TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where Quilters Quilt by Donna Hussain

Donna Hussain quilts in her bedroom.

Most professional quilters have a studio dedicated to their quiltmaking, either commercial space or a studio addition to their homes. Other quilters sew on the dining room table which must be cleared of their sewing activity at mealtime. In between these two extremes are quilters who share hobby space in crowded households with other family members. Their challenge is to find a nook where they can sew undisturbed and crannies for the storage of their fabric and supplies. Most of these quilters do not have a sewing room of their own until their children grow up, move out, and leave an empty bedroom behind.

My sewing area is at one end of our master bedroom. The work surface for my sewing machine and cutting mat is a flat door that I bought from Home Depot which I’ve set on table legs belonging to an old desk. The size of the door is particularly useful when machine quilting because it can support a large quilt under construction. Unfortunately, the placement of my cutting mat is too low for back comfort. Another disadvantage of the mat location is that I have repeatedly cut the cord used to raise and lower my window blind. The cord somehow gets buried in material waiting to be cut into patchwork strips, then gets sliced by my rotary cutter.

Wire baskets used for fabric storage,
the quilter's stash.

I store fabric scraps in small wire baskets that sit on the rungs of a closet ladder leading to the attic. A wide wire rack nearby holds the rest of my stash. I no longer buy yards of fabric on a whim. The only fabric I purchase is material needed for a quilt under construction.

Threads and quilting tools kept in storage bins.

My design wall is a piece of foam wallboard on which I pin blocks and quilt top sections as they are sewn. I like the ease with which I can move the wallboard from room to room to catch the best viewing light. Finished quilts are stored on the two mattress of a trundle bed in the guest bedroom. The drawback is that I must fold and stack the quilts in the master bedroom when we have house guests. Beads, trim, and doodads fill plastic boxes on the floor of my husband’s closet. Thread and quilting tools are kept in a colorful drawer set bought at Costco (warning: the drawers tend to slip out of their support tracks). Projects in progress fill red plastic stacking containers.

While working on this article I visited the homes of several of my quilting friends to document where they sew and how they organize their fabric and quilting supplies. It was obvious from the moment I stepped through their front doors that I was entering the homes of quilters. The walls of every room were decorated with hanging quilts. Closets and cabinets were filled to overflow with fabric and supplies, while sewing machines, irons, and cutting boards were set up ready for action.

Quilting in the family room.

Ruth quilts in her family room, a room that also has a couch and TV for family relaxation and entertainment. The cabinet which supports her sewing machine has a folded leaf to one side that can be lifted to give Ruth a wide surface for her cutting mat.

Shelves along the wall contain her quilt books, fabrics and a small ironing station for patchwork projects.

Blanche has created quilting workstations in two small rooms of her trailer.

PVC leg extensions help reduce back pain
at a quilter's cutting table.

One of her cutting tables is raised in height with PVC leg extensions, a good idea for back comfort.

Movable wire baskets allow for mobility of quilt projects.

She also has several stacks of wire baskets on wheels for fabric and quilting tools that can be stored in a closet or moved from room to room. Blanche is so organized and neat that she leaves no trace of her sewing when she quilts in the living room, at the dining table, or on her porch. This amazes me because I make a mess when quilting: dropped pins, fabric scraps everywhere, scissors and other tools lost, thread stuck to my clothing, and stacks of fabric spread across the floor.

Quilters fill their closets with fabric and supplies.

Janet’s children are grown so she can use their childhood bedrooms for her quilting hobby. Since Janet is very productive it was not surprising to find her sewing rooms and closets filled with fabric and sewing supplies.

Flat labeled boxes used for quilt UFOs.

She even has shelves for boxed UFOs (unfinished projects).

But she still sews on the dining room table when machine quilting large quilts.

For years Juanice stowed her quilting supplies in a corner of the kitchen, and sewed on the kitchen table between meals. When her daughter grew up and moved away Juanice acquired a sewing room. A few years later, Juanice’s husband initiated another room switch to give Juanice more room to sew. He moved their bedroom furniture into the sewing room where the couple now sleeps giving Juanice their master bedroom for quilting.

Using a computer table as a sewing space.

Quilter's fabric stored in cardboard boxes.

Juanice has many good ideas for organizing a sewing room. For example, her sewing machine sits on a computer table bought at Staples. Note the large roll of batting stored in the corner behind her machine. Juanice packs her fabric sorted by color in large cardboard boxes on shelves designed for garage storage, and she keeps her thread in transparent plastic boxes bought at a toy store for collections of “Hot Wheels.”

Hot Wheels case used to organize quilting thread.

Joyce quilts in a former carport converted into a quilting studio by her husband many years ago. What impressed me most is how well the room has been designed to meet Joyce’s quilting needs. The room is spacious, yet colorful and cozy.

A lucky quilter might get a whole carport or garage
to meet her needs.

The walls are lined with open-shelf storage, and enough floor space to set up more than one sewing machine. It has a built-in design wall, a white board, and wall space for pinning memos and photos. Joyce is constantly at work in the studio and invites her quilting friends, her art quilt circle, and our guild’s Community Service Committee to her house to sew on a regular basis.

All of the women in this article and thousands more throughout the country make beautiful quilts that they gift with love to their family and friends. They also generously donate their quilts to sick children, the elderly, disaster victims, and others in need. I feel honored to be part of this quilting community.

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.




  1. Credit must be given to our husbands or house mates who put up with all our boxes, storage bins, tables and chaos. Like you, Donna, I make a mess when I am sewing! I have wood floors so I sweep up as I go along. I would be afraid of needles ending up in all of these carpeted floors!

  2. Donna, I loved seeing how your quilting friends have managed to create workspaces where none previously existed. My own addition to the mix is fabric storage - in a china cabinet that belonged to my inlaws. The glass doors make the fabric clearly visible and protect it from dust. Kari


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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