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Nov 29, 2010

Mastering the Sewing Mess

Friends, I am on a bit of a decluttering roll -- some might say obsession -- here at MPB headquarters.  I am committed to downsizing however I can.  I have Too. Much. Stuff.

Can I interest you in a slightly used chihuahua?  Two?

The last four days have been hectic, with family dinners, guests (hello, Mom), travels, and new eBay purchases -- all related to helping me declutter of course.

Some might say these items will only bring more clutter.  Some would be wrong.  Look at this lovely vintage luggage set and tell me these aren't the perfect vehicles for organizing sewing supplies, storing Cathy's burgeoning accessory collection, or perhaps putting away some summer items of my own.

This is of course the seller's picture, someone who obviously doesn't know how to art direct vintage taupe.  (NEVER photograph with flash, on beige carpet, or against dusty rose wall.)  It's no wonder there was only one bidder.  (Guess who.)

Meanwhile, back in reality, every time I walk to the refrigerator, I am confronted with this:

I suspect even you are growing tired of seeing this cluttered kitchen table, where I can barely squeeze myself (let alone my sewing project) to make a buttonhole with my Singer Spartan or attach an invisible zipper with my Viking.  This surface is going to be reorganized and it's going to happen today.  Will you hold me accountable readers?  I ask very little of you.

When I see photos of other sewists' sewing spaces (courtesy of Denise of The Blue Gardenia), like Robin's below, I just want to cry.

No doubt Robin is a classic anal retentive type and not much fun to hang out with, but just look at that order.  It's hostile if you ask me.

Consider Sigrid's sewing room.  If you're thinking sickeningly antiseptic, you're right!  An affront to us all.

And this takes the cake -- Myrna's sewing room.  So calming, so zen.  Do you think any real sewing goes on here?  Nonetheless, Myrna wrote a book about setting up your sewing space and you can buy it here.  What unbelievable arrogance!

Where's the creativity, that's what I want to know, the gemütlichkeit? 

Is the opposite of anal retentive, anal expulsive?

Anyway, I have made progress in my organization.  Look how I've been storing my extra patterns:

I love these collapsible fabric boxes and they come in groovy prints.  At the Container Store.

Readers, we're running out of time.  I must start organizing.  And then reorganizing.  And reorganizing again.  I like the idea of One thing comes in, two things go out, but is that sustainable?  In the end isn't one left with less than nothing?  Think about it.

How are your organizational skills, dear ones?  Do you long for a less cluttered lifestyle but can't resist stopping every time you drive past a garage sale?  Have you considered getting a job at Goodwill just for the employee's discount?  When you see a sewing space like Robin's, do you want to knock everything on the floor and stomp on it...or am I the only one?

Jump in -- but don't trip on anything!


  1. Peter I love your posts! Your are awesome.
    My kitchen table looks like yours.
    I am trying to be a sewing project monogamist but am failing. I also have a machine I use only for button holes.
    love your blog.

  2. Daphne, you are obviously highly creative and perfectly sane. Welcome!

  3. Peter: Those tidy sewing rooms thrill me! :-) And I have the exact same box (different pattern fabric). I use it to store my current project(s). It works fabulously.

  4. Hmmm, re: tidying-up & organizing I tend to swing from one extreme to the other. WHEN I actually organise things I do typed-labels (so much smarter looking than handwritten to my eyes), file things by categories, line-up edges of books on shelves by topic & size etc... but when the messiness starts to erupt again I tend to procrasinate... simply because I know that when I do tidy-up it takes me soooo long to get it "Just so" and I simply put off & put off & put off the work (which is self-defeating as the mounds of BurdaStyle magazines, random fabrics & newly purchased notions will not put themselves away no will they!) - and I'm a control freak too when it comes to my possessions - I always think my way is the only, right & true way to tidy-up, so when my darling Husband offers to help me out I tell him to "Sit down watch sport on TV & just keep looking pretty so I have something lovely to look at whilst I work away at it".

    Clearly, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to tidying..., however that said, I did manage to tidy all of my notions & magazines neatly into the lounge cupboard this weekend - so perhaps my behaviour is improving somewhat.

    BTW, I heartily salute your recent endeavours to de-clutter - you will feel so much better for it :)

  5. Peter, dear, you are a Knight or perhaps a Duke of De-cluttering. Where there is a will, there is a way! I like to "de-clutter" so I can touch my stuff and take a mental inventory. De-clutter chez moi does not mean "get rid of stuff." It's looking, touching, and re-organizing! Do not despair! I looked at about 50% of my fabric stash over the weekend, and I am close to declaring 2011 the Year of Living Dangerously Without Buying Any Fabric. You're an inspiration.

    The one thing in, two things out deal is based on the assumption of continued seeking and acquisition of MORE AND BETTER THINGS! That way you never end the upward spiral! And bags and sewing machines are only two of the many things I collect. . . lenses? Little silver Mexican hats? Earrings? Old keys? Jewelers and watchmakers tools? Buttons? Pretty rocks? Crushed bottle caps? Did I say Sewing Machines?

  6. I'm working on creating a good sewing workplace. I feel like I need to get rid of half of our coats and boots to assign that closet space to sewing, but in MN we probably need to keep all the warm layers we can.

  7. I sew in my basement, where the enormous mess is out of sight. I try to enforce my self-imposed rule that I have to give the space a big organizational and cleaning overhaul every time I finish a project. There's something about subterranean cinderblock that stunts my ability to follow through, though.

  8. Peter, I'm totally with you, when it comes to messiness in the workroom. unfortunately, my workroom is also my living-, bed- and dinner room. so, i cant even close the door to not see it. and yes, sometimes i just want to cry, but i wouldnt want it any other way.

  9. Very timely post for me too! I've spend the past week trying to find a system. My biggest problem is pattern filing. I keep tracing everything, EVERYTHING I like from Burda, KnipMode, LMB and Patrones plus the big 4 patterns I just got and this giant pile of uncut traced patterns is taking over my cutting table.

    I need to just do it.

  10. If I didn't already have three cats, I'd be happy to take those two cuties :) .

    Did you know dogs are the only other animals that can follow a pointing finger? Even our closest cousins, the chimps, can't. I saw the most fascinating Nova on dogs the other day where I learned that; and lots of other stuff.

    I like looking at organization; but hate doing it. I did just build myself a bookcase last week for putting sewing and crocheting stuff on; and I have this huge jewelry box which is just perfect for storing hooks and fids and the sewing screwdrivers (and my antique loop handle all metal screwdrivers too....) Plus the treadle belt pliers and the cutest little tool for making the staple holes in the treadle belts. Oh, and my blacksmith puzzles and jewelry-making tools... And the magnifying glass on a magnet and bendy stem for helping with detail work, the vacuum attatchments for inside the computer, the pinking shears, the industrial presser feet that came with something else on ebay and I'm keeping for when I get an industrial machine, the rare earth magnet set for putting on a thingy someday so I can hang up my metal tools on the wall, and the spools of wire for beading too.

    Umm. *blushes and runs off*

  11. Thus far my decluttering consists of clearing stuff off of the cutting mats on my sewing table before I start another project. I'm not terribly consistent about it. I keep thinning my fabric stash (which is pretty darn big) but I also keep buying more. At the moment my sewing area is all about piles. Lots and lots of piles of stuff. I am considering getting rid of the plastic storage bins because it might reduce mildew (I sew in the basement) and because I think I might be able to keep more fabric if I'm not using bins to store it it.

  12. I am sorry you have piles, Puddlefoot. ;)

  13. I don't wan to talk about my (lack of) organization. My mom's filing system was magnets on the fridge door. She was rather better organized than I am. My stash consists of a random assortment of piles and bags strewn around my basement "seiwng room," with a bit of clear(er) space between them for me to get to the ironing board. Part of the problem is I have no furniture for my sewing room, so there's nowhere to actually put anything away. Still, the piles could be a lot neater. The sewing machine is in the kitchen. I do try to keep all the interfacing in one bag, and there are several piles that are sorted by project.

    The one area where I do have a system is my print-out and traced patterns. I keep a stack of manila envelopes on hand, and whenever I finish a new project I print out a quick picture, glue it on to an envelope, add the pattern name, and (at least in theory) the pattern is safely stowed away. I need to get one of your boxes to hold the big pattern envelopes, however.

    Yes, I need a system.

  14. One tip. Clean up and put everything back after each project is finished. I am a neat freak and my space is only slightly messy while I sew, otherwise I would never get anything done. You will love the end result, I am sure. Good luck.

  15. When decluttering the sewing area is it best to finish off all of the projects on the sewing table or just place them all in gallon zip-lock's for later? Which choice is a worse procrastination?

  16. LOL - lots and LOTS of sewing went on in my space this weekend.

    I'm inspired by your downsizing to get rid of a few sewing machines currently stored under the stairs. At one time, I collected antiques and then sold a whole lot of them but still have two cranks under the stairs and a parlor model treadle in the living room that I'd love to move along. I'm even contemplating selling the treadle in the family room only it used to be my grandmother's. I remember sewing on it, in front of the window, in the guest room, in her farmhouse, looking out at the back forty. Then again, I'm not that sentimental and it's taking up space and my style has changed.

    A tip. When I taught Studio Makeover, I taught my students to develop clutter control points at logical steps and then build those into their habits. With a textile art piece for example, that would be to pull all the fabrics and make some initial decisions and then put what wasn't needed back. Then, sew the quilt top and clean up. Then layer the top with batting and backing and complete the threadwork and then clean up. Finally, stitch the binding together and on, finish the piece, and give the studio a thorough clean as in clean up, dust, and vacuum. Sounds intense but I've timed myself numerous times for my students and it takes all of five minutes while the results are SO WORTH IT.

    Have fun. It'll all work out.

  17. I think it was Mark Twain that said. "If a cluttered space is a sign of a creative mind what then of a clean space." I was thinking of getting it made in vinyl and putting it on the wall of my sewing room that my husband claims is never clean. I tell him that I have to have the ingredients on hand, I mean really who buys the supplies for a project, and then sews it up and gets rid of all the evidence. I guess I really should love it more since it is the biggest room in our tiny house.

  18. I love looking at other people's sewing spaces, I've perused the entire thread on PR, it's great for picking and choosing other people's ideas.

    Good luck and be sure to post your new and improved space! Will you also clean the living room today? :D

  19. In all honesty, I don't think your table looks that bad. That's me though. I have a really high threshold for chaos.
    Kudos for trying to organize it all but keep in mind this quote attributed to Einstein: "If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign of?"

  20. My sewing space is also the guest bed room; I keep my sewing supplies (patterns, soon-to-be-used fabric, notions) in long, shallow storage containers under the bed. Perhaps you should invest in similiar flat storage that you could slide under the sofa - it takes the storage boxes out of sight and uses up no (visible) floor space. I'm an apartment dweller like you, and I don't even have room for stacking containers, though yours from the Container Store is lovely.

    My lone sewing machine sits on a desk in the room, and the serger is under the desk. When guests arrive, I stash the machine either in the closet or under the desk. At that point, one couldn't even tell that the room leads a double life as a sewing room. Unless I forget to sweep up the threads...

  21. Oh Peter, I'm mad with jealousy at the superb luggage set you've won. Never mind the decluttering - you need to pack up and go on a very glamourous holiday.

  22. And here I've been attributing that quote to Mae West!

    Mrs. Exeter, Cathy and I are going to have a tug-of-war over that hat box.

  23. That luggage set is fabulous - I'm sure Cousin Cathy will think so when she sees it.

  24. Like Jill, I sew in an area that no one but me sees. That area is the entire third floor of our home. "Clutter" doesn't begin to describe the state of that room.
    I am very, very unorganized up there. I think part of the problem is the idea that no one else will see it, so I don't mind the clutter.
    I am however, very jealous when I see the bright, shiny, uncluttered sewing spaces of others.

  25. I finally got a sewing room again a half dozen years ago and outfitted it with two parallel tables, one for cutting and one for sewing, 2 Ikea wardrobes fitted with shelves for fabric & craft storage, a tall dresser for lining/interfacing/home dec notions, under table rolling drawer units for patterns, and a bookcase for books & thread. Think I'm organized? Well, no. My fabric storage is full. There are half full leaf bags of conditioned fabric sorted by colour on the floor. My pattern storage is full. I need a month or six of sewing to make up the excess. I've been sewing for the house and everyone else, so 'my' fabric is still there waiting and I have nothing to wear! Dumb! No more buy 1 get 2 sales until I'm sorted. No more sewing for the girls. Mamma needs clothes.

    I do clean up and oil my machine after every project, and I have a shallow box to keep the notions and pattern together on the table while I'm working and another for scissors and small tools, and I do put things away, so I'm not a total wreck. I just need to get going on my things.

    Suggestion: do what Robin did, go up and onto the walls. Make a cork board, wall mounted storage for thread & scissors (plain peg board & cut dowel pegs works really well) or buy a clear thread box, and install a clothes hook to hang half finished garments. Buy a tall narrow wardrobe with shelves for fabric and machines you need but don't use all the time. Buy more rolling cart drawers for hams, notions, lining, and interfacing. Keep storage bins uniform to make it look like a plan instead of odd bits of this & that. Get a power bar so all the cords are under the table. Hang the ironing board & iron on the wall. Paint the wall behind the table a colour you like to block off your space (if Michael doesn't object.)

    Think of it as your office. It's an investment in you and your home. I love the luggage! DH has taken my vintage turquoise suitcase for storing his papers as he hates filing. Who knows what's in there?

  26. Quit whining, and start shoveling (the mess, I mean - you're shoveling quite a bit of other stuff right now). :-)

    But, yeah, I don't understand how people who are that tidy ever make anything, either.

    I'm off to run errands - will check back later this afternoon to see how that table's coming along. Who knows, I might even tackle my own after I get back from my meeting this evening (if you inspire me by finishing YOUR own organizing first).

    It's all dspending on you, dear. But please don't feel pressured, or anything. ;-)

  27. You don't want to see where I store stuff. My sewing closet is a disaster area. My sewing corner is piled three-four feet high with bolts of flannel and other fabric. My main sewing machine is sitting on top of its case on the floor in the living room. The folding table I sew on needs cleaned off so I can cut out my next project. And kids' books and toys are everywhere!

    My latest project is hanging on the back of the front door, and the dress shoes that are going with it are on top of my computer. (Evie's Christmas dress. We're taking her for pictures tomorrow.)

    And my storage system? Old Joann's bags and cardboard boxes with the occasional laundry basket and plastic crate thrown in.

  28. LOL, stop making me laugh! I had to call in sick today for my terrible sore throat and it hurts. booo hoooo.

    In reading the comments, I am relieved that no seems willing to join your posse. My sewing room is safe. whew.

    Yes, I love to organize. Will you believe me if I tell you it DOES get very messed up? It really does.

  29. If my town had a Container Store, I would be in serious trouble. I could spend hours in there. I have to say I am a bit anal about having my sewing room just so. It is 9'x9', very small for the rest of the house. I have two kids and a husband who keep the rest of the house a wreck. My sewing room is my "woman cave". I love to hear about your organizing efforts. I need to bring some of that organization to other areas of my life: like my desk, my photos, my home movies and my mail.

  30. If it will make you feel better, I'll send you a picture of my sewing space. Sure, I've got a dedicated room but it's a disaster area! Of course, it's still neater than my husband's stuff which takes up 75% of the basement.

  31. I have no sewing space per se. The machine and some supplies are in the office closet. In the basement I have tubs of fabric that I did actually sort a few years ago (home decor, unused quality yard goods and plain ol' regular fabric. I was at a craft fair a few weeks ago and found a crafter who might buy some of my vintage wool fabric... I just need to photograph the stuff and send her an e-mail) When I sew I haul everything I need out, set it up in the dining room and then put it all away when done. A huge pain, but there we are!

  32. Just remember, dull people have immaculate houses.

  33. You've discovered the trap of materialism--Stuff. Is. A. Burden. You have to store it, clean it, trip over it...get rid of as much as possible--you'll find you won't miss it (and if you do miss it, you can always get another one).

  34. It doesn't matter what size space one has -- either you are neat and tidy or you are not. i have had sewing spaces of all sizes -- right now I have a huge room and it stills feels too small and cluttered. I can't sew in a mess!! It just dawned on me (again!) the other day that my space is not the problem, I am the problem! I've been trying to improve in this area but progess is very slow! One problem is that I work on several projects at a time, another is that I really dislike cleaning up and so put it off for as long as possible!

    Anyway, good luck with your clean up! It will feel good when it's done.

  35. Sox, I wish I had a nickle for every time someone said that to me, that I am so dull. Oh no, wait, no one has ever called me dull ;)

  36. No Peter, you aren't the only one. I too am anal expulsive... the world must have balance.

  37. the fabric cubes and how nice they look when all zipped up.

    I can only dream of a sewing room like the ones you have featured. At the present living room looks like a bomb went off in it. My daughter has graced us with her presence for three weeks and what once was my sewing room has now turned back into her bedroom. They grow-up and move out....but then they always return! :-P Hence the present condition of my living room. I should take a picture and'd enjoy the chaos!!

  38. anal retentive-oral explosive (you know, opposites)

  39. My sewing room is organized, but it still isn't neat. Not at all like Robin's, Sigrid's or Myrna's spaces. And, I love the fabric box. Hmmmm … that would be great way for storing more stuff under my cutting table.

  40. So? How's it coming? I'm looking forward to a cheery report tomorrow. ;-)

    I am too tired to tackle my sewing area tonight. I will just have to keep shoving stuff over so I have enough room to sew. (Seriously, I push stuff over and only clean up when it starts pushing back...)

  41. My sewing room is a small room at the front of my bungalow in the southern UK. I have what is really a kitchen worktop. This worktop runs along the northern wall, under the window around to the east side under the other window as far as the southern wall. My DH's computer is there, then there is mine at the corner and then the rest of the worktop is for my sewing machine and serger place under the northern window from which I can see street life the South Downs. I have to be tidy as it is a room for two! The room also houses shelves for the books, sewing or other stuff. Plus I have also managed to store my bits such as pins, eyes and hooks, poppers and other stuff like that. These are stored in little plastic boxes, which here in the UK are available, but mine are left overs from my DH's job (alarm engineer and these boxes store small bits for alarm fittings and would otherwise just get thrown out so I recycling as well). Threads are stored in a small cupboard and a set of drawers under the worktop that also provide a place for our printer

    Patterns. I store the instructions and envelope in plastic pockets and put them in a ring binder. I file them according to company and then in numerical order. I have a separate folder for the craft patterns but do the same. The actual pattern pieces I put into cardboard envelope files and these are stored in a a plastic crate that lives under the bed. These get stored in numerical order.

    I have another two crates stored in the same place, one is for bits such as zips and interfacings, the other is for fabric though this is sadly empty at the moment.

    I have a small set of deep plastic drawers also in my bedroom in which I keep fat quarters (though again this is somewhat bare) and other bits and pieces of craft fabric too small to be stored in crates.

    For cutting out I have a wooden ply board that folds up to put on the bed.

    Now the dining table is another story......I use this for drawing out, cutting out small bits (I also have a kitchen worktop that I can access from both sides for this too) and dumping stuff on........which I actually am proud to say I cleared on Monday afternoon.

    As DH said.....if you are going to use the Christmas table runner you made last year, you need the table clear to use it

    Jan UK

  42. I wonder if the good ladies with the very neat published sewing spaces possibly did a thorough clean-up before shooting the pictures?

    I know I would :-)
    I could not possibly bear to publicize (is that the correct spelling - not native speaker)my personal mess when sewing.d

    Of course it helps, that I don't have a dedicates sewing space. I share the living room storage units with my daughter's toys. She has got the bottom halv, I got the upper shelves for fabrics, notions and machines. That works pretty well as long at as I keep the fabric neatly folded and not overflowing and hanging down and out....

  43. Peter: I found a vintage sewing cabinet with drawers very helpful: one machine flipped down in the cabinet, serger under the flip-down inside, and another machine on top. I use a big artists portfolio for mats and rulers. But you have lots of space. Think what you could do with TWO cabinets.

  44. What I actually want is a table for my 15-91, which is currently sharing a table with my serger. But since I don't have a car, it would have to be nearby.

  45. I believe in the creative forces generated by clutter. If a cluttered sewing space is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is a clear, vacant sewing space the sign of? (that is my argument, AND I AM STICKING WITH IT!!!!!)

    I currently have my machine set up in a spare bedroom (there is a bed in there, somewhere. Under the fabric stash). It means that, when I have a spare 30 minutes,20 minutes, or sometimes even 10 minutes, i can do a bit of sewing on the current project. I made a (very simple) LBD for my daughter last week in small increments - 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there).

    A vast improvement on the previous arrangements of trying to do my sewing on the kitchen table (constantly putting things away, or risking marmalade smears on the facings). I didn't have a spare bedroom before - but there are advantages of children leaving home!!

  46. My sewing is in the basement. It's a pit. Along with my vintage clothing inventory for sale on ebay/etsy.

    I am practicing being grateful that I have space for a full cutting table at all times, two tall file cabinets for patterns, a wall of shelves for fabric. (I used to run a custom sewing business down here). But it's gotten too depressing to even be down here. What a waste!

    One thing I've realized lately is that even though this is MY space, my creative outlet, my link to creating an income for myself, I readily give it away to anyone who thinks they need it. For example, my husband moved his weight bench and equipment down here. (And he likes his corner to be NEAT) The laundry is all down here. My granddaughters toy area is here. Along with a small tv, couch and all our old movies - a second tv space away from the main area for visiting grandchildren. All the Christmas, Easter, Halloween decorations are stored down here. Sleeping bags, paper party supplies, old income tax files.

    Essentially, it might mean that I have given away every nice corner or useful space of the basement to my family. Leaving myself with the general walkways to try and work in. Maybe similar to every other aspect of my life - where I have given away everything good and I pride myself on making do with leftovers. Today, as you can see, I am working with the "I am worth it" issue. We'll see how it goes. Is 54 too old to decide I deserve better?

    1. Of course it's not too old. It may be time to reclaim your space!


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