Saturday, April 9, 2016

Beginning Sewing - Setting Up Your Sewing Area

Beginning Sewing - Setting Up Your Sewing Area

What you really need is a work surface where you can use your sewing machine. You can make do with a kitchen table or office desk if you must. You will probably become tired or sore more quickly at a workstation of this type because it is really too high. A better choice is a sewing machine cabinet. There are cabinets where your sewing machine actually attaches to the inside of the cabinet or cabinets where your machine sits in a lowered area of the top surface and can be lifted out. Either type of table only requires a small amount of floor space and some of the built-in types allow the machine to drop down when not in use then half of the table top folds over, turning the unit into a small multi-purpose table.

Most sewing cabinets also have some sort of storage. Some have cabinet doors that swing open to allow knee room when you are sitting at them and, mounted inside the doors, there are spindles for storing thread spools. Some cabinets have drawers for your sewing tools and accessories. You will undoubtedly need more storage space than your sewing cabinet provides so you might want to consider some other storage as well.
Sets of plastic drawers on casters normally sold for craft storage, scrapbooking storage, etc. are a good alternative because you can easily roll them wherever you need them. Other options are stackable plastic boxes. They can even be hidden away in a closet. The storage boxes that fit under your bed can be used too. Better yet, sew a storage device! You can find creative projects for storage in all kinds of places. Just keep your eyes open.
12-14" long magnetic bars for holding tools can be mounted to a wall. They can be found for about $10 a pair at the hardware store. The magnets are strong and easily hold sheers, scissors, seam rippers, and even whole packages of needles.
Fabric storage and pattern storage are the two biggest issues. For fabric, if you don't have a dedicated sewing room, some choices are those under-the-bed boxes with lids to keep the dust out. Another option is to fold each piece of fabric over a wire clothes hanger and hang in it a closet.
There are cardboard boxes you can buy that are just the right size for patterns but if you don't fold the pattern just right to get it back in the original package, they won't fit anymore. Standard file folder storage boxes from any office supply store work better. Two patterns will fit side by side along the longer (legal size) side and if you have one that won't go back in the package, stick it in a clear ziplock freezer bag to keep all the pieces together and it will still fit in the file folder box.
A great way to store current projects you are working on, whether it's a pattern being altered or cut pieces you haven't sewn together yet, is to fold them over a wire clothes hanger and clip a regular clothes-pin or two on to hold everything. Then put the hanger in a closet. When you are ready to work again, simply pull the hanger out and everything is there together and flat and ready to go. If you have several projects on the go at once, make sure the pattern name or number is facing out when you hang it. Then you can easily look through the hangers to find the one you want. You can even attach the original pattern envelope to the hanger with a clothespin for easy identification.
For cutting out patterns, most people use their kitchen table, a craft table, the floor, or even their bed. Any large flat surface will do. Again, if the surface is too high or too low for you, you will find you get tired or sore quickly. An ideal surface is a table with a hard, smooth surface that is 30-36" high (if you stand to cut). If you like to sit down to cut, a 26-30" high table is better. The table should ideally be about 4 -6 feet long and a width you can comfortably reach across. If you prefer to cut from a sitting position, make your table narrow enough that you can reach across it from your chair.
If you can afford it, the largest size cutting mat available for use with a rotary cutter makes a great table top. I actually use my table more for pattern adjusting and pressing than I do for cutting. A layer of ¼" thick cork is glued (with contact cement) to the arborite top of the table, allowing me to pin straight down into it. The cork seems to be heat resistant too. I plan to glue another layer of cork to the existing one to give the pins a little more to stick into. I tape a layer of plain white paper over the cork and use a marking pen to mark a grid or part of a grid on the paper. I need these lines to keep everything square when altering patterns. When needed, I replace the paper.
If I want a large surface for use with the rotary cutter, I use two cutting mats taped together on the bottom side with duct tape. I have to snip a thread or two the blade misses where the joint in the cutting board is but that's not a big deal. These smaller mats fold up for easy storage and I'm back to my cork table again.
Next you need to think about a pressing area. As you sew, it is necessary to press seams. An iron and ironing board will do the job but, in a pinch, you can layer several towels on an arborite table or counter and use that. (The iron's heat may damage some surfaces.) You can even buy special heat-resistant material to cover your surface with, making it more suitable for ironing on. The cork table works well to press on too.
An ironing board isn't ideal for pressing while sewing. It really isn't wide enough or sturdy enough. When you are adhering interfacing, for example, you need to put quite a lot of pressure on the iron. Your ironing board may crumble under that pressure but a counter-top or a table can take the pressure as long as it can also take the heat and steam.
The chair you sit in while sewing is very important. A comfortable one that swivels and rolls is a very good choice. Bear in mind that your feet must reach the floor to work the sewing machine pedal. Good back support will enable you to sew in comfort for longer periods of time.
Flooring in your sewing area is a bit controversial. I prefer linoleum so when pins drop they are easy to pick up (use a magnetic pin holder for quick retrieval) and for smooth and easy rolling of the chair but some people prefer carpet because it's softer to stand on.
A smooth floor has the disadvantage of allowing the foot pedal to scoot around. This can be solved by putting a small rectangle of rubber shelf liner under the pedal. The same material under a serger will keep it from vibrating around on its table too.
One of the most important reasons I have a dedicated sewing room with a door is to keep my cats out. Not only don't I want their hair on every project I make but if they play with spools of thread and get it caught on their rough tongues, they will swallow a bunch of it that will hurt them internally. Cats and thread don't mix!
My sewing room also has a TV and a DVD/VCR so I can watch sewing programs or whatever as I sew. If you're not a TV addict like me, perhaps you would enjoy some music or a relaxing mix of nature sounds while you sew.
A window is nice if you can manage that. With or without a window, excellent lighting is extremely important (especially as your eyes get older). Set up whatever lamps you need so your eyes are not straining. Try to find natural daylight simulation bulbs so colors will appear accurate. You don't want to put a dark navy zipper in a black pair of pants by accident!
For convenience, I also keep a portable phone handy while I'm sewing. It never fails, the phone always rings when my hands are full. Also keep a bottle of water nearby. Bottles don't spill as easily as glasses.
Sewing can be such an enjoyable, relaxing experience that you might be surprised how many hours will fly by. I try to set aside 1 or 2 days each weekend to sew. That's my little treat to myself after working all week. My washer and dryer are in the sewing room so I do laundry as I sew and I find it a very efficient use of my time. Sewing makes the tedious chore of laundry more enjoyable.
Happy Sewing!
Barb Pattison owns an online sewing supplies and notions store at and has been sewing for over 20 years. She enjoys teaching and is more than happy to help anyone with any sewing challenges.
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