Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Studio Does Not Look Like This

First of all, let me tell you that it does not ever quite look like this.  I move stuff around ALL THE TIME.  Stuff comes in, stuff goes out, stuff gets moved around.  It is a very dynamic space.  Not to mention the usual chaos and mess.

My studio space has evolved over the years.  I have a ranch style house built on a hillside, and underneath half of it is a basement space that opens out to a small patio.

Originally it was a space that collected junk.  The road from junk room to studio took years. The photos shown here span the last few years and some of them show things that have moved or moved on.

But wait!  There's more!  I had a water heater leak slowly over a period of months and it ended up destroying ALL of my treasured Stretch N Sew patterns and damaging ALL of my even more treasured Folkwear Patterns.  (Threw away the SnS.  Dried, wiped down with bleach to remove mold, dried again and finally stored in plastic bags each one of the FWs).

The leak resulted in some MAJOR changes which are NOT shown here.  There will be another post later with the after photos.

But back to the studio history:

One of the first things I did was build some shelves along one wall to hold the ever-expanding fabric stash.

So this was Studio 1.0.  A basement with a bare concrete floor, accumulating junk, including but not limited to sewing-related junk.  And a sewing machine, the Singer 348 that I bought in 1968.

Over time I made a few changes, including painting the floor with exterior latex paint to brighten it up.  Not the best choice.  Now they have special paint that bonds to bare concrete, but if that existed at the time I was not aware of it.  The latex is mostly OK, but where my chair wheels roll over it, it tends to peel off.

Exterior latex paint, several years old, peeling up where the chair wheels have loosened it

At some point I bought a serger, and then an embroidery machine.  The embroidery machine required a computer, so an old laptop went to live down there. I bought a 12' quilting frame at a thrift shop and stored it there until I had a chance to learn to use it. We will call this phase Studio 2.0.

Studio 3.0 began after I retired.  I did a lot more organizing and began clearing out non-sewing related junk from the space.  I hung thread organizers on the walls. I bought a large work table at the thrift store because it had an indestructible surface, only to discover (AFTER I had paid for it and they were trying to load it into my truck) was that the reason it was indestructible was that it was made of CONCRETE.  I had to hire guys to move it out of my truck, down the hill and into the studio.  Which cost me twice as much as the cheap thrift store table.  Worth it?  Absolutely.

Above you can see a bit of the concrete table and part of the Wall of Thread.

Two of the in-ceiling single incandescent bulb light fixtures were replaced with full spectrum fluorescent light fixtures, brightening up the room considerably.  I caught a bad case of VSMAD (Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder) and more sewing machines came to live with us. I learned to quilt on the frame with some of the vintage machines.   It started looking better and was less embarrassing as a guest room.  Oh, did I mention there was also a king sized bed down there?  It's a lovely big space.

Andre installs the cradles he designed and created.

There were several submodels at this stage:  Studio 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc. as I upgraded the storage and got it more and more organized.  Our friend Andre modified some standard shelf hardware and created cradles to hold large bolts of fabric.  He's also the person who installed the new light fixtures.  The late DH and I used to joke that Andre was single-handedly keeping us out of assisted living as he did all the things we could not do.

I found three 3-drawer lateral file cabinets at a church yard sale for $10 each.  Lateral file cabinets are terrific for storing all sorts of things.  A bunch of matching laundry hampers from Walmart created even more long-term bulk storage.

Notice throughout this post that EVERYTHING is labeled.  If it is not visible or labeled, it does not exist.  I am no good at remembering where I put things.

The 12' quilting frame lived in front of this storage.  I snapped this photo while it was moved temporarily so that I could repaint the floor.

New paint, the cheapest possible solution to many problems
I began giving sewing and quilting lessons in a casual way, and wanted the space to look better.  Every few years I slapped another coat of exterior latex on the floor, right over the dirt and scuffs.

Eventually one of the bedrooms upstairs got converted from an office back to a bedroom, a guest room.  By then I was really ready for the studio to be JUST a studio.  I still wanted a bed down there for one more possible sleeping space, but I didn't want it to look like a bedroom.  I puzzled over this for a LONG time (more than a year) and then one day in a flash it came to me:  four lateral file cabinets with a mattress on top, and a removable plywood surface on top of the mattress.  Cutting table height.  (The bed idea did not work out and quickly got nixed, btw.)

It took me another year to find four matching lateral file cabinets.  And now I am going to tell you a story that you probably won't believe.  I'm Irish in the maternal line, and we have The Sight in a minor way.  My mother had waking visions of things that later happened, most notably the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, which she saw two weeks before it happened, although without knowing where it was or when it would happen. Frustrating for her not to be able to warn anyone.  I don't have this ability, but sometimes things call out to me from thrift shops.  I told you that you would not believe this.

In August of 2014 I was visiting BFF Amber in California.  I heard the lateral file cabinets (that I had been seeking for a year) calling me from the NC State Surplus Store in Raleigh.  When I got home, I went there.  There they were.  Go ahead, be all rational and skeptical and refuse to believe.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 
Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Thus began Studio 4.0.  Just having this at all is the space of my dreams, but now it has everything that I have ever desired in a studio.  I bought a mid-arm machine for the frame.  My laundry room is down there.  A powder room is down there.  The total square footage, including those rooms and the stairway, is 800 square feet.  I have sliding glass doors leading to a brick patio overlooking the wooded valley in back of my house.  Bambi (and her mother) have come to visit me on that patio.  Mr. and Mrs. Barred Owl and their baby came to perch on a fallen tree out there.  Pretty much paradise in my little town.

The  back wall has shelving units with bins, all nicely labeled

three units in all

I found cubicle dividers at a local thrift shop for $5 @.  They are just leaning against the shelves and can be slid to the side.  This is not ideal, but it WAS very cheap.  And the fabric surface means that quilt blocks will stick long enough for an audition, and straight pins will also go into the panels if they need to be better secured.

And even more long term fabric storage up top.

I created covers for the embroidery machine by finding some cardboard boxes the right size and cutting holes in them.  The smaller box, which covers the embroidery unit itself, slides into the larger box.

Both boxes are then slip covered with quilted yellow gingham.  The vintage embroidered cloths are just laid on top of the quilted covers.

All of this sits on top of a cabinet that holds all of my parts cabinets.

The parts cabinets have all been painted white by now, but the following earlier pictures will give you some ideas about their contents.  Every size of needle has its own little drawer.  Every type of presser foot.  Every tool small enough to fit into one of these drawers.  You get the idea.  I can lay my hands on anything in a couple of seconds

I repainted the floor yet again.  I bought some colorful rugs.

One of the VERY BEST things I did was slip cover all the chairs with red fleece. The chairs are from various thrift shops, and although all were functioning well they were all different colors, all various shades of UGLY.  I bought the cheapest possible red fleece to make the chair covers.  Getting them all the same color made a HUGE difference.

Fleece has a little stretch, so I just cut each piece the size of the chair element to be covered--with NO seam allowances. I put the fuzzy side to the inside and the smoother side out.   It was super easy (with the serger) and fast and looks FABULOUS.  One of the best upgrades I have ever done.  And cheap, did I mention cheap?  I was worried that the fleece would not hold up well, but I did this several months ago and they still look great.

Another big upgrade happened by transforming the funky storage space under the stairs into a display space.  In the back of this tiny space you can see the door to the powder room.

Lots of vintage goodies have accumulated from years of frequent thrift store visits,  It's a lifestyle/obsession.

I used Dharma Trading Company's color card to pick the perfect shade of dye to transform a light green curtain to match this spot.  Aquamarine.  I dyed the curtain and the little rug in the washing machine, first time I have tried this.

The powder room gives me lots more space to display vintage sewing goodies.

It took several years to find the second display shelf to match the first one.

Faithful blog readers have asked me several times to post pictures of my studio.    Now is the time, because as soon as I start a project it will begin to descend into chaos again.

History ends, back to the present time now

As a result of the water heater disaster an entire wall of stuff got taken down.  Totally.  And in the end it was totally unnecessary.

Under the wall  of stuff is a floor drain.  Building all of this on top of the floor drain was NOT one of my brighter thoughts.

I thought that drain had been burping muddy water up behind the wall of stuff and the first plumber who came over here to assess the situation did not figure out that this was wrong.  But in order for the plumber to fix it he obviously had to be able to get to it. So the entire wall of stuff had to be moved.  Or so we thought.  Once the wall of stuff was gone and a different plumber came back he immediately discovered it was the water heater.   Fixing that did NOT require moving the wall of stuff, but it was already gone. 

This turned out to be a good thing.  I go to a couple of thrift stores per week and bring stuff home.  Lots of it goes to live in the studio.  It was long past time for a good turn-out.

Here's what the now-gone wall of stuff looked like.

The stairs are behind this wall, and are open as you come down them, but the wall of stuff hid the view.

Can't get it all in one photo.  above the top of the whole thing.  Below, the right hand side of the whole thing.

From the ground up:  three two-drawer file cabinets.  In between the cabinets, more storage.  Hiding the file cabinets and storage:  a set of bulletin boards (foam insulation covered in red flannel, inside of old picture frames).  The bulletin board thing seemed like a good idea but was not.  They didn't want to stay together. 

On top of all of this, one of my most prized possessions:  a twelve foot long aluminum counter-top that was discarded from a factory in Baltimore.  One of the daughters took it for her home office.

On top of the counter-top:  the last four grad school particle board bookcases.  "Particle board" and "bookcase" are words that should NEVER be used together.  They have held up this long only because extensive engineering was done on the backs of them to hold them together.

Inside the bookcases:  books, d'oh.  And other goodies.  Lately I have been acquiring dolls from different countries.  They make me smile and most of them can be played with.  Extremely superior and well behaved children are ALWAYS welcome at DragonPoodle Studio.  And I DO know such children.  Notably the offspring of Heather and Agustin, and Linda and Phil. And my new friend Anna, daughter of Jenn.  I assume it is the parenting that gets these results.

Gryphon.  One of those extremely superior children I was just telling you about.

In an earlier incarnation of the studio I could pull out the top drawer of this dresser and create an ironing station whenever I needed it.  You can see the embroidery machine peeping from behind the iron.

The boxes below have been replaced with plastic drawers the same size.  And the wall unit is now full of Kaafe fat quarters and yardage.  Lucky me!  (Fabric outlet nearby).

Fat quarters in boxes, special project fabric on wall, monogrammer and buttonholer, and a peek into the very messy laundry room

Floor lamps have weighted bases and are perfect for storing large rolls of stuff.  It isn't difficult to remove the lamp part, although if you look closely you will see that one has been left in place.

The floral basket WAS very cool, but all of my ironing stuff has now been stashed in a cart with the big presser on top.

Tailor's ham and other ironing accessories in a basket covered with fake flowers

Did you survive to the end of the post?  it's one of the longest ever.  it could be ten times as long (or more!) if I showed you everything.

Do you have the studio space of your dreams, as I do?  Or do you have to set up on the kitchen table when everyone else is out of the house?  Wherever I have lived I have always been able to claim a space for sewing, no matter how tiny.  It's really, really important, isn't it?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Whaddya get for Christmas?

if you know what this is, we are soul mates.  If not, tell you later. 

The daughters and I are really, really good at Christmas.  We would all tell you that Thanksgiving, hands down, is our FAVORITE holiday.  We're good at Thanksgiving too.  But we really excel at Christmas.

Our ways would not be everybody's ways.  Our goal is to make everyone feel lavished.  Is that a word?  It's our word.  We go all out and always have.  Back in the student days this involved less $$ and more creativity.  Now we are creative about spending the $$.  We don't hold back.

Now this does not mean new cars, and none of us have ANY credit card debt.*  Really, truly.  So when I say we go all out we are not being foolish or doing anything we shouldn't.  We are just expressing love in terms of material objects.  In the true spirit of Christmas.  Yes, tongue is firmly in cheek.

*one of the proudest statements I can make as a mother.

There was some silly talk over the Thanksgiving table about whether or not we should take a more restrained approach to Christmas.  I laughed and said they could go ahead but not to expect me to change at this point in my life.

So I was curious (not worried, just curious) to see what the addition of two more people would be like this year.  Both daughters now have a person in their life with whom spending Christmas is a good thing.  This unexpected turn of events was two of the highlights of 2017.

Fork pins!

Spoiler alert:  It was fabulous.  They fit right in. They both brought mountains of presents to go with the mountains under the tree.  We spent HOURS opening presents (one at a time so everybody gets to see and enjoy everybody else's gifts.  Like I said, we do it RIGHT.)  The presents were right on target (Amazon wish lists help a lot) and others were surprising and unexpectedly apt.  There were lots of very funny presents.  We are very funny people.

And many of my presents were sewing related.  Which is my excuse for telling you all about how we celebrate.  There WERE other presents (thanks for the dragon head, Jim) but I'm only showing the sewing things here.

Oh, yes, bring on the tools and trinkets!

What a trip! (Using the word in the 1960s sense)


And the American Duchess book had just been published!  Hot off the presses!

The sewing presents continued in the week after Christmas as I caught up with friends.

Many of the presents came from thrift stores, too.  We're not stuffy about that.  These patterns are from Barbara, who has often witnessed me going into raptures over vintage patterns in the thrift shops.

Becky walked into a thrift store the week before Christmas and discovered an entire thimble collection.  And bought it for me.

As a displaced Midwesterner I really love the covered bridge and the memories it evokes.


Did you recognize the Nebra Sky Disc?  Bronze disc from the Bronze Age, circa 1600 BCE, one of the oldest known depictions of astronomical events.  And yes, this DOES fit my sewing theme because there are perforations around the outside of the disc suggesting that it had been sewn to something.  Since it is 12 inches in diameter I'm guessing a shield rather than a cloak.

This is a 4 inch tile rather than a 12 inch bronze disc

I have long wanted to re-create this in some way.  I'm not a bronze smith though.  I have a bunch of ideas and have had them for years, if not decades.  If I ever do anything about it you will certainly see it here.


Did you get (or give) any cool sewing themed gifts this year?  Tell us about it in the comments.  If it is really, really cool, send me a photo and I'll add it to this post.