Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sewing Room, with Bonus Table Tutorial

Yes, I have a whole room for sewing and storing costumes! (And the computer and mailing supplies and vintage to be resold &c...)

Last year I bought a house. Until that time I lived with my parents. All of my sewing supplies and equipment were stored in my little bedroom. I had two under-bed boxes of fabric, three stacking bins in the closet, one medium dresser drawer of tools and supplies, multiple boxes of patterns and trims in the closet, and the knee-hole under my desk was usually full of sewing boxes, current projects, and things that couldn't possibly fit anywhere else. I had another bag of fabric in the attic, along with some wool batting. My sewing machine lived on a shelf in the closet.

In order to sew, I set up a decades-old card table in the middle of my floor, next to my bed. I sat on my vanity stool to use the machine. The ironing board was on the other side of the table. I couldn't get the under-bed boxes out with the table set up. Cutting out involved a cardboard cutting mat on the floor (again, no table) or occasionally on my bed. Did you know a cardboard cutting mat is the exact size of a twin mattress? You'll thank me later.

Going from one small bedroom to an entire house is of course fantastic. Part of what made my house The One, though, was its bonus room: A loft under the peak of the roof. It is not open to the rest of the house, but the stairs enter directly with no door. It has no bathroom, but a huge closet. And one big window (directly opposite the neighbors' house, the only drawback). Perfect sewing room!

I spent a lot of time looking for sewing room inspiration. With no furniture to speak of, I had a very blank slate to start with. Here's what I had before New Year's.

The white farm table was $85 at an antique mall, and it just about killed me to get it upstairs. The legs screwed off easily, but the table top itself is incredibly heavy. It must be solid oak. I had to roll it on its corners from the vehicle to the front door, slide it across the carpet, and tug it with frantic strength up the stairs. It's wonderful, though. The white paint is heavy and smooth, with enough existing nicks that I don't feel bad for using it. It's heavy enough that it doesn't shake or move when I shove it or the machine gets going fast.

The lamp is an old "ginger jar" (my name!) from my parents' attic. I've since gotten another one, but this one is still in use on the computer table.

I also love the small bin organizer (from Target), which holds tools and some notions.  One has scissors, one has pins and pincushions and tape measures, one has drafting tools like pattern weights and chalk, one has fasteners like hooks & eyes and snaps...

The thread spool holder will eventually go on the wall. I didn't want to make a bunch of holes yet, though, because I'm still settling in and things can move. As it happened, the table has since moved, so this was a wise choice.

The yellow chair is one of a pair of original Victorian Eastlake chairs I got for a bargain at $75 for the set. Since then, the webbing on the bottom has torn. I still need to replace it. Oops!

I love my mother's wooden ironing board, and hated using the flimsy metal ones owned by college students and hotels. This one could be longer and taller, but I found it, complete with cover, for $15 at another antique mall.
 The trunk barely visible on the right I bought at an antique mall (See a trend here?) 4 or 5 years ago. It holds nearly all of my Civil War reenacting gear. Dresses, outerwear, and petticoats hang up elsewhere, and my undies (chemises, drawers, and corsets) are in a smaller chest to be handy for fitting. In my old bedroom, this trunk also held up my computer. I sat on the end of my bed, keyboard on my knees, mouse on the windowsill, and my feet on the small chest. It worked, but I don't miss those days!

And here is my darling, my cutting table. I'm fairly tall at 5'9".  My old sewing layout had lots of disadvantages, but I never knew the misery of cutting on a regular table until I moved into my house. Oh, my back and shoulders! I'd rather cut on the floor for the rest of my days!  This table is counter height, roughly waist high on me.  It's simply a door, covered with oilcloth, and resting on two large-size bin organizers, also from Target like the small one. The organizers are 36" tall exactly, so with the depth of the door, the surface is over 37" from the ground.

The door is slightly too narrow and too long to fit the cardboard mat exactly, but it's very close. After 6 months of constant use, I'm still thrilled to have it. I use it constantly, not just for cutting. All of my pattern draping and tracing, layout, pinning, taking notes, and even ironing - it's my preferred workstation.

Ironing? I don't mind ironing, but huge lengths of fabric can be a real pain. My new board is smaller than the one I'm used to, too. In desperation, I pulled out a wool blanket, which is thick and insulating, and clamped it to the table top with $1 heavy spring clamps from Home Depot. Worked like a charm! I could iron the entire 60" width at once, and as long as my arms could reach. It took 1.5 hours to iron 15 yards, instead of 2 or 3 times as long. Yay!

The cubbies are another idea I'm so glad for. The pink and green fabric bins hold a variety of things, from trims, flowers, lace, and tape, to patterns organized by type and size. One holds all my muslin, from the nice recently-bought lengths to the crazy shapes that are impossible to use but too big to throw away. One cubby holds ironing supplies: spray starch, distilled water, and spray bottle with water. (Way better than just a steam iron!) I've saved the zippered bags that come with bed linens and curtains, and use them for storing on-hold projects, especially those with lots of pieces or notes. And another cubby is the perfect size for a 3-drawer organizer. One drawer holds neat folds of interfacing; another holds all my zippers. I didn't realize I had so many!

The cedar chest was given to me by my grandmother over Thanksgiving. It holds almost all of my fabric, including all of my wool.  The rest is in the bins on the left.

There's plenty more stuff piled out of sight behind the table. This is very much a work in progress. I will post some more recent pictures soon, showing it in all its Costume College-related chaos.

Bonus Table Tutorial

I'm not sure anyone will find this beneficial, but I might as well write up exactly how I made the table.

The top of the table is a door. I got a hollow-core unfinished wooden door in the standard bedroom door size, 80" x 36".  It comes ready sanded and ready to prime, with no door handle hole cut.  Home Depot, under $30.

To cover it, I bought 2.5 yards of oilcloth (flannel-backed vinyl) from Joann.  I think the cover is somewhat optional; the door had no snags or sharp corners that I could find. I wanted something with a smooth surface and no dyes to rub off.

Then center the door on the oilcloth and get to work with a staple gun!

I folded and stapled each corner in several steps to get it reasonably smooth.

Don't pull it too tight. You don't want it loose enough to wrinkle or pull, but oilcloth isn't meant to be under a strain.

Then put it on top of your organizers, or matching low bookcases, or packing crates, or sawhorses, or whatever works for you.  Done!

I was planning on having the table top fastened to the top of the shelving units, but my father talked me out of it.  The door and the organizers are plenty sturdy; I've not yet had it rock or tilt. I've shoved the top over slightly when leaning on it, but that's all. And having them bolted together would make it extremely difficult to move or adjust. Sometimes I want it a little closer or further from the wall, and moving the organizers is a lot harder than just sliding the table a few inches.  I did move the whole sewing room around a few months ago as well. I was very glad then they weren't in one piece!

Whatever your current sewing setup, whether it's an entire room or a desk in the corner of your bedroom (or a card table in the middle of the floor), what is your favorite part of it? In my old one, I liked how I could get on either side of the ironing board.  Now, it's my tall table. What's yours?


  1. Your setup looks great! I love all the colorful organizing bins. Someday I want to do something colorful and practical like that with my room, but for now all the interesting color pops come from my shelves of fabric.

    I made them with cheapie pine boards and metal fittings from Home Depot. They're tall enough to hold larger bolts (sized for 54-60" fabric) on the bottom and smaller bolts on top. They're not very pretty, but they are definitely functional! I also love my cutting table, made with an 8'x4' sheet of melamine. I've got just enough room to walk around three sides, so it's perfect!

  2. Just having your own private cubby to create is amazing. LOVE your blog title!