Updated: Jul 2, 2022
Having no space can feel like a real barrier to getting into or developing your skills in sewing but I've found that it really doesn't have to be. Here's how I've managed to make the most of the space I have.
I started Lansdown Patterns as many businesses start - from my living room. Full disclosure, I live in a tiny flat so that living room is also my kitchen, dining room and spare bedroom. I've been sewing in tiny flats for years now and over that time I've had to come up with various creative solutions to allow me the space I needed to cut out, put together and fit a LOT of garments (including a huge, many-layered ballgown for a stage show - the less said about that one the better!) and here's what I've learned.
There's a little bit of spending involved in some of these but I've got a lot of my stuff from Gumtree or other second-hand sites and had a lot of fun turning it into exactly what I wanted, so whatever you do doesn't have to cost the Earth (in both senses of that). Also, I'm not getting paid to promote any products I mention here, it's just my opinion.
Tip #1 - Get Convertible Furniture
I'm obsessed with things that turn into other things in my flat. My sofa turns into a spare bed, my bed turns into a table (more on that later), my TV turns into a distraction...
When it comes to sewing, my main item has to be my gateleg table though, it has absolutely transformed the usable space in my living room. I have this one from Ikea. It can either be folded down at one or both sides really quickly to be either incredibly space saving or give a really quite large sewing space. Any table that can fold down is a big help, but what really makes this one my favourite is the six drawers in the middle that I can fill with so much equipment, threads, pattern envelopes and anything else I need. Pro tip - I put a bag into one of the top drawers and use it as a little scrap bin while I sew; just take the bag out when you're done and that's the tidying done with!
Tip #2 - Use Your Bed
The one problem with using my extendable table for my makes is the height of it - great for my machine, not so great for cutting. It's so important to cut at a waist height table if you can, your back will really thank you. Over the years I've cut out on the floor to avoid cutting on a low table and to be able to spread out but my knees just can't take it and my back still isn't pleased. So I decided to make the most of the one large open space in my home - my bed. I worked out how much higher than my bed a table would have to be to reach my waist height and went about finding someone to make me a cutting table that size.
I found a great local fabricator who was looking for private commissions in lockdown and together we came up with a solution. The table has short legs that are on hinges so can fold flat and the ends of the legs are cross braced so that they stay up while I work. This means that with four screws (turned by hand, no screwdriver here) I can collapse the table to store it underneath the bed. Perfect!
I know this won't be possible for everyone but it was actually much more affordable than I anticipated and I'm sure some of you are handy enough to even have a go yourself. Now I have a nice big cutting surface at the right height for me, that disappears whenever I'm not using it. Plus having to put the table away to go to sleep is a real incentive to get all of my cutting done without getting distracted.
Tip #3 - Task Batching
One thing I've learned from my years in the costume industry is how to be super efficient with my making. If I'm making a few things at once, such as a set of dance costumes, I speed myself up by task batching. This could be pinning all of the seams I can, then moving one to sewing them all, then pressing, and so on. This can work even with just one garment, or even your process as a whole - maybe have one big session of piecing your A4 printed patterns together one day then cutting out several items the next.
I've noticed that as well as being super speedy, this really keeps everything in one place and means having less equipment out. My space suddenly feels much bigger when I don't have a cutting table, sewing machine, overlocker and ironing board out all at once. There's definitely a limit to this though - pressing as you go will make such a difference to your work that you really can't sacrifice having the iron and machine out at the same time.
Tip #4 - Storage, Storage, Storage
OK, so this one is super obvious but you really can't have enough storage! Hidden storage that doesn't take up space is ideal - I absolutely love under bed storage boxes, especially the ones with dividers inside to allow for at a glace organisation. My other favourite solution is the vacuum storage bags that can shrink a huge fabric stash down to a fraction of the size - such as these ones.
My note of caution here is don't let having everything stored away really well stop you actually getting it out to sew! I have at times had my dressmaking equipment stored away so neatly in stacked boxes that I had to practically conduct an archaeological dig to get the right thread out. Good storage is easy access storage and labelling what's where will save you so much time in the long run.
For those small items that are destined to end up in the 'miscellaneous' box (or that random metal biscuit tin) then he's what I do. I take a stack of those plastic wallets that are meant to be put in folders and put all of my small items in those by item type - zips, hooks and bars, bias binding, and so on. I write on each one in sharpie what's in it and fold the top over. I then find a nice box and line them up in there. My filing system has saved me much time in frustration over the years not having to dig through that box of tangled up random things that I'd have otherwise.
Tip #5 - Thin That Stash!
Everyone's going to hate this one but the best way to have more space is to have less stuff in the space you do have. One obvious way for sewists to do this is by making that fabric stash smaller. Maybe this is by using what you have instead of buying new fabric for your next pattern, using up those smaller bits with a scrap buster project or donating those bits you'll just never use to your local Scrapstore or school.
A fabric diet can be a great way to get creative. Finding ways to use the supplies you already have can really inspire some solutions you'd never have thought of or some amazing fabric pairings you'd have been too scared to try (the Franklin pinafore is just crying out for a contrast waistband and straps). Have fun with it by joining an Instagram challenge or having a fabric swap with your sewing friends.
What are your space saving sewing tips?
I'd love to hear them, leave a comment below to share yours.