tooling around: let’s table it for now

“How many tables am I going to have to buy you?” asked my husband as he lugged my birthday gift into my upstairs studio.

In the week leading up to my birthday I had made the topic of after-dinner conversation the cutting tables on sale at a local sewing store.  I may or may not have also cut out the exact advertisement and left it in my husband’s car along with a coupon. It should, therefore, come as no surprise when I admit my husband’s query is totally justified.  We’ve purchased four tables in the year we’ve lived in Florida – three of them specifically for my studio. And believe me, I use all three.

The first is the Vika Fintorp from Ikea (sorry kids, looks like they aren’t selling it anymore).  I wanted this stainless steel beauty because of its size: 29.5 inches by 59 inches on which I could spread out patterns and projects with room left over for my sewing machine. WRONG. The size is fabulous and I do spread things out on it. But those things are not so much patterns and projects as accounting paperwork and various types of correspondence.  Oh, and my computer lives there too.

This past spring I discovered the joys of garage sale-ing. During one treasure hunt I scored a vintage sewing table for $10! I got it home and prepared to mount my sewing machine into the smart little flip-top design. FAIL. My machine is portable. It doesn’t mount. Oh well.  Even with the flap folded over the table is the perfect height for sewing so I love it despite my idiocy.

Until my birthday I had been doing all of my crafting, cutting, ironing, and gluing on top of my ironing board. It was a pretty precarious system that resulted in many spilled beads, a number of burns, and one ruined dress shirt (sorry, honey).

But now, I have a cutting table.  A glorious, 35-inch high fold-out number perfect for cutting, crafting, and gluing. But not ironing. That kind of foolishness leads to a warped cutting mat.

Am I happy with my three tables? Yes! Am I done buying work tables? No.

Truth be told, my studio started with a small three-drawer desk, an end table from our living room, and a wood lateral file that had been converted to a desk. Before that I used a 37-inch high craft table that I’ve had for some years.  I received that table as a gift after admiring it in the Pottery Barn Catalog for a year or so. (I believed it would be the perfect sewing table because it had a sewing machine perched atop it in one of the photographs. Sadly, the deep drawers and a trestle make it impossible to comfortably sew in a sitting position.) Over the years I have also used various dining room tables, coffee tables, kitchen counters, and, of course, the floor.

What are you to make of this haphazard timeline of work surfaces? To start, history tells me it would be foolish to think my table needs won’t change.

Also, work tables are a deeply personal thing.

I like to spread out. Way out.  Papers and supplies are scattered across various surfaces so I can see what I have to work with.  I need three tables so my stuff can be out but still contained. Right now, my Ikea table contains paper notes, pens, and various utensils for measuring and marking.  The cutting table features my cutting mat and all sorts of blades surrounded by a mixture of fabric scraps and uncut yardage related to my current craft project. My sewing table is currently missing the actual sewing machine. Instead it is displaying my box of thread, a few jars of buttons, and a bag of Terra Chips.

Cut to my friend Alison’s sewing room and you’d see four tables being put to use, only one of which is less than 36 inches tall.

Martha Stewart Living at Home Decorators, click photo for more info

You’ll also note that her tables have drawers. Lots and lots of drawers because Alison keeps everything in its own discrete home. Her tools are mostly out of sight and out of her way. (Trust me, you do not want to get in this woman’s way).  I’d love to think I want all my stuff as organized as Alison’s, but I don’t think I could actually work that way. At least, not for long. As for the height of her work surfaces, Alison is a head taller than me. And four tables?  Well, her work room is close to mine in size but the placement of doorways and windows is totally different so she can fit four tables. She also has a decade or two of experience arranging an efficient studio so that a multitude of tables is advantageous instead of cumbersome.

My point is: even people working within the same craft can have very different preferences.

I can only imagine the sort of table(s) web designers, scrap bookers, and metal smiths can work at comfortably.

What do you do and what sort of work surface do you require?

16 thoughts on “tooling around: let’s table it for now

  1. Jealous! I have my desk and then some shallow bookshelves for storage, but I don’t have room for a WORK table. So my paper trimmer, corner rounder, and second paper trimmer live on our dining room table. Can’t wait until we have a house where I can spread out a bit more but stay in the office lol…not in my living space.

    1. Sarah, girl, I hear you! I started my garter business with a whopping 96 square feet of workspace. Hang in there and spend plenty of time on Pinterest and Apartment Therapy looking for small space storage solutions.

      Oh, and look for me on Etsy – I’m your newest fan! Love that Sky Trolly card.

  2. ha, ha… I picked up a sewing machine cabinet, like yours but without the side drawers and realized the same thing – I couldn’t put my machine in it. But trust me, I am going to find a way to do it! Maybe cut the opening bigger and just add a piece of wood to support the machine? I am also going to paint mine red or something fun! I paid $14 for mine, but they wanted $25. It had an old singer machine in it that I am sure didn’t work, but I love having this little “table”. I have a thing for tables, too…. Well, and, okay… so many other goodies at flea markets/thrift stores/garage sales/TRASH! hee, hee…

    thanks for sharing!

    1. No, Kathleen, thank YOU for sharing! Sometimes I wish I had multiple houses so I could use all the different furniture pieces I fall in love with. If you do end up modifying your sewing table will you promise to contact me? I’d love to see what you do!

  3. I am an artisan jewelry designer. In my first home I had designed a craft room that had countertops and cabinets and great undercab lighting and a wall o’ sheet metal for all sorts of miscellaneous items to be attached. But then we moved, and I got a bigger room, a blank canvas. I was using all manner of folding tables, but it wasn’t the same. Then at my office we downsized a bit and there was a large corner desk set up that was FREE. I have this L shaped desk unit with a full lateral file cabinet in my studio and it is CLUTTERED and OVERRUN with stuff. I would like to think that I could put it all away, but that would be a lie. I need to see it, like you, so I have all my options. Right now the clutter is getting out of control with a show coming up, but I have some new clutterbusters… an awesome shelf with bins for pretty ribbons and silks and fibers plus space to hang things, like tools or finished jewelry as inspiration and a shelf on top for MORE STUFF! I would show you a picture except that I would be totally embarrassed (but I did just show a glimpse into my working corner on my blog this past Wed). I love that curvy leg table. That would be beautiful anywhere! Oh, IKEA, how I love thee!
    Enjoy the day!

    1. Whew, Erin, you have certainly managed to pack your one pictured corner full. I don;t think you should be embarrassed, though. That “clutter” is part of your process, and your process turns out beautiful jewelry!

      Tell me, did the custom-built system in your first home work for you? You say you built it, but you don;t mention how functional it ended up being. Those under-cab lights sound dreamy. I have them in my kitchen and still wonder how I survived so long with.

  4. I have to agree with Erin that I love corner desks. For all assortment of uses. I’ve had two corner desks at two different office jobs. The first one I hated, but, I’ve learned with age the wonderful advantage of all that real estate, plus, the drawers on each side that still leave room for legs. For standing projects though, I adore the height of the tables at my local laundromat. They are the perfect height for my 5’2″ frame to stand at without overstretching my back whilst I fold, stretch, etc. In reality though, I have an old desk, an old dining room table and an old bar in my craft room. The desk holds the sewing machine, the table is where I do my scrappbooking and the bar is where I do my standing projects. What I truly long for is more shelves and drawer space! All in a perfect 360 degree circle so everything is right within reach. HA!

    1. Hey Stephenie – does that 360 degrees of storage also come with an extra pair of arms so I can do more?

      You sound a lot like my mentor, Alison. She is chucking her cushy office chair for a stool and a smaller, armless chair. Why? Well, according to her, “Why do I need a comfortable chair? I don’t need to get comfortable! I’m up and down and doing doing doing.”

  5. Hi Janice —

    Loved this article! I’ve learned a whole lot since starting my business, and here’s what works best for us (for now):

    We have a large table that’s just for sewing, and a large “folding table” for cutting & prep work.

    This prep table is from Target ( and is 4′ long by 24″ deep. We bought bed risers to give it some extra height — it’s now perfect, and it cost me like $25, plus $9.9 for the risers? So inexpensive!

    The sewing table is an old kitchen table {with a laminate top}, it’s super sturdy for running a sewing machine, and with drop leafs on each side we can make it as deep or narrow as we need.

    Here’s a post, filled with pictures ~

    xoxo, Gussy

  6. I’ve just moved into a new apartment which finally has enough room for studio stuff. I do a lot of artistic things, though I find myself working on jewelry most since the tools and materials are easier to pull out and put away than sculpture (with all manner of materials) or printmaking (which needs a huge studio of tools). So I’m incredibly excited to get my new table. Of course, I’m getting a hand-me-down basic fold-leg table from a friend. But it’s still exciting. I might paint it or cover it in fabric or something. Until now, I’ve been working primarily on a big bed…. not really the best work space.

  7. Oh my, tables, tables, tables, I can never have enough of them. I’m actually in the (slow) process of clearing a shelving unit in the studio to fit another.

    I currently use two tables (and they aren’t enough). The first one houses my computer and half of the desk is either covered in paper work, sketches of designs I’m transferring to illustrator, or as a cutting and setting space for my jewellery work.

    The second table is my resin pouring space with the back of it my home for all my findings and orders in progress. Sadly it gets covered in other bits and pieces as well.

    My ironing board currently works as a third table, only being used for actual ironing on the rare occasion.

    I really need a third table to keep a small drill press, vice and various silversmithing tools….. and then… I would love another for my poorly neglected sewing machine……

  8. I have always been fascinated by tables and what a joy it is to read your post.. :) my husband thinks I am crazy to be obsessed with tables. Cannot have enough tables in your work area. Did I say tables, tables, tables, in all of my sentences? Oh! Well…. 😀


  9. This was really fun to read! My workspace is so jumbled I’m a bit embarrassed but, I’m going to lay it out here so that maybe I’ll find some ideas in sharing to make it more cohesive.

    Space #1 – I have an armoire in my bedroom that houses my computer, printer, scanner, file cabinet for all my graphic design work.

    Space #2 – I have a rug in my garage that serves to define my “studio space” and out there I have my easel, a small desk with cutting mat, 3 sets of plastic draw organizers for art supplies, tools and recycled items I want to create with.

    Space #3 – In my hall closet I have 4 photo storage boxes that hold little cards, ribbon, small tools, finished jewelry and magnets sets for sale and a few jewelry storage boxes for jewelry making supplies.

    So, if I’m having a manic day in which I do a little bit of everything you can find me running around my house trying to gather up all my stuff – haha. We are moving this week and will have even less space then I do now so, I hope I can streamline my setup somehow when we settle in! I have been following apartment therapy’s blog recently for some small space ideas!

    1. First things first, Kristen. I love that turquoise triple-strand necklace. Love. It.

      I think you had the right idea when you went back to your dream rental house the second time and made furniture-arrangements with graph paper. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve also gone so far as to layout my room by sticking painter’s tape to the floor in furniture shapes. I know. You are dying to have a Saturday night with this wild child.

      Even if you don’t get to have a studio per say, try to think is terms of total space needed. How big is your computer? Your storage boxes? How much square space to take up during any given creative process? Can one piece of furniture handle all your needs? Do you need something that can fold up and into a closet (or down and under a bed)? If you splurge on “X” piece of furniture will you become more efficient thus making your money back quickly through sales?

      Yeah, that’s a lot of questions. But if you look at one of my earlier Tooling Around posts ( I figured out that I wasn’t getting any work done because I hated being in my workspace. So I 100% believe you should be asking yourself a lot of questions about where you create.

      Let me know how it turns out, K?

  10. I love tables also, I have one my step dad built me, he used birtch plywood and it is big. It hold all my machines,2- sewing, serger, embroidery, blind hemmer, and soon a cover hem machine, hint, hint Santa, hee hee.

    I have a craft table, it had sides that let down, and then there is just one of those brown folding tables that is a catch all.

    I have a good size sewing room, but I use my wall space shelves and lots of them.

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