My Space…the Sequel

We’re still discussing quilt studios today. I promised storage ideas, lighting and electrical solutions, and the ultimate quilt studio sanity saver. Let’s just dive right in by dealing with rulers. Ruler storage requires an entirely different mind-set.  Quilters use small rulers such as this:

And larger ones like this:

And falling between the two are a variety of sizes and shapes.  It seems there is a specialty ruler out there for any imaginable quilt block.  I found ruler organizational sanity on two fronts:  a filing system and vertical imagination. 

I have quilted a total of 35 years.  During this time span, I’ve amassed quite an impressive number of rulers.  I divided this impressive ruler collection into two groups:  Those I use occasionally and those I use weekly.  Let’s work with the occasional-use rulers first.  I decided I needed some sort of “filing” system for them – somewhere I could store them but still knew what I had at a glance.  I purchased a plastic filing tub (I think I actually got this from Target) and several hanging file folders.  I wrote the name of each ruler on a file folder, put the ruler and any instructions for it in the folder, and then put the file folder in the plastic filing tub.  By arranging the files in alphabetical order, I know what rulers I have with one quick glance at the tub. The plus factor in this storage method is it fits neatly under my ironing board – in a convenient spot, but completely out of the way. 

The rulers I use every week … and sometimes everyday… must be handled differently.  I don’t want to spend time searching for them in a filing system, even if it is a very organized filing system.  I have four rulers I use every time I work in my studio:  My Creative Grids 4 ½-inch x 12 -inch ruler, my Omnigrip 6-inch x 24-inch ruler with a lip, my Omnigrip 2-inch x 18-inch, and my Creative Grids Binding Tool.  Those are simply left on my cutting table.  However, the other rulers needed a space which was easy to access and easy for me to see what I had.  There are ruler organizers/holders which sit on top of a flat surface, but I didn’t want anything taking up additional cutting or sewing space.  With that consideration in mind, I decided to go vertical:

This ruler holder mounts to the wall, organizes my rulers in such a way I can see them, and doesn’t take up valuable horizontal sewing or cutting space.  You may not have thought about vertical storage beyond the possibility of cabinets.  Don’t sell it short.  Ruler holders which hang on the wall are just the beginning.  Pegboards are another wonderful vertical storage idea.  You can group your storage (thread in one area, hoops in another, etc.) and see what you have in a glance.  My dream quilt studio would have one wall of nothing but a huge pegboard and I would have allllllllll my thread on it — because you all know I’m a thread snob and I may have hundreds quite a few spools of thread. 

Moving on to where you do your cutting —  ideally, you need two cutting areas – a large one and a small one.  Obviously, the large space would be where quilts are cut out.  You need enough space to spread out the fabric so it can be accurately cut.  And depending on the size of your sewing area, this cutting space may or may not be in your studio.  When I started quilting, my large cutting area was in the dining room, which was at the other end of the house from my then tiny studio.  Now it takes up one wall in my quilt room and it’s only several steps away from my sewing machine.  You must keep in mind that not all your cutting will need such a large space.  If you’re trimming block units or cutting the dog ears off of half-square triangles, a small cutting space works great.  I keep a small Martelli round cutting mat (the kind which can be turned) on a TV tray near my sewing machine.  This saves me time (and steps). 

The same large/small concept holds true with pressing.  Quilters press fabric – a lot.  And when I really critiqued my sewing area, I have three pressing options – small, medium, and large.  Let me show you how this breaks out. Next to the TV tray which holds my round Martelli cutting mat, I have a wool pressing mat. 

This is my small pressing area, and it’s near my sewing machine.  As a matter of fact, to do small pressing or cutting, I simply turn my chair around and there’s the TV tray.  I don’t have to get up at all.  This saves me time and steps. 

The next area consists of my ironing board.  I have a quilter’s ironing board which is a little wider and doesn’t taper at one end like the standard ironing board. 

It also has a rest for my iron and any spray bottles. I use this for pressing blocks (sometimes) and rows (all the time).   What I’d like to draw your attention to is my ironing board cover:

The horizontal lines really help when I am squaring up a block or making sure the fabric or block is on grain.  This pressing station is several steps away from my primary sewing area, but right next to my large cutting area – this room layout is important, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

My last pressing station is my kitchen counter.  I have an L-shaped counter configuration, and the long end of the L is where we eat.  I had never really thought about the counter as a viable pressing option until my friend, Cindi, had some of this:

At our last quilt retreat and was using it to make a pressing station out of a table.  A lightbulb went off.  “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I could get two or three yards of that, tape it to the kitchen bar, and have a huge area to press my quilt tops!”

Bingo! My third pressing station was born.  And the large area makes pressing quilt tops a super-easy process.  Again, I had to think out of the box, but sometimes the best ideas are the ones not even in the same room as the box.  If you have a table, counter, or other large area which could be used, it may make your pressing life easier.  As soon as you’re through, the ironing surface fabric can be folded and put away.  I purchased three yards of the ironing surface fabric from Joann’s – available on-line only.

Regardless of how many and what sizes your pressing stations are, make sure you have adequate room for your iron (because an iron falling on your foot is no fun – ask me how I know) and any pressing tools you use, such as Flatter, spray starch, Best Press, Tailor Clapper, or pressing cloths. 

Now let’s talk about why the location of your large cutting area, ironing board, and sewing machine is important. To do this, let’s take a detour into your kitchen. 

If you take a look at your kitchen set up, most of the time location of the sinks, refrigerator, and stove form a triangle.  Contractors do this for a reason:  it’s the easiest set up for the person who does the cooking.  It saves steps and is convenient.  Your sewing space should be set up in the same manner for both ease of use and speed. 

The pressing area, cutting table, and sewing machine should form a triangle (it doesn’t matter what kind of triangle – 60-degree, right, isosceles –just as long as it’s a triangle). 

Since we’ve mentioned iron and pressing areas, let’s also hit on a quilter’s electrical needs.  We plug sooooo many things in outlets – our machines, scan and cut, lights, irons, computers, and printers – just to name a few.  And some of those items (such as the irons) can pull some serious amperage.  If you are lucky enough to own a custom-built sewing studio, have a frank and long discussion with your electrician.  Sketch a layout of where you want to place your machines, irons, and other gadgets which require electricity.  Electrical contractors are well aware of the amperage things like irons take and will make adjustments for that in your fuse box.  They will also make sure you have adequate outlets along the baseboards.  If you’re planning on installing cabinets and countertops, don’t forget to allow for some outlets along the top of them.  And if you can get outlets put in the floor, you’ve just entered quilting nirvana.

However, if you’re like most of us, you’re making do with whatever current available space you have in your house or apartment.  The electrical outlets are already in place.  And those outlets will determine how and where you set up your machines and other electrical gadgets. I’m lucky my quilt studio was the family rec room for a number of years.  There are lots of outlet along the walls.  However, I still have to use these:

I’d like to zero in on the power strips and extension cords.  Even if you don’t use them in your studio, chances are you’ll take a class or attend a retreat and need one.  The first rule in using these is to remember they have a shelf life.  Yes, you can use them for years – until they short out or simply quit working – but most of them become unstable after a year.  My husband and I own an environmental business which requires the use of extension cords and power strips to run our negative air machines.  OSHA requires we write the date purchased on every cord and replace them a year later because they can become a fire hazard.  If you’re only using an extension cord or power strip occasionally, you can go longer before replacing them.  If they’re used daily, then plan on replacing them annually.  It’s a cheap fix for peace of mind.  I do plug my machines into power strips, but I unplug them when I’m through for the day, as well as turn off my extension cord/power strip.  As much as possible plug irons directly into an outlet.   Plugging an iron into an extension cord or power strip can cause fuses to blow or trip because the cord is pulling too much amperage. 

In past blogs, I’ve dealt with fabric storage ideas (and by the way, I just came across a new one I want to share next year).  However, I haven’t touched on how to store thread.  First, I want to dispel the myth of freezing thread.  A few years ago, there was a myth circulating around some quilt circles that freezing cotton thread would prolong its life.  This is not true.  Storing thread in your freezer just takes up perfectly good space which could be used for ice cream.  And the only thing it does for your thread is make it cold. 

The longer you quilt, the more thread you’ll accumulate.  If you only piece tops, your collection will more than likely be limited to neutrals.  However, if you machine or hand applique, or quilt your own tops, be ready for your thread stash to grow exponentially the longer you quilt.  And if you own an embroidery machine, you’ll end up with more spools of thread than you know what to do with.  Today’s threads – unlike the thread which is on spools like these –

Have a long shelf life.  The mechanics behind manufacturing today’s long-staple cottons or tri- and bi-lobed polyesters have improved tremendously over the last twenty years.  Polyester thread – which used to be reviled in quilt circles – has improved so much that it now has a welcome place in the quilting world.  In no time at all, the average quilter finds his or herself with quite a few spools of thread.

The first criteria for thread storage is keep it somewhere relatively out of direct sunlight.  Thread can fade.  The next important idea is be sure to separate your thread.  In other words, it’s not a good idea to store your piecing thread with your embroidery thread, hand quilting thread, etc.  This won’t affect its quality, but when you’re in a hurry and go to grab a spool of thread, it’s easy to pick up the wrong one ask me how I know.  Even if you’re storing all of your thread in one area, have some clear boundaries about where one type ends and another begins.  I keep the thread for my embroidery machine in a drawer all by itself.  My hand and machine applique threads make their home shallow bins.  And my piecing thread is stored on these:

Because I tend to purchase cones of this thread instead of spools.  I save money in the long run purchasing it in bulk. 

I also keep my hand quilting and machine quilting thread separate.  I don’t use as much hand quilting thread, so it lives in a small plastic tub with a lid.  The cones I use on my long arm also have their own cone storage just like my piecing thread does, but the two are kept separate.

One last word about thread.  If you do have some thread which is wooden spools or those plastic gold or silver ones, there are two places to store it.


Or here:

It’s old.  It was produced before thread manufacturing methods and standards changed.  This thread has a shelf life and it’s probably way over due to be tossed.  If you can’t bear to throw it away, find a pretty jar, put the spools in it, and display it somewhere in your home. 

The last two items I’d like to discuss are lighting and doors.  I can’t begin to emphasize how important good lighting is.  Again, if you’re lucky enough to have a custom-built quilting studio, insist on good lighting.  And good lighting for a quilt studio is different from good lighting in a family room or bedroom.  Lighting for most rooms in a house (except a kitchen) is meant to give a feeling of warmth and coziness.  It’s not necessarily bright and clear.  You want the clearest and brightest light you can possibly get.  If you’re inheriting a spare bedroom or other room as your quilt studio, just make a plan to supplement the overhead lighting as needed.  Hands down my favorite supplemental lighting is Ott.  While yes, Ott lights can be expensive when compared to other brands, their light is clear and bright.  I have an Ott light on each of my sewing tables and want to purchase another one for my cutting area.  You will also want a good light for your hand sewing area if it’s in another location than your sewing room. 

And finally, doors.  Not these Doors…

These doors.

Take it from someone who started sewing in a corner of her kitchen.  Doors are your BFF.  If your space is messy or you have to leave a project out, having a door between your studio and everyone else’s line of vision is a sanity-saver.  For me, it was always such a pain to have to put my project up and have to drag it back out every time I had a few minutes to sew.  Being able to stop at a certain point and then have the ability to come back to that same point without having to  rummage through boxes and drawers is a time saver.  Also knowing you have to pull everything back out to start sewing can kill any enthusiasm you have.  

To sum all of this up, as you arrange and re-arrange your sewing space, keep these points in mind:

  1.  Your quilting space is important and should work for you and be ergonomically friendly.
  2. Space and sewing machine use determine which machines are kept out and which ones are properly stored.
  3. Be sure your chair or stool is comfortable, supportive, and can be adjusted for your comfort.
  4. Be open minded when it comes to ruler and tool storage. 
  5. Have a workable hand sewing area.
  6. Have both large and small pressing and cutting areas.
  7. Remember the sewing triangle.
  8. If you use extension cords or power strips daily, it’s a good idea to replace them on a yearly basis.
  9. Separate your thread.
  10. Don’t skimp on good lighting.
  11. Insist on a door.
  12. Don’t store your thread in the freezer.  It takes up the space meant for ice cream.

I hope this helps you evaluate and re-evaluate your sewing space.  This is truly an ongoing process and what works for you today may not work for you five years from now.  Be flexible and think outside the box.  And don’t be afraid to insist on what you need.  Your quilting is important.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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