The Perks of Cleaning Your Sewing Room

Every now and then, it’s a great idea to clean your sewing space. Maybe you have a huge room that gets overwhelmed with clutter. In that case, you already know you need to clean, but when you have to choose between cleaning or actually sewing, I know what I would pick! Maybe you’re the type who puts everything away carefully, so your space is always nice.. but you might not remember what’s at the bottom of those carefully-packed sewing boxes!

Me, I cleaned my office thoroughly over the last two days. Partly because of necessity, and partly because I find I work more efficiently in a tidy, organized space! I finally finished counting and packing up the Minoru Jacket patterns, and stacks of boxes had been looming in my workspace since the pattern launch. Literally, the boxes were piled so high you couldn’t see me from the doorway. Remember these sweater photos? I’m dodging boxes and leaning against my sewing machine just to fit into the camera’s view. So when I had an opportunity to move these boxes into storage (yay!) I also took the opportunity to clean house.

Here’s how nice it looks now!

So nice! It makes me so much happier to walk in here now. Mr Sewaholic came by to see the freshly-cleaned office and have a coffee, and he said something like ‘it looks like a real office now, not like you’re working out of a storage locker.’ Thanks, I guess?

Scary ‘before’ photos:

So cluttered, so overwhelming. I feel like when you let your space get cluttered, you also let your life get cluttered. And it stops me from being as productive as I can be. Told you that I could completely hide at my computer behind the stacks of boxes and totes!

And here’s a before and after shot, comparing the same views before the clean-up and afterwards. (Anyone else have the tendency to use up every available square inch of space, before admitting it’s time to do something about it?)

Top photos are before, bottom photos are after. So much better! You can walk in a straight line from the door to the desk now.

I’m not really qualified to tell you how to clean your sewing space, considering what it looks like in my before photos. It’s going to be different for everyone. There’s no set rules, there’s no set timeline. It’s your space. And there’s nothing worse that someone nagging you to clean, right?

So here are my ‘non-tips’ for cleaning and de-cluttering your sewing space. Just some things I noticed as I cleaned up, and some good things that happen when you do eventually clean your sewing space!

Cleaning up your sewing space

Set aside the right amount of time. Or else the cleaning will take over, and you won’t be able to do anything else until the cleaning is done. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll get about halfway through, decide that’s good enough, and heap everything into the nearest drawer.

Give everything a place. If it doesn’t have a proper resting place, you might find yourself shifting the same few piles of clutter around and around to make room, and never putting them away. I have a drawer for tools, a box for notions, thread racks for thread, etc. If a tool gets used, I throw it back in the drawer afterwards.

Make it easy on yourself. Instead of having an overly organized system, I’ve decided to use one drawer for small tools, and a bigger drawer for bigger tools. There are only two places that a pair of scissors is allowed to go. Patterns go in a filing cabinet, but they’re not sorted by any rhyme or reason. If it was hard to put things away, I’d be less inclined to do it at the end of the day. Don’t set yourself up with an organizational system that’s not user-friendly!

Can’t keep your pattern or fabric collection tidy? Hide it! You know those lovely photos of fabric stacked on open shelving, perfectly folded and arranged in rainbows by colour? That’s just not how everyone works. If your fabric collection has become a big scary pile, then hide it in a tub, box, or drawer! (Bonus: you’ll protect your fabric from fading and sun damage.)

These patterns are all different sizes, and look messy on display, so I’m hiding them in a file cabinet!

The perks of cleaning up

You find things that have been missing! I found my tire gauge (useful for checking tire pressure of my bike tires, missing for at least a month), a can-opener, patterns I’d forgotten about, and fabric I knew I bought, but hadn’t seen since I moved in here.

I loved this dress pattern when I first got it, but completely forgot about it until now!

You see fabrics and patterns with fresh eyes. It’s easy to love everything the moment you get it, and equally easy to forget about it once it’s packed away. Or maybe it’s the wrong season for that winter dress pattern, but you see it next to a cotton voile and all of a sudden it becomes a great spring dress!

Sometimes having fabrics spill on top of each other lets you see them in new and exciting combinations. Mess isn’t always bad – sometimes it leads to creative fabric pairings! (Just make a note of the idea, and then put them away again.)

This pile of fabrics fell together naturally! Put my scarf on top and knocked the whole thing to the floor… I see a Pendrell blouse from the printed rayon, a black skirt lined with the hot pink lining, worn together with the yellow scarf!

You might already have what you thought you needed to buy! I found a couple of identical cuts of cream rayon lining. Oops.

You’re a little more ruthless when it comes to keeping and tossing things. When it’s a choice between having space and keeping old scraps, I’ll choose space over scraps! I tend to keep just about everything just in case but now, I know it’s better to pass it on to someone who can use it if I’m not a hundred percent sure it’ll get used. (Things like scraps, the last half-yard of fabric, failed projects, miscellaneous trim ends – those are the kinds of things I’d rather get out of my way than hang on to!) It’s easier to get over my pack-rat tendencies if I’m in the cleaning spirit.

I am a much happier camper now that my office is clean! It’s a fun place to be again, now that I’m not surrounded of heaps of boxes and piles of fabric. It feels great!

So much floor space! I love it!

How often do you clean house in your sewing area? What’s the best thing you found after cleaning up? Any tips for organizing and keeping your sewing space tidy, without investing in a ton of special containers or equipment?

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36 Responses to The Perks of Cleaning Your Sewing Room

  1. Graca December 14, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    Oh, what a great idea! I have a filing cabinet filed with university papers and journal articles that I don’t know why I’m hanging onto… I should clear that out and dedicate some space for my pattern collection! Love the post.

  2. Seraphinalina December 14, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    This is definitely a weak spot for me. First, I don’t like cleaning. Second, my sewing room becomes the dumping ground when we have guests and can’t hide as much in the guest room. Third, I just don’t like cleaning up. I do the “patch job” from time to time so I can get at my table and sewing machine, but I’m still stepping around boxes of extra books or Grandma’s wineglasses or… sigh. Maybe 2012 will be a more organized year.

  3. Juliette December 14, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    This is like pouring bleach on my wounds! My sewing workshop is in bits and it needs more than just clearing- there is a lot of handy storage props ( like the thread board, for example) that is still on my “to get” list) Yours looks so organized and simply makes me oh soooo jealous ))))) Going to do my own clearance after this is posted ))))

  4. Wag Doll December 14, 2011 at 6:39 am #

    Oh well done, I can’t think among clutter so I def need a tidy space. I only recently got a dedicated corner for my sewing so it’s still quite neat…for now :-)

  5. CGCouture December 14, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    “Anyone else have the tendency to use up every available square inch of space, before admitting it‚Äôs time to do something about it?”

    Guilty as charged. :-( I have to do a big sewing room cleanup at least 2x a year, and I’ve been trying harder to do minor cleanings between projects–which I’ve discovered only works if I stick to one project at a time. My favorite thing to use to store stuff is pegboard. I can hang my scissors, rulers, french curves, button cards, thread–you name it. If it can be hung up, I’ve got it up there. I bought a small two drawer file cabinet from Goodwill for like $5 and I use one drawer to store *most* of my patterns in, and the other drawer is being used to hold our important household stuff. If I could get my hands on a four drawer file cabinet I’d snap it up. My fabric is mostly organized on my fabric wall shelf that I built a while back (that project cost about $20 and it’s VERY sturdy) though I’ll confess that the bottom shelf is not nearly so organized (knits just don’t stack very well!)

  6. Joen December 14, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Cleaning up my sewing room and basement cleanout are on my January to do list! You have given me incentive to organizing my sewing room once again!

  7. Laura December 14, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    “Or, if you‚Äôre like me, you‚Äôll get about halfway through, decide that‚Äôs good enough, and heap everything into the nearest drawer.”
    Oh gosh, that sounds so familiar. I’m really, really good for the first half an hour or so, but at some point my concentration gives out and it all just goes back in piles.

    This is a fab post – I think the best advice often comes from people who aren’t ‘naturals’ at something. Naturally tidy people don’t always understand what the problem is! These are great tips, and so much of what you’re saying rings true. My sewing room is also the piano room and DIY room at the moment – hopefully when we finally decorate it, I’ll have a place for everything!

    Your office looks lovely – all those patterns lined up look just fabulous :)

  8. Clare December 14, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    The only thing that motivates me to tidy properly is having guests over, so I’d add that to my list of tips :D And proper storage really helps (your Ikea shelves are great, but even just having a bunch of baskets around that stuff can at least be thrown into so it’s not all over the floor can go some of the way) – as they say, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ (even if I can never put that into practice, it’s good to aspire to!)

  9. Bri December 14, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Well your sewing room looks fantastic, I feel like I’m waging a never ending battle in mine endlessly trying to sort everything out!

  10. molly December 14, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    I usually have to do a quick pick up after each project because stuff gets strewn across the floor.

  11. Zena December 14, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I just finished reading “Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back” by Brooks Palmer (http://www.amazon.ca/Clutter-Busting-Letting-Whats-Holding/dp/1577316592), which has inspired me to do a general purge.

    We tend to focus on the “stuff isn’t put away” issue, but the deeper issue is often “too much stuff in the first place”. The author figures that 75% of the stuff in the average person’s house is clutter.

    Unfortunately there’s no chapter on purging for sewers, crafters, etc., for whom collecting a lot of raw materials (that may go unused) is often seen as a virtue, but I’m trying to interpret the principles in a way that makes sense for me. One thing I generally find to be true is that if something makes you feel heavy, it’s clutter and should be gotten rid of.

    I have to tidy up my sewing space when it’s not in use as it’s a corner of the living room and I can’t just close the door on it!

  12. Leah December 14, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    I literally just cleaned my sewing space (i.e. my living room, tiny apartment) last night! I reorganized my fabric storage/coffee table (it’s a chest) and found things I had completely forgotten about. Magazines always tell you, and it’s true, folding things makes them smaller. Throwing them in a pile, sadly, does not.

  13. alice December 14, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    ooh, organizing and keeping a sewing space reasonably tidy – i find it a constant struggle! I don’t have too big of a pattern or fabric collection, and so storing them in boxes that fit the ikea expedit shelves works for me. what i find hard: trims. I’m now folding them around small pieces of cardboard (from used cereal boxes) – just like how you buy them. It seems to be working.

    Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve downloaded two apps for my ipod – fabric stash and pattern pal – that i’ve been using to catalogue my fabric and pattern collection. they aren’t perfect, but it’s so wonderful to have all of that information at my fingertips – especially when i’m at the fabric store. I tend to be a scrap hoarder, and forcing myself to measure, catalogue and organize them – into ziplocs and cardboard boxes – helped me get rid of a bunch… if i can’t bear to type it in to an app, then it’s not worth keeping around!

  14. Lauren December 14, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    i keep my sewing room relatively clean, save for bits of thread on the floor (neverending!) and the small pile of current work-in-progress that never leaves my cutting table. my best advice is to clean up your mess every time you sew – put away things as you’re using them, or at the end of the sewing session. i try to straighten as i work, and then do a semi-deep clean at the end of every project. i hate starting projects in a messy room – it makes me feel so flustered & disorganized.

    i like to keep my stuff on display so i know what i have – plus, it’s pretty! – but i know that doesn’t work very well for some people.

    my best find was a gorgeous piece of floral rayon – found it in my scrap bin. it was almost a yard of fabric and i have no idea where it came from lol.

  15. K-Line December 14, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    I’m a clean freak, so I re-tidy my room after every project – and I sew most weekends (though not lately). If I can’t find a space for it, I don’t keep it.

  16. Amelia December 14, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Anytime I get something new I like to clean my space. It’s like I want to introduce this new item into a tidy atmosphere, it’s a strange urge I get. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a a new piece of fabric, pattern or dress or a new full size harp! I do not have a problem getting rid of things. I don’t like to have a lot of stuff hanging around this is mainly for practical reasons since my house is so small and if I don’t watch out I’ll drown in stuff. My sewing space and living space are one so I have to put things away when I’m done. I have two shelving units in my living room that hold contain my sewing notions. I started with one but it slowly started creeping onto the second one. I have an assortment of “boxes” that I keep on the shelves for storage of notions, tools and miscellaneous items. The fabric I keep folded neatly and piled on two dedicated fabric shelves. My carpet is scary though, I try to vacuum once a week, the thread and the wool lint from the rug mingle to create these hideous rug slugs, like dust bunnies but way gnarlier.

  17. Miss Crayola Creepy December 14, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Every time after I finish sewing I put things away immediately. Part of the reason is because I like to be organized and also because my “sewing studio” is in the spare room which isn’t technically “my” room.

  18. Frances December 14, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    I’m cleaning my sewing room today. It’s a complete disaster. I’m conforming to all the college kid stereotypes – eating ramen, not having a clean dish in the house, and laundry is a nightmare. I’m using the Christmas break to (hopefully) end all that.

    My sewing room is actually a joint office space for my husband and me, which makes it worse, because you seriously cannot walk in there! I have these tubs of stuff that I brought up with me when we moved in months ago and occasionally I’ll tear through them looking for something, the result being that things are NOT stacked neatly in … well, in stacks, but are instead somewhat spread out over the floor.

    I’ve got the storage space, I’m just not storing anything in it.

    My dream is to have a clean, organized space. Every time I buy a cut of fabric, I want to wash it; dry it; trim off the threads; iron it; fold it; label how much yardage there is, what type of fabric it is, and when I bought it; and put it away. These days I generally am only able to get to the washing and drying part. And that’s probably only because it looks so pretty in the basket.

    Today, that ends! I’m gonna kick some sewing-room butt! Nice to know I’m in good company.

  19. Amy December 14, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Your office looks great! I’ve been described as a “neat freak,” and my sewing space is a tiny corner of the dining room (which, in my one-bedroom apartment, is really also part of the kitchen and living room) that I pass by every day, so I’m constantly tidying it. The good thing is that I just haven’t been sewing long enough to have collected more than a tupperware full of fabric (hidden behind the couch) and a drawer full of patterns and supplies, so tidying it doesn’t take much time. I do think about how much fun it would be to spread out into a craft room, but then my poor husband would never see me!

  20. Rachel W. December 14, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    I feel chagrined– I would call this “organizing,” not “cleaning.” My sewing room usually needs both organizing AND cleaning! Doesn’t anyone else get those little tumbleweeds of stray fuzz and thread clippings? ;) (I *love* the term ‘rug slugs,’ Amelia– perfect to describe those balls of wool dust bunnies!)

    Most of my fabric in the closet, stacked (okay, thrown!) on those heavy-duty plastic snap-together shelving units (bought ‘em all at yard sales!). Sitting at a sewing machine does weird things to my back, so my sewing ‘table’ is three of those shelves that reach to about waist-height. I also have a little dresser (also yard sale, whoohoo!) for patterns, handspinning supplies, embroidery stuff, and zippers/bias tape/buttons. I have a comfy rocking chair for handsewing/husband keeping me company, but it’s such an inviting clutter magnet!

    I really meant to clean my space before going away from Christmas (you know you’re in a bad way when you drop a bit of flannel and have it come up covered in the thread clippings from a dozen previous projects, ouch), but who knows if that’ll happen!

  21. Brumby December 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I just finished my studio last weekend, take yours before, and multiply by ten – it was BAD! There are still a few odds and ends I need to finish, oetting a few more storage contains for my jewellery bits, and a hanging rail for my leathers, but it feels so much better, I’m itching to get in there and create! I agree that storing fabric on shelves doesn’t work for me, it leaves it exposed not only to sun damage (learnt the hard way) it also gets dusty and dirty in my house.Not because I don’t clean, but because dog hair inevitably clings to it, or the dust which is still a constant in the city from the liquefaction from the earthquakes throughout the year blows through during our strong north west winds. I only have to wash it again prior to use, which delays construction time, and wastes water and time.

  22. Irene December 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    I’ve realized that things have to be relatively tidy for productive sewing to happen, so I do try to put things away as I go (sort of the same principle as washing dishes as you cook). I recently moved the sewing “room” into a different part of the basement where there are actual walls and ceiling, so I’m still refining the organization system. I like things to be at the point of use. Twice a year I move fabric around, putting the stuff that will be in season in a more visible space. That’s how I keep tabs on what’s in the stash. Funny how you forget what you have if you haven’t looked at it in a while. Sewing is, unfortunately, a messy, dusty business and vacuuming and dusting happen on a very regular basis.

  23. Judith December 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I am a little on the OCD side of things when it comes to keeping the my sacred sewing area in working order. There is something quite satisfying about seeing all my machines and room in a fluff free state and ready for their next challenge. I think we all have a little ‘sewing OCD’ inside us waiting to be let loose a few times each year. And I am sure I am not the only obsessive one out there…

  24. Debi December 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I don’t think I’ve told you this yet but I did post on karen’s blog awhile back when she asked about sewing dreams. I actually dreamt that you were coming to visit me in Scotland and I only had 2 hours to clean my sewing room! hahahahhahaha.. How weird is that? Apparently, I need to clean my sewing room ; ) Love this post!

    • Tasia December 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

      Ha! Dreams about me coming to visit and rushing to clean up! Of all people, I would completely understand a cluttered and messy sewing room :) Dreams are weird!

  25. Lucy December 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Um, can I ask why you had a can opener among your sewing stuff? ;-)

    I have a hard time with my sewing space – I tend to operate on ‘organised chaos’ but my man also sews and he likes things tidy. That gets interesting. So what will often happen is he’ll tidy up and then I can’t find anything. I do try to keep things kind of tidy as I go, though – rather than letting trimmings fall on the floor, they go in the bin – but I’m afraid I’m just not a particularly tidy person! Until it crosses my line and I go all OCD on it, but that’s normally just once a year.

    • Tasia December 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

      Ha, because it’s also my office and warehouse, as well as being my sewing space! Most people won’t find can openers and tire gauges among their sewing supplies. :)

      I think organized chaos is OK, until I realize it’s stressing me out! Then I do a big old clean-up and purge and sort. Same thing for me – it crosses some sort of imaginary line and then I have to deal with it, right then.

  26. Erika December 15, 2011 at 4:19 am #

    I’ve discovered I can’t be creative if my sewing area is messy. As my sewing room is also my bedroom (yup, in that order. I have a huge sewing room/bedroom, 21 square meters) that means I also need to tidy up any scattered laundry as well as the sewingreleted stuff before I can start to sew. Otherwise I just end up avoiding my sewing table, which is a shame.
    But I totally agree on your idea of some general storage sorting but to not take it overboard! The scissors somewhere in that direction, buttons over there etc. Makes it easy to clean and easy to use =)

  27. Ellen December 15, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    My studio’s ebb and flow is very similar to yours – I think the trick is to respect our natural way of working and producing.

    My tips: I have a big kitchen garbage can at the end of my sewing table – I just sweep my hand across my table and all the clippings land in the can. I also have a chest of drawers next to my machines for tools and thread and notions. And a chair on wheels, and music!

  28. karen December 15, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Hi Tasia – I thought you might find this blog post around a similair topic entertaining!
    http://thatsnotmyage.blogspot.com/2011/12/alexander-shulmans-office.html

  29. StephC December 16, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    I really love that you put together a top, skirt, and scarf… and also matched the skirt lining. :)

    Great post on cleaning, I could not agree more. When it’s a REALLY huge mess, I tidy by sections. Eventually, I built something of a working system… It helps so much with workflow.

  30. Krysta December 16, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    The first thing I noticed in any of the pictures was your Cinder scarf, which is GORGEOUS and I have the pattern queued.

    That kind of sums up my attitude about cleaning, which is to vaguely consider it but always have something more exciting to do. I have to worry about keeping my sewing area tidier now that the fiance and I are moving into an open concept loft, where I can’t hide any of my messes!

  31. cassandra December 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    My sewing space has become almost every flat surface in my tiny apartment. My boyfriend is SO done with it. He actually asked me to clean it up for his holiday present. It’s that awful. Sunday! I’ll definitely do it on Sunday!

  32. Bela Saudade December 17, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    I have to have some semblance of order or I can’t be productive. This is basically minimal order, because I’m not neat while in the process. Things get thrown on the spare bed and messed about quite a bit, BUT I make it a point to put the important things in their place before I leave my sewing room else I will not be able to find anything when I am ready to proceed. Folders, binders, clear plastic boxes for notions keep me sane. Otherwise, it’s just too much since I tend to sew in bits and pieces. I need a recognizable “mise en place” to pick up where I left off.

    Also, I’m a spendthrift when it comes to sewing notions (a bad pre-recession habit I have to break). If I can’t find it, I will buy it and end up with 3 of everything. Being economical really requires some organization.

  33. Pauline December 18, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I don’t have a sewing room and that’s probably for the best! As I sew in the living room, I try to store things after each session. It forces me to keep my little place clean and organise. I don’t have a big storage place either (two small boxes for tools and notions) and only a little cabinet for fabric. But it would be nice to have a little more space, even if it means cleaning more often!

  34. Janice December 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    My sewing room is my living room, so I’m forced to clean up after each time, which is for the best I think. My storage space is the last bottom two shelves of my hallway closet and some boxes, but it works out well and forces me to finish my projects.

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