The Free Motion Quilting Project: Sewing Room Organization - Drawer Research

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sewing Room Organization - Drawer Research

Following Question Thursday's long post about my sewing set up, I went into both rooms and took a hard look at many places that appeared cluttered in the photos. I pulled out drawers, took inventory of what was arranged in each and ultimately decided my studio could be optimized in many ways.

Optimizing is an important word to me. It means fully filling every area of the space so it's not only quicker to find the things you need, you're also able to pack more stuff in to fill each drawer, bind, nook, and cranny to the max.

This process can take time. Time to see and experience a space, and time to learn how you use and interact with it.  Today I'm going to share a small wall of my sewing room with you and how I'm planning to change it to make it better and the research process involved with deciding which pieced to buy.

Here's the space in question:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

When I shot this photo for the Question Thursday post, I knew I wouldn't share it.  It's just so cluttered and awful looking. It also regularly drives me crazy because I'm always losing things, dropping things, and despite lots of wall storage, the shelves have never felt just right.  Here's a bigger shot of this space:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The main problem, as I have come to understand it from experience and working in this space, is the small 9 drawer cabinet in the corner. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE this cabinet, but it's obviously a problem.  For one thing, it's very small.  It doesn't fully fill the space it has to fill.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The drawers are also terribly designed to hold what I need them to hold right here. I originally bought this cabinet on impulse because I've always wanted to own or build a little apothecary cabinet with all the cute little drawers to hold special little things in each drawer.

From a practical standpoint, this sucks. The drawers are narrow, but deep which means everything either gets lost in the bottom, or won't fit in the first place. 
free motion quilting | Leah Day
I found 3 things I'd been looking for in the bottom of this drawer, but only after dumping everything out on the floor!
The only thing that seemed to fit well were my sewing patterns. But even here, I could only view the top pattern and the rest were squished underneath. They have a bit of that crammed-in feeling and I never felt inspired to flip through and find something to make because it required digging.

So clearly this cabinet is cute, but cute isn't what's needed right here. In this space, I'm needing to organize a lot of thread, bobbins, and miscellaneous quilting tools.  I do want those patterns organized here as well, but in a way that I can flip through them easily.

I also want a taller piece of furniture right here.  This low cabinet is terrible about getting junked up and cluttered because it's the perfect height to just dump whatever odd and end on the surface.

Ultimately I've decided that more drawers are the answer. For this, we have several options both from the quilting / crafting world and beyond it.

First I decided to research the Recollections 3 drawer cubes I'm already using to hold my isacord thread collection to the right of my sewing machine.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Measuring carefully, I need to fill a space that's 44 inches long x around 50 inches high, though I could go higher by moving that shelf bracket if needed.

In this arrangement, 9 recollection cubes will fit pretty nicely:
free motion quilting | Leah Day
This is a guestimation layout created by measuring the space and comparing it with the size of each cube
The nice thing about these cabinets is I know the drawers will work well for thread and they can easily be customized to hold paper, stabilizer, and other quilting tools.

The one downside of these cubes is the drawers are not customizable in any way.  You get all the same size drawer through every single cube. This would be fine if I just needed to fill these cubes with thread, but I don't (that would be a RIDICULOUS amount of thread!)

I have many other items that might not fit well into these drawers, like my pattern collection, which will again be thrown in drawers and difficult to sort through quickly.

The cost is also a bit high for this. At $39.99 regular price, the total cost for 9 will be well over $350.00.

Also, I don't think I've ever seen a Michaels store carry 9 of these at a time. The most I'd probably be able to find is 2 or 3, which will mean multiple trips to Michaels stores all over NC, which will be a royal pain in the butt.

So there's upsides and downsides to this system.  It's good to look at all the angles and understand how it will play out. The cost, plus the hassle of finding all of them, PLUS the downside of not everything fitting is making this system take 3rd place for this particular project.

Let's try again, this time moving out of the craft / hobby market to IKEA. Here I found an awesome drawer set called the Alex:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

These drawers are very nice. The first 5 are slim, but fit thread spools nicely.  The bottom 4 drawers are taller and big enough to hold a jumbo 5000 meter spool of Isacord. Could they also hold patterns arranged on their side? Hard to say because I didn't have one with me at the store, but if it worked, the patterns could be arranged to at least be thumbed through easily.

To fill my space, I'd need 3 of these cabinets which would add 27 drawers to my sewing room. This could potentially hold TONS of tools and materials and really clean up the clutter.

As for downsides, again the drawers are the size they're going to be forever, so if something doesn't fit right, it's going to have to find a home elsewhere.

Also the drawers don't come out all the way, so if I fill up one with tons of thread, I might have to stick my hand in deep to get the thread at the back.  It's a small thing, but something to remember.  With the Recollections boxes, the drawers slide out completely making it easy to get to everything in the drawer, or pull it out to completely reorganize it.

As for the cost, each cabinet costs $119 at IKEA so again we're talking over $350 for this setup. Also when I was checking out this system at the store, the box is SUPER HEAVY. I'm pretty strong and have previously handled trips for several tables and big furniture by myself, but to lift even one box, I'd need help.

The tenant of IKEA is kind of a hands off approach to customer service. I've never even seen an employee working the self serve area, other than working the registers. To get these drawers I'd need to plan my trip ahead of time so I could bring Josh, but not James, because these probably won't fit with the car seat installed in the car.

Again, this might seem like a lot of detail to go into, but it's good to think about all these things BEFORE you're trying to shove a giant box in your car that will never fit and is too heavy for you to lift.

How big is your car? Do you know how much it can hold? Do you know the weight capacity? Do you know the max size of box that will fit? Understand these things before your trip so you're not surprised at the end of it!

Now there's one more system I've been researching and this is back in the specific Craft / Quilting world. The reason I'm making a distinction between the two is for two reasons:

1. Furniture / storage designed specifically for Craft / Quilting is designed to hold this kind of stuff, so it will potentially work better than furniture just designed to go in your office or living room.

2. Furniture specially designed will always be more expensive.

So there's the upside of getting something specifically DESIGNED to hold thread, but the downside that you're going to pay through the nose for it.

That is the case with this last option. This is a layout of Artbin's Super Satchel Cube which is designed to hold Slim, Single, and Double Deep Artbin storage containers.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
9 of these will fit nicely into my space, but the cubes themselves will set me back well over $350 just for the CUBES! To fill the slots with all the containers needed to fill it, this system could cost well over $1000.

I did do a bit of research and found to be the cheapest retailer of these cubes and satchels with the plus side of very cheap shipping. You can get it shipped to your local Walmart store, then pick it up with it arrives and have someone help you load them all into your car, or you could have them shipped directly to your home, which saves the whole process of having to shop and wrangle boxes in your vehicle.

The major plus side with Artbin is it's specifically designed for quilting and I personally happen to LOVE them. The thread organizers work wonders for keeping the thread cleanly arranged, and I've never found better storage for everything from colored pencils to fat quarters.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Also because each storage cube can fit all 3 sizes of Super Satchels, you can FULLY customize this cube to fit exactly what you need to store. If you need to store a lot of big stuff on the bottom, use 2 Double Deep bins per cube. Lots of little things? Fill a cube with 6 slims. Tons of medium sized stuff? 4 singles will slide in perfectly.

This system also has the bonus of being able to slide the bins out completely.  Pull out a single to pick your thread color, or find the perfect fat quarter, then slide it back in place. Easy peasy!

So there's good and bad to all of these options. Not one is absolutely perfect, and all three will work with various upsides and downsides.

This is the process of researching storage for your sewing or quilting space. I've been working on this for 2 days, and spent at least 4 hours looking at different options, then drove 1 hour to IKEA to just look at the Alex. I might have even bought one on impulse if there wasn't only 1 left, and it was chipped and too heavy for me to budge!

But how could I have known it was so heavy if I hadn't got to look at it first? You might see 85 lbs written online, but that doesn't mean much until you actually wrap your arms around it, lift with your knees, and realize - baby, it just ain't movin!

Likewise, I remember buying my Recollection organizers from Michaels and the difficulty of even finding TWO in the store. How many stores will I have to travel to to find a set of 9?

And while the expense of the Artbin Super Satchel Cubes might seem excessive, the nice thing about all of this options, and really any storage system you install, is... don't have to get it all at once.

Start with 1, fill it with bins. Then get another as budget and need demands.

Understand that this is a process and it pays to work slowly rather than jump in whole hog. I've ultimately decided to start with only 1 IKEA Alex drawer or just a set of 3 Super Satchel cubes. These will roughly finish up the same size and after installing one set, I can make the decision to add another if it's needed.

I might not end up filling this wall with tons of drawer storage, but instead leave the corner open for Lucy, my best quilting friend I've had since high school.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
So take your time. Consider your options. Weigh the possibilities, and also remember the limitations of nature (how much you can lift) and practicality (how big is your car).

Also have FUN! Shopping is fun, especially when it's a buy you're confident and happy about.

Now let's not let the drive for super organization and optimization get in the way of something more important: QUILTING! Get off the computer and go make something beautiful today.

Let's go quilt,



  1. Great post, Leah..i tend to buy storage for what i need now, with no thought to the future...not good. I bet i have 50 shoebox size bins that i have outgrown. You got me thinking! Btw, the Between Michaels and AC Moore at the Chapel Hill store, i found 15 cubes. With coupons the price was manageable. Thanks!.

  2. I have IKEA's Alex and absolutely love it. The drawers are so smooth. I made a large ironing board to fit the top for those larger pieces.

  3. Have you looked at the Target organizing cubes? They have an interior space of about 13 inches cubed. You can get horizontal dividers to fit up to 4 shallow bins or one big cube or 2 medium bins. the big cubes are great for fabric storage and the medium bins are perfect for fat quarters or thread. I like them because you can change the configuration completely on a whim. They are relatively inexpensive and you can always find more. I started with some for my son's legos, the shallow bins means no dumping on the floor to find the right part, but discovered they are fabulous for organizing quilting supplies.

  4. Do you have a Container Store near you?

  5. Interesting post. Storage is always an issue! One of my favorite tools is a label maker so I know what's in those cubes.

  6. Leah, I enjoy your thought process on such such practical issues that any quilter encounters, and your concern for the budget is always valued. Every person has a different way of decision making, and your detailed explanation adds a new perspective to an individual's own arsenal of decision making abilities. Thank you for taking time to share the way you do, it is quite helpful. I am currently on an my own organizational mission and will be posting on my blog in a couple of days the messy details if you care to jump over and check it out!

  7. Thanks Leah for sharing your process for organizing. Making a room functional all the while keeping it pleasing to the eye can be a challenge. While I have been planning my studio storage wall for some time in my mind, I am keeping your posts as reference for when I get to put it on paper in the Spring. I was planning a wall of cubbies floor to ceiling for my studio, with baskets to slide in and out instead of drawers. The hardest part is planning the size/height for each units cubbies. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  8. Have you considered mixing pieces - some of one kind, some of another to really customize?

  9. What Ikea trofast? It's a combo of both of your other options. And less expensive than both.

    Also check google idea hackers if your or hubby are handy with tools for thinking outside the box.

  10. Leah, I live about 20 mins from Ikea. This is a blessing & a curse as I also suffer from "container-itis". LOL I love to play with containers of all sorts but have learned to evaluate my space and THEN purchase the needed container, instead of the other way around. My space is a perpetual WIP but that's ok for me too. Love your tips!

  11. I definitely recommend the Container Store. It's where I have been buying my storage stuff.

  12. One word: ArtBin, oh and another word - CUBES!! I have two ArtBin cubes and wish I had two more - each hold several ArtBin storage boxes, and they are so wonderful - I am a Super Satchel addict. They never have a smell, nor do they exude any gases like some plastic containers I have purchased. LOVE ARTBIN!!

  13. You can significantly reduce the cost of the ArtBin setup by waiting for a sale on plastic containers at Joann's. They typically do 40-50% off.

  14. I can't believe you haven't posted that your craftsy class is live!!! Leah, it is soooo good! Everyone is going to go crazy for it - like your YT vids on steroids! So...much...Leah! I feel so proud and honored to have 'known' you before, congratulations girl! it's a FANTASTIC course!!!!!!! (P.S. You look REALLY beautiful in your lessons too!!!)

  15. my Michales will order stuff in for me so that I am not running all over the state to find what I need....I am sure yours would also...Also JoAnns and michales carry a lot of the same storage or art merchandise and there are always coupons...

  16. So much to think about and so much money- no wonder my sewing room is such a slapdash mixture of sewing solutions!

    Great article

  17. I only found Craftsy because of your blog and now you are on it - yipee.

    Also not sure if you have Muji in the US, but love their container storage.

  18. Leah, not on topic - but I'm an avid student at and am so proud of you that you have gained a teaching gig.

    You; your partner and family must be so pleased and also proud of you after all your hard work and your success with your blog.

    Mal from Cessnock NSW AU

  19. Have you checked out the Trofast unit at IKEA. We don't live near an IKEA and the most useful one is the tall one. I love the tubs that fit as you can mix sizes. I use the tubs for WIPs, magazines, fabric... And one day I'm going to drive 6 hrs to IKEA in a pickup and bring some back!

  20. I just bought myself some longed after elfa bins/carts from the container store. I LOVE them. I got four four-runner systems and stacked them to make two 8-runner units. These are now 36" high and serve both as storage and my cutting surface. I am still packing them up and deciding what goes where.

    What i like most is these carts can go anywhere in the house if i ever outgrow them in the craft room.

    AND I got them 30% off as out Container store is having a moving sale.

  21. I use the 3 drawer bins which are available from Sterolite (sic?) at Walmart, they hold fabric, thread, patterns, and suppplies well. I've also discovered that I can take them apart and reconfigure them (as long as you keep the top and bottom pieces). I also love the artbin cubes.

  22. Leah - I have a wonderful solution for my sewing room! I bought sturdy wire shelves from Lowe's. They are 18" deep, 34" tall, and 48" wide. You can stack them and double the height, arrange the shelves to suit the labeled clear boxes you put in them, and they come in white, nickel, or black. They cost about $75 per unit. I have them all around the perimeter of my sewing room. The beauty of these is that when I moved to a different sewing room, I was able to change the configuration of the shelves to meet my needs. Plus! I cut thin plywood to fit the tops of the shelves - WORKSPACE all around! AWESOME!!! Couldn't be happier with the arrangement! And very reasonable!


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