Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Studio Does Not Look Like This

First of all, let me tell you that it does not ever quite look like this.  I move stuff around ALL THE TIME.  Stuff comes in, stuff goes out, stuff gets moved around.  It is a very dynamic space.  Not to mention the usual chaos and mess.

My studio space has evolved over the years.  I have a ranch style house built on a hillside, and underneath half of it is a basement space that opens out to a small patio.

Originally it was a space that collected junk.  The road from junk room to studio took years. The photos shown here span the last few years and some of them show things that have moved or moved on.

But wait!  There's more!  I had a water heater leak slowly over a period of months and it ended up destroying ALL of my treasured Stretch N Sew patterns and damaging ALL of my even more treasured Folkwear Patterns.  (Threw away the SnS.  Dried, wiped down with bleach to remove mold, dried again and finally stored in plastic bags each one of the FWs).

The leak resulted in some MAJOR changes which are NOT shown here.  There will be another post later with the after photos.

But back to the studio history:

One of the first things I did was build some shelves along one wall to hold the ever-expanding fabric stash.

So this was Studio 1.0.  A basement with a bare concrete floor, accumulating junk, including but not limited to sewing-related junk.  And a sewing machine, the Singer 348 that I bought in 1968.

Over time I made a few changes, including painting the floor with exterior latex paint to brighten it up.  Not the best choice.  Now they have special paint that bonds to bare concrete, but if that existed at the time I was not aware of it.  The latex is mostly OK, but where my chair wheels roll over it, it tends to peel off.

Exterior latex paint, several years old, peeling up where the chair wheels have loosened it

At some point I bought a serger, and then an embroidery machine.  The embroidery machine required a computer, so an old laptop went to live down there. I bought a 12' quilting frame at a thrift shop and stored it there until I had a chance to learn to use it. We will call this phase Studio 2.0.

Studio 3.0 began after I retired.  I did a lot more organizing and began clearing out non-sewing related junk from the space.  I hung thread organizers on the walls. I bought a large work table at the thrift store because it had an indestructible surface, only to discover (AFTER I had paid for it and they were trying to load it into my truck) was that the reason it was indestructible was that it was made of CONCRETE.  I had to hire guys to move it out of my truck, down the hill and into the studio.  Which cost me twice as much as the cheap thrift store table.  Worth it?  Absolutely.

Above you can see a bit of the concrete table and part of the Wall of Thread.

Two of the in-ceiling single incandescent bulb light fixtures were replaced with full spectrum fluorescent light fixtures, brightening up the room considerably.  I caught a bad case of VSMAD (Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder) and more sewing machines came to live with us. I learned to quilt on the frame with some of the vintage machines.   It started looking better and was less embarrassing as a guest room.  Oh, did I mention there was also a king sized bed down there?  It's a lovely big space.

Andre installs the cradles he designed and created.

There were several submodels at this stage:  Studio 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc. as I upgraded the storage and got it more and more organized.  Our friend Andre modified some standard shelf hardware and created cradles to hold large bolts of fabric.  He's also the person who installed the new light fixtures.  The late DH and I used to joke that Andre was single-handedly keeping us out of assisted living as he did all the things we could not do.

I found three 3-drawer lateral file cabinets at a church yard sale for $10 each.  Lateral file cabinets are terrific for storing all sorts of things.  A bunch of matching laundry hampers from Walmart created even more long-term bulk storage.

Notice throughout this post that EVERYTHING is labeled.  If it is not visible or labeled, it does not exist.  I am no good at remembering where I put things.

The 12' quilting frame lived in front of this storage.  I snapped this photo while it was moved temporarily so that I could repaint the floor.

New paint, the cheapest possible solution to many problems
I began giving sewing and quilting lessons in a casual way, and wanted the space to look better.  Every few years I slapped another coat of exterior latex on the floor, right over the dirt and scuffs.

Eventually one of the bedrooms upstairs got converted from an office back to a bedroom, a guest room.  By then I was really ready for the studio to be JUST a studio.  I still wanted a bed down there for one more possible sleeping space, but I didn't want it to look like a bedroom.  I puzzled over this for a LONG time (more than a year) and then one day in a flash it came to me:  four lateral file cabinets with a mattress on top, and a removable plywood surface on top of the mattress.  Cutting table height.  (The bed idea did not work out and quickly got nixed, btw.)

It took me another year to find four matching lateral file cabinets.  And now I am going to tell you a story that you probably won't believe.  I'm Irish in the maternal line, and we have The Sight in a minor way.  My mother had waking visions of things that later happened, most notably the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, which she saw two weeks before it happened, although without knowing where it was or when it would happen. Frustrating for her not to be able to warn anyone.  I don't have this ability, but sometimes things call out to me from thrift shops.  I told you that you would not believe this.

In August of 2014 I was visiting BFF Amber in California.  I heard the lateral file cabinets (that I had been seeking for a year) calling me from the NC State Surplus Store in Raleigh.  When I got home, I went there.  There they were.  Go ahead, be all rational and skeptical and refuse to believe.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 
Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Thus began Studio 4.0.  Just having this at all is the space of my dreams, but now it has everything that I have ever desired in a studio.  I bought a mid-arm machine for the frame.  My laundry room is down there.  A powder room is down there.  The total square footage, including those rooms and the stairway, is 800 square feet.  I have sliding glass doors leading to a brick patio overlooking the wooded valley in back of my house.  Bambi (and her mother) have come to visit me on that patio.  Mr. and Mrs. Barred Owl and their baby came to perch on a fallen tree out there.  Pretty much paradise in my little town.

The  back wall has shelving units with bins, all nicely labeled

three units in all

I found cubicle dividers at a local thrift shop for $5 @.  They are just leaning against the shelves and can be slid to the side.  This is not ideal, but it WAS very cheap.  And the fabric surface means that quilt blocks will stick long enough for an audition, and straight pins will also go into the panels if they need to be better secured.

And even more long term fabric storage up top.

I created covers for the embroidery machine by finding some cardboard boxes the right size and cutting holes in them.  The smaller box, which covers the embroidery unit itself, slides into the larger box.

Both boxes are then slip covered with quilted yellow gingham.  The vintage embroidered cloths are just laid on top of the quilted covers.

All of this sits on top of a cabinet that holds all of my parts cabinets.

The parts cabinets have all been painted white by now, but the following earlier pictures will give you some ideas about their contents.  Every size of needle has its own little drawer.  Every type of presser foot.  Every tool small enough to fit into one of these drawers.  You get the idea.  I can lay my hands on anything in a couple of seconds

I repainted the floor yet again.  I bought some colorful rugs.

One of the VERY BEST things I did was slip cover all the chairs with red fleece. The chairs are from various thrift shops, and although all were functioning well they were all different colors, all various shades of UGLY.  I bought the cheapest possible red fleece to make the chair covers.  Getting them all the same color made a HUGE difference.

Fleece has a little stretch, so I just cut each piece the size of the chair element to be covered--with NO seam allowances. I put the fuzzy side to the inside and the smoother side out.   It was super easy (with the serger) and fast and looks FABULOUS.  One of the best upgrades I have ever done.  And cheap, did I mention cheap?  I was worried that the fleece would not hold up well, but I did this several months ago and they still look great.

Another big upgrade happened by transforming the funky storage space under the stairs into a display space.  In the back of this tiny space you can see the door to the powder room.

Lots of vintage goodies have accumulated from years of frequent thrift store visits,  It's a lifestyle/obsession.

I used Dharma Trading Company's color card to pick the perfect shade of dye to transform a light green curtain to match this spot.  Aquamarine.  I dyed the curtain and the little rug in the washing machine, first time I have tried this.

The powder room gives me lots more space to display vintage sewing goodies.

It took several years to find the second display shelf to match the first one.

Faithful blog readers have asked me several times to post pictures of my studio.    Now is the time, because as soon as I start a project it will begin to descend into chaos again.

History ends, back to the present time now

As a result of the water heater disaster an entire wall of stuff got taken down.  Totally.  And in the end it was totally unnecessary.

Under the wall  of stuff is a floor drain.  Building all of this on top of the floor drain was NOT one of my brighter thoughts.

I thought that drain had been burping muddy water up behind the wall of stuff and the first plumber who came over here to assess the situation did not figure out that this was wrong.  But in order for the plumber to fix it he obviously had to be able to get to it. So the entire wall of stuff had to be moved.  Or so we thought.  Once the wall of stuff was gone and a different plumber came back he immediately discovered it was the water heater.   Fixing that did NOT require moving the wall of stuff, but it was already gone. 

This turned out to be a good thing.  I go to a couple of thrift stores per week and bring stuff home.  Lots of it goes to live in the studio.  It was long past time for a good turn-out.

Here's what the now-gone wall of stuff looked like.

The stairs are behind this wall, and are open as you come down them, but the wall of stuff hid the view.

Can't get it all in one photo.  above the top of the whole thing.  Below, the right hand side of the whole thing.

From the ground up:  three two-drawer file cabinets.  In between the cabinets, more storage.  Hiding the file cabinets and storage:  a set of bulletin boards (foam insulation covered in red flannel, inside of old picture frames).  The bulletin board thing seemed like a good idea but was not.  They didn't want to stay together. 

On top of all of this, one of my most prized possessions:  a twelve foot long aluminum counter-top that was discarded from a factory in Baltimore.  One of the daughters took it for her home office.

On top of the counter-top:  the last four grad school particle board bookcases.  "Particle board" and "bookcase" are words that should NEVER be used together.  They have held up this long only because extensive engineering was done on the backs of them to hold them together.

Inside the bookcases:  books, d'oh.  And other goodies.  Lately I have been acquiring dolls from different countries.  They make me smile and most of them can be played with.  Extremely superior and well behaved children are ALWAYS welcome at DragonPoodle Studio.  And I DO know such children.  Notably the offspring of Heather and Agustin, and Linda and Phil. And my new friend Anna, daughter of Jenn.  I assume it is the parenting that gets these results.

Gryphon.  One of those extremely superior children I was just telling you about.

In an earlier incarnation of the studio I could pull out the top drawer of this dresser and create an ironing station whenever I needed it.  You can see the embroidery machine peeping from behind the iron.

The boxes below have been replaced with plastic drawers the same size.  And the wall unit is now full of Kaafe fat quarters and yardage.  Lucky me!  (Fabric outlet nearby).

Fat quarters in boxes, special project fabric on wall, monogrammer and buttonholer, and a peek into the very messy laundry room

Floor lamps have weighted bases and are perfect for storing large rolls of stuff.  It isn't difficult to remove the lamp part, although if you look closely you will see that one has been left in place.

The floral basket WAS very cool, but all of my ironing stuff has now been stashed in a cart with the big presser on top.

Tailor's ham and other ironing accessories in a basket covered with fake flowers

Did you survive to the end of the post?  it's one of the longest ever.  it could be ten times as long (or more!) if I showed you everything.

Do you have the studio space of your dreams, as I do?  Or do you have to set up on the kitchen table when everyone else is out of the house?  Wherever I have lived I have always been able to claim a space for sewing, no matter how tiny.  It's really, really important, isn't it?


  1. I appreciate and admire your logic here. I sew in a basement cave with carpet I long to pull up (so I can seal the crack in the floor that sometimes seeps). I never leave anything that can't float, anywhere near the floor in any basement, childhood trained from sewer backups and freshwater springs finding their way into the workshop. My next goal is to move everything away from under the soon to die dishwasher upstairs. My most precious patterns are in the highest point that is not anywhere near a water line or a foundation wall.
    And yes, there is specific paint for concrete, but it is.....stinky. And it eventually fails because water always wins.

  2. Wonderful to see your studio! In Australia, we don't see many basements, and my sewing rooms (3 in all) were once my sons' bedrooms. Here's hoping they never need to return home. I have a single bed in one and a sofa bed in another for occasional visitors. I have serious envy for your studio being all in one room - that would be my ultimate wish. Thank you for inviting us into your space, cheers Eleanor

  3. No dream space yet, but this is very timely. Just this week I have started my own Studio 2.0, which is in the bedroom. I am single so it's actually a perfect room, at least until I get my back room completely cleaned out and dedicated to being The Studio. My organization is nowhere near your level yet but it is getting there. Love the idea for covering the chairs. I have the typical ugly black fake tweed adjustable office chair on rollers and I am going to look into the stash to do exactly what you have done. I was thinking of vinyl because of the prolific quantity of cat hair chez moi, but vinyl is such a pain in the drain to sew or even staple.

  4. Cheryl! What a wonderland! I'm glad you are a prolific sewer. Your picture of a grandchild in there made it even better. I love fixing old machines. But sewing by machine is something I do rarely, LOL. Kind of like, when I have to, to get a project done. I enjoy hand sewing, as applique, or big-stitch hand-quilting. The sound of the motor seems to get on my nerves! Thank you for sharing your sewing land. I sew sitting on the couch, or in a borrowed space. But WHERE DO YOU FIX THE MACHINES? I have a bedroom devoted to fixing machines. With a closet of parts and machines waiting their turn for the "Spa".LOL. Only one machine has permanently escaped the room. The pre-1900 W&W 9 treadle. He's a museum,in himself. Thanks, again!!

  5. Wow! What a fantastic studio space! I used to think my ideal studio would be large enough for several sewing machines, cutting table, storage, etc. Now I realize it will never be the perfect space without sliding doors or at least a window looking out to a wooded valley!

  6. I can barely get in the door to my sewing room at the moment. It was a mess when we left for Alaska, then I couldn't find some things I needed for my booth at our quilt show, when I got home, and I left all that stuff in the middle of the floor. More stuff stashed on cutting table, etc, after the quilt show, then gone for another 11 days, and when I got home, everything was dumped in the room again. What a mess. No sewing since Jan, and I can't even get to a machine in that room. Oh well, maybe this weekend I'll 'find' the room again.

  7. I finally got a chance to read this post, first one since I signed up. It was really interesting to hear you talk about how your studio has changed over time. I just had the last of my 7 kids move out. The boys dorm downstairs is all mine! I've been discouraged about ever getting it organized. It's not anywhere near the size of yours, but now I think I can be more patient as things slowly work themselves out! Thanks for the encouragement!!

  8. I should take a picture of how ridiculous my office looks right now. Five treadles and several heads on the library table. I have it set up to iron quilt blocks. I discovered my rotary cutting board fits on top of the Singer library table cabinet, so that's where it stays for now. It was all packed up to paint the room (which still needs touch up and trim on the base boards). I am going to shuffle things around this weekend and see if I can fit a couple more treadles in here. Fortunately, the fabric I have can fit into a single bin. I am going to cut out skirts this weekend as I need to get them done before the warmer weather sets in. And I need to do a baby blanket. I don't know what sort of space I will wind up with. I am taking all my machines, as I am finding few interesting machines on Craigslist in the area we are considering. I won't get much for them out here at any rate.


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