Choosing Your Creative Space

You may have seen my bitter-sweet post on Instagram explaining the exciting project I have ahead (more to come on the blog about that), but it does mean I am leaving my Church-room atelier which I have grown so fond of, and I will deeply miss the large lead-piped windows that flood my pattern cutting table with light.

As inexplicably gorgeous as the space is, aesthetics weren’t the only factor that influenced my decision when choosing my home away from home for the last three years. You may have a perfectly inspired corner in your living-room that you can lose yourself in when sewing up a storm; or the eternal growing mounds of fabric, patterns and creative supplies could have left you seeking space. Regardless of your circumstance, choosing an area to call your own and create your pieces can at times be stressful but with the right approach become undoubtedly rewarding.

Beyond home sewing, the self-employment demographic has been on a steady increase since 2001 and more and more of us are carving out our own path and going solo. Whether that be starting up a business venture, working on a passion project, pursuing your hobby or taking the plunge into the world of freelance; it can all be a scary step to take. Many start out from the comfort of their own home and there are certainly understandable reasons as to why, others, like myself; source an external location in which to chase their set goals. 

Working environment

 

Home Office

pros

  • No added rental costs

  • Home comforts

  • No commuting costs or time commitments

  • No added facility fees

  • 24 hour access guaranteed

Cons

  • Space restrictions (house size dependent!)

  • Potential home-based distractions

  • Lack of personal/work disconnect.

External Space

Pro’s

  • The physical and psychological ability to separate work from home

  • Allocated space to store assets without cleaning up after each shift

  • A professional environment to hold meetings

  • Control over your chosen location (my atelier is opposite a road of fabric shops!)

    Cons

  • Additional costs for rent, amenities etc.

  • 24 Hour access not guaranteed

  • Commute can cost further time and money

 
 Photo credit: Together and Sunspell , Me in my Church room studio, flooded with light and beautiful high ceilings.

Photo credit: Together and Sunspell , Me in my Church room studio, flooded with light and beautiful high ceilings.

Privacy

This is a large factor in what I do given I work not only with my Digital Pattern Library and Xandra Jane collections, but handle confidential client work through my freelance services too. Therefore a community hub would not suit my demands. That being said, there are many incredible benefits to working in a shared creative space and a local venue that does it to perfection is The Sustainable Studio.

Light

This is essential. When working with detail such as black thread on black fabric or millimetre precision throughout my pattern cutting, stressing your eyes to meet your work is hard to maintain over long work hours. A creative space involves visual activities and should lend itself to easing any strain. It is also integral when photographing work and natural light eases the process when editing product shots.

What to consider

So you’ve committed to the idea of a designated creative space and may potentially be on the hunt for somewhere away from home. The primary factor for me when sourcing an atelier was space. I had hoarded quite a lot of stuff over the years in the industry and at the time of moving back to Cardiff I was with my Dad for two months before moving into my own flat. Neither my poor Dad’s house or my one bedroom flat were designed to accommodate the sheer volume of apparatus I had. I chose to invest in my studio before investing in my own place to relieve my family of the clutter.

When considering the size it’s oh-so-easy to run away with the thought of a large, bright room with space to cartwheel - and this is where your priorities are called into question.

layout

The Church building I reside in offers multiple studio spaces many of which are located on the basement level, although equal in floor space to my chosen studio, they were actually interrupted by rather large pillars bang-smack in the centre of the room. Not ideal for my pattern cutting table, yet perfect for the artists I saw who could manoeuvre around and simply needed storage for their easels and supplies.

questions to ask

From the perspective of a fashion designer and my own experiences in relation to selecting my space, questions to consider are:

Security?

Access to my studio is only available to those who have keys to the certain area of the building and of course the studio itself is only accessible to me and the building manager. Furthermore there are CCTV cameras throughout should someone decide shifting an industrial machine down flights of stairs and winding hallways is a good idea.

Other uses of the building?

Formerly an art shop, my building has now been converted to a venue hosting gallery exhibitions and the occasional music event. Pros and cons? The exhibition space is free for me to use though the live music can at times lead to a little noise pollution, that being said such events are only ever hosted on evenings and weekends. As mentioned there are multiple studios in the building and so a sense of creative community is truly lovely to be a part of, from stonemasons to carpenters and everything in between.

any issues with damp?

You want to avoid any potential damage to your fabric and machinery. A space with damp can cause both short and long term issues for storage and stock, and we all have a treasured fabric stash no-doubt!

is my intended use of the space okay?

It’s a two-way agreement. You may need to check with the landlord/manager/spouse if your chosen space is practical for both parties. For me, a corporate office in a shared building would be unsuitable due to the noise my industrial facilities can create and my music occasionally being turned up to get me through the day. It was also important for my location to enable interns and employees having access and flexible use of the space.

Payment and Termination Protocol

Many places may have a fixed term contract, others may offer rolling month payments. It is also important to figure out the process should you decide to leave, how much notice must your provide? Should there be any further charges? How should you get out of the contract should the situation arise?

One venue I visited required me to present a comprehensive business plan, three months of forecast finances and a non-refundable security deposit. The access was only 9-5 and they had many protocols in place that I just couldn’t adapt to, given the varied nature of my work.

Insurance

Always get your own insurance. Do not rely on that of the building, but it is of course worth asking their cover for reassurance purposes. What happens should their be a fire, theft, flood? Considering all outcomes will really help you to get a clear perspective on approaching the commitment when choosing a creative space.

Emergency contact

Establish who you can reach in times of need. Should there be an electrical fault, damage to the space or anything worse, be reassured you can contact someone with ease and have any problems rectified. You don’t want to be stuck in a flooded building with the go-to guy on holiday. Get at least two reliable contacts.

Facilities

What is available at your location? Is Wi-Fi included in the price? If so would the connection be strong enough for your needs? Find out added rates for electricity etc. or the potential increase your activities may have on your home bills. Is the venue disabled-access friendly, does this matter to your business or requirements?

For me, the ability to physically remove myself from the personal environment and travel to a designated space for the sole purpose of design, not only allows me to maintain any motivation and that all-important aspect of routine in an otherwise unpredictable job, but liberates my creative process and focus.

What’s your creative space like?

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Alexandra Wall