Monday, May 1, 2017

Does This Fabric Spark JOY? The Japanese Art of Making Room for a Longarm Machine

Marie Kondo of KonMari
Hello, folks!  As many of you know, I've been quiet for awhile because my husband just had a heart valve repair surgery on April 19th.  The surgery went well and he's home now, recovering.  The mitral valve repair was successful and his heartbeat is back in normal sinus rhythm, but he's still considered to be in "heart failure" because his ejection fraction (measure of the heart's efficiency in pumping blood) was below 40% when he was discharged from the hospital.  So he's taking lots of medications for that and trying to walk around as much as possible, but the healing process is much slower than he expected and it's hard not to get discouraged when you're a 48-year-old, very active and healthy man who suddenly gets winded from a 5 minute walk around the cul-de-sac.  Only time will tell how much of the damage to his heart can be reversed now that the valve is working properly.  Thank you for all of your well wishes and prayers, and please keep 'em coming!

But before Bernie went into the hospital, and I mean THE DAY BEFORE, we set up my new-to-me APQS Millenium longarm quilting machine with her 12' frame.  Woo hoo!!!  Making room for Thoroughly Modern Millie required some deep soul searching and a heavy dose of Japanese organizing, KonMari style!  Have you heard of this professional organizer?

Available on Amazon here
My sister Susan was swooning over Marie Kondo's best-selling book a year or two ago, so I gave it a try.  In a nutshell, this organizing method is about getting rid of as much of your material baggage as possible so there is very little left to organize once you've completed your purge.  How ruthless are you supposed to be about what to keep and what to throw away?  You're supposed to dump everything you own in the middle of your floor and then pick items up one by one, asking yourself "Does this item spark JOY?"  And if the answer is no, if you're not absolutely thrilled with whatever it is you're holding, you're supposed to let it go -- either to be donated or to be trashed.  I laughed myself silly when I first read this book, because if I tried to organize my closet with the KonMari method I'd be left standing naked in an empty closet with nothing to wear. 

You Cannot Keep ANYTHING Unless it "Sparks Joy!"
The KonMari book touches briefly on sewing and craft supplies in the "Kimono" section, but this book is focused on simplifying your whole life by decluttering and drastically reducing the amount of stuff you own and need to care for.  It's not a "how to organize your sewing room" book.  However, I thought of that "does it spark joy?" litmus test again when I was standing in my studio, days before the longarm machine's scheduled arrival, looking at a wall full of hoarded fabric remnants, patterns, partially completed projects, back issues of sewing and quilting magazines, drapery workroom supplies, etc.  This photo shows my room setup prior to ordering the longarm machine, with two back-to-back workstations creating an island in the center of the room below the chandelier, and a nice work triangle from sewing machine to cutting table to ironing board.  It was functional and I liked how it looked, but the two sewing stations in the middle of the room were encroaching on where I wanted the longarm to go.  Also, the original reason for putting the desk behind the sewing cabinet was to create a larger work surface for free motion quilting on the domestic machine, which I won't be doing anymore:
Previous Setup with Back-to-Back Sewing Stations

The photo below was taken after I had already been straightening up, dragging furniture around, and reorganizing in here for a solid week, and had hit a roadblock where I felt like there was just too much stuff and too little room to store it all:

That Back Wall Needs to be Cleared Out!
My ironing board is now positioned on the opposite wall, in front of my design wall, and I moved the desk into its place.  Eventually I'd like to replace this desk with a smaller sewing cabinet that fits the space better and has storage for serger accessories and tools, but it works for now as a secondary sewing station either for the serger and coverstitch machines (if I'm sewing garments or home dec items) or for one of my Featherweights if I'm doing fussy, fiddly curved piecing, inset seams, and other patchwork tasks at which they excel.
Masking Tape Marks Future Home of 12' Longarm Frame
See?  My mom had the great idea of marking out the footprint of the 12' longarm frame with masking tape ahead of time.  Prior to taping it out on the carpet, I had a 14' frame on order, but when I taped that out and saw what it did to my space visually, I knew the 12' would be the better way to go.  Either the 12' or the 14' frame would fit at this point, except that the 14' frame would be so close to the step down into the room that it might be dangerous and would definitely look cramped, and with either size frame I wouldn't be able to easily access any of the stuff along that back wall once the quilting frame was set up in the taped out location.  Everything on that back wall had to go because I need more room to walk behind the machine when stitching paper pantograph designs from the back.. 

Like many of you, I had been hoarding a lot of crap in my sewing studio, especially fabric remnants.  My drapery workroom returns scraps to me from my clients' projects, and if they are decent sized scraps I give them to my client so we can use them for a throw pillow or something like that.  But some fabrics are so luxurious that I can't bear to throw any of it away, even if it's a weird skinny zigzag shaped scrap that couldn't be used for anything other than a couple of strips in a crazy quilt.  Then I had odd-shaped scraps of polar fleece, minky fabric, little bits of satin and faux fur because maybe I could use them for some kind of applique baby blanket someday...  Weird shaped scraps of bright orange sequined lycra from Bernie's Aquaman costume, doll hair leftover from a long forgotten craft project years ago... 

And when you're considering just ONE of those small, odd-shaped scraps or treasures, saving it seems reasonable enough.  But I had been accumulating these useless treasures for over 15 years, and I never did get around to making that crazy quilt or whatever because I have a bazillion other project ideas buzzing around my brain that I'd much rather do instead.  And the projects in my head that I'm most excited about are the quilts that are going to get finished on my new longarm machine!  Those scraps were occupying precious real estate in my studio that I needed for my longarm machine!  Oh, that Japanese organizing diva is so right, after all!  My studio was full of stuff that I didn't really want, didn't really need, but was saving because of either guilt about "waste," nostalgia for those projects I made when my kids were little, and fear for the future (because that's what we're really talking about when we say "what if I NEED IT SOMEDAY???")

Okay, so I confess that I did not go so far as to thank each item for its service prior to chucking it in the trash.  If my teenagers overheard me doing that, they'd have me committed!  But I did throw out a lot of stuff that I was holding onto out of guilt or nostalgia, and that felt very liberating.  Besides those fabulous-but-useless high end drapery fabric scraps, I also went on a Japanese organizing rampage in a large armoire in my master bedroom that was already storing some of my sewing paraphernalia, but also a lot of junk that fell into that "attachment to the past/fear for the future" category.  I threw out:
  • Uncut patterns in outdated or unflattering styles, like pleated front trousers and '80's style oversized tops, too-full skirts, and toddler patterns. 
  • All of Lars's and Anders' baby teeth (which the Tooth Fairy had been hiding in the house for over a decade because she couldn't bear to trash them at the time)
  • Most of my kids' arts and crafts projects, saving a few of my favorites but relocating them to the top closet shelves of THEIR bedrooms
  • Giant rolls of filler cord that I purchased in bulk way back when I fabricated window treatments.  I kept the 3/8" diameter that I use to whip up welt cord with my serger and the 1/8" mini cording, but chucked the 1/2" and jumbo 1" diameter rolls that I've probably used once in the last 15 years.
  • Two hat boxes full of hosiery that I did not know I still owned.  These are 20-year-old pantyhose and thigh high stockings, folks.  I have not worn hosiery since moving to North Carolina in 1999, and I do not plan to wear hosiery EVER AGAIN.  Pantyhose definitely does NOT SPARK JOY.
Infrequently Used Supplies Organized in Master Bedroom Armoire
Once I let go of all of that "baggage" and relocated a culled collection of family photographs to a chest in the guest room, I was able to neatly store sewing supplies that I wanted to keep but access infrequently, and as of right now, both of the drawers on the bottom are completely empty:
  • Machine embroidery thread
  • Embroidery module for my Bernina 750QE
  • Hand embroidery floss, needles, and hoops
  • My Grace lap hoop for hand quilting and sewing basket full of hand quilting thread, needles, and Roxanne thimbles
  • My beading supplies
  • Hot Fix Swarovski crystal supplies
  • The 3/8" and 1/8" diameter filler cord rolls
  • Accuquilt GO! fabric die cutter and dies
And you know what?  Just like the book title promised, getting rid of all that stuff WAS magical!  This is all I was left with on the back wall, a half-empty filing cabinet that is destined for longarm related papers, and a plastic drawer unit full of serger thread. 

I should be able to store both of these UNDER the 12' longarm frame, so I have achieved the impossible at last -- I cleared out that back wall so I have enough space to work comfortably from both sides of the longarm machine, and I didn't have to get rid of any fabric or supplies for projects that I really do enjoy.  Just looking inside my tidy armoire is sparking a little bit of joy... 

Another perk to this massive purge and reorganization was that it forced me to go through my stash of garment fabrics and patterns.  I have amassed so much more garment fabric than I have sewn.  I'll be on,, or, and I'll fall in love with a pattern or a fabric.  Then I would order the fabric and pattern online.  But sometime in between ordering the fabric and pattern online and its arrival in my mailbox, I would either get distracted by other projects or chicken out because the pattern seems too difficult for me.  So the patterns all got shoved in the bottom drawer of my bedroom armoire, and the fabrics got piled into a deep former entertainment center cabinet that lives in my studio.  And there they sat as the years went by, until I no longer remembered what fabric and patterns I owned, which fabrics were meant for which patterns, etc.

Garments I Never Got Around to Sewing
So with this big purge, I decided to measure every piece of fabric in my garment stash, match it up with a pattern, catalog all of this so I know which projects are on my to-do list (and so I know what I have before I shop for more), and then store these waiting-to-be-sewn projects neatly and accessibly on that MDF shelving unit that used to live on the back wall of my studio but is now in my guest room.  Now, is this shelving unit a beautiful d├ęcor addition to the guest room?  Um, no...  but it sort of blends into the wall, at least while it's empty.  I'm still working on those piles of fabric and patterns.  Trying to remind myself how much time and effort, above and beyond the cost of fabric, goes into a sewing project, and repeating "DOES IT SPARK JOY?" like it's my own personal mantra.  So many of those unsewn patterns I now realize may not flatter my figure, or may be too much trouble to fit properly.  Some of the knit prints that I fell in love with looking at photos online, I now hold up to myself in front of a mirror and wonder "What was I thinking?!"  So there will likely be more hitting the trash before I put the lucky survivors on these empty shelves.

From Toy Room to Studio to Guest Room: The Well Traveled Book Case
Bernie built this years ago for toy storage in the bonus room, and the shelves are too shallow for books and not very deep, either.  I'm thinking this is a temporary solution, at least until I work through the backlog of garment projects I've been hoarding instead of sewing.  But if I end up refilling the shelves with patterns and fabric as quickly as I empty them, that won't be the end of the world.  My guests will just have to get over it!

And once again, my "quick blog post update" turned into a novella.  If you're still reading this, I commend you, and I commiserate with you -- because that means YOU probably didn't get any sewing done today, either!

I'm linking up with Linky Tuesday at Freemotion by the River


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I hope Bernie continues to improve - recovery is slow sometimes - my sister who had the surgery for the brain tumor at the end of December is now back to work as a nurse part time - she is 66, she gets tired faster than she used to and knows it will be slow going - but it can happen.
Looking forward to seeing the long arm set up and good luck on your clearing up - I need to do some of that when I start to move things back to the quilting room when the room is finished with the remodel.

Jill said...

If Bernie can walk around the cul-de-sac so soon after major heart surgery, he's on the road to recovery. It is so hard for men to have patience especially the handsome ones. ;-) Your sewing space with natural light is awesome. There is something to the Art of Tidying Up. I've applied some of the principles and overnight it changed how I fold some of my clothes and quilt fabric. Have you heard of the saying, 'less is more'? Keep us posted.

Rosemary Dickinson said...

Hope your husband continues to improve. I'm sure it will take a while but it sounds like he's doing well. I love the concept of Tidying Up. Very interesting to me. I need to do this. Thanks for sharing! I got a HandiQuilter Avante with 12 foot frame a few months ago. I love it! I'm still learning but feel more comfortable with it all the time. Best of luck with your new machine!

Val's Quilting Studio said...

Oh Rebecca you lost me at the kids' teeth!!!! LOL!!!! About five years ago....I totally "let go" and decluttered. I found rejuvenation and true joy in the simplicity of clearing out my creative space. I use to scrapbook and found all that stuff was blocking my creative flow. I donated 90% of it to a women's shelter that gave self-improvement/goal setting classes and felt my creative energy flourish....of course that's also when I got my long-arm! LOL!!! I also took all the crafty stuff that so easily accumulates when you have young kids and transferred all that to my second grade again...simplified and re purposed. Now I'm creative at home and work! Enjoy the process. Sending blessings for you husbands recovery. with smiles! V:)

ES said...

Do you know loads of us are groaning and knashing our teeth just picturing the amazing scraps that you might have tossed out! But really I totally understand, you can see potential in a small scrap so you hang onto it, but let's face it after about 2 years if it's not been incorporated in a project then it would have been better to trash it in the first place!

Diane in TX said...

Continuing speedy recovery for Bernie, prayers continue. Your evolving sewing studio looks amazing! Purging is hard work and clear space is your reward. I am happy to see that Bernie is well enough that you can blog.

Janice Holton said...

Lots of fun to read but did you REALLY just throw stuff away??? Say it ain't so! You could have had a very fun giveaway on your blog with all those scraps. It sounds like your new sewing space is going to be MUCH more conducive to creativity and productivity! Way to go!

Daryl @ Patchouli Moon Studio said...

I read her book and tried to de-clutter some things, but with quilting, knitting and bag bag making as the things that do give me joy, I know I will always have creative clutter, lol!!! I do roll my clothes like socks and undies up in my drawers and that looks neater and give me more space. I did let some things go though and donated a lot, well a lot for me. Love your sewing space!

cwade1211 said...

I agree that de-cluttering and throwing stuff away, yes throwing it away! is liberating. It is too much work to sell it, run a giveaway or even find a place that will accept donations of fabric can be exhausting. Don't let that get in the way of getting rid of the stuff. Congrats, Rebecca!