Aug 9, 20184812 views

Newbie needs help: How can I set up an awesome sewing space?


I am brand new to sewing. In fact, I'm so new that I don't even know how to use my new Janome properly yet. Before I begin this latest crafting adventure, I need to set up my machine somewhere.
I'm going to be converting my side of our home office into a sewing space, and would love to hear some feedback on any tips and tricks you have for organizing your supplies, notions, and other tools!
  • How do you have your sewing space set up?
  • What are some of the most important things you need handy?
  • What are you favorite storage solutions?
  • What are some things you wish you knew starting out?
Photos are welcomed and encouraged! Please help this newbie get started on a good foot. :)

Ladywatkins59, Susie L, and 12 others

If you have a large enough space, I would suggest looking at IKEA Billy Bookcases with glass doors. Like another reader, I used comic book cardboard to wrap my fabric around like mini bolts. I wanted a cutting table with lots of storage so I took two 36” IKEA kitchen cabinets and two 18” ones, put them together, added casters on the bottom and a plywood top and voila, a cutting table with lots of storage! I also got some IKEA wardrobes to store bins of fabric and other things!! I attached photos below.

If you have a window in your space, place your sewing table perpendicular to it. This may seem awkward, but there is nothing like having natural light at the left -- and most active -- edge of your machine, where all of your actual sewing will take place. You'll have no shadows as long as the daylight lasts, thus no need to supplement lighting! You can then set up a trimming/pressing surface to your right (a small table, perhaps, with a combined cutting and pressing mat and mini-iron on top) and just swivel in your chair from sewing to pressing.
Can not emphasize enough on a sturdy cutting table. The folding type picnic tables eventually start to sag in the middle making all your cuts off. Yes I found out the hard way. I use an old wood dinning table with leaves so I can extend for larger projects. I am looking on how to raise the legs higher, but for now this works. Also a table for your sewing machine that is large enough to hold your fabric.
Check out the bed risers that you can get at Wally World, Home Despot, etc. With this set, you can do some incremental heights.

my husband was kind enough to build me these shelves. He has since built a cutting table and is building me a sewing table that my machine sits inside. I have plastic drawers that fit in the cabinets below for favoring storage. This is my favorite room in our house!

I wish I had learned how to free motion quilt a long time ago
I also took a folding wooden tv tray and made a ironing surface. I have a cutting mat that is a good fit so I can iron seams and trim without leaving my area. I have a small wood rectangle that Hubby cut to fit so my mat has a firm surface. the mat hangs on my sewing table so it stays nice and flat.
hi Liz. I share my dining room for my sewing. I have my 75 year old baby dresser as my works in progress storage and the top drawer is my charms, hexes and layer cakes storage. I have a cart that shat im working on is in. My machine is in front of the double window for plenty of day light and reflected light in the evening. I have rolling drawers that I can hide with material( 2 1/2 strips , small cut for scrappy quilts and of course threads, rulers, bobbins cutters and scissors in organizers in the drawers. everything except the dresser is on rollers for easy hiding when we have company. This also keeps me close to Huddy.
3 most important things: Good lighting; sturdy surface at appropriate height for sewing machine with enough surface space to support fabric when sewing large items such as quilts; and a pressing/cutting surface that is raised to an appropriate height so you are not bending and straining your back when cutting or pressing fabrics. Everything else will “fall” into place as you continue your crafting adventure based on what you are creating and the space you have to create in.
I keep most of my fabric in clear plastic drawers that are stackable. Keeps the dust off my stash and prevents fading from sunlight. I also like to keep my machine near a large bright window as I prefer to sew with natural light. I would also suggest investing in a wool pressing mat, keeps the heat from the iron so well that the underside of the block presses better, mass drop has these mats available from time to time, a great investment
I'm a quilter and a good cutting surface is critical. I had an old dresser and it was just the correct height for cutting. We got a thick piece of plywood and screwed it on through the inside of the dresser. I have a huge cutting mat and it fit perfectly because my husband measured first. Very easy to use and no backache! I liked this idea so much I bought another old dresser on Craig's list and we put the wood on it and wrapped it with insulbright and silver iron board cover. Now I have two custom spots to do important parts of the quilting process and extra storage!
I have a 6’x3’ folding table that I can set up my sewing machine on one end, and my cutting mat and small ironing board on the other. I’m a quilter, though and not a seamstress. I have a huge fabric stash, including yardage and scraps. I keep my yardage wrapped on comic boo cards standing upright, like books, in my bookcases. My scraps are stored in plastic bins (mostly the shoebox size) by color. I have a tall skinny set of plastic drawers for notions, and a basket that lives by my machine for the things I use all the time.

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What an awesome space love it.
Brilliant idea about the comic book boards! They are archival grade and you can get 100 for under 13$ on Amazon!
You have to have a sewing machine table. It doesn't need to be fancy. It could be a use one with cabinets or it could just be a table that could fit the sewing machine. The area where you could place it should have good lighting. Shelves where you could store your fabrics. Threads storage. Shelves could be from Ikea which is cheaper or perhaps if you have book shelves you can use that too. Or you can go to FB and they have a marketplace where you can buy used storage cabinets, if you have all the extra parts for your sewing machine place it in a storage box and label it because you might need it again someday. Small screw drivers, this may come with your sewing machine if it is new, you'll be using it when changing needles or when you want to clean where you put your bobbin in your sewing machine that needs to be clean because of the lint from fabrics and threads. If you don't clean that area it will have skip stitches or your sewing thread will break easily. Always insure to have at least a tune up of your sewing machine ones a year. this book was a good reference for me. I have a challenge because I am in an attic -so slanted ceilings, but the things that have worked well are: good lighting, comfortable chair with adjustable height, wire cart from Target with a board on top wrapped with batting and muslin for a LARGE pressing surface and storage underneath, dressers with my fabric folded "Marie Kondo/card catalog style" to protect from light and dust, and a small drawer unit next to my sewing station for threads, extra needles, bobbins, machine cleaning tools, seam ripper, etc.... I like Home Depot flip top lid storage totes (small size) for my scraps and to contain projects in progress, and they fit in those cube cubby units.
Pinterest really is a great place to get lots of visual ideas! First, it's important to establish what you are sewing! Are you making clothing, quilts, crafts like soft toys or dolls. It really does make a difference as to what your needs are. I quilt, so I like to have a sewing station, a cutting station and a large pressing station. When I had little kids and was just sewing them clothing I just had a sewing station and an ironing board and I used the kitchen table to cut things out. You can spend a fortune, or you can hit thrift stores and garage sales and spend very little with a lot of room inbetween. I really like the large, 3 drawer plastic storage bins from walmart. I haven an old kitchen table up on bed risers so it's the perfect height for me for cutting, and those bins fit under it just perfect and it gives me lots and lots of storage. Sewing patterns, like simplicity, fit in them great layed on their sides. I also like the cube bookcases with cubes for storing. Something with smaller drawers is also great for all those small notions that are easy to lose. Ikea has inexpensive bar racks that you can hang hooks, or storage cups or a small shelf that are great for all those things you want to grab quickly. Good lighting is important! Even just a small task light can make a difference. Get a good comfortable chair. Have fun! Don't wait until you have the perfect space and all the right stuff to start! You really can't know what you like and want until you start doing!
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Sounds like you will need to invest in a good seam ripper also. For just starting out don't go over board with what you might use. You know you want to alter your clothes so a good sturdy place you can cut and design on. When you figure out the direction you enjoy sewing in then get for that
Pam Damour seam ripper. Best I’ve ever had. Plus when it gets dull, they replace it free. I’ve had mine over 2 years, it’s still sharp as a razor. It’s expensive, but totally worth it.
you need a good cutting and planning table. Take two plastic drawer units, decide if you want one three drawers high or four drawers high for back stress comfort, place a large piece of study wood across the top. Measuring a little wider than the top of the units and a little longer than the units. This way you can put all your cutting, and quilting tools in the drawers and your cutting mat on top. All that for the price of the plastic units and a piece of wood. I bought a hobby table cover that you can use for measuring and ironing to cover the top and it helps so much not having to set up an ironing board all the time. Your iron can rest on the table along with spray starch, since the table will be sturdy. Walmart has the units for sure and HomeDepot, Lowes will cut you a piece of wood, making sure that the ironing pad you buy is the same size. . You will also need a set of shelving to hold your fabric stash, with room on top to stack your batting. You can use an old desk with chair for your sewing machine, which also has drawers on the side to store your machine needles, bobbins, scissors, thread. and other necessary sewing needs. I got a three shelf put together bookcase unit to store quilting books and patterns. I also got a pole lamp to go over the corner of the table for when I need extra light. I have an over the door hanger for the closet door to hang my quilt totes and bags. I hang my unquilted tops on clothes hangers in the closet and have open bins beneath for uncompleted projects tied up in grocery bags. These have served me very well for a number of different sewing rooms and for 20 years. Hope these tips help.
Making use of nooks and cranny's with creative storage is essential in small spaces. I had a desk with lots of drawers, a closet that I used for larger items, and wall space with hanging hooks helped with getting things off of tabletops. I had a 2 x 4 folding table on risers that I used for my cutting table. The big thing is to not allow clutter to accumulate, and keep things organized in order to maximize the smaller space that you may have. Also, make sure you invest in having very good lighting.
First off, make a drawing of your room. Then cut out pieces of paper to scale for your sewing table, get a sturdy one. ( I use my old kitchen table.), cutting table and ironing board. Move these around until you get an arrangement you like. I use tall book shelves for my fabric. I sort and stack them by color. I took the closet doors off and put stackable plastic drawers in the closet for extra fabric, all my beading supplies and misc. I have a lot of misc. I hung a couple of pieces of peg board for my rulers and scissors and such. I hung thread racks on the wall for all my threads. Arrange your room so you have to get up and walk to the cutting table and ironing board. Quilters tend to sew for hours on end. We need to move. I also put a small TV in my room on the wall in front of my sewing machine. When commercials come on, I get up and walk somewhere. My cutting table is actually a sturdy board on top of plastic drawers. When my cutting mats wear out, I just put a new one on top of the old one. Lighting is extremely important. If you can, put some nice recessed lights in the ceiling with day light LED bulbs. There are wonderful. Have fun!
I would recommend a folding sewing table, such as a SewEzi table or an Arrow Gidget I or Gidget II. These allow you to break down the space if you need to, but gives you a good sewing surface when you are sewing, rather than being dependent dependent on the puny amount of space that your machine may provide. Big fancy sewing tables are nice, but they tend to take up a lot of room, too.
Don't go crazy building a stash. It's fun to buy new, current fabric for a new project. Also, consider buying higher quality fabric. If you are investing time into making a quilt, you don't want to use fabric that falls apart in the wash. Been there/done that! I work part-time to fund my quilting purchases. It's a great hobby!
Storage containers for fabric and supplies. Dollar store has some good solutions for this An LED strip in the throat of your machine is a must. Extra light easy on the eyes. Cutting mat, rotary cutter. Good measuring tools
Empty Nest is challenging, but when you get a space for sewing, it makes it easier. Some of my favorite things for my sewing space:
  1. Command Hooks on the back of my sewing room door for holding my rulers.
  2. Sewing room painted light blue, with white trim, and white furniture. Very soothing place to spend many hours!
  3. 25 cubicle storage system from IKEA that is wonderful for storing fabric, thread, patterns, books. Table tops and drawer systems from IKEA-- put together to make an L shaped sewing table area.
  4. Comfortable chair and hassock for hand sewing. TV is mounted on the wall for saving space and easy viewing. Small Chrome book for watching Netflix, tutorials, and Craftsy Classes online.
  5. Lots of LED lighting. The best light is a small one that attaches to sewing machine and can be directed, as needed.
  6. Portable Janome Jem 620 for piecing, taking to class, and trips. A bigger Janome Horizon 7700 for quilting. Both are set up in sewing room for multiple projects.
  7. Well stocked with Aurifil 50 wt thread for piecing and quilting. Great, low lint thread.
  8. Press fabrics before cutting and use Best Press. Press at all stages. Pressing is the key to accurate, professional looking projects.
  9. Love the wool pressing mat. Really helps for flat, accurate corners and seams.
  10. Love Kai and Karen Kaye Buckley Scissors.
Belong to many sewing related Facebook groups and Clubs including Pat Sloan, Splendid Sampler, Penguin and Fish Crafters, Jacquelynne Steves, Art of Home Club,
  1. Truelove Quilts for You, Wool Applique.
  2. Love Craftsy/Bluprint Online Classes! Learned so much about sewing and quilting; can go at own pace, ask questions, and sew at home in PJs!
You can set it up as you use it. I would recommend you get a sewing table for your machine. A table that will allow you to set it so it is even with the top of the table and at a comfortable height for you. You can really hurt your back and shoulders but just setting it on a table. Ergonomics are very important. I have the following Arrow Sewing Cabinets 601 Gidget I , Sewing Table, White have a counter height table for my cutting and putting the quilt sandwiches together. Good luck!
I have an old table on risers that I use for a cutting table. The extra height saves my back and there's plenty of room underneath for plastic storage bins for all my projects. My sewing machine is on a table I got at Menards, legs sold separately. Like many tables it would wobble when I got to sewing too fast so I put an additional leg in the middle of the back side. Problem solved. I also cut a hole in the top and attached a shelf below so my machine sits down in it. You can buy this kind of sewing table or DIY it for less if you have the tools, instructions available online. This is great for quilting but probably wouldn't be useful for garment sewing. My space has evolved over time as my needs have changed and I expect yours will, too. Good luck and have fun.
You don't have to decide on everything all at once, especially since you are new to sewing. I've been sewing for 55 years and have sewed on different surfaces as I moved my household (18 times over the years) - an end table with a knee space cut out in the bottom shelf, with a storage bench to sit on, a card table, sitting on a folding chair, dining room tables, sitting on dining chairs, and now recently on tables made for sewing, sitting on office type chairs. Ahh, definitely my favorite. I have my Janome on a Janome Universal Sewing Table, which I love for it's small size and stability. I have my Pfaff sewing/embroidery machine on a Tailormade Quilter's Vision and Chest cabinet, which I also love for the work space and storage space, with a leaf that will open up if I need space for a larger quilt. I put my serger on a small nightstand that has 2 drawers and a bottom shelf that holds my Scan 'N Cut. I have found that I will use my serger more if I don't store it in a closet or cabinet. This stand sits to the right of my Janome, so I just have to turn my chair to use it. My ironing board is set up between the two sewing tables. One of the small dining tables I used to sew on is now my cutting table, with space below for my sewing machine roller bag and embroidery unit bag, and next to it is a cabinet with 2 shelves behind doors. I have my Accuquilt cutter on top of it with the dies stored inside. This current arrangement has all taken place over the past year, as I was getting used to what I hope is my permanent house. Start with a sewing surface that works for you and a good, adjustable chair on wheels and good lighting. Sew awhile and figure out what you need to go forward. I think if you make a bunch of decisions now, you'll either get lucky with your choices or have some regrets. I had a folding cutting table with a cutting mat that fit the top, and I hated it. Sold it. My sewing tables are next to windows, but when the sun goes down, the lighting is not great. An estimate for adding wired lighting was way over my budget, so I put hanging lamps next to both tables, as well as between my cutting table and the Accuquilt cabinet. I have sewing and quilting thread on wall mounted racks and notions in a 7 drawer cabinet behind my Pfaff. All my fabric is on metal wire shelves. Larger cuts are on bolts on the tops (fabric stores will give you empty bolts for free); collections in plastic shoe boxes, and I have larger plastic boxes for pieces sorted by color. You can use large, clear plastic bags over the bolts, if pet hair and dust are a concern, plus the bolts will be easier to move on and off the shelf. I have books and binders on a small 3 shelf folding bookcase, and I have other supplies on the same metal shelving as my fabric, craft supplies on 2 stacked folding bookcases. I have a closet in my long arm room, and I use it to store quilts ready to quilt, on hangers, and have another folding bookcase in there that holds pillow forms and packaged batting. All of this has evolved over many years, so if you have limited space, take some time figuring it out. Anything that has multiple usage options, space above or below is worth considering. Your storage needs and working space needs may change over the years as you add machines or equipment, and if you're like every sewist/quilter I know, you will need lots of space to store fabric. Not everything you put in this space has to be designed for sewing. I found a wire shoe rack that holds my plastic boxes of embroidery thread, and it takes up very little space. I've changed how I use different pieces as I've moved around, so think about how you could use something, if your first option doesn't work well. Those folding bookcases are great, night stands and small tables can be tucked in a corner. One thing I did when I moved was make paper footprints of some of the furniture to see how it would fit before I moved it in, so if you have measurements of what you're considering, try that. Or use a couple of tape measures to mark out the space. You can buy exam table paper and kraft paper on Amazon, and the kraft paper can be reused for wrapping packages.
Get acquainted with Pinterest as to setting up your space. You know how much space you have. This is what I have been doing as we downsize. To use your Janome machine. If you purchased it at a Quilt shop they should offer classes called “Owners classes”. If not google a Janome dealer in your area to see if you can set up a few basic lessons to learn the basics. If not YouTube has several videos. Going to Quilt Shows also is great way to see machines & get demo’s on them. I would not rely on Guilds to learn. They usually cover events & Speaker & social time. Start small with what you need. Dollar Tree has inexpensive options for organizing. Good luck!
If you’re adding outlets, consider locating them at “desk height” so they’re more accessible. Add more than you think you’ll need, and preferably a dedicated one for your with a higher rating...I think it’s 20 amps, but don’t quote me. There are oodles of groups on Facebook and lots of good ideas. How you want your space will depend somewhat on what you sew. Quilters need larger work surfaces, generally speaking, than do garment sew-ers. As a garment sew-er, you may want a dress form, as a quilter, a design wall. If you do quilting, machine embroidery or specialty garments like wedding gowns, you need more room than if you’re sewing for children or small home dec items ...I do a bit of quilting, but I’m primarily a garment sew-er, with a particular fondness for vintage children’s clothing. Therefore an ironing board and a sleeve board are very important in my sewing room. I know there are a lot of quilters who prefer an alternative to a regular ironing board, but it’s a necessity to me. And even if you iron clothing, the ironing board is a plus, IMO. As to what I keep handy...on my. As a newbie one of the most important things to remember is that pressing is vital to a good job. Don’t skimp on the pressing. Buy quality in your main tools, like good scissors (I like Kai best, and prefer the professional series), maintain your machine, both routine at home cleaning, oiling only as directed in your manual, yearly service. In my opinion the time you invest in your sewing is the most valuable component, and it only makes sense to buy good thread, and quality fabric. It makes sense while you’re learning to find cheaper fabrics, but buy the best you can as your skills grow. This isn’t exactly something I wish I’d known in the beginning (I’ve been sewing for 50+ years!) but, this is important info for 2019: please be aware that not everyone you find online doing tutorials, writing a blog, selling patterns, etc., is truly qualified. I’ve encountered some really bad information, and some terrible patterns. There are some very personable people, who have a marvellous talent for style, colour, and combining different fabrics, but they lack the technical expertise to design patterns or teach others, because they don’t know themselves. And this is true of some of the better known online sewing personalities! The gaps in their knowledge can result in your frustration, wasted fabric, etc. Kwik Sew patterns have always been good, well designed with logical and well explained construction methods. A few years back they were bought out by McCalls and I haven’t bought very many new ones, so things may have changed. It makes sense to do things efficiently, but some shortcuts give less than desirable results. Enjoy your sewing and focus on learning and making something beautiful, “handmade, not homemade,” rather than trying to get it done in the least amount of time possible. I was going to recommend a good sewing book, but I just may have written one here 😉. Seriously though, there are several good sewing books, like Threads, Vogue...many more that focus on basic construction all the way to advanced techniques. Yes, there is a lot of information available online, and it’s free, but as a beginner, you may not be able to distinguish between the reliable and accurate and the very pretty but sadly lacking. Hoping by now you are enjoying your sewing!
I have two tables my husband made with doors and tables legs from Lowes . We put them back to back where I have one sewing machine side and other side for cutting mat and my serger . I now have a large working area for quilting and sewing !

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Great idea with the doors and legs as tables. When I was a kid, my dad did a similar thing for parties. After the parties, he'd take off the legs and store the doors/legs. Thanks for helping me to remember something from 60 year's ago!
Are you talking about a design wall? We used floor moulding and covered a big piece of thick poster board with flannel. It's about 7' X 9' and is very helpful for checking color flow and other composition issues!
All great suggestions from everyone. Especially the “L” work station and lighting.
I have 2 tables set up like an L. One table has a cutting board and ironing mat, while the other has my machine. I have a rolling chair between the 2 so I can easily cut, iron, and sew without having to get up! I usually end up standing to cut larger things anyways, haha.
I use two of the 9 space cube shelves set up back to back for fabric storage and a cutting table. A large cutting mat fits on it and the height is perfect for cutting , you’re not bending over killing your back . You can store fabric directly on the selves or get the pull out fabric bins that fit the cubes. I use different colored bins and try to store corresponding colored fabric in each. if you don’t have room for an ironing board use a wooden TV dinner tray stand, cover it first with insulate batting then another layer of batting and finally with fabric. Allows you to have a ironing surface at your sewing level right next to you and folds away when not in use..