all over the floor under my feet as I slowly feed it out and sew it onto the quilt. When I’m done, I put the leftover binding back in the jar. It’s not only a great storage spot for these extra pieces (which make fantastic scrappy binding), but it also makes a colorful display on my shelf.