Would you like to take another look inside my work space? This part of the tour is relatively self-explanatory. The area I'm going to show you today is where I store my fabric and a large built-in bookshelf opposite the fabric. Originally we had no idea what to do with this awkward, wide, and deep closet in the upstairs just off the office space. It's tucked under the sloping roof of our Cape Cod house, so I can only stand up straight partway in.
Once I ruined a piece of fabric by having it sit in the sun, folded, for a few days (leaving an awkward pale stripe over much of the usable space). Then I realized what this closet that was far away from sunlight was meant to be: fabric storage.
The space is still tiny, so it's difficult to depict in photos the overall layout, but I'll try my best.
This is the best I could get in trying to capture the overall fabric storage space. Like I said, tiny, but extremely functional. Just imagine identical shelves on the left and right as you stand at the entrance (and a basket of scraps on the floor, oops!).
Legos greet me everywhere in my house. Can anyone else with young boys relate?? And, ah, that floor...we plan to eventually install something new but I'm tempted to slap on some garage floor paint in the meantime. 1960's linoleum that's supposed to look like...a peach alligator?
Greens and blues. All fabric that is greater than half a yard is folded and stored on comic board cardboard pieces. They make great mini-bolts (and are quite inexpensive at about $13/100 on Amazon). When I started using the studio, fabric was haphazardly piled everywhere. Once I took the time to fold everything and display it on these mini-bolts, my efficiency went sky high! I can SEE everything at a glance, which makes life a lot easier. The bottom shelf holds some inventory and booth setup materials. Keeping inventory out of the sunlight is as important as keeping fabric protected.
The top shelf has a basket filled with canvas, and one filled with white felt (leftover from all those angel wings I made at Christmastime!)
Large bolts of fabric. Occasionally, something will be so popular that I will buy an entire bolt. Pink anchors, navy blue anchors, lobsters, flip flops...can you tell I live in a New England resort area populated by lots of US Navy and sailing folks? This is also where I store my interfacing (more on that in a sewing tips post) and PUL. For those that remember the goodie bags I made for Valentine's Day, I stumbled upon a few yards of conversation heart fabric (out of print) after the holiday and scooped up all that they had.
Pinks and purples, plus "holiday" on the bottom shelf. I make a LOT of things for women and girls! The back corner holds two bins of felt that I use primarily to make games.
Teal, red, black and neutral.
Utility fabric. This is where I keep the ripstop nylon, mesh for produce bags and small pieces of PUL.
Going back to the center of the room, there is a chest of drawers that mostly houses ribbon. There are other odds and ends, and this tends to be messy since I let my children have free reign for art.
This is an actual shirt that I made for my husband back when we were first married 12 years ago that hangs on the rod in this area. Honest to goodness, he wears the thing! I use it as an example for my students to think outside the box. Sometimes WAYYYYYYY outside the box! This fabric is intended to be purchased by the panel to make a stuffed duck. Stuffed. My husband thought it would be hilarious to make clothing out of the fabric because no one would have a shirt like this. Um, he was certainly right about that! Bless his heart, he wears it at least once a summer. I made him promise that he would wear it if I was going to take the time to make it. He stayed true to his word. If anything, it's quite the conversation piece!
The instructions for how to sew the stuffed duck are printed on the piece of fabric that appears on the shoulder. You know, the part that otherwise would have been thrown away...
The last area I will show you today is the shelving across from the fabric closet. You can see my desk chair off in the far right of this photo. This is what you see when you first get to the top of the second floor stairs. This is also where I store my primo nautical fabrics.
My nautical fabrics and my favorite sewing books.
A sewing machine we bought for my daughter (don't ever buy a fake "toy" sewing machine--go for a refurbished real one--this one is so noisy and makes a crappy chain stitch with no bobbin...it was a great idea, but it doesn't really work.) Here are some more books, a dollhouse-sized Singer treadle sewing machine, and some random storage.
Lastly, some buttons and other decor on the shelves. The Drexel Dancers mug is from my college modern dance days.
I'll leave you with two inspirational prints I have hanging to the left of these shelves that you see as soon as you enter the space. Two more areas to show you after today, one fun with my cutting table and projects-in-progress, the other utilitarian for shipping Etsy sales. I hope your week is off to a great start!
This scene is in every retail store you go into this time of year:
For most people, they use plastic "grass" to fluff and decorate children's Easter baskets. I used to do this as well. I kept the same wad of grass and used it year after year.
Paper grass exists, as does something touted as biodegradable. You can save the grass and use it year after year. All of these are still shredded bits of something that can be dangerous for pets, and seem to end up all over the place with kids. I have a new idea for this year: fabric "grass."
This is a length of bright green linen (sooooooo soft after washing), that I picked up at a thrift store. You can use anything. Think remnant or fat quarter to save some money. A holiday dish towel would work really well. Be creative!
Whatever you end up choosing this year, have a wonderful holiday!
Lately, I've been fielding questions for sewing advice, so I thought I would start compiling some of my tips and handy sewing tools here on the blog as a reference. Each type of post like this will highlight one tool I find extremely useful, or it will share a simple technique/tip that will help your work go faster and/or look more professional.
Today I want to say a few words about fabric marking tools. Traditionally, dressmakers have used a special type of chalk, or even chalk paper and a marking rotary tool to draw lines on the fabric that are later erasable. This is handy when you are transferring darts on a garment pattern, but marking tools have come a long way in the years that I have been sewing!
This "Mark-B-Gone" erasable pen is something widely available (all craft and fabric stores, even Walmart will carry this type of pen). I used it successfully for several years, and even can say I used-up 3 or 4. They work pretty well. You mark your fabric, and then when finished and want the line to disappear, you spray it with some water. Sometimes this requires so much water that the fabric is completely saturated and you need to wait for it to dry before moving onto the next step.
One other serious drawback is that the tip is felt. It's just like a magic marker. Which means that after a short period of time and use, the tip will dull. It will still mark and erase perfectly well, but your lines will no longer be as precise.
Enter my current favorite tool: The FriXion Erasable Gel Pen from Pilot.
You won't find these at a fabric store. Mine came from Staples, but maybe other office supply stores also carry them. They are not intended for fabric, and I'm not quite sure who the first person was who tried this in desperation during a sewing project, but I'm forever grateful. You don't even need water to erase the ink--a warm iron makes the marks disappear! No joking. The tip will never dull. I put together a little demo in pictures to show you how I use the pen. Bonus that they come in different colors so the color of your fabric isn't an obstacle.
Use the pens for marking measurements as I have done for the crochet hook roll shown in these photos. Mark dart lines. Transfer other pattern marks to your fabric. Mark where a button or label is to be placed. Mark the insertion point of a magnetic snap. Draw lines to ensure really straight seams, especially if you are just starting out and getting comfortable with sewing. You can even draw your seam allowance right on the fabric, making your work look much more polished with straight seams in the end. No one will know because the marks erase with a quick sweep of the iron! The possibilities are endless.
I hope this has been helpful. If there are other tricks you would like to see, let me know. I have quite a few of these posts in mind in the coming weeks and months.
This quilt has been in the works for over a year. If you follow me on Facebook, you've seen many work-in-progress photos. It didn't take a year to make, more like a week, but I never seemed able to work on it without interruption. It doesn't help that I'm not very experienced with quilting yet, and I made this one up as I went along. Pretty gutsy for my second quilt ever!
I think it turned out quite lovely, and my son loves it, which is all that matters. It makes me smile every time I walk into his room seeing something mama-made getting daily use and love.
On to the photos...
This started with several half-yard cuts of fabric from one designer's line. Most of the fabrics were from this line and automatically coordinated. All except for the tiny anchors are from Michael Miller (Ahoy Matey and Sarah Jane's Out to Sea for Michael Miller); the tiny anchors is now out of print. The map at the center started the blocks and I worked my way out from there, measuring as I went. The quilt consists of three main panels...a top and bottom patchwork panel (with very large patches), and a center panel. The top and bottom are arranged in reverse order, so they mirror each other.
The back is a blue flannel from Joann and another orange rope print from the same designer.
Here are some close-up images of the front:
The boys playing pirate--my absolute favorite.
To quilt, I simply hand tied every few inches with embroidery floss. Not being an experienced quilter, and already having spent a year making it, I didn't have the patience to try machine or even hand quilting. This works. The binding was attached by machine, but in the future I want to try hand-binding. Everyone tells me it's a meditative experience--hand-binding a quilt. Maybe for my daughter's quilt and another nautical baby quilt which are both on deck next, I can tackle that. And hopefully have it finished in less than a year!
My favorite crafty bloggers will periodically show their work space. I don't know about you, but I love seeing where others create! That made me think you might want to see where I create.
But then I hesitated. That seemed like getting very personal. You know those close-talkers that can make you uncomfortable? That's kind of how I reacted to showing you photos of my studio if you've never been to my home.
It's not finished. It needs paint, but has been very low on the list of home improvement projects. It needs a new floor. The prior owners splashed paint everywhere when starting to fix up this part of the house. Paint is on the windows, my friends. It doesn't even have heat! We get plenty of residual heat coming up the stairwell, and why would you care if it's heated sitting on the other side of this screen??
I realize that 95% of the people reading this blog are my friends who have been to my house already. That doesn't stop me from fretting over the 5% who haven't and who might still judge me. So I decided not to care if someone judges and found it liberating! Need to do that more often. I think it's a cool space, and really, that's all that matters at the end of the day because I'm the one working in it at the end of the day (and beginning, middle, and every moment I can spare).
The tour will take a few posts, though the space is very very small (a former upstairs bedroom in our house).
No space is perfect. There's no such thing as perfect, really. But this space is mine, and I love it! Beautiful things come out of this space, of which I am very very proud. Maybe showing my not-yet-finished and very un-Martha-Stewart-like space will inspire one of you to dive in and make beautiful things right where you are.
We'll start with where I sew. This is Janey. She's a Janome brand machine, who lets me take plain Jane fabrics and turn them into things of beauty and usefulness. I like her a lot. We get along swimmingly and I would highly recommend Janome to anyone shopping for a new machine. You do not need all the bells and whistles that she comes with, but they make my work (hours per day, keep in mind) much more enjoyable.
This is the main desk area. We are so lucky that the built-ins came with the house. This is set up and wired perfectly to have a computer on the left, my sewing machine on the right. The desk is flanked on both sides by built-in drawers (seen on the right in this photo), and four drawers in the center. As I mentioned, everything needs paint, desperately, but it functions extremely well for now while we get around to painting. Note the bright sunlight streaming in through those windows--it's a very happy space!
Computer area. I'm not going to lie, I moved a few piles of papers in order to take this photo. Most of the time it looks like this, but you've seen photos in previous posts showing how messy the studio gets when I'm on a deadline, juggling multiple projects, or a craft fair approaches (today, all three happen to be true). Usually I listen to NPR (makes me feel smart) or Pandora something or other. If it's a very creative day, maybe Ani DiFranco or Florence and the Machine. If I'm working on a deadline, it might be the Gwen Stefani station to keep me energized.
My sewing space. I have all my frequently used tools handy, plus patterns, inspiration, notes tacked up about how many bags I'm trying to make this week to stay on track for a craft fair, and of course cute photos of my children. You'll have to strain to see them because I'm deliberately not zooming in on them. Can you see all the dots on that window??? Paint. <sigh>
Messy lists, but that's how I roll. To do lists, materials to buy lists, customer orders, things to work on with my Etsy shop--running a small business is so much more than sewing bags! This is one way that I stay organized and kinda-sort-of on top of things.
Family contributions to my studio. The thread spool painting is from my daughter; the embroidered rose is the work of my great-grandmother; and the wooden scissors are a handmade gift from my Dad (I plan to paint them white and maybe put my logo on one of the blades). I think the cover of Threads magazine in the bottom pocket of that organizer is hilarious--how seductive can one really look on the cover of a sewing magazine? And why would a publisher want that look?
The picture in the background to the right is a framed greeting card a dear friend and fellow Navy wife gave me. It's a print from the 40's that says, "Gee I wish I was a man, I'd join the Navy." I love it!
The built-ins are great storage for all sorts of business supplies. Here are some stamps and fabric ink.
Thread and bobbins are at my fingertips while I work. I prefer not to mount the thread spools on the wall because the space gets dusty quickly. They can stay protected from dirt, as well as any sun damage (sunlight weakens thread quickly, not to mention the fading). Want an idea to occupy a preschooler for over an hour? Ask them to sort a drawer full of thread spools by color. Or a giant jar of buttons. Works every time.
Trash drawer. It hides nicely when I need it to go away.
Often I find surprises on my desk. They always make me smile : )
My view when typing at the computer of the Sakonnet River. See--this space is ah-mazing! Worth the crappy paint job. My house is not as big as these!
The view from my cutting table, which I'll show you in the next part of this series. The view will change when the leaves come in, but for now I love seeing the sunrise come up over this water in the morning. Looking at beautiful trees out the window isn't bad either.
Thank you for joining me on the first part of my studio tour!
I'm not sure what it is about kids and straws, but a drink becomes so much more exciting when there is a straw involved.
The least wasteful option is of course to forego the straw altogether. I've done this successfully at restaurants, though it always confuses the waitstaff.
One option we have been using lately is the paper straw.
The plastic version is blue and green on the left, the paper is a fun purple and white stripe.
Paper is still an energy- intensive thing to make, but at least it will biodegrade and it comes from a renewable resource. The straws above easily last submerged in a drink for 2 hours or so. The plastic versions always seem to have holes, rendering them useless, but we have never had that issue with a paper straw.
There are glass straw alternatives, but I personally can't see trying that until my children are much older.
And paper straws come in so many beautiful varieties! Here are a few lovelies I saw on Etsy:
A pink themed multi-pack
Patriotic Red White and Blue (with stars)
Stripes in every color you can imagine!
If you're going to use straws, especially for a party, why not use paper and choose a print that makes your table scape stunning at the same time?! If they come in a paper box, even better (it never hurts to ask, especially with Etsy sellers who are usually very accommodating with packaging requests).
Just think of how exciting your morning OJ can be with one.
Reusable snack bags have been one of my most popular products since starting my business 2+ years ago. Lately, there has been renewed discussion in the media and blogosphere about plastic, specifically BPA. I wanted to take the opportunity to be completely transparent in my business operations and describe in detail what materials I use to make my snack bags. I feel that I have been as upfront as possible in my Etsy listings and my verbal descriptions at markets and fairs, but I want to make sure there is no confusion about my products whatsoever.
My snack bags have always been intended as a replacement for the millions of disposable plastic baggies that are thrown out after a single use. My bags are not plastic-free.
The exterior fabric is most often cotton, though some prints are a cotton/polyester blend (polyester is derived from plastic). The zipper is made of nylon "tape" & teeth--also basically, plastic. Even the grosgrain ribbon for the zipper pull is polyester, therefore plastic.
I line my bags with two different materials: ripstop nylon or PUL. Both of these materials are ultimately, plastic. Nylon is derived from plastic. PUL stands for polyurethane-laminated fabric. My bags owe their machine wash-ability and water-repelling properties to the nylon and PUL.
Both fabrics are BPA and phthalate free, plus they contain no vinyl. BUT, they are still, ultimately, a form of plastic. I want there to be no confusion about that. I'll say it again: my snack bags are not plastic-free.
They are, in my (and many customers') opinion, a great alternative to disposable plastic.
I use them.
My husband uses them.
My children use them.
We use them daily. And I am perfectly comfortable with our food in these bags day after day. We are reducing the amount of trash piling up in landfills by more than I can even measure. I've seen the statistic that an average school child uses 500+ snack baggies in his/her school lunch every school year. That's a lot of plastic to throw away! As a solution to that plastic problem, I fully stand behind my snack bags 100% as a great alternative for storing your food.
Because I care deeply about the plastic issue in our world, I am currently working on new additions to my snack bag line of products. I'm going to start playing with beeswax as a water-repellent coating for fabric that is completely plastic free. I am working on an organic cotton-lined bag whose only plastic will be at the zipper. These bags will have their own drawbacks like not being able to machine wash the beeswax, and very poor moisture retention for an all-cotton bag, but I would like to offer options for multiple perspectives on the plastic-free spectrum. Look for them in time for back-to-school late this summer.
I hope this clears up any confusion there may have been about my products. I see many suppliers selling "food-safe snack bags" but they never list what fabrics/coatings/materials they use. Simply saying "proprietary" is a red flag to me. You won't ever see that from Dancing Threads RI.
So much of corporate America lacks integrity--hiding chemicals you don't expect in bread labeled "healthy" is utterly ridiculous. I, however, intend to make products dripping with integrity! To me, transparency is so very important. You, my valued customers, can then make your own decisions about whether or not to buy my products. If you ever have any questions about anything I make, I will gladly answer them at email@example.com!!
I grew up in the age of Tupperware. I still refer to all plastic food storage containers as Tupperware, regardless of the brand.
My goal is to phase out all plastic food storage containers in our home, but the alternatives are so expensive! My solution is to switch gradually (see my post about a small stainless snack container here).
The bowl on the left is plastic, pretty standard. The glass bowl on the right is from Pyrex. It has a plastic cover, but it's a step in the right direction (and less expensive than the glass-lidded version that is my ultimate goal.) The glass is safe to microwave (without the lid), without risk of anything leaching into your food.
Something else I've started doing is diverting glass jars from the recycling bin to my food storage container cabinet. This glass jar with metal lid once contained pesto. It's a handy size and will work really well in my fridge! I wouldn't send it with my kids for school lunch, but jars like these are helping me weed out my plastic for no cost.
The same can be done with mason jars and lids you may already have at home. The seal is perfectly fine to keep food fresh in your fridge for a few days. I DO NOT recommend storing anything on a pantry shelf unless it has been properly canned!!! This suggestion is for refrigerated items only!!
If anyone is interested, I can show you how I can certain things this summer.
I don't know about you, but I think this is a much cuter way to store things than Tupperware! "Reduce" and "Reuse" come before Recycle for a reason. Recycling is great and very important, but reusing something as often as possible makes an even greater impact than energy-intensive recycling!
Those of you reading my sewing workshop posts on Facebook may wonder how having a sewing business qualifies me to teach a good workshop.
Short answer: it doesn't!
My graduate degree in Education does.
Betcha didn't see that coming, did ya?
After several years in biotech research, I switched gears, went to William and Mary, and taught high school Biology in Virginia Beach. Moving to Rhode Island and having children forced me to think "flexible," and Dancing Threads RI eventually followed.
I started sewing on a machine at age 8 and haven't stopped since. Summer shorts were my first project. Doll clothes. Cross stitch. Family gifts. Formal dresses for high school. I even made a dress for a friend for our Junior year ring ceremony in high school.
After that I outfitted college apartments with no money: pillows, curtains; I even slip covered a futon with a canvas painter's drop cloth.
How all of this lead to my current business is explained further in this post.
Sewing is in my blood. I learned the basics from my mother, who learned both from her mother and a home ec class.
My great-grandmother was a seamstress for one of the big downtown Baltimore department stores before there was ever such a thing as "ready-wear clothing."
I treasure this beauty that sits in my studio.
This antique Singer treadle machine belonged to my grandmother. I vividly remember sewing bean bags with her on this machine one summer when I was little.
Right now, the belt that connects the treadle to the wheel mechanism is broken. Dry rot and snapped from age, really. One day I plan to get her up and running again.
My work speaks for itself as to my sewing skills. At least I hope it does! My past teaching experience should be proof that I can teach a sewing workshop.
I'm a firm believer in project-based learning. I give you some basic instructions, materials, then help as you sew the project. No blah blah lecturing from me, I'm all about hands-on learning which is why you will bring your own sewing machine to one of my lessons or workshops.
While I'm throwing out seemingly unrelated personal details, for the past four years or so, I also facilitate an online course at Hopkins for Maryland teachers pursuing continuing education credits. It's a fabulous work-from-home opportunity that also allows me to keep my resume current.
If I can teach high schoolers reproduction in a Biology class, help teachers maintain their certification from 5 states away, then I should be able to teach motivated grown ups how to properly insert a zipper. Feel free to ask participants who have had a lesson from me!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are local and would like to learn some new sewing skills or sharpen your current ones!
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.