When you enter your studio, spend a minimal amount of time preparing to work. Starting with a clean, tidy and well-organized workplace, this action should take only a few minutes. The entire process takes me five minutes or less. Likewise, cleaning up at the end of the work session is quick and easy because I continuously tidy up as I work. Cleaning up, then, is merely the reverse of preparing a studio for work.
So, how do I do it? Easy!
First, here’s what you know about my studio:
- A cutting table is covered with a sheet to keep it relatively clean. Under the sheet lie clean cutting mats and rulers.
- The table has two shallow drawers. One contains my cutting tools, and the other holds rolls of paper and some fusing agents. Under the table are a padded stool and two plastic drawer storage units holding materials and any work in progress.
- One sewing machine has a hard plastic cover that drops over it. The other one (left below with Ügli the cat resting on it) has a cardboard box that serves the same purpose, helping to keep the machine relatively clean and protected from dust as well as the cats. A serger sits out in the open (right) with a cardboard box over it. I don’t like the appearance of the boxes, but the cats pull any quilted or plastic covers off my machines and sleep on them. Covering the machines with boxes is something new for me, so if it does not work I must find another way to cover them. If it does work, I must find a way to make them more attractive to me without making them more appealing to the cats! Wrapping them with fabric is not an option; perhaps I might paint them . . .
- The serger table doubles as a small ironing board sufficient for piecing. A padded board (center above with spray bottle on top) lies on the higher level table. This improvised ironing board flips over and is covered at night with a couple of quilted cat beds to keep it clean and protected. The iron sits on the floor beside the table when not in use. This position doubles as a signal that I have switched off the electricity to the iron.
- A single power strip fuels all the appliances. That’s Kenya for you–the room has only two electrical outlets, one on the wall near the serger and the other to the right of the cutting table. This power strip holds each appliance cable with its own on/off switch. I use the switch to control the iron because it is quicker to flip that switch than to pick up the iron and wind the little dial. Using the switch also means the iron always heats to the same safe temperature unless I make a deliberate change in the setting.
- The sewing table, a desk with storage from both sides, holds two sewing machines and a swivel, goose-neck lamp. Left side drawers in the sewing desk hold threads, arranged by type and color. On the right side, drawers hold all small tools and notions I use most frequently. The cats like the boxy feeling of the storage cupboards on the other side of the desk, so I keep those free of my things and with the doors slightly ajar. I can share my space!
- My design wall covers two cupboard doors, so before I put work onto the wall, I must remove materials, tools and supplies I need from the cupboard. At the end of the session, the work in progress comes down for storage flat in another room, or if it is still in small pieces, into the drawer unit under the cutting table. A second design wall, much larger, is made from a sheet as a roll-up shade, great for leaving work on the wall where the cats cannot reach it! When I want to work on the piece it contains, I simply release the roll and let it fall. All pins holding fabric to it run parallel to the floor so none stick out of the work when it is rolled up.
- An old specimen cupboard, two columns of eight small drawers, holds all small notions, beads, c-clamps and other such paraphernalia – things I use less frequently. Notice the labels to tell me what is in each drawer!
- Supplies for surface design are stored on a bookshelf seldom bothered by the cats. Another shelf unit holds quilt and sewing books and magazines.
The room looks pretty bleak, nothing like the colorful and tastefully decorated studios we see in magazines and online, and nothing at all like the way it looked a few years ago, with jars, baskets, plastic boxes and tools scattered all over!
Nevertheless, my studio is now extremely efficient. Its minimalist style gives me plenty of space for working with everything I need at my fingertips. When I enter my studio, I know exactly what I’m going to do, what work I expect to accomplish. There is nothing to distract me or to impede my progress.
Upon entering the studio, I roll back the sheet on the cutting table. I remove the work in progress from the drawers underneath the table, and lay it to one side on the table, along with any fabric scraps I may still need. The open tablet and pen are there because as the work progresses, I take notes for use later for my online art quilt classes at QuiltEd Online.
I open one table drawer and remove my cutting tools and a box of pins. I’m ready, then, to cut and pin. Then I turn to the electricity outlet and switch on the power. With a surge protector, it is a couple of minutes before the electricity reaches the power strip. While waiting for the electricity, I uncover and flip the make-shift ironing board and pick up the iron from the floor, throwing the power switch for that only as and when I need to iron.
I uncover the sewing machine I intend to use. I pull out the sewing table for my Bernina QE 440, and attach it and the presser foot knee lift. The machine is clean and oiled, threaded and ready for use. I connect the power cable and foot pedal, disconnected at last usage to reduce risk of having cats pull the machine off the table.
I hit the three switches (wall, power strip and machine) that control power to the sewing machine, the lamp and the transformer used with another sewing machine and the serger. I pull the accessories box off the back of the Bernina and set it up to the right of the machine.
I open the drawer immediately below that, and pull out quilting gloves, a pin box, thread snips and any thread I may have been using that is not already on the machine. Bingo! I sit down and go to work!
To shut down when I’m finished, I first clean and oil, if necessary, the machine I’ve been using. Then, I reverse the entire process: shut down the machine, put table, knee lift and foot pedal into a desk drawer, and replace the accessories box to the back of the machine before covering it with the cardboard box. I disconnect cables and switch off electricity. I put away all tools and materials on my cutting table, and cover the table. I quickly sweep the floor, and empty the trash as I leave the room.
In effect, I am in full control of the work process from start to finish, whether I have thirty minutes or three hours!
To recap, here’s what you can and should do to save time for quilting:
- Tell everyone in your household you are about to enter your studio, no matter how humble it may be, and that you appreciate very much not being distracted while you work.
- Set any mobile phone for silent running.
- Enter your studio, where everything is clean, ready for work and stored well out of sight until you need it.
- Find what you need quickly and easily with the help of storage labels and a studio inventory.
- Know what you intend to do, how you intend to do it, and how much time you have available for each studio session.
- Enter the studio with mindful purpose, quickly retrieve whatever project materials, tools and notions you need for the immediate tasks only, and set the studio for action in fewer than five minutes. Then get to work!
- While working, keep your movements calm and gentle. Keep the space where you work clean and tidy, putting away each tool immediately you finish working with it. If things start to get out of hand, take time out for a Two-Minute Tidy-Up, and return all non-essential tools and materials to storage.
- When finished, put all materials and small tools away, switch off and protect all electrical equipment, and quickly clean up the space.
The quilting work process is streamlined from beginning to end. The focus is on getting to work as quickly as possible, working smoothly and without interruption for the time available, then closing everything down and putting everything away to make the next studio session even more efficient than the previous one!
As you can see, it may take some time and some serious effort on your part to achieve maximum efficiency in your quilting. It is, however, worthwhile if you truly want to save time and make more time for quilting–and for doing other things, too!
If you like what you have learned in this series of articles, and you want to try my time-saving techniques for studio management, be gentle but persistent with yourself. Do not expect too much, too soon. It took me about a year to work out the storage and systems I now depend on for maximum efficiency.
Do, instead, whatever you can comfortably manage. If all you can do is to clean out one drawer, reorganize its contents and affix a label, do only that much. Be ever mindful of all the small ways in which you waste time while quilting, and make a conscious effort to use that time more wisely. Little by little, establish your own ways of working to increase efficiency, gaining more time for quilting by using the time you have in a better and more productive way.
Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-part series of blog posts, reprinted here with full permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
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