For the last four years, I’ve been a nomadic stitcher – moving my sewing gear around from kitchen to sitting room, packing away again when it’s time for work, dinner or when my flatmate came home. Later this month, due to a change in living circumstances, I’ll finally put down roots in my own dedicated sewing space. I appreciate this is a luxury that not everyone has, so before I settle in I wanted to share some tips I’ve learnt about sewing from a shared space. If you live in a small urban flat, if you’re sharing with housemates, or if you have a family to work around, chances are you’ll be sewing from the kitchen table or a corner of the sitting room whenever you can snatch the chance. How can you make this work, both for you and for the people you live with?
The most challenging aspect of sewing from a shared space is probably the fact that you need to be able to move quickly – you wanna whip out your kit when the coast is clear and put it away again at dinner time. I keep my sewing essentials in a portable glass – tape measure, scissors, marking tools, seam ripper... It’s quite rare I need a tool that isn’t in that glass. Stash your current project in a bag or shoe box – fabric, pattern, thread and notions – so you can get it out quickly without having to rummage around. Having a lightweight machine also helps – my old Janome J3-18 is super portable, so easy to stow away on a shelf and get it down when needed. If your machine is heavier – like my beloved Janome 6600P – store it at a level that makes it easy to pick up without putting excessive strain on your back (ouch).
If you’re stashing your sewing stuff in the sitting room, make it aesthetically pleasing to impress your guests… and so your cohabitees can’t complain about the mess. Make a feature out of your fabric by organising it by colour – everyone loves a good rainbow. A thread rack is a really pretty (and practical) way of organising your spools. If you have a dress form, adorning it in one of your lovely makes is sure to raise a smile.
3) Keep it clean
Sewing creates mess, y’all. After a particularly indulgent day of making, if you’re not careful it can look like you’ve been burgled. So, to avoid freaking out your flatmates, try to tidy as you go along. Keep a bin under whichever table you’re sewing on, directly below the sewing machine, so you can sweep scraps and snippings into it instantly. I try to save my cutting out for when the kitchen is free, as the lino floor is soooo much easier to clean than the sitting room carpet. Sigh… thread on the carpet. The way I clear this up is to crawl around the carpet with the head off the hoover, picking up the threads and inserting them into the suction hose. If you know an easier way, please do share!
4) Keep it organised
Store your sewing stuff away tidily so you’re not tripping over everything and so you know where everything is when you need it. I keep my patterns in large plastic storage boxes which are housed on my bookshelf. (Ideally I should keep my vintage sewing patterns in a cardboard archive box, I know – it’s on my shopping list.) I also have a shelf of large plastic folders for my self-drafted sewing patterns, labelled with the pattern name so I can find them easily. A layered sewing box is great for keeping random bits and bobs such as poppers and thread wax. My fabric scraps are organised by colour palette and kept in large shopper bags. Interfacing and toile fabric gets its own shelf. And the cutting mat? Why, it resides under the sofa, of course.
Sewing in a shared space means snatching up moments to make whenever you can. You may not have the luxury of being able to sew all weekend long, but don’t let the lack of a dedicated space stop you from getting your creativity fix. If you’ve only got half an hour before your flatmate gets home, by all means use that time. Sew for 15 minutes before work if you have to. Making things can have such a positive effect on your well-being, so keep it up, y'all!
I hope these ideas were helpful. If you sew from a small or shared space, do you have any tips to share?