Mise en place

I took French in high school, but without that summer immersion trip to Paris, I can barely order from the local bistro without translating appetizers on my iPhone. One of the French phrases that managed to stick with me is mise en place or “putting in place”. Bringing order to things brings me more joy than candy, so it’s not a mystery why my french-speaking skills are limited to practicing feng shui. This past weekend, I spent a few hours setting up my sewing space with efficiency in mind.


I got fed up with losing tools in the middle of a project or having to get up from my chair to go across the room to reach for them. I needed to bring some gracefulness into my sewing so I could get through a sewing session without self sabotage.

When I learned that chefs will spend twice as much time preparing as they do cooking, I felt even more empowered to think tactically about the corner of my sewing room where all the action happens. When I sit down to sew, I need a pair of snips, a place to grab and stick pins and needles, and I need to be within arms reach (or closer) of machine tools and a seam ripper.

Since there’s a curious toddler in the house, I’d be asking for trouble if I wore a pair of snips around my neck while I sewed (which inevitably involves interruptions that result in me reaching into the oven while wearing a wrist pincushion), so a tiny cup next to my machine keeps all of those critical things within my reach, but out of hers. The brown shag carpet we haven’t gotten around to replacing since we moved in is always a potential land mine of pins, so my daughter only enters my sewing room while being carried or moments after its been vacuumed – a state which I’ve learned is too short-lived to properly appreciate.


Supplies and notions have lived in the shelves and bins inside my sewing table for years, but I took the time to organize them a bit better, stacking the frequently used notions like zippers and elastics on top and organizing the bins on the door with other must-haves like bobbins and machine needles.

The ironing board got a new home next to my sewing table. I used to take about five steps to get to it on the other side of the room. With all of the pressing-after-seaming that goes on, I was probably walking close to a mile every project. Well, a brown shag carpet mile, anyway. Now, if I swivel from my sewing machine, it’s right there. For serious press n’ sew jobs, I’ll lower the iron to the height of my sewing table and scooch it right next to my chair.


To simplify seam pressing even more, I pulled out my mini craft iron. It came out while sewing Barbie clothes for my niece and because of its tiny, hot maneuverability, it is now a permanent part of the landscape.


Setting up my space in the same way every time I sew will be an important anchor for my sewing process. It’s no different than when I mise-en-place my desk and computer at the office in the morning. That mental checklist of things gets me ready for work and prepared for any surprises. And, that’s all any seamstress wants really….to be ready-Freddy for whatever her garment throws at her. Hopefully, it’s nothing sharp.


What things do you do to mise-en-place your sewing space? Or life?