Sewing Room Essentials

Thanks to all who answered the sewing room essentials question.  I loved reading your answers!  My original question was because someone just starting to quilt was asking but in this post, I’ll include the things most important to me.  Remember that most all I do is a straight stitch and I do absolutely no quilting on my sewing machine.

Many mentioned the ergonomic chair, and that’s a great idea but not something I would have thought to include.  I find that when I’m sewing, I’m sitting right on the edge of the seat, mostly hunkered down over my sewing machine but I never seem to sew more than a few minutes at a time.  I’m up to press or up to trim or, up to check something on the computer.  If I sat longer at the machine, or if I had back/shoulder issues,  I would see the benefit of an ergonomic chair.  A good chair is a really good thing to have!

1.  Topping my list of important quilting room items is the sewing machine! Oh, how I love my sewing machine.

I sew on a Singer 301 from the 50’s that I bought at Goodwill for $35, and that included the cabinet and a chair.  I have newer machines, I have three Bernina machines.  The Bernina that I used the most is a 1230 that I bought in 1989.  Don’t do what I do but I never once took that machine to the shop for anything until a light switch went out and that was just a couple of years ago.  When I took it to the shop, I ended up buying another Bernina (and I don’t even remember what number it is — 430 maybe . . it’s packed in a box).  You see why I never go to the Bernina shop?  🙂

I bought the new machine because I love using the Bernina walking foot to attach the binding to the quilts.  I have a walking foot for the Singer 301 but I don’t love it so much.  I figured the 1230 wasn’t going to last forever and the 430 (if that’s the right number) was one of the last Swiss made Berninas so I bought it.

Why do I love the old Singers?  They are all mechanical.  The 301 has no belts — all gear driven.  Anything that goes wrong, Vince can fix.  It makes a perfect stitch.  Did I say how much I love that machine?  Even when I have used the Bernina 1230 for a while, and I like that machine a lot, when I get back to the 301, I’m amazed at what a fantastic machine it is.

It does not have needle up/down but almost subconsciously, I know about how to hit the foot so that the needle stops up almost every time.  If not, I just turn the hand wheel and never notice that it’s a problem.

2.  Quarter inch foot – I love the several feet that I use that result in a perfect 1/4″ seam.  There are several ways to get a perfect 1/4″ seam without using a special foot but I find using a foot with a side blade works best for me.

3.  Ironing surface – When I’m sewing in the house, I use a regular ironing board and yes, it works but I love my big ironing table.

I use a cheap (as in about $20) pine bookcase unit that I bought at Lowe’s about 10 years ago.  I couldn’t see wasting all that space underneath the ironing table so I love having the shelves.  I had a sheet of plywood cut (in half maybe) and Vince drilled some holes in the wood and in the top of the shelf unit so the plywood screws on.  I covered it with several layers of Warm & Natural batting and then cover it with whatever I can find. I have ticking stripe on it now.  When we move, the top has to come off so I change out the cover when we move. I pull the fabric over the board and use a staple gun to attach it.

4.  Good lighting – I’m not sure I could ever install the perfect lighting for every situation.  When I’m piecing, I seem to need the light shining on a different spot than when I’m binding.  I like having good lighting over my cutting table but for sewing, I count on having good lights around the sewing machine.  I have Ott floor lamps and Ott desk lamps but my current favorite is a bendable light.  It’s an Ikea product but I ordered mine from Amazon.

5.  Cutting tables – I have two cutting tables.  One is the one I bought when I got my Bernina in 1989.

It’s 72″ x 40″ and is about 35″ tall.  I use it mostly for cutting large pieces of fabric, border work, and trimming the quilts for binding.  Even though it folds and can be configured to be smaller, I had a long, narrow space in MO where I had to stick the cutting table so I ended up buying a workbench from Sam’s Club and using it for my cutting table.

It’s about 72″ x 20″ and is almost 38″ tall.  I love it for trimming and for marking quilts.  I’m glad I have enough room to keep both of these tables set up.

6.  Design wall – mine is nothing fancy.  I tacked a piece of fluffy poly batting on the wall and pinned flannel over that.  It makes such a difference being able to see things from this angle vs. looking at them on the floor or on the bed.

7.  Pegboard!  I am so happy to have a sheet of pegboard.

It’s so easy to keep my rulers organized and know where they are.  There’s probably a whole lot more things I should get hung up on that board and just haven’t done it yet.

Other things that matter to me:

  • Lots of trash cans.  I have 7 or 8 tall kitchen cans around the room.  If there’s a trash can within reach, I’m a whole lot more likely to drop trash into them.
  • Inexpensive vacuum cleaner.  I’ve never used my good vacuum cleaners in the sewing room.  Too many pins and threads on the floor.  I think my current sewing room vac was less than $40 at Wal-Mart.  It works and when it no longer works, it goes into the trash and I buy another one.
  • Music.  I have Sirius satellite radio in the sewing room.  Every now and then it’s on some talk radio channel but mostly it’s on old country (Willie’s Place) or old gospel (Enlighten).
  • Electric Quilt.  I’m not sure what I would do without it.  I’m so dependent on it for my quilting.
  • Rulers, mats and rotary cutter.  I love the Creative Grids rulers.  It’s important to keep good, sharp blades in the cutter.  I don’t change mine often (maybe not even once a year) but when it begins to get dull, it’s nice to have a fresh blade.  Mats can get cut up and even the self-healing mats need replacing from time to time.
  • Good company!

Speck is especially happy when he finds a little patch of sunshine!  🙂

And my last piece of advice, especially for a new quilter . . don’t go hog wild buying fabric til you know what you truly love.  In the beginning, I bought lots of everything and soon learned that I mostly like tone on tone fabrics and some fabric textures I don’t like using.  Having a big stash is great but it’s better to have a stash of fabrics that you love to use and not just a lot of this and a lot of that which may not be your favorites.


  1. 1

    Terri says

    Your last paragraph is the best! I went nuts buying fabric when I first started. I had no clue from ok to good fabric. Once I actually made something with a Moda line? Well I was hooked 🙂

    Great advice!

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    Sheri says

    Loved your post! I started setting up my sewing room last weekend and now I’m going to go back and find the post you referred to where other people left their comments as well. I also appreciate the info on how you made your larger ironing board and design wall.

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    Ida in Central PA says

    Something that I recommend. If you do not have a ‘set in’ table, and use your machine on a higher table table, something that helps, so that you can SEE where your foot is hitting (w/o hunching over your machine), are those plastic wedge doorstops. They’re about $3 each.

    I have 2 that I sit under the back of my machine. I can adjust the tilt from a little, to a lot (depending on how much you wedge under the machine).

    They help when I take my machine away to camp, etc. I find that I can sew much longer, and my back doesn’t hurt. 🙂

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    Amen on not overbuying on fabric. I’ve had to purge my stash several times, weeding out perfectly good “what was I thinking?” fabric.

    Plus, after several occasions where I’d run out of the fabric I wanted to use for a particular quilt only to find a _better_ choice at the quilt store, I use the quilt store for stash and only buy a little of fabrics I really love to stash at home. (It helps that I prefer scrappy quilts; grabbing five red half yards to make up the 2.5 yards I need for a given project works fine for me.)

  5. 5

    Ava Crotinger says

    I have a Singer 401A that I recently got at Goodwill. It looks just like the one my mom had years ago. Brings back memories of home to just look at it and it also sews perfectly.

    I’d like to find the thread holder / guide that you use for the big cones of thread. I’ll do some online searching and see what I find.

    I am stitches away from finishing my first pieced quilt top. It’s pretty exciting.

  6. 6

    EagleKnits says

    All of the advice from this and the previous post has been great! I’m making a list, so I won’t forget anything. 🙂

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    Diann says

    If I could start over on buying fabric, I would be DULL and just buy for one project and stay with that project till finished and NOT start another before that. My fabric owns me and it rises like bread dough though I’ve mostly been no buy for almost three years. I have bought two or three times but not much. Still too much sitting there waiting….and the UFOs. I sometimes make a list..there’s a lot.

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    somehow the comments areas seems to have changed. It’s narrower and I had trouble bypass the “enter your comment here” statemment. That said, I have a Singer 501 slant needle, much like your 301. I love, love, love the stitch it makes. I bought it at age 17, before I bought a car. It’s earned its keep over its 50 years. Maybe my kids will be selling it someday for $35 at a garage sale, who knows?

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    daneesey says

    I’ve mentioned this privately several times lately … enough so that I think I’ll probably mention it when I post my stash report this Sunday. I can remember very boldly (and rashly/foolishly) proclaiming publicly that I would *never* be one of those quilters who bought ‘stash’ fabric. I’d buy fabric for the quilt project I was working on and that was IT. Anything else was frivolous and rather outrageous. I just couldn’t understand women who claimed to love fabric, ‘just for fabric’s sake.’ Bahahaha!! I’ve matured tremendously since then … both in my thinking … and in my STASH! 🙂

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    stipplequilt says

    Great post Judy! I agree that the old sewing machines are the greatest, I do all my sewing and quilting on a 15-91 Singer and also have a 401 Slant O Matic.

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    This post & your earlier one in which you asked your question have been fun. I do love my sewing… whether by hand or machine. I’ve collected some tools I really love; I also bought things I do not need…. WAY too many super long rulers. I have acquired duplicates of the smaller tools, but (fortunately) I have lots of opportunities to take my sewing to Bees, retreats & friends’ homes, so I like keeping a “to-go” stash of tools.

    So if I had to replace my sewing tools, these would be the tools I would first replace (at a minimum):
    reliable straight stitching machine; extra bobbins and microtex sewing machine needles in several sizes;
    excellent hot iron that does not cut it self off;a couple of rulers: 3×18, 4×4.5, 6.5×12 & 12.5 square; 18×12 self healing mat; 45mm & 28mm rotary cutters with extra blades;
    Bernina seam ripper; embroidery scissors sharp to the point; Sewline pencil;
    ironing surface; my new Ikea light (just like Judy’s); and at least one Ott light.
    Having them now, my most cherished quilting accessories are: my wonderful sewing buddies, the internet and people for whom to sew. Thanks Judy!

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    I have that same Bernina cutting table and I love it! Big enough to baste on and I put drawers under mine…of course, that effectively takes away any chance at closing it! My favorite new addition is a pair a Expedite bookcases from IKEA. One with 25 cubes holds 300 mini bolts (soon to be 400) of fabric so that I can “shop” at home before I wander off to the stores because I can’t find what I need! Thanks for the look at your sewing room, it’s inspired me to do a little picking up in mine!

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    Pat C in Washington says

    Lighting is the most important thing to me, especially as I get older. I have Ott lights near every surface I work on. My son teases me that “your sewing room is like the surface of the sun! The police are going to think you have a grow op going on in here!” Har de har har smarty pants. Just wait until you get old.

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    While I love the vintage sewing machines, I have gotten very spoiled with my modern machine. I don’t know if I could give up my knee lift, or LED lighting and the needle threader in my old age. How do you manage to change rotary blades so infrequently?