How to organise a small sewing space
7 top tips for kitchen-table quilting
Quilters are notorious hoarders of fabric and notions. And more fabric. You can never have enough and it all sparks joy. Yet, not every quilter can dedicate a whole room of their house to creating. Most use the kitchen table and jostle for space with dinners, homework and all the other household stuff that ends up there.
You might be surprised how many quilters work from the kitchen table. You might be amazed how many quilting businesses are run from the kitchen table. Take American modern quilting phenomenon Meghan Buchanan of Then Came June. Meghan has built a successful quilt pattern business from her small home in Portland, Oregon which she shares with her husband and little son. She stores her fabric stash and materials in wardrobes in the couple’s bedroom and sews and works from their dining table. She regularly shares her home/sewing space over on Instagram and it’s really inspiring to see how she does it. Then there’s English Paper Piecing designer and Sewing Quarter presenter Jenny Jackson (@hashtagsew on Instagram) who has created a quilting corner in the bay window of her flat’s living in Brighton.
When we moved to our current home, I switched from quilting at the dining table to a corner of a room. I had my own table – an Ikea Melltorp – and my sewing machine and cutting mat had a permanent home. I felt very lucky. Over time, I gradually took over the entire room! It now hosts regular workshops where I teach beginners everything they need to know to make their own patchwork quilts by hand. I still sew my own projects in that same corner, on the same table. Overall, I still have the same amount of space for my own personal projects.
If you’re quilting from a small space, organisation is key. Packing up projects in a hurry so you can serve dinner can cause havoc with your neat piles of patchwork pieces. You don’t have to go the full KonMari method, but a few flexible storage “solutions” can make all the difference. As can some guidelines (no rules!) to keep you in check. Here are the ones I swear by:
One: Cut one, piece one, quilt one
I try to keep to three work in progress quilts at any one time*. This is pretty restrained by quilting standards so adjust it to suit you: cut two, piece two, quilt two is just as good! It’s not unheard of for quilters to rack up 15-20 WIPs. Personally, I would hyperventilate at 10 and in a small space it would be almost impossible to keep track. So, I try to keep to a limited number of projects, at difference stages of the process to keep me interested and so as not to overwhelm my space.
*Disclaimer: I currently have 7 work in progress quilts on the go, including a commission. Do as I say, quilters, not as I do!!
Two: Projects stored together, stay together
Sarah Ashford (who could give Marie Kondo a run for her money with her beautifully organised sewing space in Somerset) creates project pouches in A4 and A3 sizes which are genius for organising patchwork pieces. Lettering can be customised and you can choose between different colours and zip charms. They are a genius and inexpensive way to stay in control of your projects.
Three: A little storage can go a long way
Portable storage like the the Ikea Raskog trolley is beloved of quilters and crafters. The three layers of storage can be wheeled to and from wherever you are working and tucked back into a corner or under a table. There are similar products available from Hobbycraft and John Lewis if the thought of a trip to Ikea is too much to bear.
Four: Tupperware party
Transparent plastic storage containers are as useful for your sewing space as they are in the kitchen. From individual boxes like mine by Whambox from Homebase which I use for colour-coordinating fat quarters, to drawer units like the Rainbow Storage Towers from Hobbycraft.
Five: Shop your stash
If you’re just starting out with quilting you may not have built up your stash of fabric yet. If you already have lots of fabric, use it! When I gave up my job as an NHS Manager to stay at home with my then two-year old second daughter, I no longer had as much disposable income to spend on fabric. My fabric subscriptions had to be cancelled and my open tabs of online shopping baskets had to be closed and forgotten. I turned to my stash. Aside from background fabric – usually Kona White or Snow – it was two years before I really needed to replenish some of my stash. I was amazed!
Six: Swap shop
Swapping and sharing fabric is one of life’s little pleasures. If you’re getting together with crafty friends, take a few fat quarters that you won’t use (be honest!) and see if you can swap for something you’d love to cut into. If you don’t have a local quilt group or aren’t a guild member, shops such as the Village Haberdashery organise swap events like this one or you could even arrange your own. Recently two people have donated huge amounts of fabric to me and I couldn’t possibly use it all. So I’ve shared the cast majority with students on my quilt-a-longs and quilters who come along to my monthly ‘quilt club’ sessions.
Seven: Table-top defenders
If you’re using a kitchen table for quilting, you’ll probably want to avoid destroying it! As well as your self-healing mat for cutting with a rotary cutter, think about investing in a table-top ironing board or pressing mat. These are brilliant space-saving options that are easy to store (under a bed, behind a sofa) and low-effort in terms of setting up your space and putting it away again in a hurry.
If you sew in a small space, let me know your tips for making it work and staying organised. Comment below!