Winter can make any house seem small… and messy too. The cold weather has been keeping us indoors and hanging around in the living room. This can be cozy but it can also be a recipe for frustration and claustrophobia.
About two weeks ago I decided I couldn’t stand another elaborate art project taking over the first floor or another fight with the kids about whether or not we can save the lego building they made. So, I decided it was time for us to rethink how we are using our space… and find a way to create some more! Luckily, we have a pretty easy solution: a mostly unused third story.
Our third story is not as comfortable or nice as the rest of the house. We have done very little to refinish it, it’s not insulated and we rarely turn on the heat up there, the space is oddly broken up with eaves and closets, and the original lathe and plaster ceiling is starting to crumble under its own weight. Although we ostensibly have offices up there, we have not really made much use of them and instead have generally just been using it for storage or as the occasional guest room. On the plus side, we have two more rooms up there AND a full bathroom.
I’ve wanted to reclaim and refinish this space for a while. I’ve had grand visions of breaking out the internal walls and creating an amazing master suite up there. We’ve also discussed letting Big Girl move up there and having the girls no longer share a room. Both of these plans are long term and involve major renovation: installing insulation, removing and replacing walls, replacing windows, refinishing the bathroom, adding a bump out and re-roofing the house, etc… You know just your average $10,000-$100,000 project. Not happening any time soon.
Instead, I decided to create a plan for refinishing and reusing this space now! I began by having the girls help me turn the larger office/guest room into a sewing room… with a budget of $0.
First we cleaned out the space, throwing away or recycling tons of old journals and books, gathering old pictures into one space and generally getting rid of the old to make room for the new. I must admit that this felt bittersweet; in recycling 10 years of journals and donating Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members, I felt the pain of failure more acutely than I had in the past bunch of months. I even put my Ph.d. diploma and bound copy of my dissertation in the closet… not out of spite but because in making space for new things it is necessary to cast out some of the old things. This is true for a room as much as for my soul.
The result was a room with a pull out couch, a large desk/work space, a large coffee table, an empty book shelf, lots of wall space and a corner filled with a 5’ x 5’ stack of books to be relocated across the hall to our future library! (more on that soon)
Next, the kids and I pulled out all the fabric from the closet. This too was bittersweet. Lots of the fabric scraps were gifts from friends and family from a baby quilt I had made for Big Girl before she was born. Other pieces of fabric were baby clothes I wanted to reuse in some way and a few maternity clothes that remind me of the good parts of being pregnant (the sheer wonder and magic of growing a baby!). Having Little Girl and Big Girl help with this took away the sting, we weren’t casting aside their babyhood, we were building on it!
So we did: Little Girl sorted the pieces into general size of little scraps, small pieces and big lengths. Big Girl sorted them into color and texture and put them on the shelf. I did some ironing and lots of folding.
Then we went on a ribbon scavenger hunt to dig up all the bits of ribbon and notions that we had around the house. We had a “ribbon drawer” in the dining room so you know this was a substantial project. We strung the ribbons on dowel rods that I had laying around and hung them on the wall.
We finished all this about 10 days ago. And, we have been hanging out in our sewing room a ton (which means much less mess in the living room too!).
Little Girl’s first sewing project back in December made her fall in love. Since then, she has sewn herself a stuffed animal (Pancake the Turtle), a stuffed heart for a friend, and she is working on another project for my sister’s birthday present. She is working with embroidery floss and felt so far and it is a really good match for her 4 year old fine motor skills. I am amazed at her determination.
Big Girl has sewn a few small projects, mostly from the kit she began back in December and she’s been finger knitting too. She’s making a very cool scarf as a birthday present for my sister and promised to make one for me next!
And, I have been learning to quilt. I have pieced together a bunch of squares from scraps and am planning a blanket. I also just created a small purse (the final part of said sister’s birthday present) that I practiced hand quilting on. Boy is that hard!
It has been wonderful to reclaim this part of our house. Doing so has increased our living space and created an place where we can lay out big projects that we want to come back to later.
But, it’s not only physical space we’ve gained. We’ve also gained emotional space by saying that sewing and crafting is something important that deserves a space of its own. Lots of people have playrooms—a space for kids to go and play with their toys. Playrooms say that the toys are legitimate and playing with them is an important part of childhood. Having a shared craft space does the same thing!
I feel like we’ve also created some mental space. By cleaning out the old work related stuff, I made more mental room for whatever comes next. Also, I think we made some mental space for thinking about crafting and making differently. By creating a space where we can make things for ourselves and others we are saying that gifts need not only be bought in a store. They can also be made by hands, big and small.