Podcast Episode 11 – Crafting in a Small Space

The Craft Room Podcast Episode 11, Small Craft Spaces

I thought today we could tackle the subject matter that is also the name of this podcast … the craft room.  More specifically … small crafting spaces.  Because, let’s be honest, as much as would all probably love one of those Pinterest worth, fully decked out and coordinated craft rooms, the reality for most of us is that we have a relatively small space to dedicate to craft.  Unless you have a spare bedroom,  home office or rumpus room going unused, chances are that you craft at a desk tucked into a corner, the dining table, a tray table, on the lounge or in a cupboard like me.  Working in a small space … let’s face it … is limiting.  We may have to share our space with others. We might have to pack up after every single crafting session (when we’d much rather leave everything out until the project is done).  Maybe inquisitive mini people get into your supplies and use all of your stickers, unravel your yarn or create a “masterpiece”  on the layout, card or canvas you’ve been working on all day.  We are limited in how much we can keep on hand by the space we have available, and if you’re renting, even more limitations are in place.  You can put up shelves or place hanging solutions on walls. So what can we do about this?  I say, we do what we do best … think creatively!

Today I want to share my top 10 tips for maximising your crafting space and small space efficiency.

1. Stack It

Baskets are very pretty, so if you’re going for a Pinterest vibe, then baskets are great.  But they don’t stack, and when you’re short on space, that’s a problem.  This is why I prefer tubs with lids that allow me to stack them, making the most of the space available.  I know that baskets look pretty filled with yarn, but every time I’ve tried this as a storage option it has been a disaster.  Non-yarn things find their way into baskets.  Some interesting things I’ve found in my yarn basket include a dead cockroach, a half eaten apple, a sticky lollypop, and most devastating  of all … the cat! None of these have been good for my yarn! I was lucky and had a couple of lovely lined baskets, but if you are storing yarn in a basket, chances are it may not be lined, and your lovely yarn can catch on the wicker or texture, which also doesn’t keep it in good condition.  The other thing is … I’m a sporadic crocheter, so dust actually became a problem (it’s quite difficult to dust yarn!). Lastly … I accumulated way too much yarn for baskets to be a viable storage solution … they were taking up way too much floor space, and the yarn was unprotected.  I had to find a solution that wasn’t going to take up any extra floor space in my home.  I now store my Milford cotton yarn in an old suitcase under my bed (which was empty … now it serves a purpose).  I like it because I can slide it partially out, unzip it, retrieve the yarn I want, then slide it back in.  Too easy!  I store my other yarn in tub drawers that fit snugly in cube units. I used empty space that was already available, and easy to access, and made one inexpensive purchase.

I store my fabric in tubs, not because I’m against storing it on shelves, but because the shelves I use for my fabric are so deep that when I tried having it all folded nicely on display.  I couldn’t reach what was at the back, and it was total chaos, and made it difficult to find what I needed quickly.  The fabric became wrinkled and I spent a lot more time ironing than I wanted to. Tubs were the solution.

I am also fond of small stacking tubs for my papercrafting supplies.  Scrapbooking and cardmaking has a LOT of tiny pieces, so I find tubs best to corall them by colour, and help me find things quickly.  I am definitely overdue for a craft cupboard cleaning session, and look forward to taking some time to restore order to the cupboards, so I waste less time looking for things behind other things.

Tubs don’t have to be boring and functional.  I have some very nice tubs with lids that help them stack, with a nice basket weave texture on the outside.  They’re available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and styles, so you should be able to find something that suits your supplies as well as your space.

2. Maximise your real estate

Stacking tubs with lids will absolutely do this for you, but there are other ways to take a small footprint, and go up.  For example, let’s go back to my yarn storage.  After I outgrew the baskets, I switched to 50L tubs while I was working on a large number of projects for DMC.  I needed to store a lot of yarn in a small space, and the tubs were a great solution.  It only took up the floor space of one tub, but I was able to stack them 5 high in that space. The problem I faced here, though, was that I was constantly unstacking and opening tubs to find particular colours for specific projects, and it was becoming bothersome. I needed a better solution that would fit in the same floor space. I desperately wanted an IKEA kallax unit, but it didn’t fit my budget or the space.  I measured up, and went hunting, and hit the jackpot in Kmart straight away.  I found a great little 2×4 cube unit that fit the same floor space as the tubs I was using, and it didn’t break the bank.  It had 8 cube spaces and I was able to buy simple lightweight inexpensive storage cubes with handles on the front. I knew that the yarn would fit (I don’t know how I know these things … I think it’s my very mild superpower), and while it may not be a spectacular piece of furniture, it’s neat and functional. I could store yarn by colour, with a simple label on the handle, and when I needed something I could go straight to the drawer to retrieve it then pack it away later. The only time a cube unit will backfire on you is if you stack junk in front of it (naturally I learned that the hard way). The other benefit was that I could still place a couple of tubs on top, which was great for holding the finished pieces, patterns, works in progress, UFO’s or lesser used supplies. If you’ve ever watched one of my Facebook or Instagram live unboxing videos, you’ll see it in the background in my office, with my Copic stand on top.

Another way you can build upwards is with a little shelf on your desk. If you’re a card maker you could keep essentials in small caddies, baskets or buckets both below the mini shelf and above.  Take a really good look at your work space.  Is there a way you can take that small desk or corner of the room, and build up?

3. Declutter

Yes … I know … we discussed it at length in Episode 7 (which I’ll link to in the show notes for anyone who missed it).  And yes, I know I harp on about this a lot, but it really is helpful.  By selling or donating unwanted supplies, it’s going to free up space for the things you actually use and love.  Also, going through your supplies regularly helps remind you of what you have, so you’re more likely to use it.  I know we like to have a stash, but the point of having those items is for them to be used. I do understand the agony of loving something so much that we just want to keep it … I really do.  If that’s you, then it’s time to use that gorgeous fabric, yarn, embellishment or whatever it is, on something that you can keep and enjoy. 

If you’re a scrapbooker, create a layout with that special paper or embellishment.  That way it is in an album that will be looked at and loved, rather than in a box where it goes unseen and could even get damaged. If it’s a special fabric, create something gorgeous from it that you can use and love.  If you are buying fabric to create something that you plan on selling or giving as a gift, why not purchase an extra 15 or 20cm and make yourself a zipper pouch.  If you want to keep it in good shape, be sure to scotchguard it … simple! I actually have a lot of gorgeous fabrics that I keep because they remind me of my doll making business.  My plan is to create a quilt … with my logo in the middle panel, surrounded by all the pretty fabrics I used to make dolly clothes.  It will be a practical keepsake, and make it so much easier to let those fabrics go, either donated or used up for other projects.

4. Think outside the craft storage box

When you look at specialty craft storage, it is usually quite pricey, and due to its bulky nature, expensive to ship.  Most of the best stuff seems to be in the USA, and international shipping puts most of these gorgeous storage solutions out of our grasp.  So it’s time to look outside of the craft storage arena. Try looking at kitchen storage options.  I store my stamps in a clear fridge bin that I found in the kitchen department at Kmart.  I store my papercrafting embellishmetns and fabric in 5L and 10L tubs meant for kitchen storage that I found in The Reject Shop. Kitchen storage offers so much these days, so check out those tubs and shelves and containers next time you’re wandering through the kitchen department.  Start thinking about ways you can use them to store your craft supplies … bonus points if they stack!

Another department worth investigating is bathroom storage solutions.  Clear makeup caddies can be great for tiny pieces or tools you use a lot and need to keep close to hand.  They’re usually transparent so you can find what you want quickly and easily. Nearby you will likely find laundry storage.  This can be a great place to source a portable caddy with a handle, which is great for couch crafting.  It’s easy to keep everything together for a single project, and if you need to put it away between crafting sessions, you can quickly move the entire caddy.

Lastly, let’s not forget about office storage. I use A4 paper drawer units to store slimline things like ink pads, wood block stamps, cutting tools, cardstock and other bits and pieces.  They fit nicely under my desk, are surprisingly sturdy and hold a pretty decent amount of stuff. I will link to a video tour of my papercrafting cupboard in the show notes so you can see how I use non-craft specific storage. If you are looking for todays show notes, you can find them on your app, or on the blog at dawnlewis.com.au/podcast11.

5. Hang It

There are some very clever ways that you can use vertical wall or door space without adding shelves or tubs, that keep your desk space free as well.  One clever product I’ve seen is a below-shelf basket.  You just slide these prongs onto the shelf and instantly there is a basket suspended below.  These are great for those really tall shelves, where the very top is just wasted space, though they are best used for lightweight contents. The downside to them is that the prongs that sit on the top of the shelf above can make tubs a little uneven, but if you’re storing fabric or yarn up there, that’s not even an issue.

The next option is something I saw in the kitchen department of IKEA – a rail that you can secure to the wall. There are a few different styles, but they all have cool add-ons like baskets, hooks, shelves, even paper towel and cook book holders that just hook onto the rail. So you have your tools and most often used items hanging on the wall instead of taking space on your desk.

A very popular hanging system is making its way out of the garage and into craft areas … and that is pegboard. You do need to have it sitting out from the wall so that there’s space for the hooks to be hung in the little holes without damaging your wall. You can hang your tools in front of you instead of having caddies on your desk taking up precious real estate. Hang scissors, rolls of adhesive, stamp sets … anything with a hole or a loop is fair game. And if you don’t like the look of boring white pegboard, why not paint it.  Turn it into an accent by painting it a bright colour, or make it blend in by painting it the same colour as the wall. I have seen a unique style of pegboard at IKEA, which has long narrow gaps rather than small holes, which looks really cool.

If you are a papercrafter who loves their dies, then why not use some magnetic sheets to store them on the wall or the back of a door.  I’ve seen adhesive backed magnetic sheets applied directly to a door, but if you are renting, and need a less permanent or damaging solution, I’ve seen people take a large frame (often from an op shop), remove the glass, and add magnetic sheets to the backing board.  You can just hang the frame like a normal picture, or prop it up against the wall or on a shelf, and you have pretty vertical die storage space.

Don’t forget some of the amazing over-the-door hanging solutions that are available now. If you are going to hang something inside a door, be it a room or a cupboard, choose something slim-line so that the doors still close properly and the items inside it don’t get damaged from being squished up.  Seriously … insides of doors are golden space!

Now it’s time to shift gear a little and talk about the practicalities of crafting in a small space, and a few ways to be efficient whilst working out your ideal set up.

6. Be budget conscious

As much as I would love to have that perfect Pinterest storage, it’s just not budget friendly.  I would love everything to match, but it doesn’t.  What it does do is … do it’s job.  I bought most of my storage pieces on sale, on clearance, and a bit at a time. If I had a space to fill, I made do with what I could find around the house (like the suitcase under the bed) before going shopping. There are some things that didn’t work the way I wanted, or I outgrew them. I’m really glad I didn’t spend too much, because I’ve changed my storage a lot over the years, and it would have been really hard to get rid of expensive pieces, just because they cost so much. I recommend measuring the space you have to work with, keep those measurements on your phone or in a notebook, and keep a tape measure in your bag or car ass well.  Know what is going to go in the storage unit, and take your time buying the right piece to do the job.

7. Keep an eye on your accumulation Habits

If you are buying supplies faster than you can use them, you’re going to fill what little space you have very quickly. There is a popular meme that I see someone posting in a craft group  at least once a week.  “I believe that buying craft supplies and using craft supplies are two different hobbies”. Don’t let that be you. Use that gorgeous alpaca yarn, add those embellishments to a layout, make something from that stunning fabric. Just as toys are made to be played with, craft supplies are made to be used. So use them!

8.  Shop with purpose

There is nothing wrong with having a stash. It lets us craft late at night when stores are closed and we’re on a roll. The point of a stash is that the items be used. If you’re buying more than you can physically use, then I recommend shopping from your stash for your next project. Here’s the thing … when you shop with a particular project in mind, you won’t need to find a place to store those items, because you already know what you’re going to do with it. You probably also have a deadline for that project to be done. I have my next few quilt projects already figured out, and I’ve bought everything I need for them. While I haven’t gotten to them straight away, I have kept everything together for that project, so when I am ready to start it, I can just grab the bag or the tub and go for it. I have been working on a very large quilt project … a pixel Mario quilt … for about 5 years, on and off (mostly off). I am really excited to finish it at the sewing retreat I’m attending later this year. For this project, I figured out exactly what I needed, bought only that, and keep the fabric, binding, pattern and finished sections all in one tub, and there will be nothing left over for my craft stash when it’s done.

9. Stash Busting

Look for clever ways to use your stash, especially older supplies.  I am a shameless collector of paper pads, and have enough pattern paper to last several lifetimes, and make more cards than a girl could ever use! When the urge strikes to purchase more paper, I challenge myself to make a dent in that stash before I’m allowed to add to it. A few things happen when I do this.  I will usually go back to my One Sheet Wonder template, which allow me to make 10 cards from a single sheet of 12×12 pattern paper, plus a few other bits and bobs. I get a lot of cards made, I boost my ready-to-post card stash, I have fun crafting. One weekend I made 100 cards using this method … and that’s when I usually realise … I have made 100 cards, which took me 2 days … and I only removed 10 sheets of pattern paper from my stash.  If I buy another paper pad with 100 sheets in it … where will I put it, and will I really, really have the time to use it?  If the paper pad that is calling my name at the store is seriously beautiful (or seriously on sale), sometimes I will cave and buy it.  But more often than not, I realise that I already have tons of gorgeous paper, and I really don’t need anymore.

So if that sounds like any of you cardmakers out there, I’ll link to my One Sheet Wonder template in the show notes, and as a special bonus for podcast listeners, if you use the code ‘podcast’ at checkout, you will receive a discount on your downloadable One Sheet Wonder PDF in the store.

10. Batching

When you have a small work space, and can’t have everything out for a project at once, consider batching. For this big pixel quilt I’m working on, there was no way I would have been able to cut, then sew one block at a time.  The cutting process took my entire dining table, and it was tedious. I would have given up, and ended up with 3 cushions instead of a 12 panel quilt! So … I batched it. I used a free pattern graph I found online (I’ll link to it in the show notes for those who want to see the insanity I dived headfirst into), and calculated exactly how many colours I needed, and how many squares of each colour I would need. I figured out how many squares I could get from a strip, and then purchased the exact amount of fabric I would need and bought enough for the whole quilt. I’m really glad I did, because I’m pretty confident that the dye lots and popular colours would have changed over the years, and there’s no way I could get the exact same colours now. So did the math, I bought the fabric, and then I cut all the strips, as well as the sashing, in one marathon cutting session. I took a break, then came back to each fabric strip stack, and cut them down into  squares. Thousands and thousands of squares. I packed them into baggies as I went, and put them in the tub. My brain was happy, even if my hands and back were not. Most importantly, I was able to pack away my cutting gear, which freed up the dining table AND was very happy that the hard cutting part was 100% complete.

I batch when I’m using my One Sheet Wonder templates as well … I prep the card bases, then I cut all the pattern paper and put the pieces inside the relevant card base, cut all the cardstock and place those pieces inside the card base … and then I can go on and assemble the card. I do this with the stamping & colouring as well.  I’ll stamp out all the sentiments and mat them, stamp all the images, then colour them (in front of the tv, or in a waiting room), and it’s so much easier to put together 10 cards without doing every step every time.

Batching saves time, and it saves space, so I love to batch.

For most crafts, it doesn’t matter if your space is small.  What matters is that you have fun with it and make that space work for you.  The size of your craft space will change a lot over the years. I’ve crafted in some crazy spaces … a closed-in long narrow verandah, a computer desk in a corner, a tray table in front of the tv, commuting to work on the train, on the couch and in a cupboard. By being flexible, thinking smart, and watching my accumulation habits, I’ve been able to craft in all sorts of spaces. If you craft in an unusual space, head over to the blog and let me know … what is your space like, and what craft do you do there? I love hearing about how other people make their space work for them, and I hope that some of my tips today help you get even more from your crafting space, no matter it’s size.

LINKS
Episode 7 – Should you Kondo your Craft?
My Craft cupboard tour video
One Sheet Wonder template
The Mario pixel quilt grid

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