As a crafter of many different craft interests, it can be so hard to know where and how to keep yourself organised (and tidy). If you are lucky enough to have a designated craft room (no matter what size) it is brilliant to be able to have/store everything in the room, go in there to create and when you are finished, just close the door behind you. However, not all of us are lucky enough to have that separate space to store, organise or just to shut ourselves way to be able to sew or craft.
I have always been interested in crafts; in fact it was a way of life when I was growing up. My mother was a sewer who helped to supplement the family income by doing dressmaking for people. I often remember ladies coming to the house for fittings and so forth to have that outfit sewn up. Even back then (50 odd years ago) she didn’t have a designated sewing room. Thinking back now I have no idea where she stored all her sewing/crafting notions and equipment. With a young child’s eye, they always seemed to magically appear when she needed them and magically disappear when they were no longer needed! She sewed from the kitchen table, did the fittings there as well (when my father was not at home) and would draft out the paper pattern for the outfit from a magazine on the floor of the sitting room under the watchful eye of my sister and I (both very young) but even at that young age, we learnt by watching and taking everything in.
It was just the routine of our family and from a very young age, we learnt the skills of understanding the strange language of the lines (with different colours and patterns) that represented the different outfits in the magazine. Those magazines were sent out a couple of times a year to New Zealand by her mother in Holland and over the years they grew into quite a large pile, and they were used by several generations of sewers. She never threw any of the magazines out and you knew at some stage the outfits would eventually come back into fashion. The magazines were in Dutch, so we could never understand the written instructions on how to make up those wonderful outfits that were photographed in the magazines. However, we were taught how to locate the lines that were for the particular outfit, locate them on the pattern sheets, use the roll of newsprint and the tracing wheel to draft out our very own patterns.
My sisters and I learnt to sew by watching and participation. I was sewing outfits for myself when I was 7/9 years, and those early years gave me a firm foundation into dressmaking. It wasn’t just sewing that my mother gave us a lasting love for. She was also kept herself busy with several other crafts – knitting, crocheting, painting, cross stitch, needlework and spinning. Her passions in those crafts were passed down to myself, and my sisters.
So, how does this relate to craft organisation? Well … my mother never had the luxury of a designated sewing room. She did her sewing on the kitchen table and her other crafts were done in the evening. Looking backon how long I have been sewing and crafting for, I can also honestly say that I never had a designated craft room to store all my crafty notions and materials. Moving from childhood into young adult and then into my own home, I still did not have a designated craft area where I could store everything.
It is hard to think of just where did I store everything. My Dad acquired an old Singer sewing machine treadle table (minus the machine) when I was a teenager. He restored it for me, and it was my own small, designated sewing area. I could keep my machine on the table and sew there. There was space inside (where the machine once was stored) where I could keep all of my dressmaking patterns and the drawers were just perfect for keeping my scissors, pins, and other essential notions in. Maybe I just didn’t have as much as I thought I did. When I was sewing all my own outfits (as well as my girls) I would generally go out and buy the fabric needed, there was no fabric stash. Could I also be right in thinking that maybe now, we are needing so much more in the way of ‘essential’ equipment?
I kept my other craft materials in cupboards around the house and when I wanted to work on them, I would carry them together and take them where I wanted to work. It was generally in the lounge or the kitchen table. The latter was a bit more of a nuisance as I would have to tidy everything away at every mealtime due to the table being needed.
I remember one house I lived in, I was overjoyed to find there was a space in the laundry (Utility) room with a wooden bench by the window with some shelving on each side. I finally had my own sewing room. However, it was not ideal, the utility room was out through the back door and was basically a concrete floor outbuilding which I had to share with the freezer, washing machine and dryer. There was barely any room in which to work in. I definitely could not lay anything on the floor, it was uneven as well. There was no room to have an iron or to cut everything out. The bench was narrow and not that long, so just large enough for the sewing machine to sit. It was nice when the weather was dry and warm, but during the winter, it was cold and dismal. I think I generally ended up taking my machine and sewing on the kitchen table. The shelves were great to store my odd bits of fabric onto. I was just starting to get into patchwork at this stage and was slowly buying pieces of cotton fabric. There was also a disused toilet and shower room off this area, so it had become a place where I could store my surplus craft materials in boxes, along with fleeces I had acquired for spinning. I guess we make do at the time with what we have. But we all need to have it organised.
Once I moved into the rabbit hole of quilting, my essential notions and tools seemed to explode at an alarming rate. At the start (over 20 years ago) it seemed that only essential tools needed were the cutting mat, ruler, and cutter. Now there is so much more on offer and all claiming to make our quilting so much easier. I am not disputing that, as I have acquired so many tools that I just wouldn’t be without as they have made quilting/sewing so much easier and enjoyable. But when you invest in these needed tools, you really need to keep them safe and more importantly, know where they are so you can grab them when you need them.
We all need to have that one area, that we can go to and know that we can find exactly what we need, where it is kept and more importantly …. To know exactly what we have. Have you ever purchased a tool and then realised that you have exactly the same at home, but had forgotten about it, or maybe mislaid it due to not being organised?
I know I am guilty of that over the years. If you don’t have a designated craft/sewing room, it can be hard to know where everything is kept. Thankfully, I can now say, after 50 years of sewing, I now have my very own designated sewing/craft snug! However, like many crafters I am a messy crafter, and it can be so difficult to keep my craft snug tidy and organised, especially after a day of sewing and pulling things out when I have needed them. I am good at getting out what I need, but just not that great at putting it back after I have finished with it!
I love my craft snug and after a few trials and errors I am making it into what I need and require in a sewing area. I have my table in the middle, so I am not facing a wall. The window is far too high to have my machine there and there is a radiator directly under the window. It is not an ideal room as there really isn’t any wall space available, it is basically an open area off the kitchen and next to the stairs. So it is making the best of what I have to work with and using it to its best ability. The Ikea storage shelves are brilliant, and I have found the fabric bins and plastic tubs really make for great storage containers. There is built in shelves and cupboards which are still a work in progress. I have purchased several types of plastic drawers which are put to great use – for storing all my spinning tools and blending fibres as well as the different types of needlework thread.
I have found that I am ‘a list’ person. I like to work to lists. It gives me something tangible to work from and to look at when I need to refocus myself and know exactly what I have. I like order, I just find it hard to maintain that order all the time. I tend to be a messy sewer …. I will leave that there ….
I also found that my craft snug can tend to become a dumping ground. When in a rush, things get dumped in there with the intention of ‘sorting that out later on’ and it just never does. I am also a crafter that needs to have several projects on the go at the same time. To the point where I have numerous (too many to count) Unfinished Projects. There are times when I tend to forget about them and stumble across them many years later. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. My creative mind seems to jump about from one idea to another, especially when it comes to coming up with new designs.
During the first COVID lockdown I used the time to think over my craft projects and different crafts. I was in desperate need to know exactly what projects I had, be it partially finished or yet to be started. What tools and equipment I had and just exactly where it was all stored? To find a suitable method in which to store my fabric. The list was endless.
I know I could just tidy and organise my sewing snug again, but how long would it stay in that state, and it still didn’t solve the need to know what equipment I actually had. I had purchased an Accuquilt machine several years ago and had been slowly adding to my collection of dies. When I found a good sale for them online, I struggled to know what I already had without having to go through them all and write them down. This was the first step in starting to organise my tools. I had complied an Inventory for my Accuquilt dies. I found this so handy, and it was brilliant to be able to transfer that inventory idea to the other expensive equipment I had acquired over the years – books, patterns, free motion rulers, quilting rulers and other handy specialised notions.
There is such an achievement when you have gone through all your notions, tools, patterns, etc sorted them and compiled an inventory of them all. It gives you a sense of being in control and knowing exactly what you have. It is even better if you know exactly where that particular notion is kept. I decided that this was the year that I would truly get myself organised.
So with inventories all completed, it got me thinking of the projects started but never finished and even the ones planned but never started. In sorting through my craft snug, I pulled out containers of long forgotten fabric bundles, obviously placed together for a particular project but having no idea which one due to no pattern or note placed in the container. This is when I decided to expand on my inventories. I discovered several containers of pre-cut fabric bundles – jelly rolls, charm packs, layer cakes …. I had no idea of just exactly what I had and NEEDED to know so I could use them!
I wanted to create some organisation with my sewing so I would not get overwhelmed with what I had to get done or even to forget about the special quilt I wanted to make but never got round to. I started thinking on the project folders/books that many quilters spoke about. The concept interested me, but I never found exactly what I wanted or needed in such a book. I like to work from lists. I am terrible for roughly scribbling lists/notes on scraps of paper and then losing them as I had nowhere to keep them safe. I guess I searched and thought about the concept for quite a number of years, but never did anything about it. I just couldn’t find one that fitted all my needs. I wanted something that I could add to if I ran out of space – so a book wouldn’t work as it would not allow me to add to the pages when I ran out. It would also have pages that I wouldn’t use so it would be a waste of a book. I didn’t want to print off templates and put them into a folder – it just wouldn’t be special enough. I thought of placing the paper sheets into plastic pockets – but that wasn’t suitable – as it meant that each time, I wanted to write something down, I would have to take the paper out of the plastic pocket. I really needed to put my thinking cap on.
So, the Quilter’s Handbook was conceived…. I started to put down ideas of what I wanted in my book to keep me on track…. Somewhere I could write down all the projects I wanted to start, those I needed to finish, as well as the projects I was currently on where I could add in notes for any adjustments. Somewhere that the notes would be safe, and I could refer back to them if I ever needed to make that particular project again. It also gave me a record of what I had made, something to go back over in years to come. I also needed a place where I could keep a record of all the patterns, books, tools, and notions that I have and where they are kept. The handbook was designed so that you could decide just what pages/sections you needed for your own use, so there was no wasted or unnecessary pages.
I had so much fun deciding on what to put into this folder. I am excited about sharing it with you over the next few weeks. It is the result of many months of research, ideas, trials, and errors in putting together the perfect quilters handbook to help keep you organised and on track. I also felt it was important to add in a section of the basics when it comes to quilting and using your machine. How often have we had tension issues and just not quite sure on how to adjust the tension dial or even to check through all the tension issues before touching that dial? What about how to accurately cut fabric when we are directed in the pattern to cut fabric with a 16th fraction? Maybe all the quilting terms are confusing? What about the common sizes of UK beds if we want to make a quilt for a particular sized bed? I have complied all that to go into this Handbook. Now you just need to grab the handbook and look it up instead of spending hours searching online for answers. There is so much more to this book….
Over the next few weeks, I will do blog posts on helping you to organise your sewing area. We will discuss storing your tools, notions and fabrics and using the inventory sheets and making them work for you. We will also look further into the Quilters Handbook and how to make the most of it.
I hope you will enjoy accompanying on this journey while, together, we will organise our designated sewing space…… and move this area ….
Into an improved, tidy and VERY organised sewing space ….