The topic of “sewing rooms” or “studios” or “creative spaces” is one that comes up often among quiltmakers. Since the number and kind of quilts you produce can be directly related to the state of the workspace in which you produce them, this topic is a good place to start.
Stand in the doorway of your sewing space (even if it is looking across your dining room table!), and look at it with fresh eyes. What do you see? Does the space invite you in, or repel you, because of stacks and stacks of projects making you feel you don’t know where to turn next; because to work on a project you have to search for its various pieces?? A quilter’s sewing space is often the only place in the house that she can truly call her own; the quilt in progress in the wall may seem like the only thing in her life that she can truly control, and steer down a positive path. But sometimes this space becomes a place to “stash” treasures: fabric, quilting books and magazines, family or quilt show photos to be organized “later”; too many knickknacks that looked oh, so appealing at the quilt show, but that now visually clutter the space.
How does the space feel? Is it light, airy, colorful, and pristine, or is it cramped, cluttered, dusty, and crammed with multiple unfinished projects? How much clear table space is there, around your sewing machine, or on your cutting table? What project is on your design wall? How long has it been there?
Lest you think of me as someone who doesn’t need to take her own advice, this is a current photo of my design board: it is a quilt I was making for my friend Linda Gunby for Christmas! The last time I touched it was the Christmas holidays! However, my travel schedule is lightening after this coming trip, and I look forward to getting down to business in the studio, as many other deadlines loom!
Where are your tools and supplies? Are they all together (threads, cutting tools, fabrics, designing supplies) in easy reach, or are they scattered in various places throughout the room, with some hidden away in drawers and on dark closet shelves?
What is the view over your sewing machine as you sit and sew? Do you look out over a garden (or at least through a window to the yard), or at a blank wall? Do your eyes easily go from the garden of your stacked fabrics to the garden of your yard? Do you feel expansive when you sit at your sewing machine, or hunched over and cramped because all around you are teetering towers of unfinished projects and fabric waiting to be put on the shelf? Is there a clear pathway from your sewing machine to your design wall to your ironing board?
This is the view out the window just to the left of my cutting table: the heather garden along the front driveway, with bird feeders hanging from the maples in the background. The view out the back windows of the studio is also marvelous, as the previous owners of this house made the entire yard a wonderful perennial garden! (Hooray! No grass to mow! No leaves to rake!!!)
Is there a separate comfortable chair in which you can sit and read, sit and stitch, sit and write in your journal, or just sit? Is there a door you can shut, to be in peace and quiet in your creative space? Do you ever put a vase of fresh flowers in this creative space, just for the joy of the color?
If your answers to the above questions displease you, and the plaque I bought a few years ago “This Mess is a Place” applies to your creative space, what are you going to do about it? What if you took a day, or an evening or two a week, and set about clearing out and organizing your creative space so that it draws you in, and rejuvenates your sense of creativity? And when you begin that work, pretend your space is someone else’s—how would you “fix it” for them? Sometimes detachment from ownership of disorganization helps us see it with fresh eyes, and solutions come more quickly. Fortunately, clearing clutter is like gardening: even a little effort seems to make a big visual difference.
I had a crash course in organizing my sewing space when I had my carpets cleaned a year or so ago. I had to take everything out of my studio except the sewing tables, the cutting table, and of course the bookshelves of fabric. Everything I took out went to the basement. What a revelation! The room became a pristine, manageable, magnetic place to my creative spirit: a place I WANTED to be! So for a few months I did not bring anything into the studio except what I needed for the quilt top being designed and/or sewn, or the project being machine quilted. What a glorious time period that was! If I worked on a short-term project in addition, it was easy to put away what I had used.
But then I had to make a shipping center in the basement, which required getting rid of some of what was located there. And so I began the process of getting rid of “stuff”, quilting and otherwise, and boxes again appeared around the fringes of the studio. Though the sorting and pitching was slow going at first, I soon felt more and more liberated the more I sent out the door; and I find that the faster I make a decision on a given item, the better. I’m funneling goods to Goodwill and other like organizations, quilting guilds, charity quilt projects, and most recently, to the UW Extension Service Textiles and Clothing Advisors organization. They have a garage sale once a year to raise money for the teaching of sewing in the schools. So at least I get a tax receipt for these goods; the thought of getting them all ready for a garage sale is overwhelming, and not the way I choose to use my time.
Attending workshops is a good way of re-examining the workspace you need or want. This is the view of one of our Pieceful Harbor Retreat classrooms. Each student had a table to herself, with ample design wall space. Tables were arranged in a “U” shape around the room, which helped students get acquainted more quickly.
The refreshing insight of a workshop is having only what you need for the project at hand around your workspace, without the distractions of everything else in your studio at home.
Whereas I once held on tightly to “all things quilty”, I now know that there are very few of these that I will actually use; I am letting go of having to have things, and can let go of them more freely when I picture the joy someone will have, being able to buy such treasures at a garage sale price! I’m letting go of surplus tools, fabric scraps, outdated fabrics, quilting books, unfinished projects, “quilty” wall hangings and knickknacks. It is a good feeling…even though I have a long way to go toward that pristine, uncluttered look in my creative space (without having more hidden in the basement!), the sense of inner peace I feel as I picture it in my future gives me enthusiasm to keep sorting and pitching. There is a saying that by getting rid of clutter, you are opening a space for more good things to come into your life; and reviving my creative spirit every time I step into my studio will definitely be a good thing…