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Jean Ashley from Salt Lake City, Utah writes in:

I have been haunted by bad middle school home economics experiences, so I’ve not done any sewing for a long time, but my boyfriend bought me a new sewing machine last Christmas (yeah!) for my soon-to-be-completed craft room (double yeah!) and now I have a question.

A friend of mine said that I should get something called a “sewing cabinet” (presumably something like this) but I am a novice sewer, and I would prefer to not spend a lot of money, if I can avoid it.

My questions for you are:

   1. What are the advantages to using a sewing cabinet over just placing the sewing machine on a flat desk or table?

   2. Do you know of any “hacks” or other tutorials on how to convert a basic table/desk to a sewing cabinet?

Like I said, I’d rather not shell out the money for something I don’t even know I need, but I also don’t want to go cheap and have a bad sewing experience just when I’ve mustered up the courage to seam again!

No, you don’t need a sewing machine cabinet. Old sewing machines used to come mounted in desks, and some of them could fold up and down to make the workspace useable as a flat table top when the machine was away. Most new machines are designed to be used on top of a table, not inside it, and hence have rounded edges that wouldn’t form a flush surface even if you did put it in a sewing desk. Sewing machine cabinets can be useful if you have an older or hand-me-down machine that is designed to be used in that context. I wouldn’t invest in a big piece of furniture like this unless you’re really sure you want it.

As for hacking your own sewing machine table, all you’d need to do it create a recessed tray in the table top that brings the height of your sewing surface flush with the table. Ikea Hacker posted about this “open to craft, close to hide the clutter” sewing station made from two standard bookcases. you might be able to find a used sewing machine cabinet at the thrift store or on Craigslist.

Lets talk about sewing ergonomics for a moment. When working, your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees bend 90 degrees. With your shoulders at rest and elbows bent also at 90 degrees, your hands should be at the level of your work surface. If your sewing machine is on top of the table, you might find your sewing level is up too high. You can either cut a giant hole in your table and recess your machine, or simply raise your chair up. I’m really short, so when I raise my chair up to achieve the right working height, I need to use a foot stool to stay comfortable. A foot stool (and even an adjustable chair, if you don’t have one) is a lot cheaper than a sewing machine cabinet or desk mod, so I recommend trying that route before making any major furniture decisions!

The above photo is CC Flickr user memyselfandkai.