Reorganising Sewing Area

I love seeing photos of customised sewing areas, with purpose built units and storage, but I can’t emulate them here. Maybe you have less than ideal conditions?  This  post’s about what has turned out to be a successful workaround  for me and what needed a rethink. Have you perhaps discovered a good solution for storing and quickly accessing the plethora of equipment we need? This jay’s happy to pick up any shiny bright ideas she can, so please comment.

I have a room about ten foot square, and feel pretty lucky, though it isn’t blank slate. Some awkward aspects can’t be changed. The lighting and electrics are a problem. Despite being my most luxurious area yet, it’s not big enough to have a full size drafting/cutting table, plus an area for machines, and space to store a fabric stash, books and notes, patterns, blocks, related equipment and threads, elastic, ribbon, tape …. you know, all the necessary junk.

For the last couple of years I prioritised being able to walk around both sides of my cutting table. This is a door on legs by the way. Cutting out and most drafting is easier if you can get to both sides, but squeezing through the narrow space to get to the sewing table by the window or the shelving, while tripping over the obstacle course of overflowing fabric and scraps became a disincentive to actually entering the room.

I’ve sacrificed cutting convenience now and moved it against one wall. The room feels much more spacious and workable and the floor space is big enough to spread a full width of fabric for the occasional asymmetric kimono cut pattern that won’t fit on the table.

When the furniture shifting was done, I realised I’d have room for a floor cushion. So when I want to flick through magazines, or break out the crochet I can sprawl.

Room to Slouch!

Annie flagged up the ever present problem of losing stuff. So many little pieces of equipment are used in sewing and they do wander off, don’t they?

My solution is to strip out all the stash fabrics from the shelving units and divide the space into activity areas – just like Primary School really. Those infant teachers know a thing or two about organisation.

The areas I’m aiming for are Patterns and Drafting; Sewing; Embellishment, Knitting and Crochet; Design Sources and Historical Costume ; Hats.

Patterns and Drafting takes a whole unit and some overflow.

I’ve kept the hanging space for blocks, and a magnetic bar and hooks on one side for long rulers, paper scissors and the main set squares. Also retained is my current storage system for commercial patterns. These are in plastic magazine holders on top of the unit. A notebook with the pattern numbers and a rough line drawings indexes them. Realistically, this collection needs pruning. I don’t need 120 patterns.

Self drafted patterns have been through umpteen systems. I re-use some but throw out others after one rendition. I’m just folding them into a folded slip of  A4 paper, quick sketch and size on the front, and hit on cutting up the cardboard boxes that come with DH’s medical supplies to fit the shelf height exactly. These each hold several patterns neatly and are easy to slide in and out of the shelves. There’s an index book for this too.

A large chest of drawers houses fabric. The top was piled high with projects. In the spirit of trying to get the room welcoming I’ve prettied it up.

Zen Corner!

The folder with my personal blocks sits there. The Japanese paper wrap came round a kimono. I use these blocks frequently and have kept the cotton toile in there as well to make it easier to adjust them if they stop fitting.

Personal Blocks Folder

My pattern magazines fit on the shelf unit, with the textbooks, the folder with the worksheets I used when I taught drafting, downloads, Stuart’s* brilliant swimwear and stretchwear info, and anything that get’s referred to in drafting like measurement charts. There’s also an A4 envelope for stray pattern pieces. Neat freaks may wonder at this, but I’ve learnt  to build in systems for when the systems fail. (there’s also a box for patterns not yet filed, a box for pretty bits and bobs I might use sometime, a dish for buttons, beads, fastenings unhoused, and downloads waiting to be filed are in one of those three tier letter racks). Know thyself, especially where thyself might mess up.


One shelf will have pens, pencils, curves, tracing wheels, sticky tape, glue, and a foam sheet to protect the table when wheeling through. One pattern hook is for perennially useful pattern shortcuts like a side seam pocket shape, and cards with cup size info and an aide memoire for ease allowance.

Patterns overflowed on another shelf unit. I put the pattern sheets from pattern magazines in ring files with the working drawings some time ago. I’ll pretty up these files some day as they’re repurposed from offspring’s studies and still have teenage drawings and stickers on them.

Pattern Sheet File

Sewing is sharing a shelf unit with Embroidery, Knit and Crochet. Books, Threads and Anna are here, more of the medical boxes cut to shelf depth house zips, elastic and tapes. Other shelves have essential haberdashery.
Before I had a room, I made a portable container from a ten litre paint pot, covered in some vinyl fabric scrap. This is still brilliantly useful. One side has pockets for sewing machine feet. How I love this! A card is tucked in with each foot to remind me of the machine setting to use. Pockets on the other sides hold scissors, tweezers, gadgets for marking fabric, and turning rouleau. The tray in the top holds pin boxes and cushions, needle threader, and other bits and pieces. Inside are fastenings. The plastic tub with a hole in it, btw, is for broken needles and bent pins, and the china elephant holds cocktail sticks for guiding tricky bits under the machine foot.

Gadget Tub

Hat making gets it’s own corner, on a unit which also has design materials and reference and historical costume books.

Fabric storage is largely unsolved. There are two large boxes under the cutting table, where a couple of machines sit. Three shelves in another unit also house fabric. The obvious answer is to make it into stuff asap and not buy more! Also living under the table is a large zipped plastic bag holding mending and part done projects. These used to clutter the sewing table, but having them visible didn’t make the jobs happen any faster.

This is still a WIP, but so far I’m happy with the changes.

*Sadly I don’t think the website is up anymore



About jay

I design and draft patterns
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8 Responses to Reorganising Sewing Area

  1. STH says:

    I completely agree with your philosophy of having a back-up system for things not put away yet; I have a box for papers that need to be filed. You totally have to work with how you use things, where you set them, and all that kind of stuff if you want a system you can stick to. I made myself one of those Tooly Tool Holders (pattern on Craftsy) to put next to my sewing machine and it has helped me so much in corralling the clutter and not losing things; being able to put things in a little pocket right there instead of in a drawer makes all the difference. Sounds like you’ve made some great progress!


    • jay says:

      I checked the tool holder out – it looks very useful, I’m guessing it folds so you can transport it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • STH says:

        Yes, the instructions have you put an elastic hair tie across it so that you can fold it with the tools inside and they’ll actually stay put. I didn’t include that on mine (when am I ever going to travel with my sewing? answer: more often than you think!) but it still folds and stays put nicely.


  2. Morgan says:

    Well done. Having moved and ‘organised’ my sewing (and everything) work space into a different space, it took a little while to get used to where various bits and pieces are. However it didn’t take long at all to get messy but that’s because I’m using it – a lot. Loving sewing again and some days I can’t wait to get in there. Despite best efforts, controlling the amount of fabric and storing it is an epic fail. We can’t win them all.
    Thank goodness someone has the Stuart swimwear/stretch info.


    • jay says:

      I remember your work space change Morgan. I’m much happier with mine now, if only because I can walk in there without tripping over things. I think I photocopied most if not all of Stuart’s work. Contact me if there’s something you need.


  3. mrsmole says:

    Love you gadget bucket! Have you ever thought about hanging tools from the ceiling like chefs hang pots? Mr Mole installed a flag pole at 45 degrees across a corner in my sewing room at door height as the ceilings are too high for anything. I can hang up to 8 heavy bridal gowns on the 6 foot pole.


    • jay says:

      That’s a great idea mrsmole. I can’t use it in my current room, but it’s a brilliant thought for future spaces. I seem to think I’ve been in fabric shops where the shears hang from the ceiling over the cutting table. There’s scope for different adaptations.


  4. Anything that aids organisation and cuts down time spent searching for things is to be applauded. I love your portable tool box – I may pinch that idea! I’m currently trying to contract from using two rooms for sewing (now that I’m not sewing for clients) and organising my belongings and stash better. Your post is well timed 🙂


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