Ask CRAFT: Sewing Machine Cabinet

Craft & Design Yarncraft


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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.

12 thoughts on “Ask CRAFT: Sewing Machine Cabinet

  1. ZipZapKap says:

    The main reason behind having your sewing machine recessed is not to lower it down but to provide a larger, uninterrupted surface for passing the material over – when the machine is flush with the table, the table does a better job of supporting the weight of the fabric. You will find it considerably easier to sew large items well with an even stitch if you are not having to heft the material up and over the machine.
    Come on, Craft – you should know this! ; )

  2. Becky Stern says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t know that, it’s just that (pasted from above), “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.”

  3. Shoshanna says:

    I also use doorstops- the rubber kind- to elevate the back of the sewing machine so that I can get a good look at the faceplate of the machine. It alleviates the need to crane my neck over to see what I’m doing. (I’m also short.)

  4. Shila Vaught says:

    Personally, I’ve used my own table top machine, as well as a recessed machine in my sewing class. While I understand that having the machine recessed gives you an uninterrupted sewing surface, it is TERRIBLE if you’re trying to sew something small…. like, say, a sleeve band.
    I tried to do it in class and I got so frustrated because my machine has a detachable piece so you can just slip a sleeve around it and stitch away…. personally, it’s a feature that I don’t know if I could live without.

  5. Ashley says:

    If you have room for it, get a tall table and a telescoping chair.
    The table will be a great surface to cut fabric when you aren’t sewing!
    I’ve been sewing for 16+ years and have never desired a recessed machine. Fabric only becomes cumbersome if you are working with a duvet or huge curtains.
    Shoshanna, good idea about the doorstops – I’m trying that tonight!

  6. judy says:

    My husband bought me a computer desk and cut a hole in the top with and built a shelf so my machine is level with the table. I have a drapery business and this makes working on any sewing project easier. I think you are much more apt to like sewing if you have a machine that works well and a comfortable place to sew.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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