Sewing machine tables

A sewing table with elbow rests!


Having a table top flush with the machine bed makes a huge difference to your sewing experience.  It relieves fatigue on your shoulders and neck as well as allowing the fabric or quilt top to have somewhere to rest instead of all over you and the floor.  The photos below show the first version of the table my husband made for me.


This version had a piano hinge on the front so I could get to the bobbin area underneath. Although this photo shows a machine that has a knee lift arm, the original machine the table was made for didn’t have one so I didn’t get a hole put in the front for it.



Here the front has been opened up. I used to keep my bobbins and essential sewing accessories left of the machine. Sometimes it would also house chocolate…or maybe that was just a rumour.

The first table top had the machine set only around six inches or so from the needle to the front edge of the table top.  The table top was painted in high gloss paint so the surface was slippery for quilting.  I sprayed furniture polish on it to keep it slippery before quilting.  There was a dining room table jacked up to the height of my sewing table to the left of the machine on a 90° angle.  This allowed the bulk of the quilt to be supported and the whole set up worked really well.

After reading Philippa Naylor’s wonderful book, Quilting in the limelight, I thought about redesigning my sewing table set up.  Philippa has her sewing machine set back around 10 inches (from the needle to the front of the table).  This made a lot of sense to me as the fabric is well supported at the front of the machine and you are able to rest your elbows on the table top which all but eliminates shoulder and neck fatigue.  You do have to adjust your posture and get used to sewing in a different position but oh boy, is it worth it!  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Because I’m taller than Philippa, I asked my husband to put the needle 13″ back from the edge of the table.  I wanted to find the perfect position for the machine and this gave me some wiggle room.  In the end, it was perfect at about 10.25″.  When looking at where to put the machine within the table, make sure the needle is central and that the rest of the machine is over to the right.  When looking at photos of commercial tables in magazines, it sometimes looks like the machine is centred and the sewist has to sit to the left side to sew. This could be awkward with your left knee up against the edge of the table.



Front view of the new version. It works so well!

You’ll notice that the shape is different to most tables shown in magazines, etc.  This is because I wanted a place to rest my elbows.  I actually sit within the cut out so I’m not too far from the needle.  This means the elbows can be comfortably by my sides and are supported that doesn’t put strain on my neck and shoulders.  So the elbows aren’t constantly on the wood, I place a foam mat under each one which makes it comfortable. The other advantage is that the fabric/quilt has more table top for support.  Usually the beige dining table to the left of the machine is flush and right up against it.  (My son is currently living in my sewing room so the set up isn’t quite right at the moment.)



Side view. Notice the cut out area on this side so I can access the cables and power. If the front section of the table has been taken off, I have to take care not to trap the foot pedal cable under the part where it is hinged when putting the front section is put back in place.



Detail of the Perspex over the bobbin area. There is a rectangular cut out area just left of the back of the main body of the machine. This is because my old machine was smaller but this doesn’t affect the practicality of the table in any way.


The Perspex insert allows me to see what I’m doing in the bobbin area.  It is easily pushed up to get it out of the way if I need to get in there from the top of the table.  The Perspex is covered in an iPad plastic screen protector which makes it very slippery.  The frosted sticky tape on the underside of the Perspex shows the sewing line in front of the needle.

Below is a photo of the cut out on the right in front of the machine.  Since my newer machines have a presser foot knee lift arm, I wanted to be able to see below so I knew where to insert the arm into the slot.  In the inserted photo, you can see the top view.  I have highlighted the little lines I drew (in red) on the table top so I knew where the slot was.  You may notice that the original cut out for my belly was half of an oval shape. This worked well too but in the end I decided to have the half hexagonal shape.


Here is what the back half of the table looks like.  It has dowel rods sticking up into holes in the timber around the edges to hold it in place. I have also placed supports under the table top so that the weight of the quilt is supported.  (You can see in the previous photo that one support temporarily consists of a couple of spools of thread.)

The red line in the next photo indicates where the front bar of the table was.  This bar was moved back a couple of inches as my shapely thighs were hitting it and I couldn’t get right in under the table where I needed to be.  It is also now situated right under the machine to support the load even more.  The table top that the machine sits on was also cut back to give me more room.




Here’s what the underside looks like.  The sides are tapered so I didn’t knock my knees as I swivelled on my office chair.  The red supports are actually chicken stock containers that happen to be the right height.


One other thing…Since my husband is blessed with fantastic carpentry skills, I didn’t think to give him the machine’s extension table to use a template for cutting around the machine both times.  When he saw the table in the cupboard, he gasped, “That would’ve been handy!”  It’s tapered to fit the bevelled edge of the machine so I didn’t think it would be that handy.

I still have a little painting to do on the edges—all in good time.  The legs have adjustable height stoppers on them so I could accurately get the table flush with the dining table.

I have loved both versions of this table so much.  It’s worth the investment—the metal work cost us a carton of beer.  The woodwork, well apart from the timber, it cost me a lot of scalp massages.  The table is 80cm wide and 102cm deep.  The dining table on the left is 180cm x 90cm.

If you have any questions about the table designs, please contact me.

Happy quilting!




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