The Blue Gardenia

Sewing spaces: The Selfish Seamstress unselfishly shares with us. September 2, 2010 19:08

Once again, I am shamelessly releasing my inner voyeur to peek inside someone else's sewing area. Come with me. Do. Because today, I offer yet another real treat: Elaine, the Selfish Seamstress. (And, darn it, once again, I see no dust bunnies! Can it be no other sewing blogger allows them residence?)

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

Sewing_rooms_elaine I don't, and I've never had one, unless the fact that the living room floor is constantly covered with sewing stuff means it qualifies as "dedicated!" But my partner and I are in the process of moving right now and are definitely looking into getting a place big enough to accommodate a proper sewing space. For now, I make use of the aforementioned living room floor and one end of the dining table.

What do you like best about your sewing area?

All I can say is that I like the sewing that goes on in it, and I like the garments that come out of it. Other than that, there's really nothing all that exciting about that particular end of the dining table.

What would you change about your space?

I actually don't mind sewing in our living space, but the biggest problem with not having a dedicated sewing nook is not being able to keep everything in one space. Ideally, I would love to have all the shelves and bins and racks in one place, and keep the sewing clutter out of the rest of the apartment.

How is your space organized?

Poorly even on the best of days :) The machine sits on the edge of the dining room table and gets tucked away when we need to use the table for nonsewing purposes. I haul the mini-ironing board and iron out of the laundry closet as necessary and set them up on the living room floor. Fabric has a shelf (err, more recently it's taking up the better part of a second shelf as well) on the same set of shelves as I keep my clothes in the bedroom. Sewing books and magazines share the bookshelves with our other books, and envelope patterns are in a big covered bin under the bed. I have a lovely sewing box for my notions, tools and thread, but lately, my collection has begun to outgrow the little box.

If you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

Order is imposed in a cyclic fashion. Every once in a while I take everything down, refold it nicely (fortunately my stash is not that big), and group the fabrics on my shelf by function - coatings together, suitings together, shirtings, linings, dressy stuff, etc. Over time, it becomes disorganized because when I put things back, I just tuck them where there seems to be space. But it never gets too bad, because there isn't that much, and I reorganize fairly frequently.

How are your patterns organized?

The envelope patterns are in a covered tub under the bed. I have a ton of vintage patterns from the 1950s (mostly evening gowns) and they're mostly together. Then my contemporary patterns (believe it or not, I don't have that many) are mostly together. Fortunately, most of my pattern collection is in the form of magazines like Burda or Patrones, and it's easy enough to keep them organized on the bookshelf.

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

When I trace out patterns from magazines or download a printable pattern, I write the pattern number on each piece and then store the entire pattern in an envelope. I'll label the outside of the envelope with the pattern number, source and size, and often draw a little picture of the finished garment on the outside, since "Burda 2-2007-105 Dress" isn't all that descriptive. These traced patterns also go in the tub under my bed. I also have a big flat portfolio for my sloper and some other things that I have drafted onto craft paper (they're too big to squish into envelopes).

Do you have a mannequin made to measure?

No, alas. Maybe someday I'll spring for a custom form. I used to borrow a styrofoam one from my sewing teacher but had to return it when I moved, and I haven't yet found another one small enough to be useful. (I don't like the way duct-tape ones smell and get your pins gummy, and I don't like that I can't pin into paper-tape ones.)

What do you cut out your patterns on?

I use paper scissors to cut envelope patterns. Working with the big sheets of tissue, I feel most comfortable just sitting on the floor so the paper isn't hanging down. For fabric cutting, I have a big Olfa cutting surface and rotary cutter which I use on top of the dining table, or else I use scissors on the floor.

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

I rely heavily on the usual- seam ripper, good quality Gingher shears, my seam guide. But that's probably old news to most sewers. The thing that I can't sew without that most people probably don't know about is Butterbrotpapier (literally translated from German as butter bread paper.) This is a kind of paper meant for wrapping food that can be purchased at German grocery stores in rolls like aluminum foil. It's heavier and stiffer than tracing paper, and much more transparent than parchment paper for baking or copy paper. It doesn't have a wax coating, so it's easy to write on. I use it to trace patterns, and it holds up really well. It costs about 99 cents a roll, and anytime I go to Germany, I stock up. I also have friends bring it back for me when they travel.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

Ha ha — if you can't already tell, I'm really a minimalist when it comes to tools and equipment. I get by on a lot of makeshift tools. I'd say the most important investment is a good pair of fabric shears. I do just fine with a cheap iron, and up until recently, I made most of my projects (even wool coats!) on a sewing machine purchased for 50 Euros in a grocery store with fine results. A beginner can go far with a simple, reliable machine. But great shears are a must!

Do you keep a sewing library? If so, what book would you recommend to beginners?

Most of my library is vintage sewing books that I keep because they're charming rather than informative. I mean to pick up a few good resources for tailoring and fitting but haven't yet. I rely on the internet a lot for techniques. The book I rely on most for technique is one put out by Burda called Nähen leicht gemacht (Sewing Made Easy). I find that it has a lot of information that other sewing books don't have for conveying important practical knowledge, like how to edit a pattern if you're one size on top and another size on the bottom. I don't know if there's an English version of it though. Sorry, German is my "first language" for sewing!

What kind of machine do you use?

I have a Husqvarna Platinum 770 that I got used off of eBay. It is my first "nice" machine, and I adore it!

What do you like about it?

I'm actually not a connoisseur when it comes to sewing machines, and it's the only machine I currently use. I love that the sewing action is quiet and smooth. The stitching is lovely and even, and the machine also has a great coverstitch that I use frequently. All of the feet for it are also really nicely designed and engineered, particularly the invisible zipper foot. It also has neat convenience features that feel lazy and luxurious ­— like bobbin winding from the needle and automatic threading.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

I don't, but it's on my list! Someday. . . .

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that I "developed" my sewing space. It just sort of crept into whatever nooks and crannies it could find in our little apartment over time, until it took over the whole place like kudzu! But I'll happily report back in a few months in our next home, where I hope to have something more inspiring to show you :)

Next week, Sunni, the Cupcake Goddess and Elle of It's a Sewing Life open their doors to us. So. Come along, dear readers. Do. They will not disappoint. And as an additional lure, next week, there's a giveaway. Is that exciting? I think so. I do.