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Conversational Threads

Setting up a dedicated sewing room

katew | Posted in General Discussion on


I’m a new member to the sewing community and a subscriber Threads to magazine. After 25 years of absence from the sewing community, I’m sewing again and now the owner of a Bernina 180. Boy, how times have changed! I’m learning a great deal about the machine, have designed and sewn two quilts, pillows, table linens…generally loving this new sewing experience.  My husband is building out a sewing room for me and is asking for design input – how to organize, place and space equipment, drawers, threads, machines, etc. I could use input from all of you experts out there! What works for you? What are the basic do’s and don’t in setting up a well organized sewing room?  Thank you for all your ideas!


Edited 5/31/2004 2:02 pm ET by Kate


  1. ShannonG4d | | #1

    High on my priority list is a cutting table that is of the right height.  I am tall (5/9) and find most counters to be too low for me.  When I have them raised, usually just a couple of inches, the difference in back strain is amazing. If you are able to do so,  have the cutting table at the right height for you, which is somewhere around the bend of your elbow. 

    The same will hold true for the actual sewing machine space.  Take into consideration your own seated height when determining the height of your sewing table.  My comfort height is about 2 inches above a standard sewing table.  By putting my machine on TOP of the table, instead of having it installed, I can easily acheive this height.

    As for the organizational part, I use a regular cork bulletin board with cup hooks attached to it for hanging many items neatly.  This is placed right above my ironing surface, so I can grab a template or ruler easily.  Fabric is in wire bins, to allow me to see it easily and to allow the fabric to breathe.  Notions are in baskets on bookshelves, again for ease of location.

    Lighting......my room is really weak in that department.  I have portable task lighting over the machine, the iron, and the cutting table.  My dream is to have bullet lights installed in these location, with cool bulbs.  Irons and sewing machines and lights put out a lot of heat!

    That leads to opinions on layout.  I like my sewing machine and ironing board to be laid out in an "L" configuration.  The position of the cutting table is not as important as these two; I have a sewing chair on wheels which will allow me to go from machine to iron easily.  I like my iron to be at standing height, however, as I think it is important not to be seated at all times.  It's just better on your back and legs to get up to do the pressing.

    As you may have guessed from this, I sew for long periods of time, and I sew frequently (nearly every day).  These are considerations that have developed over years of trial and error.


    1. katew | | #4


      Thanks very much for all the great ideas. Clearly, you've been through the trials and errors of organizing! I'll take all into consideration and thank you for sharing your experience.  Do you have any further hints or suggestions for material organization, tools (presser feet, rules, small cutting tools, etc.), and pattern storage? So many small yet expensive tools...I'm looking for the best way to see my inventory "at a glance." I have room for a portable cutting table (on wheels) and a stationary L shape surface upon which to place the Bernina. The sewing machine table will have a fold-out extension on the back for additional fabric support (large quilts, etc.). Any thoughts about the pro's and con's of being able to lower the machine into the table when not in use? 

      Again, Thanks! I appreciate all the great ideas.


      1. SewDad | | #10

        I don't have anything to add to what's been said about the basic room setup, but I read an idea for pattern storage somewhere (probably in Threads) that's worked great for me.  I should mention I don't have a huge inventory, yet.  I separate the actual pattern paper/tissues from the instructions.  The instructions remain in the pattern envelope and are placed in a clear plastic sheet-protector (top loading) and kept in a three-ring binder.  The binders are organized however you use/access patterns.  I keep one for stuff for my wife and one for my daughters.  Any notes I need to consider when selecting fabrics/notions, etc. go in with the pattern envelope.  This way I can keep the binders on a bookshelf and easily peruse my inventory, comparing different patterns of the same type close together, regardless of manufacturer.  I also take the relevant binder to the fabric store with my swatchbook to select fabric or additional patterns.  Before I did this I was always having "bright ideas" at the fabric store, but not the info on/from the patterns I already have.  I find that all I need to know at the store is on the envelope and having the instructions/layouts handy covers any detailed questions.  I love the Burda WOF patterns, so I take the thumbnail picture sheet(s) from the front of useful issues and put that in the book, too.

        The pattern tissues go in a 9x12 kraft paper envelope.  Since I've started tracing off almost everything (the people I sew for seem to keep changing sizes *kids*) I keep all of the traced patterns in the same envelope.  I can write notes on the envelope easily.  These usually include either construction notes, things to remember, or just notes about what adjustments have been made/sizes included.   The patterns are stored by pattern company and number.  They could be in a file cabinet or, like mine, in storage bins in the closet.  It partly depends on how frequently you access them.  I like the fact that I can store the patterns outside of the sewing area, but still have access to the envelopes at a glance near the machine.  Plus, I often refer to the instructions from one pattern I liked when doing a different one (I'm still somewhat of a beginner) and like having them really handy.

        Well, that seems to have taken a long while to say....  Hope it helps.

      2. Sewon2003 | | #11

        Have you thought about how much space you need for working on projects while at your machine.  I worked on some quilts and found that my sewing machine table that was great for sewing clothes, was not adequate for quilting.

        So, be sure that you table, if it is going to be attached to the wall has enough area for your projects.  Or you may want to have your sewing table on wheels so that you can pull out into the middle of the room and have area behind the machine to extend a flip out extension.

    2. katew | | #6


      OOps, sorry for the oversight regarding the organization of materials. The wire bin idea is a great one as is the cork board. Both great ideas for visable organization of tools. I recently saw an idea for quilt design layout which appears to be some type of flannel fabric stretched into a frame and mounted on a wall. Quilt materials will "stick" to the surface for easy design layout and arranging. Is this something to incorporate into a studio? What do you think?


  2. suesew | | #2

    I also have my machine higher than any of the experts will tell you. Mine is actually on a door on two file cabinets, and a simple desk slides right under the door to give me a lap drawer and three others for extra storage.

    I thought I wanted an ironing table but I also change the height of my ironing board several times a day. Sometimes I'm ironing sitting down, sometimes standing up and sometimes I shift it to match the height of my table or the height of my serger for extra table space/ fabric support.

    When I ran out of wall and shelf space, my husband put in a simple shelf just above the window level all the way along one wall. I'm tall enough to be able to grab things easily and its very handy.

    1. katew | | #5


      Thank you too for the very good idea about height. Even in my early novice days, I've learned how amazingly fatiguing the lower back gets after stooping for hours over quilt layouts and cutting! I'll keep this in mind - as many other experts have suggested! Any other thoughts about material organization, tools etc.?

      Thanks again,


  3. SisterT | | #3

    I agree with everything said--also you might want to consider flooring.  I have  carpet where I sew and when I finish a large project I find myself crawling around on the floor, pulling threads out of carpet fiber.....  The Easter Church banners, with five yards of filament each, inspired some less-than-Easter thoughts!  :)

    Sr. Tracey

  4. mainestitcher | | #7

    My DH renovated a room for sewing space: The lights are on dimmers, so they can be adjusted as outdoor light and hormones dictate. The cleverest idea he had was this: All the walls have a layer of plywood, then a layer of sheet rock. Shelves can be placed anywhere. One switch near the door shuts off the outlet where the iron plugs in.

    I have an old drafting table which can be used to draft patterns, or cutting. The height is adjustable, and it tilts. It was free, unwanted at the end of a church tag sale. A lot of supplies are kept in a map file. It has five wide, deep(front to back), shallow drawers, allowing things to be laid in a single layer, easily viewed. one drawer has beads, rhinestones, and sequins, the next has buttons, zippers, sewing tools, and so on. The walk-in closet holds projects to be done, and finished ones awaiting pick-up, and the majority or fabric is stored in there to help prevent fading.

    I keep a revolving desk organizer next to the sewing machine to hold a pair of scissors, marking pencils, chalk, pins, stiletto, etc.

    Cork squares over the sewing table display instructions, diagrams, and needle books.

    Thread racks and pegboards are above the cork squares.

    1. katew | | #8


      Thanks for the ideas. The map drawer is perfect! I was wondering about the best way to organize and protect fabrics and flat pieceware. Lots of great ideas. Thanks again.


      1. SEWSERIOU1 | | #9

        I recommend the book "Dream Sewing Spaces" by Lynette Ranney Black.  It addresses everything from furniture arrangment to surface height to efficient storage.  It is worth every penny.

        1. katew | | #14


          Thanks very much for all the info. I'll be sure to pick up the book as well. I truly appreciate everybody's help on this. You all have some terrific ideas. 


          1. Barbaran8 | | #16

            The two things I plan on for the day I get to move the machine out of the living room - I will have light colored vinyl or linoleum flooring - so I can see dropped pins, and won't care if I roll over them with the chair - and I will have UV protectant film on the windows - so that fabrics that are stored in the room will not be damaged by sunlight.

  5. Elisabeth | | #12

    I try to have a minimum of furnishings made of manufactured materials since they contain chemicals that are released into the atmosphere, the atmosphere being my sewing room first of all. Plywood, particleboard, most carpet, plastics, and laminates are a few things I don't care to breathe and smell much of. I have the good fortune of a solid birch cutting table with a water based finish that was custom made for me as a gift. And it is on wheels, definitely a handy feature for many things in a sewing room.

  6. SewTruTerry | | #13

    In my sewing room I am fortunate to have found the kitchen and bathroom sink/counter top bases and use them for my sewing table with two on either end with my embroidery machine on one end and my serger on the other and the workhorse machine in the middle where there is leg room.  I can then embroider something while sewing or serging another project or another part of the project.  The cabinets are all white and so are the walls.  A real plus when it comes to sewing on darker fabrics.  My cutting table is set up on a kitchen island with both sets of doors opening so I have access from both sides and the other end faces outward from the shorter end.  I have added peg board to hang all of the little necessesities for easy access. I also have my steam generator on my cutting table with task lighting and a metal ruler hot glued down on the edge for easy cutting and measuring.  I also have a banquet type table that folds away for easy storage when not needed to lay out projects in progress.  Hope this helps and remember it only has to make sense to you.

  7. sarahjane | | #15

    I run a sewing business from the kitchen of my tiny home and have learned to organize well without a sewing room, so I can comment on what tools to have handy and what tools to have stored. I keep only the tools I use daily (scissors, ripper, 2 kinds of pins, spare needles, machine cleaning tools, etc.) on a tray right beside me (actually it covers the sink, but you won't have that problem!) I also keep a bowl on the tray for thread, and I clip all threads immediately because it makes cleanup so much easier. Everything else I store by category in assorted containers on shelves around the room. 'Closures' holds snaps, hooks, buttons, etc. 'Tools' holds tube turners, bias makers, spare rippers, etc. Everything that comes on a roll goes in one box, interfacing in another big box, and so on. Because I sew all day every day, I seldom forget where anything is, but I also label well. I use a square of plastic taped to the front of the box and tuck an index card inside it so I can add items without rewriting. I buy 3,000 yard spools of thread, so I keep them in baskets with a bobbin holder on top, and each spool has it's own bobbin. A rack would be better if I had the room.

    The one thing I find I need the very most is a table not only the right height, but large enough. Most folding tables are only about 32" x 60", Which is not wide enough for 60" fabric, nor is it long enough for more than one piece of a gown, which means I end up on the floor alot for curtains, draperies, gowns, boat cushions...If your hub is handy, ask him to build a wider, longer, folding table on wheels.

    1. user-209643 | | #17


      I don't have the luxury of a sewing room, but a very handy IKEA-IVAR cupboard system with two small chests of drawers. Of course it forces me to be sensible about buying stuff I don't need (no space), but in cobination with as many plastic bags as I need for the projects I'm working on and a wooden tray for all the stuff I need right away I manage very well thank you. As most of you mention, the table (normal dinner table) is a problem. After a good cutting session I end up with back and knee-pains.

      I force myself to clean up everything once I have finished a few projects. This helps me keep things in order and after cleaning I know what to buy for the next set of projects (I always work on at least three things at a time.

      One thing I would want your advise on: in daylight I can see the printing on my machine-needles perfectely, but at nigt, in lamplight, I can't read it at all. It is a problem, because I sometimes work with different needles at the same time and being as chaotic as I am, I tend to forget which is which. Any suggestions on how to store the needles so I can tell them apart?

      Nynke (from Holland)

      1. kjp | | #18

        Just wanted to add a lighting suggestion.  I have one small ceiling fan fixture in my sewing room (60 watt).  Definitely not enough light, even with my ottlight next to my machine.  In perusing Joanne's one day, I found an Ottlight bulb that screws into a regular socket.  Voila - perfect lighting for the room!  And, I don't have to worry about heat or wasting electricity if I leave the light on.  The bulb wasn't cheap, but it sure cost less than adding new lights to my room. 

        1. ShannonG4d | | #21

          I want to hear more about this lighting......does the Ott light add heat to the room?  I have a real issue with that in my sewing space.  I'm in the market for new lighting, and dh has agreed to have it done.  Will the Ott bulbs work in bullet or pot light fixtures? 


          1. kjp | | #22

            Shannong4d, The ottlight doesn't add heat, it looks like the flourescent light bulbs that you can use to replace ordinary ones.  My sewing room/guest room is about 10 x 11 and I have a ceiling fan with one light bulb.  The biggest problem is that the glass cover does not fit over the bulb since the bulb is longer than an ordinary incandescent bulb.  You also can't put a dimmer on it, but I don't find that necessary.  The light is much truer than a flourescent alternative. 

            I think it might fit in bullet or pot light fixtures, but would not look as good.  I wonder if ottlight makes a fixture that would work?  They certainly make enough lamp options. 


          2. Scooter1 | | #23

               I keep a movable tiered basket (on wheels) next to my machine. Also I have a couple of others that  hold various tools. They're real handy, because I can move them where I need them. I use an interior door as a cutting surface. It's held up on one short end with a bookshelf. The other short end is held up with a chest of drawers. I had to put some boards  on top of the shelf to make them the same height. My dresser fit under the long edge, and I have bins that slide under the other long edge. I covered the door with interfacing to cover any rough edges and have a foldable cardboard cutting board on top. I use chests of drawers to hold fabric and clear plastic bins to hold smaller things. Most of the chest of drawers I bought a yard sales.My sewing machine is placed on top of a 4' by 6' sheet of some kind of smooth particle board. I dug it out of the trash at an auto parts store. It was part of a display they no longer wanted. It is placed against the wall on 2 sides, so it's held up by 2x4 boards nailed to the wall on those 2 sides and held up on the other short side by a metal shelf unit. Because on the depth of the table I can keep large bins of fabric under the table and still have room for my legs as I sew. I attached a clip on lamp with a movable arm to the table. There are shelves above the table that hold small clear plastic bins. I guess you've gotten the idea that there is no wasted space in my sewing room. I have stackable drawers in many sizes that squeeze into every available cubbyhole. I've tried to make it attractive with pictures, wallhangings, etc. so it doesn't just look like a storage room. It's a fun and practical place to work. I'm thankful for it.

        2. louise | | #27

          Dear KJP

          I have a very tiny sewing room, a 55 Sq ft L-shape which I share with a full sized stacked washer and dryer, my (small) pantry wall, a serger, a new Janome economy class sewing machine, an industrial Singer machine, my ironing board oh,........ and a 6-line laundry line for air drying clothes.   I would really like to know where you got the OTT light which screws into an ordinary socket.  Lighting is my big problem too.  The set up I have now works, but is less than optimal 

          RE: sewing room suggestions

          If sewing rooms are in small spaces consider a fan for ventilation to keep you cool.  A couple of machines and a iron produce an impressive amount of heat!  The hardest thing to do is label your fabrics with fibre content and perhaps yardage and date/location of purchase, keep them in view but stored in some way that is accessable visually yet arranged in a compact manner that spares exposure to dust and sunlight.  Although I have an excellent memory for fabric and colour I am now having a few difficulties with "supporting cast fabrics" I purchase in large quantities when on sale, or when "they jump up and bite me on the nose".  I now have about three different black batiste stashes, interfacing in at least three different piles of white supporting cast materials and fabric all over the place! 

          Another suggestion, though not specifically about room structure.  When you finish cutting a project just throw out scraps that are less than 1/2 yard or metre unless you have small children or a quilter/crafter in the immediate family.  Bag up your "gifts" for these people and put them by your front door.  They will be delivered in a timely manner and  your conscience is assuaged.  This is now my policy and my stress level dropped by about 50%, in addition my quilting mom has sewn scraps of my clothing into quilts she has made for my son!


          1. betsy | | #28

            The suggestion to share small scraps is most welcome! We're getting ready to move, and I've really enjoyed culling out what I can pass on to others.

            Regarding table height: to bring a standard "school" or office folding table up to height, I purchased  a length of PVC (plumbing) pipe, wide enough for the table legs to slip into, and 4 end caps for pipes. If you don't have a pipe cutter at home, you might want to use the one at the home improvement/hardware store; have your measurements with you! This is a fantastic solution; the table still can be used for buffets etc. (by removing the pipe-leg extenders), IF you have enough time to clear it.   I figured out this height adjustment after I'd had a crew of women at my house working on costumes for a big show. When they came back for the following year's show, one friend was totally confused till I explained that I'd added the pipes. She was really worried that she'd shrunk~ badly!  Betsy

          2. kjp | | #29

            louise, I got the ott-light bulb from http://www.joann.com  I think it was around $30.  Joann Fabrics are always offering some kind of bargain sale on one or more items, so look for that!  Kind of pricey for a bulb, but it really does work great without glare from other bulbs (not to mention heat!).  I used mine in a ceiling fan fixture & the fan really does help for comfort!  I'm fortunate to have two windows in the room, also. 

            I love your rule about not saving less than 1/2 yd of fabric.  I have been ruthless about throwing away scraps for the past couple of years & have yet to miss anything.  The only exceptions I have are fine dress fabrics that might be used as trim (I try to cut the scraps to a manageable size)  especially black and good cottons I might use as facings in an emergency  (white, denim, black).  I'm also trying to weed out my stash & give to charity any fabrics that I have had for years & haven't used yet (unless I can think of an immediate use or it's a staple color like white or black).

            I would LOVE to be able to afford to put in better shelving & organization in my sewing room, but alas, in addition to lack of funds, I have to be able to use the room as a guest room for holidays.  I think I need one of those TLC or Discovery Channel organization teams to come in and solve my issues!  But then...they'd make me throw away things I absolutely need :)  Karin

          3. louise | | #30


            Thanks for the info about the OTT light I will be getting right on ordering one. 

            I am glad you like the 1/2 yard rule.  Just as an amusing side note, I had finally achieved sewer's  nirvana.  I had managed to sew up my fabrics so that I was actually sewing what I   had just bought!  Bliss!  Then in a quirk of fate, my aunt, a professional seamstress and designer passed away.  I had often referred to her when encountering a problem with a seam finish or how to properly do an advanced technique.  The quirk was that about a year after she passed away, her children called me up and said that "mom had always said to give her fabrics to me"  I think it took them that long just to get to the back of the room.  Now I am backed up hopelessly, but every stitch I make reminds me of her.  It also helped me to be a better and bolder seamstress.  When you haven't paid $30 a yard ( x3-4 yds) for fabric you tend to be bolder with your technique and more willing to alter patterns.  That's when I developed the left-overs rule.  I actually change over my fabrics summer/winter there are so many.  But even though she is gone now, she is still standing over my shoulder, encourageing me to  be brave!

            You and I both can keep our fingers crossed that the TLC people will visit and make order where chaos rules!

            Sew you later



      2. colleency | | #19

        For your needle problem, are you talking about machine needles? maybe you could put just a tiny dab of nailpolish or paint in a spot high enough to not go through the fabric and low enough not to be in the machine. Use different color for different needle types. If it's a hand needle, you could get one of those tomato pin cusions, and keep each type of needle in a specific quadrant.

        1. SewTruTerry | | #20

          Even machine needles can be kept in line with the tomato pincushion idea just be sure to mark the section of the tomato appropriately.

      3. Genie848 | | #31

        Regarding lighting an Ottlite bulb will make a big difference.  On storing the needles, I just picked up a set of clear sheets for a three ring binder meant to hold business cards.  With a little trimming card and all fits in a pocket.  Keeps the needles handy and under control.  Use a marker or sticker on the machine to indicate the size of the needle in use.


  8. DixieQ | | #24

    Well it took 37yrs for me to get a sewing room.  We've only lived here 2 1/2yr.....before I sewed in the basement and hated it.  Photos of my sewing room are at http://community.webshots.com/user/dixieqwv  in the SEWING ROOM folder

    When we looked at this house my DH suggested converting the 2 car garage into my sewing room/GC playroom......so we did it.  We went to IKEA in Pittsburgh and bought a computer table with adjustable legs for my sewing machine and kitchen cabinet w/formica top to use as the cutting table.   A friend suggested having a closet built (it's 14ft long 8 1/2ft high and 42in deep) plus to add the ceiling fan and I'm so glad I did........I'm a slob when I sew. 

    My cutting table also came from IKEA in Pittsburgh.  It's really a free standing kitchen cabinet (ATTITYD 49" cabinet) at $149.00.  They also had formica tops 39"x72" ($70) which we had planned to cut down to fit the cabinet.  Since then we decided to just sit the formica top onto the kitchen cabinet - the hangover makes a great place for bar stools undernearth so our GC also use the space (lunch, crafts, games and more).  The cabinet has 2 shelVES and clear sliding doors so I can place projects or hide fabric.  I really like it and the cutting surface is nice and large.

    When we have parties I use it as a buffet.  Yep, we have big parties in our garage - it's completely carpeted and has it's own sitting room with TV and more.  This space flows into our family room and is terrific for overflow.

    Sorry didn't mean to go and on but never dreamed I'm have my own space.  We love it.  Oh, the garage was already heated and air conditioned by the former owners (she had parties in here too).

    Here are some sewing rooms to look at for ideas:






  9. RapaJ | | #25

    I have a lighting suggestion:  hang a mirror on the wall behind your sewing machine.  It bounces back any lighting that you have, and makes the area around your needle much easier to see!  I used one of those cheapo mirrors that are made for the back of a door, and I hung it horizontally instead.

  10. suesew | | #26

    One thing I forgot to mention that I have purely by accident: we installed a tile looking vinyl throughout our downstairs when we built the house. The squares just happen to measure 6". I cannot begin to tell you how many times the floor has come in very handy for measuring various sewing elements.

  11. queenmom | | #32

    I know I'm jumping in rather late in the game, but haven't been on-board long. Just saw your post. I have a sewing business based in my home and have been sewing professionally for about 11 years now and non-professionally since age 10, or 38 ( yikes !) years. What I learned in all that time is basically this, Don't sew at a table that is too low. Don't try to layout and cut patterns on a surface that is too low. Try to keep the most essential tools close at hand, but not in the way. And most important, try to make your work space as pleasant as possible. I had a counter built for me that I can use as a work surface or cutting surface. My DH built the base and I had a Formica top made for it. It hits me at hip bone height, which means I don't have to bend a lot putting a lot of stress on my lower back. When I work at it with my machines, I have an office chair that is height adjustable. That serves two purposes. It gets me high enough to sew without straining my back and it gets me fanny high enough that my legs don't go to sleep. I'm 5'9'' tall and when my legs are bent and shoved under a table too long, they snooze. Not good! As far as lighting goes, I have a four bulb, four foot fluorescent (sp?) fixture. If you use full spectrum bulbs, your color distortion is much less and I never have a problem seeing day or night. Thank heavens because I sometimes work day and night. I use a lot of drawers to store things in near my work space and I label things so I can find them when I'm in a hurry.(Always!) The thing I said about  being most important, I mean that whole heartedly. If your work space is unpleasant, you'll find any excuse not to be there. I painted mine in some of my favorite colors. Not my most favorite, Yellow, as my daughter pointed out to me "Yellow does nasty things to most people's skin tones, Mom!" Well duh, I didn't think of that. Blue looks good on most everyone and is my second favorite. So my friend and I sponged on pastel shades of blue, aqua, pink, and white. Very pretty and I  got lots of requests to do it for others. Not on your life! For me it was worth it, for anyone else, too much work. Don't stop at painting, decorate, but don't get too carried away. I learned not to use family pictures because my family hated being "on display". Just a few tips that came to mind, hope they help! Sew-on!!

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