Isobel Currie: Organising your workspace
Isobel Currie is a three-dimensional embroidery artist living in the UK. Her passion for stitch and colour results in her remarkable work, revealing shape and form.
A stitcher all her life, Isobel studied embroidery at Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University. It’s here she became interested in the structural and sculptural potential of embroidery stitches and techniques. Since graduating in 1990 this interest has continued and developed. She now creates sculptural embroideries which explore the three-dimensional beauty of pure stitch and the unique interaction that stitch has with fabric; the journey that the thread makes through the supporting medium.
In 2012 Isobel won the Embroiderers’ Guild President’s Cup, and she’s a member of the 62 Group.
In this article, the second in our Creative Development series, Isobel takes us on a tour around her workspace and shares with us her ideas on how to build a space to be creative in.
The working environment
Creative people will have varied attitudes to their working environment. There are those who love to immerse themselves in their craft, their workspaces always crammed with images, materials, ongoing projects and artwork; the sheer visual intensity and richness is a source of inspiration and stimulation. Some people however prefer an ordered workspace; a place to declutter the mind and think clearly, a calming environment, free from distraction. It would be simplistic to think that a craftsperson’s workspace is always exclusively one or the other, and it would be naive to seek to prove one approach superior to the other. Although there is no ‘correct way’ or magic formula, the working environment is critical to both enjoying creating, and the quality of work produced, so it is important to get it right. Sharing information on our working environment is one way craftspeople, professional or amateur, can help each other get the most out of their creativity.
My preference is for the ordered calm of a tidy workspace. Why this is my preference and how I go about achieving it are the subjects of this article.
My workspace is one half of what would usually be the dining area in the living/dining room of my home. It is approximately 1.7 x 2.8 metres and contains a desk, various storage units and shelving, and good lighting. I have considered the option of converting the garage into a craft studio, but I prefer to be in a more domestic area. Fortunately, as my work is relatively small scale, I do not require too large a space to work in.
An organised workspace
There are several reasons for my approach to workspace organisation:
- Personal preference: I have always preferred things organised and tidy. This not only applies to my workspace but also my house, my garden and my place of work. I tend to find a clear tidy workspace helps me focus on my work and that I concentrate better in visually calmer surroundings. It pleases the designer in me to have an efficiently planned space.
- My ‘day job’ (not directly related to my three dimensional embroidery work) involves being on my feet all day, so in the evening after work, when I do my craftwork I like to be sitting down. To facilitate this my workspace is very compact – a significant amount of my materials and tools are in arm’s reach from my desk. The only way that I can keep that compact a space functional is to keep it organised and tidy.
- In addition to my three-dimensional embroideries I enjoy doing many different arts and crafts, such as making jewellery, clothes and cards (sometimes I find that the processes learned from doing other crafts can be useful to my embroidery work in surprising ways) I also have household administration and other desk-based jobs (such as writing this article!) to do. All of these are undertaken in my workspace. I swap between activities as necessity dictates or as the mood takes me, and I have found an organised tidy workspace allows me do this with relative ease.
How to organise your workspace effectively
There are three key elements to how I attempt to keep a clear and organised workspace:
It is easier to put something away if there is somewhere for it to go. This may seem obvious but it is the basis of my workspace organisation. As soon as I was able (about 15-20 years ago) I designed and had built a ‘craft cupboard’.
This cupboard is 1 metre wide, 2 metres tall and 25 cm deep, and combines a whole variety of purpose-designed storage solutions for craft tools and materials; it is amazing the sheer quantity of products that I can fit in it. This ‘craft cupboard’ is the cornerstone of my workspace and enables me to keep a significant amount of my materials and tools very close to my desk. I have also designed and had built the desk at which I work, and the other items of furniture in my workspace have all been carefully selected for maximum efficiency of storage. If you have limited space and a lot of stuff then every square inch has to earn its keep – often I have found the only way to do this is with bespoke furniture. Modular storage units from IKEA or Muji have been used as a basis around which much of the furniture is built.
My cupboard is behind me as I sit at my desk, but is easy to access as I use a swivel chair. I have a small container on my desk, containing the tools I need access to all the time, such as pens, scissors, tweezers and ruler. My (colour coded) work books are next to me on a shelf under the desk, so are always at hand.
An important aspect of my work is colour, and it has always been my habit to store all materials in colour order, so I am surrounded by rainbows! My fabric storage drawers are laid out so that each vertical column of drawers contains a type of fabric: sheers, cottons or synthetics, and all the drawers across have the same colours, so finding the fabric I need is like using a grid reference system, e.g. red organza: first column, 4th drawer down.
Threads and beads are also arranged according to their colour (within type), so it is easy to see what is available and appropriate for each project.
Systematic creative process
The creation of each three-dimensional embroidery piece is divided into various stages, each with its own set of tools and materials: During the ideas phase my desk is an artist’s studio – covered with source material and reference and ideas books. Then comes the design phase and my desk is a craft shop – covered in reels of threads, fabrics and beads. Detail design sees my desk turned into an office – computer, technical drawings and spreadsheets to calculate the positions of the drill holes. My desk is then converted into a machine shop for the stage when I drill the holes in the acrylic box. Stitching is next and my desk becomes a craft workshop. Finally, once the piece is complete, my desk becomes a photography studio (all the published images of my work have been taken at my desk).
I aim to complete one stage and clear away the related tools and materials before I start the next. This division of a project into stages helps keep the amount of stuff on my desk at any one time to a minimum. During some of these stages, particularly the ideas and design stages, my workspace can resemble an archetypal artists space – filled with colour and texture, a bright confusion of threads, fabrics and beads, but this will all be cleared away at the end of these stages to allow the next stage to commence.
When I am stitching my 3-D work it is especially necessary to maintain tidy habits. I often work with very long lengths of thread, which can become tangled easily. It is imperative that the desk area is kept clear to prevent the threads getting caught around any objects. I keep all the materials and tools for a project on a large tray, so that they can be moved around, or out of the way completely if needed.
Even with a purpose-designed ‘craft cupboard’, I have found that materials and tools do not put themselves away! No space, however carefully designed, will keep organised and tidy of its own accord. Personally, I enjoy tidying away the items used at each stage; it represents the end of one phase of the process, and allows me to clear my mind ready for the next stage.
There is another aspect of discipline that is crucial to organising my workspace. My partner once quipped that the only thing I could bear to throw away was the waste bin! This highlights a big problem in organising the workspace: there is a tendency to accumulate ever greater quantities of tools and materials. This then presents a constant problem of storage and access. In order to try and prevent this I have allocated a certain amount of space to each particular type of thing, once the space is full I can only add new by throwing some of the old away, or using it.
In my experience an organised workspace can only be achieved by a combination of the correct furniture and equipment, good methods of working and a disciplined approach to putting things away and clearing up. It can take time, effort and money to achieve initially, but I have found the benefits in terms of clearer thinking and more productive working well worth the effort. Maintaining the most efficient space for my needs is an ongoing process, and as long as I continue with my creative work I will be reassessing and adjusting my working environment to make sure it is suitable for my requirements.
For more information visit: www.isobelcurrie.com
Do you have anything to add? How do you organise your workspace? Share your tips below in the comments section.