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Tips & Techniques > Sewing Faster

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Posted by: boppingbeth
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Member since: 5/26/07
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Posted on: 7/31/07 9:46 PM
Review Rating: Helpful by 2 people   Very Helpful by 30 people   
Here is the LONGGGG digression about sewing faster, reposted (with a little bit of editing, and one addition) from the discussion board for the Wardrobe Contest 2007. (Warning--this is long!).

Besides the general comments: you sew with your head first, sew every day, practice helps, and you need to sew a lot to get fast, here are some of my thoughts/tips about sewing fast.

1. You are the designer, and you are in charge of your sewing, not the pattern sheet. The pattern sheet is only a guide. If you do something differently from the sheet no one will smite you; you will not get a ticket from the sewing police for doing something differently (and faster!). Reading the pattern guide through for a new pattern is suggested, as long as you also read it using your head; reading it through step by step for your TNT after making 14 of them really slows you down. Think through your sewing, and see if there are steps you can change to speed up.

2. You sew with your head first, and then your hands. You need to picture how you are putting the pieces together first in your head. It can help to put your pattern pieces out in order as you walk through the process. (eg. for the princess style dress: center front piece, side front pieces; center back pieces, side back pieces, zipper...). If you can think through the construction process in your head, you don't need to stop every step, read the instructions, guess to see if you are doing it right, reread the instructions, sew it, and wonder if you actually did it right. (My MIL is famous for this--and then she does it wrong and has to rip and redo). If you lay the pieces out in order as you think the process through, you also prevent those other well known crisis: oh no, I didn't cut the back skirt....and, the famous 2 am comment: oh no, I don't have a zipper.

3. Generally speaking, you put the parts of the whole together first--front, back, sleeves if pieced--then the pieces to each other: shoulders, side seams, (set in sleeves here)-- and last edges (neck and hems). Once you understand that the overall sequence does not change between garments, no matter how complex the garment, your sewing will speed up. You almost need to develop an internal sequence for your garments--or your own mini guide with keywords. The steps for all tops/dresses are 'essentially' the same (of course, there are always design variations, and details that change...which is what makes it fun.) But understanding the sequence speeds the process up.

4. Clipping off seam allowances takes time. Unless this is a fitting pattern, a pattern where you need a 5/8 inch seam allowance for a specific seam technique (flat felled seams on jeans, for example, or putting in a zipper), or you are working with particularly difficult fabric that needs an alternate seam finish, a 3/8 of an inch seam allowance is all you need. Using different seam allowances for different parts (like in industrial techniques) speeds things up. Inside facings, waistbands and necklines--1/4 to 3/8 of an inch seam allowances help you to sew more accurately and faster. For your TNT patterns, particularly the collared blouses, it is worth the time to create a collar pattern with the right seam allowances. You actually don't need to clip as much with the narrower seam allowance, and it looks better. But, remember, you are the designer and you sew with your head first. If your head and gut say use wider seam allowances with certain fabrics, trust them.

5. Pins are (generally) optional. There are some exceptions to this rule, but normally, once you are a fairly experienced sewer, pins slow you down. Industrial seamstresses do not use pins; they match their notches and pleat up their seams along the edges, releasing a pleat as they come to it--but that is another thing. Having said that--I still use pins for difficult fabrics, and for matching princess seam curves, but I don't use a lot of pins. For example, I use only 4 pins for sleeves: notches, seam and shoulder.

6. I am not a 'fussy seamstress' and I prefer industrial sewing techniques. I don't thread mark all my grainlines; I don't tailor tack because I am more accurate with pin-marking, or chalk marking; I don't 'tie off' every seam allowance thread tail; I don't hand baste unless it is absolutely necessary. These particular fussy seamstress habits will slow you down. There are always exceptions to this; I would do most of those for tailored garments, because it would make a difference for the final garment. But, I generally don't hand sew unless forced to (except for beading; I like beading). I grew up the only right handed person in a left handed family, and I didn't learn to handsew until I worked as a seamstress. I can do anything with a sewing machine.

7. Don't be afraid of the machine going fast. Practice sewing with the machine going fast. Let the machine sew at a steady pace, and let the feed dogs guide your fabric. You will get more comfortable with the speed if you practice at a higher speed on things you don't care about, or just samples. You have to practice to work up to accuracy and speed.

8. Chain sew whatever you can; that is, sew one item after another with only a few stitches of thread between them. Cipping threads takes time; shorter threads, less time. This is a skill; if you quilt, you learn this one fast, but you can learn this one with garments, too.

9. You don't have to match every thread colour in the serger to your garment (the industry does not!), but the lower loopers should be pretty close or deliberately different as a design detail. Stitch all the same colour garments at the same time, so you don't have to rethread your machine every time you sew. Wind more than one bobbin of the same colour when you start your garment. I usually wind two bobbing for shirts and simple dresses, three for topstitched garments.

10. You will get faster by the 6th garment that is the same style (type). If you are sewing blouses, sew more than one at a time. You will be faster by the last one, particularly if you are trying to develop that sequence in your head. It helps if you don't have to change the thread for each blouse. But, practice will help you speed up.

11. When you are trying something new, realize that you will be slower at it at first, and give yourself permission to be slow at first. It usually takes about 6 to 10 garments of the same type to become comfortable with the process, and about 10 more to become fast. I'm fast at Tshirts, now. By the same token, try something new and see if you will be faster with that method. Industrial sewing techniques are designed to be faster, with practice.

12. Have your tools where you need them, and put them back where they go when you are done with them. Nothing slows you down quite like having to go to the store to buy another loop turner because you lost the first one 'somewhere in the sewing room'. I like having thread snips and small scissors at each sewing machine, as well as a garbage can/bag, so I don't spend a lot of time looking for thread snips! (I have multiple machines, ok. I sew a lot. I also have two children and a husband who 'borrow' my tools.)

13. Take care of your machine. Try to get in the habit of using a fluffy 'blush brush' to clean out bobbin area every time you change bobbins. Oil the poor beast every once in a while (beginning of every garment?), particularly if you are sewing a lot. A well loved machine sews better, and faster, and nothing slows down your sewing quite like a trip to the mechanic.

14. Practice is the only real way to get faster and more comfortable at going faster. Sewing a little bit every day will help you go faster. Learning to sew fast is like learning to play the piano fast; it takes practice. No one is fast at scales the first time; no one is fast at sewing the first time. Be willing to practice. Wardrobe sewing helps with the practice factor; there is nothing like making 11 garments in two months to get in practice.

15. Read about sewing and industrial techniques. Some of it will make sense, some of it will need to percolate! I like website fashion incubator dot com, but I am very comfortable with industrial techniques in general, and this site will not be for everyone. Other people on the contest discussion suggested: Sue's pocket, and I am off to check that out. Margaret Islander has produced some excellent videos on the topic of industrial sewing techniques. She demonstrates the 'pinch technique instead of pins' in one of them. Two books with lots of great ideas are "The Complete Book of Sewing Short Cuts" by Claire Shaeffer, and "Sew Fast, Faster, Fastest" by Sue Hausmann.

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SallyNC said... (6/5/08 11:04 AM) Reply
What is Sue's pocket, and where do I find it?
Emi1yKate said... (8/18/07 6:32 AM) Reply
"Nothing slows you down quite like having to go to the store to buy another loop turner because you lost the first one 'somewhere in the sewing room'. " LOL, ain't that the truth.
SewTwin said... (8/8/07 3:38 PM) Reply
WOW, it looong, but "Worth It".I have vowed after this to get faster, as the last top took two weeks,but I did a "Design Element".I guess if I learned something, it was worth it!But, I am all for "Speed Sewing", especially, if I am ever going to dent my STASH!By the time I get most of it sewn, it will ve "Vintage".I do refer back to tips, and will try some of these...
boppingbeth said... (8/3/07 11:52 PM) Reply
I have set up my sewing room so that I don't need to move to press or serge--just roll on over to that spot. It is faster, but not necessarily better for the body, as changing positions every 15 to 45 minutes is a good thing for blood flow (not speed, though). I agree with the quit when you are tired, though--or even, don't start anything after 10pm. My 'wool flannel jeans' are proof of that--don't do it!
slanden99 said... (8/2/07 9:32 AM) Reply
Great ideas. I'd have to say that seam ripping is the slowest part of sewing, so I avoid it when I can
petro said... (8/2/07 2:22 AM) Reply
I'd just add that patterns without seam allowances IMO are quicker, because you add your own (theres a quick gadget for chalking these). This does mean that you don't have 3/8 where you only want 1/4. But maybe others have different ideas about this. Also, in cutting our pieces, its often quicker to lay up a garment piece on fabric and cut round that so if you are doing more than one T shirt etc, cutting out the second, third etc at same time is very quick.
Birgitte said... (8/1/07 5:50 PM) Reply
Great tips- I visit Fashion-Incubator all the time, and have learned a lot from her book. Also, I find that using 3/8 and 1/4" seam allowances speeds things up at the machine because my universal foot lays right on the seamline for 3/8" and I just move the needle all the way to the left for 1/4".
Patzee said... (8/1/07 2:48 PM) Reply
Can we add this to the Sewing Articles (along with some of the comments)?
inava said... (8/1/07 12:09 PM) Reply
It's true what you say about repetitive work making you faster. Like making a dozen costume dresses for a 4th grade play or 50 flags for the high school drill team! Your suggestions are truly helpful. And ditto on the "quit when you are tired" comment. In other words, quit while you're ahead!
savesnine said... (8/1/07 11:36 AM) Reply
Great tips. I like the way you reiterate "practice". I don't think that's stressed enough.
janem123 said... (8/1/07 8:24 AM) Reply
Thanks for the great ideas.
leigh7911 said... (8/1/07 1:42 AM) Reply
Yea! I especially appreciate hearing that it will probably take about 6 to 10 garments of the same type to be comfortabe with it. Sometimes I'd like to do away with the learning curve.
Nancywin said... (7/31/07 11:41 PM) Reply
Great tips. I learned some of these same techniques from Nancy Zeiman's Busy Womens Sewing Book. Other things I would like to add are: 1. Sew as many seams as possible before going to the ironing board. Then do as much pressing as possible before going back to the machine. Getting up and down wastes time. 2. Do as many seam finishes (hong Kong, serged, stitched) before construction. It is much faster and easier 3. Do all fusible interfacings before you begin. At this same time, pre press up sleeve and garment hems and turn under any raw edges that will need to be pressed.. It is much easier and faster to press these while still flat. And finally, when you get tired, QUIT. I always make more mistakes when I am tired and ripping out takes a lot of time!
KempCorr said... (7/31/07 10:08 PM) Reply
Great ideas. Thanks for posting them.
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