First Friday Studio Tour – Suzanne Kistler

This month we are visiting with Suzanne Kistler in Visalia, California.

Do you call it a studio or sewing room? To yourself, to friends and family? Why do you think this is so?

Depending upon its state of tidiness, the room’s title varies. I prefer it as The Studio, but sometimes it’s a studio, sometimes it’s a sewing room, and too often it is simply “The Dump.” I’ve long debated this picture, but here’s an honest view at the room in late April:Kistler tour 1

Difference in starting point between quilting and art? Thinking of this as a business rather than a hobby?

I always refer to myself as a quilter, never an artist. What I have a passion for is needle and thread. If others choose to sometimes call me an “artist,” I no longer feel uncomfortable with the title. For the past 12 years, I have done quilting-for-hire. I closed my business on April 9, 2014. For the first time in a LONG time, my quilt time is my own. Maybe this new-found freedom will be used to explore the suppressed artist in me?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What do you have in the room? machines, supplies, fabrics, paints, etc. Anything that might surprise the rest of us?

I have all of the above. I have 3 Berninas that I rotate through, but I only use one at a time. One is an embroidery machine, that I only pull out for label-making, unless the others are at the doctor. I have fabric – boy do I have fabric – and lots of supplies. You won’t find much paint or fusible materials – only the tiniest amounts. I prefer handwork, and if it doesn’t needle easily, it becomes a last resort.Kistler tour 3

How is your “stuff” organized?

In 2009, I made the decision to declare the sewing room to be a Studio. I removed my son’s bed and other personal items, painted the walls, and had a carpenter custom-build my Studio furniture. At that time, I sorted through everything, and tried to keep like with like, whether it be items and then subspecies of items. In Sept 2012, we recarpeted the house, so I went through everything again. The carpet was defective, so in 2013, it was replaced and I went through everything yet again. You would think that my space would be extremely organized by now, but it’s only organized inside the cabinetry. The outside is a whirlwind.Kistler tour 4

Kistler tour 5Kistler tour 6How do you organize your fabric? By color? Amount? Any separate categories (batiks, hand dyes)? How do you organize your thread (color, weight)?

My fabrics are primarily organized by color, but then I am most attracted to “blenders.” I have a separate storage cabinet full of batiks – and the pinks and reds that don’t fit in my main fabric storage. Florals/fruits/vegetables have their own area, as do animal prints. I have bins of fabrics that don’t fit into the shelving: juvenile, Christmas, sports, etc., but every time I try to sew my way through the excess, I find myself shopping to fill the empty space. I just may be a fiber addict.Kistler tour 7Kistler tour 8

I organize my thread by weight/type. All the Sulkies are together, the King Tuts are together, the Mettlers are together. I usually go for thread weight first, before deciding on a color, depending upon the project.Kistler tour 9

Do you have anything, supplies, more machines, etc. tucked away in any other rooms of the house. How many other rooms? (My husband likes to talk about that one.) Has a family member or significant other ever accused you of “taking over” the entire house? If you have a separate building, we want lots of pictures.


I’ve seeped into one of the guest bedrooms. It happened during Carpet Installation #1, and I haven’t been able to get it under control. In June 2013, my husband bought me a Tiara (Baby Lock’s version of HandiQuilter’s Sweet Sixteen), and it’s too big for anywhere else.Kistler tour 10

My cabinet of batiks is in the master bedroom – think of it as a living sculpture. A sewing box and hand quilting frame are in the living room. Everywhere you look are signs of a quilter. Like Charles Schultz’s PigPen, I leave quilting (not dust) in my wake.Kistler tour 11

How much horizontal surface do you have, and is it ever enough? Do you have to move piles of stuff to cut anything bigger than a fat quarter?

Definitely not enough, but my Studio is only 10′ x 11′. I’ve taken to trimming finished quilts on the kitchen table, and that has been working well. I do have 3-8′ tables, that I can put up in the living room when I need to pin-baste anything larger than 30” square.Kistler tour 12

Do you straighten/organize as you go, putting each fabric away as you cut, or do you clean up after a project?

As I am working, I tend to explode. But as my workspace decreases, I will stop, reevaluate, and put away everything that no longer is needed for my current project(s). Sometimes “put away” means that I will fold it into a neat pile, for later “filing.”Kistler tour 13

How many projects do you work on at a time and how do you keep them organized?

I have untold numbers of current projects. I have the UFO’s, the pending deadlines, and the “I want to do’s” all intermingled. If it gets big enough, it gets its own Rubbermaid box. I can’t tell you how many Rubbermaid boxes I have – I seriously don’t want to know. I keep notifications of calls for entry and deadlines on my design wall. Sometimes they come and go, sometimes they’ll be just the thing that get my juices flowing.Kistler tour 14

Anything more you want to add about your studio, organization, working methods, etc., please do.

I’d like to thank you, Lynn, for this opportunity to consider my working area and once again evaluate exactly what it is and what I do. Since Christmas, I’ve had one commitment after another, and when that happens, quilting time evaporates and the floor of The Dump disappears. I haven’t recovered yet – but I’ve been able to get into the room and dig through much of the mess, and for the past week or so, I’ve been back to creating. It’s balm for the soul, and I highly recommend it! I’ve pulled pictures from several years, to give you an idea of my space, but this last one was taken 10 minutes ago. Honesty is the best policy!!! 🙂Kistler tour 15

Thank you Suzanne for allowing us to peek into your studio.  I’m certainly envious of your custom made cabinets.

Next Month:  Lisa Alff

6 thoughts on “First Friday Studio Tour – Suzanne Kistler

  1. Suzanne I think we may be related. I love your honesty, and the Dump. It looks like my studio and so glad I’m not the only one that can’t keep organized. Thanks for the tour.

  2. I would like to know more about the Baby Lock Tiara.. I love your messy studio… I have a Dump also, seems my husband also thinks of it that way, because sometimes, I will find garden clippers or something that really belongs in the garage on my ironing area… I finally got the extra guest room cleared of his search and rescue stuff.. Thankful to the grand kids for coming up and needing that room.. Now, to organize, so I can get on Etsy.. goal.. My studio looks so similar.. thank you for sharing, enjoy your summer! vivian

  3. I love the fact that you “leave quilting in {your} wake.” That is such a perfect visual. You are already so productive that it’s hard to believe you can be even more so! But good for you. We’ll all be watching.

  4. So fun to see that you all enjoyed the peek behind the curtain! I debated long and hard, but decided that perhaps there are others out there who struggle with clutter issues. 🙂 Thank you for your positive response!

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