The issue is dust, which is the final result of the invisible particulate fiber matter that becomes airborne whenever fabric is cut and every time a needle strikes the fiber material on your machine.
This is the louvered door leading into our utility room where our furnace/air conditioner is located. It's slatted to encourage airflow for one of our whole house air system's intake (the other intake is located upstairs near our thermostat).
Here's a better angle. That's a solid layer of dust and grime caked on the door from years of heavy sewing machine use and fabric cutting. Note how the slats are far dustier than the frame of the door. This is due to the furnace intake drawing air in, thus making the door a sort of preliminary filter.
Leah's dad recently began working with us. Like me, he's sensitive to dust, pollen, and airborne particulates. He drew our attention to the long term problem of dust and how by the simple act of quilt making we create more of it every day.
This is one of our two air filters I installed a few years ago because I worried about Leah breathing all the junk in the air that comes from heavy machine use. We bought two overkill, HEPA-certified units, thinking they would easily be able to keep the air moving and filter out the majority of the dust. This one is mounted on the wall above Leah's cutting table, the other one we left mobile but it usually stays in Leah's sewing room.
It turns out these two units are not sufficient for proper air quality.
There are several factors that come into play in our particular situation:
- We work in a full basement with very low ceilings and some odd rooms. There are only two return vents for our air system, each located on the ceiling. There is also original 1970s carpet on the majority of the floor, and the rest is original vinyl slapped onto a concrete slab. Our basement is full of dead space with inadequate air current.
- There is a lot of surface area--nooks and crannies, dozens and dozens of shelves, and on these surfaces are hundreds of small items (shown at right), all creating more space for dust to accumulate.
- Leah uses her machines daily and we cut a lot of fabric, not just for our projects but also for our French fuse interfacing and Quilt Kits which we offer in our shop. I recently started quilting myself too. When I made my first line of stitching on the sewing machine, the first thing I noticed was the tiny, smoke-like plume of dust that kicked up into the air when the needle hit the fabric. This matter doesn't vaporize into nothing--it flies into the air in all directions, and some of it goes into your lungs.
- Leah and I do not vacuum nor clean as much as we need to. While a proper air circulation and filtration system needs to be permanently installed, we also need to start a weekly and monthly maintenance protocol to tackle the dust that gathers on surfaces.
Leah has gone through her fabric stash and is seriously downsizing. Today we're dividing, measuring, and bagging yardage and scraps and will ebay the fabric later, most likely in the fall--so if you're interested in nabbing a great deal on our fabric, be sure to sign up for our newsletter or follow Leah on Facebook to get the announcement when the fabric goes live on eBay.
We're going to demolish the old 1970s kitchen cabinetry pictured above and install an air circulation system, rigged up with box fans and house floss filters. This is the cutting and design room which is adjacent to our furnace and AC unit, so all the air in the basement passes through here.
We're also going to put up drop screens to minimize the fiber dust from seeping into the other rooms in the basement, as well as increase air current throughout.
Finally, and most importantly, we're going to blow out the entire basement with the exhaust from a heavy duty shop vac, drawing the dust out with an industrial size garage fan blowing outside. Then we will implement a strict maintenance protocol with weekly heavy vacuuming and a monthly deep clean.
You may not see the dust, but I assure you it's there, and you're breathing it. Unfortunately, dust is always going to be a side effect of working with fiber arts. Some people are more sensitive to airborne particles than others; Leah is practically immune, but I've taken to wearing a respirator when cutting fabric as I always go into a sneezing fit. However, even if the dust doesn't seem to bother you at all, remember it is getting into your lungs.
Do you have a system for your sewing area? Have you ever thought about it? We would love to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please share in the comments section!
Until next week, let's go... clean!