Creating Minimally: Tips for Working in a Small Space

The other day, I was reading through the comments on our recent Apartment Therapy feature. I know, I know, never read comments on the internet. But I came across a couple that stood out to me:

“As a quilter, I have a lot of questions about how this functions as a "quilting studio". Do they mean design studio? The idea of having enough space in a 300sf space to cut, layout, baste/pin, and assumedly have a long arm machine is crazy pants to me. I'd love to see pictures of how that works.”

“I would also like to see the quilting in progress. I imagine there is a lot of tidying between steps, but it would be useful to see her organization. I don't quilt but do sew and other crafts, and can't imagine doing that without a large work surface. I would love to learn some tips and tricks for maximizing the space I have.”

 
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Reading those, it dawned on me that I don’t really share much about how exactly I work in such a small space - a fact that I often overlook because it’s a normal, everyday thing to me. I forget that a lot of quilters have large studios, long arm machines, design walls, and huge fabric stashes. Or at least the floor space to baste a quilt. I have none of those things, yet I’ve been making quilts (and running a business) in less than 200 square feet for over 5 years. In an Airstream trailer no less!

Over the years, people have asked how I make it work and I haven’t really had a great answer because I just make it work - it’s all I know. But a lot of those folks want to know because they either think they don’t have enough space to sew or have been told they need all these things and all this space in order to make a quilt. All of which isn’t true. Because if I can make a hundreds of quilts in an Airstream (that I share with my husband, two dogs and cat), anyone can definitely carve out a little space to sew or craft.

So I finally sat down and wrote out some of the ways I maintain a minimal workspace and make the tiny space I have work for me. These aren’t all quilting specific, but they are all practices I follow to better live and work minimally.

 
 
 
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Have a place for everything. Knowing exactly where something belongs makes working more efficient and keeps everything organized. Small spaces get cluttered more easily, so being able to put things away quickly and neatly makes life a little easier.

Organize based on how often you use it. If you use something every day, keep it close. If you use it rarely, it doesn’t need to be easily accessible. I keep tools I use everyday on my desk and in the drawer right next to me, while quilt samples that I won’t need for months are tucked away under the bed.

You don’t really need all the fancy gadgets and tools. It’s tempting, I know, but you’d be surprised at how much you can do with a good cutting mat, ruler, rotary cutter and an inexpensive sewing machine. If you’re bringing new tools into your workspace, think hard about how often you’ll use it and how much value it will bring to your practice.

Reorganize and purge often. When your workspace and fabric stash starts to get out of control, take an hour or so to tidy everything up, refold and stack fabric, and put everything back in its place. If you haven’t used something in the last six months, either sell or donate it. Someone may get better use of out it.

Only buy what you need and use what you have. Try and make the most out of every piece of fabric you buy - scraps can be used for new quilts, incorporated into quilt backs, reused as stuffing for pillows, or donated to a handful of organizations. Before starting a new project, look through your fabric stash and try to use what you have before buying new fabric to keep your stash from getting out of control. 

Get creative with how you work. Using what you have an making it work is necessary for working well in small spaces. Utilizing picnic tables, open studios at quilt shops, and recreation centers have all allowed me to baste giant quilts outside of my small workspace.

If you have your own tips for working in a small space or have any questions, I’d love to hear them!