Once upon a time, there was a woman who had her own sewing room. She had married her high school sweetheart, and both were talented artists who loved to Make things. Then they had children. The oldest daughter is sixteen. For her entire lifetime, her bedroom closet has been full of her mother’s sewing things. She has never truly had a private space to call her own.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who had her own sewing room, complete with a walk-in closet for fabric. Her house was adorable, a decorator’s paradise. You couldn’t tell when the fabric closet got filled. You couldn’t tell when the sewing room itself got filled. You could only tell when the guest room got filled if you were invited upstairs. At some point, you weren’t invited over anymore. Nobody was. She would have been Pinterest royalty, if Pinterest existed in those days. Now? Well, let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say she doesn’t have a sewing room where she lives now.
A sewing room is the ultimate fantasy of many people. It’s a bottom-up fantasy, a whimsical solution to the pressing problem of Where Do I Put All This Fabric and Stuff? A top-down fantasy would be more along the lines of What is My Ultimate Fantasy? or, If I Had Only One Wish, What Would It Be? I once wanted a sewing room of my own, but I don’t any longer. Let’s unpack this.
I can do pretty much everything. I can knit and crochet. I can draft patterns. I can do various stitches by hand. I still have an antique industrial sewing machine, which I use on vanishingly rare occasions. I can make hats and shoes and socks and mittens that fit. I can do tablet weaving. I can quilt and do cross stitch. I can use a pressure canner. I can use shop tools. I have personally assembled most of the furniture in the house, cut my treadmill desk, made the wall hangings and pot holders and afghans and the beaded lamp, and even put together some of the sequined fruit in my collection. I made all my brother’s drapes. Many of my friends and family members have, at one time or another, had at least one object I made for them. It used to be a huge part of my life. My grandmother once pointed out that she never saw me just sit; if I was sitting, I was working on a project. (That is still true, but the projects are usually ink-based now). If anyone could have used a sewing room, surely it was I.
I quit making stuff. Well, more accurately, about ten years ago, I decided to “get caught up” and finish every project I had ever started. After that, I was going to use up all the fabric and materials I had stored. When I was at Fabric and Yarn Zero, the plan was to reevaluate and check out how it felt. Plan A was to conceive of a project, plan it, schedule a day to start working on it, and then go out and acquire the materials when I knew I would be able to complete it in a reasonable time period. That day has not yet come. I am still working on the last project, something I began over ten years ago. I still have fabric that I bought farther back along the timeline than that. I have gotten rid of all the knitting and crochet stuff, the table loom, the inkle loom, the lace bobbins, and one of the sewing machines. There are various other notions and supplies that I still have, even though I know I haven’t touched the stuff in at least the last two houses we have lived in, even though I write about clutter every day.
Why? Why do we feel the need to keep SO MANY YEARS’ WORTH OF STUFF?
It just might come in handy. Some felt I had bought to make a new hat got cut up and used to fix the motor in the freezer. One of the first rules of clutter is that, soon after I get rid of something, a situation will arise in which I can imagine having used the thing, reinforcing my desire to keep everything even when I have so much I can’t find anything and have to make do without it. (A cluttered sentence for you there).
Why else do we keep years’ worth of materials?
They are full of bright and shiny POTENTIAL. We remember how much they cost, and it makes us nauseated to think of wasting that money. (Sunk cost fallacy). We get really excited when we look at them. We know we’ll use them as soon as we find other things that go with them well enough to complete the project. We’re afraid that the next time we go to look at materials, suddenly they will all be less attractive than what we bought last time, in spite of the fact that we find everything more attractive each time we go. We see it as our lone vice. We prefer shopping and starting projects to organizing, cleaning up, and completing projects. We feel like we’ve ruined something, and we don’t want to try to fix it, but we also don’t want to throw it away, so we put it aside and start something else. Someone gave it to us, and paradoxically, it’s usually harder to get rid of things we got for free than things we bought. We’ve never thought about it, and we have no idea how many person-hours of labor each bolt or skein represents. We feel guilty about throwing away scraps. (We’ll keep “cabbage” but we won’t eat real cabbage). We have compulsive acquisition issues.
A sewing room can represent many things, above and beyond its value as a workstation. Truth be told, many people with functional sewing rooms (or offices) hate working in them, because they are isolated and dimly lit or because the work table faces the wall. The work gets carried out to the couch or dining table or living room floor. A sewing room generally serves as a Room of Requirement. It’s a parallel to the Man Cave. Many suburban couples have a garage and at least one spare bedroom. The garage becomes a wanna-be fantasy shop space, choking with boxes and scattered junk. The spare bedroom becomes a wanna-be sewing room, similarly choked with fabric and yarn and holiday decorations and unopened moving boxes. The sewing room represents conspicuous leisure, conspicuous consumption, a temple to potential artistry, a symbol of female power (similar to handbags and unwearable shoes), the desire for privacy and High Quality Leisure Time, a yearning for respect of our boundaries and our competence, a dream of order and beauty throughout the home, a pocket existing outside of time where we can enter a flow state.
My husband and I share an office. We each have our own desk. There is space to spread out a sewing project, if we wanted, but there isn’t space to leave anything out for long. In our 728-square-foot house, there simply isn’t room to have a closet or a stack of bins full of fabric or yarn. It would feel cramped and keep us from getting anything else done. That is a small price to pay for being able to afford to live in our dream neighborhood, where my husband can walk to work every day. If we want to look at carefully folded shelves of different fabrics or mounds of yarn, we can go to the craft store. I don’t need a special room to feel like I have plenty of privacy, leisure, or respect for my personal space.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.