Setting Up an Ergonomic Sewing Space at Home, Part 1: Cabinets, Tables, and Lifts, Oh My!

Setting up ergonomic sewing space

Hi! I’m glad you’re here. And if you’re landing here after reading the first post in this series, Essential Tools to Get Your Sewing Journey Started (Again), I’m glad you’re back!

I trust you’ve gathered all the equipment and tools you’ll need to start your first (or first in a long while) sewing project. Now, we tackle the problem of what to do with all of it.

The most important thing is that you start sewing, regardless of the surface you set your machine down on.

The last time I wrote to you, I mentioned that one of the reasons I packed away my sewing machine for seven years was that it was just too difficult to keep unpacking and repacking projects every time my family needed to use the dining room table. If only I had known that such a thing as sewing furniture existed!

I knew sewing cabinets existed – my grandma had an antique one covered in doilies and framed family photos. I thought that sewing cabinets were, by definition, antiques and that all modern electric sewing machines were tabletop machines with poor ergonomics (aching back and shoulders after a short while in front of the machine was the other big reason I threw in the towel) and that’s just the way it was.

I do not in any way mean to discourage you from starting to sew. If you’re just starting and all you have to put your sewing machine on is a plain old dining room table, put your sewing machine on that dining room table and start sewing!

That being said, building an ergonomic sewing space in just about any size home is possible without breaking the bank. Again, I am a beginning sewist with a family that includes three kids (and a big dog, and three cats) in a small-to-medium-sized home, with only a portion of our dining room to convert into a comfortable, functional, organized sewing space. Like I said last time, if I can do it, you can too!

Benefits of Ergonomic Sewing Furniture

Once upon a time, an old kitchen chair and a dining room table were sufficient for sewists. We know more now about how our bodies work and how important it is to prioritize our health and well-being. Sewing is a repetitive task that is usually done sitting. Having the correct ergonomic furniture can significantly improve your overall comfort, and a comfortable sewist is a happy sewist!

Ergonomic sewing furniture is designed with the human body in mind. It takes into account factors such as posture, body alignment, and movement patterns to ensure that sewers can work for extended periods without experiencing discomfort or strain. By providing proper support to the body’s natural curves and promoting healthy alignment, ergonomic sewing helps prevent aches, pains, and musculoskeletal disorders arising from prolonged sitting or repetitive movements.

Not only does ergonomic furniture contribute to physical well-being, but it also enhances productivity and creativity. We can focus better on our craft when we are comfortable and free from distractions caused by discomfort or pain. This leads to improved concentration, precision, and, ultimately, better results in our sewing projects.
Investing in ergonomic sewing furniture is an investment in our long-term health. Choosing furniture that supports proper posture and encourages proper body positioning throughout our work sessions minimizes the risk of chronic conditions like back pain or carpal tunnel syndrome associated with poor ergonomics.

Sharon Holland Arrow Creator Sewing Cabinet

Benefits of Sewing Cabinets and Tables

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, you’re probably wondering what makes a sewing table or sewing cabinet so great. I am so glad you asked. It’s the lift.

What is a Lift?

Tables and cabinets designed specifically for sewing often have a platform on the top of the table or cabinet that goes up and down so that your sewing machine’s throat plate can be level with the rest of the tabletop. This is called flatbed sewing and it is wonderful for when you’re working on flat or large projects (think placemats, quilts, any project where you’re going to have lengths of potentially heavy fabric passing through your machine).

Instead of your fabric climbing up and over the sewing machine’s throat, it glides along the tabletop, through the machine, and out the back, without twisting or pulling your stitches. If you add a custom acrylic insert, you can create a perfectly flush sewing surface. I’m no expert sewist (yet), but I am telling you, that flush sewing surface is so nice. No bunching, no wrestling, no lifting… just gliding. It’s like a dream.

What is Free Arm Position?

OK, flatbed sewing is great for flat pieces, but what if you need to hem a pant leg? If you move your sewing platform all the way up to the tabletop, your sewing machine is now in free arm position. Many smaller sewing machines are free arm sewing machines, and larger sewing machines are easily converted to free arm by removing the accessory box.
You’ll want to use your machine in free arm position whenever you need to sew a tubular item with ease. Hemming trousers, sleeves, cuffs, and small repairs are all best and most efficiently done with your machine in free arm position.

What is Storage Position?

The third position the lift can go in is the storage position. This is possible on hydraulic lift and electric lift sewing cabinets and allows your machine to be lowered all the way into the cavity of the cabinet with just a push or the press of a button. This is the feature I really value for my space.

Before I got my sewing cabinet, the process of clearing up and putting away my work was almost enough to dissuade me from starting a new project in the first place. I’m not a rabid neat freak, but I do like to keep things as organized as possible. I find having a clean slate in my creative spaces enhances my creativity! If you’re like me, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without dedicated, efficient, easy-to-operate, convenient sewing machine storage!

Instead of unplugging my machine, winding up the cords, lifting it off the table, putting it in its case, hauling it over to the closet, and hoisting it up onto the shelf, now I can just push my machine down into the belly of the cabinet and close the door. And when I want to sew again, my machine is up and running in under a minute. For those of you who are still lugging your sewing machine around your house a couple of times a day (or are simply not sewing because it’s too much of a hassle to do the sewing machine shuffle all the time), this feature is for you.

Choosing the Right Cabinet for Your Sewing Room

Different cabinets have different-sized lift openings, so when you’re narrowing down your cabinet choices, it’s important to know how big your machine is. The proper way to measure your sewing machine is from side to side (including any knobs or cords) and then front to back (including any knobs or cords). As long as your machine (and knobs and cords) measurements are smaller than the lift opening’s measurements, your machine will fit!

Back to choosing a sewing cabinet, that’s right for your space: I mentioned that I have a whole bunch of creatures (children, dogs, cats, etc.) living in my small-to-medium-sized house. Space is at a premium, and using it wisely is a necessity. In case you’re picturing a ginormous, sprawling worksurface and thinking to yourself, “There’s no way I can fit a sewing cabinet in my house!” let me remind you – sewing cabinets do not necessarily take up an entire room.

Arrow Sewing offers a variety of sewing tables and cabinets at all price points and in all sizes. From the smallest fold-away sewing table to the biggest, most sprawling worksurface you can imagine, there’s an ergonomic sewing solution right for your space and budget.

In fact, there are small-to-midsized sewing cabinets available that will fit beautifully in a small apartment or even a dorm room. For my specific sewing space, I chose the Laverne & Shirley sewing cabinet by Arrow Sewing Furniture. I went with the Laverne & Shirley because it folds down small enough to fit well in my sewing area, it offers a lot of storage, and it can be used with or without the quilt leaf up, and the caddy pulled out (great for quick sewing escapes). Arrow Creator Kelsey Swatske of White Rose Designs sews on the same setup!

Crafting Space for sewing

Choosing the Right Sewing Cabinet for Your Crafting Space

Sewing Cabinets are not your only chance to experience the joy of flatbed sewing. Sewing tables also have lifts, but because they are tables and not cabinets, your sewing machine won’t store underneath the tabletop.
This type of setup is excellent for dedicated sewing spaces where the machine does not need to be completely stored away when you’re finished sewing! Manually adjustable lifts are just as stable and powerful as hydraulic lifts, but often come at a lower price point.

Sewing tables are equipped with a two-position manual lift so you can easily go between flatbed and free arm sewing with just the flick of your wrist and are a great option for limited space and for sewists who want to be able to take their sewing table on the road. Yes, I’m talking about portable sewing.

Because of their lightweight and sturdy nature, sewing tables are great for travel! I know sewists and quilters who go on retreats, who have stitching parties with their friends or sewing circles, or who just want a table that can fold up and store away easily. And when I say “fold up and store away easily,” I mean these sewing tables are compact enough to slide under a bed or behind a door.

I’m going to say it again…the most important thing is that you start sewing, no matter what your machine is sitting on. Just make sure whatever you choose to sew on is sturdy enough to hold the weight of your sewing machine and is ergonomically correct. One of the most important things you can do for yourself right off the bat is to make sure that you’ll be comfortable at your machine. Remember those aches and pains I was talking about? They’re avoidable, even with dining room table sewing. It just takes a little forethought.

Building a Functional, Comfortable, and Curated Sewing Space

Now that we have the definitions out of the way let’s get back to building that sewing space! By now I’m sure you have visions of the perfect crafting area dancing in your head! There are so many features, sizes, and layout configurations possible. How can a person begin to narrow it down?

Consider Your Space

When setting up your sewing area at home, carefully considering the room and space available is crucial. Deciding where to place your sewing furniture requires thoughtful planning to ensure optimal functionality and comfort.

Firstly, assess the size of the room designated for your sewing space. Take note of its dimensions and layout, as this will determine how much furniture you can accommodate.

Consider the existing furniture and fixtures in the room and any potential obstacles that may affect accessibility.

Next, think about the specific features you require in your sewing furniture. Do you need ample storage for fabrics, threads, and other supplies? Would a large cutting table or an adjustable chair enhance your sewing experience? Assessing these needs will help you select appropriate pieces that fit seamlessly into your chosen space.

Additionally, consider the natural lighting available in the room. Adequate lighting is essential for precision work and reducing eye strain. Choose a location near windows or invest in task lighting options to ensure optimal visibility during your creative sessions.

Take into account any noise considerations. If you prefer a quieter environment while sewing, it may be wise to position your sewing area away from high-traffic areas or noisy appliances.

Lastly, remember that creation is messy. Consider how tidy you would like your house to appear. If you prefer to create from chaos, using a closed-off space (like a room with a door) or a sewing cabinet with closing doors hides the mess nicely.

You can strategically place your sewing furniture by carefully evaluating the room’s size, available space, desired features, lighting conditions, and noise levels within your home for maximum comfort and productivity.

Check Your Budget

Setting up a dedicated sewing space can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Lots of regular furniture can be upcycled or repurposed for your new sewing room, and dedicated sewing tables and sewing cabinets come at all price points. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can create a functional and inspiring space without spending a fortune. By focusing on budget-friendly options and repurposing items you already have, you can save money while still achieving the sewing room of your dreams.

One of the first steps in setting up a sewing room on a budget is to assess what you already have. Take inventory of any furniture or storage solutions that could be repurposed for your sewing needs. For example, an old desk or table can serve as your sewing workstation, while bookshelves or cabinets can provide storage for fabrics, threads, and other supplies.

Repurposing everyday household items is another fantastic way to save money when setting up your sewing room. For instance, mason jars can be used to store buttons or small notions while shoe organizers can be hung on the back of doors to hold thread spools or scissors. Get creative with what you already have around the house!

Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of DIY projects when it comes to saving money. You can make your own pin cushions using scrap fabric or repurpose an old corkboard into a design wall for displaying fabric swatches and project ideas. Bookshelves and dressers can hold fabric, baskets and bins can hold scraps, and there’s a good reason why Grandma kept her sewing kit in that old cookie tin!

However, if you have it in your budget, furnishing your sewing space with a well-designed suite of sewing furniture is exciting and fun! No matter what, make sure you’re looking for clever storage solutions and thinking about ergonomics and comfort.

Arrow Sewing Furniture Storage cabinet

Find the right Storage Option

Finding the right storage furniture is crucial for convenience, comfort, and organization. Sewing enthusiasts understand the importance of a dedicated space that maximizes functionality and aesthetics.
One of the key factors to consider when selecting sewing storage furniture is space optimization. A well-designed piece should maximize your available area while providing ample room for all your sewing essentials. Look for smart storage solutions such as drawers, shelves, or compartments to keep your supplies tidy and easily accessible.

Ergonomics is another vital aspect to keep in mind. Sewing requires hours of focused work, so investing in furniture that promotes good posture and reduces strain on your body can significantly enhance your sewing experience. Look for adjustable height options or chairs with proper lumbar support to ensure optimal comfort during long sewing sessions.

Additionally, consider how you want to display or hide your materials. Some sewers prefer a neat and concealed workspace where everything can be tucked away when not in use, while others enjoy showcasing their tools and fabrics as decorative elements. Finding a balance between display and concealment will help create a workspace that suits both your organizational needs and aesthetic preferences.

By prioritizing convenience, comfort, space optimization, organization, and ergonomics and finding ways to effectively display (or hide away) the clutter of creation, you can transform your sewing area into an efficient and inspiring haven where creativity thrives without the distractions of mess or disarray.

There’s no right or wrong way to organize your sewing space… the right way is the way that works for YOU. Think about the things you will need to store in your sewing space. What things do you need to have close at hand every time you sit down at your machine? What things do you need to keep but not necessarily display? Think about your fabric stash, notions, tools, machine(s), pattern collection, and any other accessories you use in your craft.

Consider the Ergonomics

Your posture and placement while you’re sewing are incredibly important to your comfort and health. To avoid shoulder, back, and wrist strain, your elbows, hips, and knees should be at near right angles.
Start with the sewing machine position. If your sewing machine sits on top of your table, the bed of your sewing machine – not the tabletop surface – needs to be even with the bottom of your rib cage. This naturally creates a right angle for your arms and allows you to steer clear of hunched shoulders and subsequent neck and shoulder fatigue.

Getting yourself at the right height so that your shoulders don’t hunch up might mean that you should use a taller chair. Arrow Sewing’s height-adjustable hydraulic sewing chair makes quick work of that!
However, if the #1 Sewing Chair in America isn’t in the budget just yet, get creative. Use a cushion, a counter-height stool, or a book or two. You may also need to raise your presser foot up on a block, step stool, or box to achieve the correct body position.

Once you have your body set at the right height, your elbows, knees, and hips will naturally settle into right angles, keeping fatigue at bay! Make sure you maintain that straight, upright posture through your shoulders and neck (don’t slouch!), and you’ll find you can sew longer, more comfortably, and without stiffness and pain. Be sure to check out this 5-minute video from Arrow Creator HollyAnne Knight – it’s a great explainer of the ergonomics of sewing and quilting.

We covered a lot of information! Don’t get discouraged. The most important thing is that you start sewing, no matter what your machine sets on. When you’re ready, Arrow Sewing’s Personal Shopper Program is here to give you one-on-one guidance and advice so that you can build a sewing space tailored to you.