Organization Station: Managing Sewing Stashes

If you are a hobbyist or DIYer, you well understand the need to have a collection of materials waiting to be put to good use–and the need to get a handle on storage of said materials before your garage/attic/basement/guest bedroom/linen closet becomes the Monica closet, or perhaps a cemetery for best laid plans and good intentions. Here lies industrial shelving attempt #1,  behind all the tile samples underneath all the wood for the Ana White farmhouse table covered in two inches of dust and sand from the beach toys used three vacations ago..or was it four?   You get the picture.

People of the cloth, and I’m not talking clergy here, have a compulsive need for All of the Things! a fabric stash. These stashes vary in size based on a number of factors, but most crafters agree that you can never have too much fabric. Of course, when trying to store said fabric, those of us lesser mortals with limited storage must be more circumspect with our fabric purchases. I learned this lesson after being overly ambitious when I started quilting and couldn’t choose between fabrics, which resulted in buying All of the Things! enough fabric  for two and a half quilts when I had set out only to buy fabric for one. This resulted in a modest stash that I hauled with me from the city to the beach. It has been languishing in one of the guest bedrooms while I have been working on school things, and by languishing I mean that it has been piled on the bed and various shelves and shoved in random baskets. My quilt is not quite finished.  And by that I mean I have 1/4 of the quilt top sewn. It’s a king size quilt, so cut me some slack. 😉

Since last May, I have been struggling to find a place where all of my art and craft supplies could be kept and to find a prime place for working on my school stuff. The desk I use for schoolwork right now is also the desk I normally use for my sewing machine and supplies, but both cannot occupy the same space at the same time. #physics Enter the mail center.

IMG_4505    This mail center was a housewarming present to us from Chris’s paternal grandmother eight years ago when we bought our first house. It came from Pier 1, and it served us well in our first house and later in the townhome in the city. For some reason, it has not been functional here at the beach, most likely because it is not conveniently located to the entryway of our home. Rather than serving as a mail/paper processing station as usual, it is a clutter catcher, with piles of mail and other random things. In fact, the mail center had become the junk (drawer) center of late, which was unacceptable.

Inspiration hit when I realized that the cubbies in the mail center would be perfect for storing yards of fabric–and for controlling the quantities that could be stored, resulting in a more manageable stash. Better use of mail center? Check.  Better storage for fabric? Check.  Less compulsive spending and buyer’s remorse? Check. Check.IMG_4499

This solution would probably not work for people who sew regularly and need to store vast swaths of fabric, but for an on-again, off-again project crafter like me, this was an ideal match.

My sewing machine fits snugly in the bottom cabinet as if it were made for it. Very snugly. I think I can fit my pinky finger in the space between the sewing machine and the shelf bottom.IMG_4501All my fabric has a tidy, colorful home…note the quilt squares cut and ready to be sewn together…


and there is even room for the jewelry box one of my great-grandmothers gave me, which I am currently using to store binding I have already cut for the quilts I have yet to make. #gettingthere


My sewing supplies and scraps fit in the drawer or on the top shelf of the bottom cabinet in glass storage containers we got as a wedding gift almost nine years ago that used to be in our kitchen.  We don’t have room for them on our counters now, but this is turning out to be a great way to repurpose them.


The mail center is not intended for a heavy machine to perch precariously on the end of the pull-down desktop, so I do not plan to sew here.  However, on the other side of this rather useless pass through area in the center of our house is a hand-me-down sofa table that I had been temporarily using for sewing anyway when I had the time. Nearby is our dining table, so I can just pull a chair up to the sofa table, set up the machine, and sew to my heart’s content while watching, er, listening to reruns of Fixer Upper. Watching might result in bleeding fingers. Not recommended.


Best part? When I’m not sewing, it all closes up, and no one will ever know that this is a mail center fabric hoard sewing station.


Except for all of you. Oops. 😉

Not Feeling Hemmed-in Anymore

Have you ever found a pair of pants that fit you perfectly, bought five pairs of them (in different colors, of course), and lived happily for several years, only to later discover that the store no longer carries the perfect pant for you anymore?  Feeling “hemmed-in” by “standard” sizes that supposedly fit the average person and actually fit no one? I feel your pain.  About seven years ago, Banana Republic made a regularly sized pant with a shorter inseam (denoted “S”) that was the best fit ever. I bought almost every color of that pant available and literally wore them out.  When I returned to buy replacements a few years later, I discovered that they had replaced their “short” pants with a petite collection that was not a 1:1 substitution.  Complete and utter disappointment.  When I tried on a pair of their petite pants to find a small enough waist and inseam, the distance from the waist to the crotch was too short, and there was barely enough room in the thighs for my former gymnast/dancer/cheerleader legs (read: NOT TOOTHPICKS, FASHION INDUSTRY! Grr!).  When I tried on a regular pair of pants, the situation reversed.  Banana Republic was literally the ONLY store that carried a dress pant that fit me, but not anymore.  Now, my shopping experience at BR was like every other shopping experience at every other store =  feelings of self-loathing and bitter frustration.

Since this was back in my “newlywed educator with zero income to spend on tailored clothes and zero sewing ability” days, I did what any normal girl would do: I bought a buffet of differently-fitting (read: ill-fitting) pants.  On days where I needed to look “professional,” I suffered through the pants with the tighter crotch and legs (suffer being an understatement), while on casual days, I tripped over the long legs of the baggier, bigger pants (nothing says “put together” like tripping on your pants at a job interview, right?).  After tearing through a mile-long hem with a stiletto heel and experiencing petechial bleeding across my hips from the tight-fitting pants, I resorted to wearing yoga pants and “outdoorsy” pants to work–the kind with the expandable waist and zip-off legs that you buy at places like REI. Seriously.  Now granted, I work in the freer world of graduate student/academia, where you can get away with a more eclectic (translates: casual) wardrobe, but nothing says poor graduate student like ill-fitting pants. Or yoga/hiking pants.  Since most of the other female doc students have become pregnant in the last couple of years or so, I knew it was a matter of time before people naturally assumed I was wearing stretchy and expand-a-waist pants because I was carrying a bundle of joy.  I was desperate for a solution.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just wear skirts instead of pants to work.  Reasons: Overworked women do not have time to shave their legs daily. I am an overworked woman. You can fill in the rest. Also, I work best with my feet propped on top of my desk.  Again, you can fill in the rest.

That’s when I realized I had started sewing again.  If I could repair a zipper on an old skirt and sew some pillow covers, surely I could hem some of those baggy dress pants, right?  I could make MY OWN “short” pants (Take that, BR!).  Of course, the thought of sewing mismatching leg lengths was intimidating, which is why I didn’t cut off the extra material.  That way, if I screwed up, I could undo the disaster and give them to someone else to fix. At some point. In the distant future. When I am not a poor grad student.  (Correction: In the near future.  I hope. Please.)

I started with a pair of Gap khaki pants, thinking that I would save my nicer dress pants for post-practice sessions.  I put on the too-long pants, and rolled up the pant legs to the desired length, making sure they appeared even. foldinghemsup Since the pants are made of a relatively thick khaki material, the cuffs stayed rolled up long enough for me to take them off, match up the legs to ensure they were the same length, and reverse the cuffs by rolling them under.


I realize this isn’t exactly how most people do this, but we’re talking amateur tactics that actually worked. Miracle. Feel free to ignore the weird black grunge on the edge of my desk–years of sweaty wrists, methinks? #FurnitureHandMeDowns It’s clean.  It’s just permanently stained.  But don’t worry.  It’s getting painted with Annie Sloan Chalk paint as soon as we move out of #Rentervilletuckingunderhem

I selected a stitch that looked like the original hem, then sewed each leg, starting and stopping at the interior seam (This probably seems obvious to most of you, but I took the attachment base off my machine so that I could sew in a circle around the pant leg, rather than sewing the leg hole shut!).   I used a cotton, khaki-colored thread from Coats and Clark that my husband actually bought to sew some buttons on his own pants.  After witnessing his attempt at button-sewing, I graciously offered to sew the rest for him. 🙂hemming I backstitched the beginning and end of my hem and across the interior seam to reinforce it because this was a fairly heavy weight khaki.  backstitchseamPlus, I wanted my work to last–at least for one wear and wash, anyway. Long enough to prove I could actually hem a pair of pants. Yeah, something like that.2legsfinished

I tried on my pants post-sewing and was amazed that they actually seemed to fit for the first time ever. Yay!  Now I’m no longer “hemmed-in” by store sizes.finishedNow on to the trickier dress pants.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to wear my yoga pants for yoga and my hiking pants for hiking soon!

Tidbits: Pumpkin Pincushion

Happy fall, y’all!

Okay, so it’s not fall yet, but it’s almost September (close enough, right?).    As a former educator, back to school time conjures up plenty of sights, sounds, and smells (fresh crayons and stacks of Post-its, anyone?).  I am a sucker for school/office supplies.  Remember that line from You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ character types, “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils” to Meg Ryan’s character?  Love. it.  Especially a bouquet of yellow Ticonderoga pencils!

Confession: I actually hate writing with #2 wooden pencils.  I just love looking at them.  Have you ever noticed that brand new sharpened pencils are like daisies?  They arrange themselves in their container (if you have enough to look like an actual flower arrangement). But I digress….

Anyway, once school is back in session, fall seems to be just around the corner.  I am totally one of those people who breaks out the fall decor on the inside of my house on Labor Day weekend.  The outside decor goes up on the first official day of autumn so at least the neighbors don’t think I’m too crazy.

For some reason (despite the ridiculously hot weather we are having), it feels like it should be fall (maybe because I am wishing for cooler weather).  Don’t get me wrong.  I love summer.  But there is something wonderful about autumn.  And pumpkins.  And crisp leaves.  And cool evenings.  And hot cider.  And baked apples.  And pumpkins.  And hooded sweatshirts.  And football games.  And sweaters.  And pumpkins.  Did I mention pumpkins?

Speaking of pumpkins, to satisfy my ridiculously early craving for fall this year, I made this pincushion:


I followed the Fiskars tutorial (from  I first saw this project when I purchased some sewing supplies from Jo-Ann’s and immediately googled it when I got home to investigate further.

Okay, I mostly followed the tutorial, but made a key modification: Instead of sewing the leaf inside out, reversing it, and stitching closed, I actually sewed it by hand right-side out.  Yes, this meant that the rough edges are exposed, but this makes the leaf look a bit more realistic.  If you look closely at pumpkin leaves, they aren’t “perfect” along the edge either (no, my leaf is not shaped like an authentic pumpkin leaf–my fabric cutting skills aren’t that impeccable just yet).  Plus, it also allowed me to pull the thread taut in such a manner that it made my leaf curl, giving it more dimensionality and character, I think.  Like a leaf that is starting to shrivel up just a wee bit.

Check out the tutorial if you are an “autumnut” like I am–very cute, very fun, fairly simple.  My pumpkin is not quite as segmented as the tutorial’s, though, which was a bit disappointing.  The directions said to make sure you stuffed your pincushion with enough filler to make it plump, but I think I must have overstuffed (overachiever that I am)  because each time I pulled the embroidery thread around the sections tighter to make the sections plump out, my thread would break (and I wasn’t using cheap thread!).  I suppose I could undo my stitching and take some stuffing out to see if it improves things, but I’m reluctant to destroy it.  At any rate, it’s good enough for the first pincushion I’ve ever made and is cute enough to be a fall decoration.  Apparently, it is also tempting as a cat toy, as I saw one of our sneaky littles pawing at it a couple of days ago. That gives me an idea for another tidbit, though: cat toys…maybe filled with catnip instead of loose threads? Meow.

Janus Napkins

In my continuing sewing saga, (drumroll, please) I completed my first entirely homemade project:  Janus napkins.


Okay, so they are really just double-sided napkins, but I felt like applying some mythology to jazz it up a bit.  The inspiration for this project actually came from a set of handmade stone napkin rings (shown) that Chris and I purchased from the gift shop at Snowbird Mountain Lodge, a serenely magical retreat Chris’s parents introduced to us (yay gift certificate!).  We celebrated our seven year anniversary there.  The napkin rings  were used by the lodge’s restaurant, so we thought they would be nice reminders of our stay there (we do realize that the seven year gift is supposed to be copper, wool, or brass, but stone works, right?).  Well, once we had napkin rings, they were soooo lonely sitting on our placemats empty.  Of course, I realized it is not good for napkin rings to be alone for long, so off I went to Joann for fabric.  I have always wanted a very dramatic dining room with elements of blue to match our Kate Spade Library Lane Aqua china, but Chris and I also tend to like a bit of whimsy.  I decided on three different coordinating front fabrics and a single, contrasting back fabric to unify them.

NOTE: There are several blogger tutorials out there on making double-sided napkins, so I’ll just add my few tidbits to that conversation and move on to the finished product!

Phase 1: Prep

I purchased fat quarters to use to make my napkins for the sake of manageability of fabric on my first sewing expedition, which limited my size to no larger than an 18″ dinner napkin.  I chose to make a 17″ square napkin, since 16″ felt too small and 18″ seemed too big (17″ was juuuuust right.  Goldilocks, anyone?).  After neatening up the edges, I used a marking pencil to mark the lines I was supposed to sew on the “ugly” side of the fabric, leaving about a quarter inch surround. Then I pinned the pretty sides of one backing fabric and one front fabric together (ugly sides facing out).


TIP: I learned the hard way that the marking pencil I bought needed sharpening VERY FREQUENTLY, and after completing this project, my pencil is already half whittled down.  It was a total pain to use (note in the picture that you can see its lead marked a fat, uneven line) , though its white lead was very visible against the dark back fabric I used.  I will probably not buy one of these again, even though it wasn’t very expensive.  Chalk is probably what I’ll use for future endeavors.

Phase 2: Machine Sew

I started sewing with my old friend, the sewing machine, miraculously remembering to reverse stitch at the beginning and end of my sewing.  When I reached each corner, I raised the pressure foot, turned the material 90 degrees, lowered the foot, and continued sewing around the napkin.  I stopped sewing about 1.5 inches from where I first started to allow me to turn my napkin right-side-out.  IMG_1794

TIP: Don’t raise the needle–just the pressure foot! This helps hold your fabric in place and allows you to stitch continuously.

Phase 3: Inside-Outside-Upside Down

I pulled the fabric through my 1.5 inch hole so that the pretty sides were now visible.


Then I used a bamboo skewer to make the corners nice and sharp (be careful not to poke through the fabric, though!).IMG_1878

At first I congratulated myself on my cleverness, only to learn that the bamboo skewer is a rather popular sewing tool (make sure it is in your arsenal!).




I ironed the napkin to have crisp edges and then hand sewed the remaining 1.5 inches closed, leaving me with one finished napkin–now only nine remaining!

TIP: I have moderately thin and relatively nimble fingers, so the inside-out process was not so difficult, but if you have shorter, thicker fingers, I would suggest leaving a slightly larger opening.

Phase 4: Rinse, and Repeat

I repeated this process 9 times for a grand total of 10 napkins.  Why 10, you ask?  Over seven years ago, when Chris and I were registering for china, we had a major crisis (#firstworldproblems, anyone?).  Chris, who comes from a large family, wanted to register for 12 place settings, while, I, an only child, thought 12 would be excessive.  Summoning my powers of persuasion, I convinced him to agree to 8, but we ended up receiving 10.  We took it as a sign that 10 was the happiest compromise anyway, so we needed 10 napkins to go with our 10 place settings.  I chose to make three napkins of this soft, medium floral print:


three napkins of this modern, edgy, geometric print: Napkin1

and four napkins of this bold, large floral print:ImageThis way, I can mix and match depending on the size of the dinner party. For our everyday setting of four, I can either do all matching or 2/2. IMG_2104For settings of six, I can do 3/3 or 2/2/2.  For settings of eight, I can do 4/2/2, and if I ever have all 10 place settings of china in use (and the Ikea table I’d like that seats 10!), then I will use all of them together!

I tire very quickly of design choices, so this way I can change things up cheaply and still get that nice, newish feeling, all for a few bucks.  Each fat quarter was $1.25 originally, but getting them at a reduced price (yay sales and coupons!) meant my total cost for this project broke down as follows:

(10 front fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (10 back fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (1 spool of thread x $1.75) =  $16.75 for 10 Janus napkins.  Less than $2 per napkin.  Not bad, considering they are custom, double-sided, and who knows, maybe I’ll even monogram them with the remaining thread?!