Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sewing Space Savvy - the Design Wall

Do you have a design wall? No? I bet you would like to have one... In this first post in our series "Sewing Space Savvy" we will give you some ideas about the importance of having a design wall, and how easy it is to make one for yourself.

Why have a design wall, you ask? There are several good reasons. First off, it allows you to stand some distance back to get an overall view of your piece in progress. Keeping visual track of how a quilt is progressing often helps to keep us engaged and enthused. A vertical view is a huge improvement from working on a table, bed or the floor, and puts a whole new perspective on the progress of your work, saving you from obvious and subtle missteps. Problem areas with regards to color or value choices become glaringly obvious, and a block turned the wrong way jumps out at you.
A design wall also is helpful when auditioning fabrics- those which will be used within the quilt as well as border choices.
A third advantage is that it allows you to play with design or pattern layouts. The photos you see here are the same set of purple blocks, laid out six different ways on a design wall. Thanks to Sandi M. for the use of these photos. Sandi was not that pleased with the pattern's layout suggestion for the blocks, so she came up with five other options, by playing with layouts on her design wall. (FYI, the first photo, above left, is what the pattern suggested, the actual quilt she made used the last layout, bottom right. Which one do you like best?)
Are you convinced yet? Everyone should have a design wall! Once you have one, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it! I can hear some of you thinking - But I don't have a "free" wall. If that is the case, you can have a "temporary" design wall - it does not have to take up permanent wall space. There are many options for this, using some sort of "fuzzy" fabric that blocks and patches will "cling" to, or a material that will accept pins so that heavier WIPs (works in progress) can be pinned to it, or a combination of both. The least expensive choice will likely be flannel (available with or without a grid). Other choices are fleece interfacing, needlepunched batting and felt. A flannel sheet or a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth can be an easy solution. Since flannel sheets are hemmed at both ends, rods can be slipped through at both ends and your design surface can then be hung from cup hooks in a ceiling or over a closet with bi-fold doors. Grommets could be added to the top of a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth, a length of dowel attached to the bottom so it will hang flat, and this too could be hung from cup hooks. Both of these ideas allow for rolling up with blocks in place, when you need to use the space or closet.
Here are several other ideas for temporary or free-standing design systems. 1. Purchase a roller shade which allows you to fuse your own fabric to the shade. Apply flannel, and mount on a wall, over a window or closet, or in front of shelves. It can be quickly rolled up when not in use. 2. Mount a curtain rod at the top edge of a door frame. The rod can be slid through the hem of a flannel sheet, or if your space is narrow, just hem one end of the appropriate width of flannel. The flannel is easily removed and the rod is not in your way when not it use. 3. Purchase a folding screen and cover with flannel - this can be folded up and put away when not in use.
4. Cover one side of a 4x8 sheet of styrofoam (at least 1" thick) with flannel and lean against a wall or the back of your sewing room door. This can be stored under a bed when not is use. 5. Two inexpensive bookshelves can be placed side by side, perpendicular to a wall and their backs covered with flannel. This combines a design space with storage too! 6. A very temporary quick and easy solution is simply throwing a flannel sheet over the drapery rod in your living room. No doubt there are other good temporary solutions- if you have another idea that has worked for you, let us know and we will add it here.
If you have a wall area that you can dedicate to a permanent design space, probably the least expensive solution is two 4x8 sheets of 2" thick styrofoam. Screw the panels side by side to your wall with washers behind the screws to prevent them sinking into the styrofoam. Then cover with your fabric of choice and pin to the edges, trimming off any excess fabric. If you don't have an 8 foot space, cut down the styrofoam to fit your available space. It's as simple as that!
Hopefully we have given you some food for thought here.. there is no reason why everyone cannot have at least a small design wall - whether permanent or temporary. If you would like additional info about creating design walls and sewing spaces I recommend Dream Sewing Spaces: Design and Organization for Spaces Large and Small by Lynette Ranney Black, Palmer/Pletsch Publishing or Setting Up Your Sewing Space: From Small Areas to Complete Workshops by Myrna Geisbrecht, Sterling Publishing Co.

EDIT - Sept. 22/10
I just received the latest Quilters Newsletter magazine, and there under "Staff Picks" (latest things on the market) is a new option for a "Vanishing" Design Wall. Basically, it is a 60" wide, 5 1/2" deep shelf which can be mounted over a window or closet door. When you are ready to work, you pull down a 54 1/2" by 70" retractable vinyl-backed flannel wall (like pulling down a blind), and when it's clean up time you can leave your work in place and roll the flannel back up into the shelf. How sweet is that? You can see a photo on page 51 of the Oct./Nov. issue of Quilters Newsletter or visit

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great article. This is a wonderful sample. Love it!!!