Sewing Table Makeover: The Solution

Yesterday I described my current quilting workspace and my machine quilting woes with my domestic machine. After determining I would struggle less if my machine was flush with my table and further over to the right, I asked my handy husband to cut a hole and build a frame in which my machine could sit. The $250- $350 cost of a hydraulic lift was too expensive; a fixed setup would have to do for now.

Here are some photos of the process. The first step was to mark the location for the hole, leaving at least three inches around the machine. I marked a spot on the far right hoping for maximum space to the left to support the quilt. Fortunately, I used a pencil because the machine had to move further to the center due to a large metal brace underneath. The photo of the table shows the patient being prepared for surgery. The shiny plastic with black things on the table is the remains of an old broken acrylic table we hoped to salvage for the table insert, but my husband was unable to cut it himself.

After setting the table on the floor, my husband used a jig saw to cut the hole. This is a solid, heavy table; you can see the thickness of the wood. Since sewing machines are heavy and vibrate a lot, I would recommend using a sturdy wood desk or folding table from an office supply store, not a plastic folding table from a big box store. The support for the machine was constructed of 6″ long 1/4″ bolts, with nuts and washers on top and underneath the table. The holes on top were countersunk to keep everything flush. The shelf was a 5/8″ piece of laminated plywood. The depth of the support shelf can be adjusted with the nuts and bolt to make the machine even with the table top.

After carefully measuring the hole and machine, I drew a pattern and had a table insert cut out of 1/4″ acrylic. I cut a hole in the tablecloth and vinyl covering since it was important to keep them in place. I had the insert cut 1/8″ smaller around the perimeter to accommodate the extra thickness when I tucked them under the edges of the hole. I chose opaque white acrylic so the supporting brackets would not show. The brackets are made of 90° metal “L” brackets bent once more into an “S” shape and secured with screws that came in the package. Small felt pad cushions were added on top of the bracket.

Ta-dah! The machine is now set into the table and even with the top. Now it works great for piecing and quilting. Instead of hundreds of dollars for a new table or cabinet, the total cost was about $20 for the machine support and $55 for the acrylic insert. Now I have extra money for new fabric! Just kidding. What I really want to do is to save money for my own long-arm quilting machine.

With the ironing board removed, I have room to spread out a quilt for quilting. The vinyl table cloth surface is slippery which helps.

The realization that I now had room to baste a quilt top was an unexpected bonus! Binder clamps on the edges and tape elsewhere work well to secure the quilt for basting.

P.S. I also had an insert, without a cutout, made with white opaque acrylic so the hole could be used for a light box. Three battery-operated, touch-sensitive LED lights didn’t work for a light source (insufficient and too focused). Does anyone have a suggestion for a removable light source to set inside the frame and under the acrylic? It should not give off heat because it may set the ink in a marking pen. I would appreciate your ideas!


  1. Shelia - October 10, 2012

    GREAT idea! Where did you find a place to make the insert for your machine? I am in need of a flush surface also. I have the table but have hesitated bacause of finding an inexpensive place to get an insert. Thanks.

  2. B J Elder - October 10, 2012

    Great solution! Anxious to hear what you figure out for your light source now.

  3. paula.thequilter - October 10, 2012

    I have a very large lightbox that uses fluorescent bulbs. Can you find a portable one that will fit the space?

  4. Marilyn Lessner - October 10, 2012

    My husband made an inexpensive light box for me recently. Using an old shoe box, and picture frame with 2 sheets of glass and opaque paper between the glass. We found a 25 watt incandescent bulb that was long and tubular shaped. Only cost about $4. He attached a lamp socket to the end of an extra extension cord and there I have my light box. Just cut a hole in side of shoe box and insert the bulb when I need it. It doesn’t get too warm and I turn it off between tracings. Has been helpful for tracing embroidery designs. Isn’t it nice to have handy husbands!

  5. Ann - October 10, 2012

    Thanks to everyone for your replies! I enjoy hearing your ideas.
    Sheila, I had the inserts made at TAP Plastic. They will make it from a template you provide.
    Marilyn, I was concerned an incandescent bulb would give off too much heat and set a marking pen (especially blue color). The combination of low wattage and short time use must help. Thanks!

  6. Shannon - October 10, 2012

    It looks great. I am curious about the “feet” on your table. They look like inverted plant pots…wondering about the purpose…thanks

  7. Laura - October 11, 2012

    What about one of those push button lights to put in the hole under the acrylic?

  8. Sharyn - October 11, 2012

    We did my banquet table the same way. when I moved up from my Janome 9000 to the Horizon the hole needed to be bigger, but instead of having a new insert made I just used the acrylic table that came with the machine. Worked like a charm. I just had to raise the machine a little bit to meet the ‘new’ level.

  9. Ann - October 11, 2012

    Thanks again for the replies!
    Shannon,the black things under my table legs are bed risers used to lift a bed to increase storage underneath. They work well to elevate the table to a comfortable height for cutting with a mat and rotary cutter or for ironing and allow for more storage under the table. Bed risers come in two heights. I like the shorter ones (4-5″?)because I am not very tall. The ones 6″ or taller are too tall for me. To sew, I sit in a drafting chair; my feet and the pedal are on a storage box. It works fine.
    Laura, I tried using three push button lights with 3 LED lights each but they were too focused and not bright enough. They worked great for camping though…we used them to see our playing cards at night! I am going to look for inexpensive LED strips to adhere to a board I can insert when needed.
    Sharyn, I am glad your new machine and insert worked out well. I did think about ordering a table insert and having my husband cut a hole to match. I thought it was less risky to have him cut the hole, make a template and have the insert cut to that size.

  10. Carla - October 12, 2012

    Nice solution. Love that quilt top in the picture.

  11. Ann - October 15, 2012

    Thanks Carla. It is from Simply Triangles by Barbara Cline. I blogged about the book and showed the finished quilt on Notions blog September 19th.