Caution: Enter this Quilt Room at Your Own Risk

Caution: Enter this
Quilt Room at Your
Own Risk
Date: January 2006
Good Riddance Professional Organizing Solutions
Authored By:
Susan Borax
Caution: Enter this Quilt Room at Your Own Risk
The Bee-all of Craft room Makeovers
By Susan Borax and Heather Knittel
Every January, next to losing weight and starting to exercise, the most popular rallying cry among resolutionmaking enthusiasts is “getting organized.” In the heady moments of the New Year’s merrymaking, we annually
convince ourselves that we can successfully undo the past and reinvent ourselves into happier, productive and
yes, tidier human beings.
As professional organizers we witness this phenomenon, year in and year out. The reasons people have
“issues” with clutter can vary from being overwhelmed by life’s unanticipated tribulations to membership in
multi-generation packrat families. However, the clutter surrounding quilters does not fit the classical models.
Quilters are artists, designers and collectors who integrate an infinite number of materials and techniques into
their work. They are really passionate about what they do - sharing at local guilds, donating works to charity,
learning together at retreats and going on extended shopping excursions (Shop Hops). Many quilters are
challenged in trying to create a quilting room that provides inspiration minus frustration. Our research
identified 4 major categories of clutter that can stand in the way of the perfect quilting room:
UFO’s (Unfinished Objects)
And typically, the problem boils down to having too much stuff in too small a space. To help us understand why
these 4 categories comprise the majority of clutter for quilters one only has to look at the stats from the most
recent Quilting in America ™ survey conducted in 2003 which reveals a good deal on buying patterns of
• Dedicated quilters house $5442 worth of supplies, including 2 sewing machines and $2860 worth of fabrics
in their quilting rooms
• The estimated total volume of the quilting industry in the US stands at $2.27 billion
• The total number of quilters is 21 million. Average spending per quilter = $139.70
• Dedicated Quilters (a segment that spends > $500 per year) make up 5.21% of all quilters but are
responsible 94.7% of all spending
• On average, Dedicated Quilters spend $1934 a year on quilting
• 81% of this group has a room dedicated to quilting and sewing activities in their home.
• Quilters purchase 5.5 quilting books per year and read an average of 4.2 quilting magazines per month
• Dedicated quilters work on an average of 14.2 projects per year. Not all of these are taken to completion for
a variety of reasons.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the love-affair quilters have with fabric. Quilters find the lure of
fabric to be simply irresistible. In their defense, the very nature of their craft encourages them to collect fabric
of all shapes and sizes with no piece ever being too small.
Good Riddance was thrilled to be invited to participate in a make-over contest sponsored by a local Quilter’s
Guild. We were invited to jury the entries of submitted photos of messy and disorganized quilting rooms.
While there were many worthy submissions from quilters desperate to get some organizing first-aid, we settled
on a makeover candidate who fit the dedicated quilter profile. Enter our perfect candidate: Cathy!
Having never taken up quilting, I was at a bit of a disadvantage but Heather had dabbled in quilting and is an
experienced sewer who had once created a sewing room for herself out of a closet. After all, we had experience
transforming craft rooms for our other clients and felt the organizing process we follow in our de-cluttering
practice would apply to this situation as well. We tackled the project head-on.
Cathy had been sewing since she was a young girl and a dedicated and loyal quilter for the last 12 years. Her
quilt room was situated in a spare bedroom with dimensions of approximately 10 by 13 that included a former
clothes closet partially outfitted with shelves to store fabric and supplies. Her worktable measuring 6 feet in
length was positioned beneath a window facing the front of her house. The design board was hung on the wall
to the right of the table and threads and a peg board flanked the wall to the left. The rest of the room contained
an ironing board, sewing machine, dressmaker’s dummy, racks for hanging quilts and a collection of furniture
re-purposed from other areas of the house to hold magazines, books, other supplies, knick-knacks and, of
course, a great selection of fabric. Unfinished projects found their way into closets and plastic tubs placed in
corners. Lighting was provided from 2 small table lamps on either side of the workstation. The overall effect
suggested a busy but uninviting environment. All of the elements were there. Our job was to optimize the
quilting room by working with what she had. Our challenge was to make everything presentable and accessible
so that she could enjoy spending time there. Cathy’s comments were “My husband built my sewing desk at a
height so that I would not have to bend over when cutting. You would think that I would be organized, but sadly
I am not. I need your help. Yours in desperation.”
The first step to reclaiming her space was to have Cathy go through a rigorous assessment of her material and
supplies in order to reduce the accumulation to a realistic level. This can be both the most difficult and most
rewarding stage for many quilters. It means taking a hard look at fabric, in particular, and deciding what to
keep, what to give and what to throw away. The same approach was taken with UFOs. At what point does one
abandon a project that has eluded completion. One year? Ten years? Clutter is the result of decisions deferred.
We always recommend that clients obtain sorting supplies- bags, boxes, labels, and once the sorting begins,
only handle each items once. Fortunately, Cathy was pretty ruthless with her collection. She was fortunate to
find good homes for her excess belongings by donating to charities and neighbors. She was equally ruthless
with magazines. With resources like the Internet and the quilting library service offered by her guild, ideas and
patterns are readily available without resorting to hoarding paper. By the time we arrived, much of the sorting
and purging was finished. That meant that we could move on to the actual organization of the room. Even in a
small space, it is critical to identify and assign contents to activity zones. Typical zones in a quilt room could be
machine sewing, hand sewing, pressing, cutting and storage. This makes it easy to group items by function to
make them easy to locate. Once we established the activity zones, it was easy to assemble the tools, materials
and supplies associated with each one. This also gave us a good idea of what inventory had to be contained.
To make the right choices regarding storage, you need to know the range and quantity of what you have, as well
as how often you will use it. We looked at the storage options that were on premises. We recommended the
installation of additional shelves in the closet, a reconfiguration of the shelving to the existing bookcase used for
fabric and add more thread storage to the wall. When working in small spaces it is important to consider
vertical storage options. Walls and the backs of doors are as a rule, underutilized. In addition, Heather
purchased more bins and baskets to hold works in progress. Some smaller, inefficient book cases and shelves
were removed from the room. Supplies were placed in clear plastic drawers under the worktable for easy access
and visibility
The lighting was addressed through the installation of halogen track lights in the ceiling. Multiple bulbs allowed
for the lights to be positioned on the key work areas. More workspace was freed up by eliminating the table
When all construction was completed, supplies were placed in the closet, with infrequently used and odd sized
pieces put on higher shelves. All fabric was refolded and organized by color on the bookshelf. Cathy took the
initiative to change the color of the design board from blue to white, enhancing the new feeling of space and
light that characterized the transformation. "I can't say enough about Good Riddance and the process they took
me through. Before, the reorganization, I dreaded walking into my quilting room. Now, I feel as though a huge
weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I'm much happier being in my quilting room and have a sense of
renewed energy. I'm so much more inspired with my projects. In the end, de-cluttering and reorganizing has
given me more time to do what I love most!"
While we provided suggestions and organizing expertise, Cathy provided the ultimate direction for us. We
functioned as instruments of change by supporting her through a process that allowed her to realize the full
potential of her creative space, where beforehand she was stuck. We loved working on this project as it gave us
an opportunity to work with receptive and talented people. The quilt room makeover project allowed us to
demonstrate how a few simple principles of organizing can go a long way to nurturing the artistic spirit.