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SEWING ROOMS COME CLOTHED IN PRACTICALITY

One way to sew is to wrestle your sewing machine out of the closet and lug it to the dining table. Bring along your fabric and patterns. Those scissors, rulers, needles and other notions better be invited, too.

And try not to worry about that trail of pins and thread you're leaving in the carpet.There, now you're ready to sew. Let's just hope that nobody needs to use the dining table for something like, oh say, dining, for the next few weeks.

Now picture the other approach. A quiet room beckons. There is a sewing machine there. A serger, too. An ironing board is set up and nearby there's a cutting board. Natural light streams in. Fabric and thread are sorted by colors and stacked in their own designated drawers and bins. Television and music system are in place.

Only in your dreams? Think again. Sewing rooms or sewing areas within other rooms are a reality for many. Those who have them tend to be fairly zealous, and perhaps a bit territorial, about the concept. But sewing rooms aren't some sort of luxury, they say. They're a necessity, a sanctuary. Like a garage is to a man.

"I think we need to look at it with the attitude that what we do is worth having the space to do it in," says Mary Ross Peard of Redding, Calif., an avid quilter who teaches sewing classes.

Her sewing room, which she says she "manhandled away from the family," provides a place where projects don't have to be put away. The machines are always set up and ready to be used whenever time - from a few minutes to several hours - is available.

Being able to leave everything out and having a spot to sew until the wee hours of the morning without disturbing others are the big pluses of a sewing area.

The area doesn't have to be huge, says Carol Rupe, an instructor at Shasta College in California. "I think you can set up a delightful area in a corner of a room that's totally efficient."

The essential elements are the machines (usually a sewing machine and a serger that does interlock stitching), an ironing board and a work space. Rupe uses a U-shaped design: Her sewing machine is in front of her, her serger to the left, and, off to her right, a small tailor board for pressing.

"I can sew and press and I don't even have to move out of my chair," she says.

Rupe notes that cutting tables take up lots of room, so if space is at a premium, improvise and do your cutting some place else, like a kitchen counter. Storing things away from the sewing area also saves space.

Some sewing rooms have multiple personalities.

"Usually a family can't devote a whole room to sewing. Make it as interesting for as many activities as possible," suggests Katherine Wilson, who has a 13-by-19-foot sewing studio/guest room.

Three filing cabinets are used as the base of an L-shaped sewing center. A futon that folds out to a bed fits snugly next to the center. There's a television nearby. Shelves and lighting are plentiful, and there's a loft for storage. A recessed area for spools of thread is tucked into a small vertical space between a window edge and corner, where it provides color as well as storage space.

Wilson is a design consultant for home interiors and has helped others create sewing rooms. She advises thinking about personal sewing habits to determine what's important to have close by. She also suggests people try "to capitalize on some of the interesting things they have around."

For example, she uses antique baskets for storing sewing supplies.

Wilson said there's a benefit to visual storage where fabric can be seen. "The materials themselves are important."

And visual storage is a big plus to quilters, who tend to accumulate vast collections of 1/2-yard pieces of fabric. Being able to see colors and textures can serve as inspiration for a project.

"It makes me want to start another project," quilter Ross Peard says. She uses lawyer bookcases with glass fronts to store her fabric. Deanna Charlton, a quilt artist, stores her fabric in rectangular plastic baskets. The fabric is grouped by color and folded so that each piece is visible.

Charlton's sewing room is a 12-by-24-foot loft that was designed specifically for sewing. She put two rectangular tables together to form a sewing station in the center of the loft. The sewing machine is on one table and the other table is used as a cutting area. Together, the two tables provide enough depth for large quilting projects that are fed through the sewing machine, something that a typical counter depth will not do.

An essential element for any sewing room is plenty of light. Charlton's loft benefits from natural light from a window, as well as two skylights. Two swing-arm lamps that can be clamped down in various places provide task lighting.

Charlton uses a large flannel-covered wall-board in her sewing rooms. Pieces of a project in progress can be slapped up on the wall while she takes a few steps back to gain a new perspective. The wall also serves as a spot to display finished projects and tack up ideas for future works.

Quilts and pictures on walls personalize sewing rooms. But televisions and music systems make them inviting, too.

When it comes to a chair for a sewing room, don't improvise, say those who spend lots of time sitting at their machines. A secretarial chair that rolls and adjusts is the undisputed recommendation.

Safety is a consideration in sewing rooms, especially if children are in the house. Carpeting is cozy, but it also hides pins better than a linoleum or wood floor. Magnetized pin holders are used by many.

And many sewing items, such as scalpel-sharp rotary cutters, should be put in places not tempting for either children or adults.