One question I get asked a LOT – in comments, emails, tweets, real-life conversations, you name it – is how I manage to churn out all these garments at a seemingly rapid rate. Apparently, “Uhhh, idk I guess I sew fast lol” isn’t a satisfactory answer, and after one too many gentle nudges from various people, I think it’s time to unleash a discussion post!
Contrary to popular belief, I do not have any of the following:
– A Vampire’s need for sleep, or lack thereof
– A collection of enslaved sewing elves tucked away in my sewing room
– A machine that stops time
– A job that lets me sew all day (but, I mean, if you want to offer me one…)
Guys, I work a full-time, non-sewing related job. I go to bed at like 10pm. I don’t have kids or a particularly needy boyfriend, but I do hang out with my friends, I ride my bike, and sometimes my after-work schedule means I don’t sew at all for an entire week. So where does the time come from?
Well, for one, I do sew fast. I’m sorry, but I just do! I’m very comfortable with my machines and most techniques I use, which means a lot more sewing and a lot less unpicking. I also just tend to do everything fast (people are very amazed when I join them for lunch and inhale my sandwich in less than thirty seconds), so don’t be discouraged if you’re not ol’ Speedy at the machine.
Another big one is that I always have something in the works – once I finish a project, I immediately start the next one in my queue. The queue changes around based on current needs/wants or if I get a shiny new pattern that week… but the point is, I have a queue. Speaking of which, I found the easiest way to keep the queue in check is to pull out the patterns I plan on sewing and store them separately from the rest of my stash. On the front of each envelope, I pin a little swatch of the fabric I plan on using (see above photo). Much easier than yanking off the whole yardage and piling it on the table with the patterns… which was what I was previously doing. Anywaaaay, back to what I was saying – I literally work projects back to back to back. This means that during weekends where I have a couple marathon seshs in a row, I could easily end up finishing 2 or 3 projects – or even more, depending on how simple they are (knit tshirts, I’m looking at you). Obviously, I don’t want to post them all in a row – I think you guys would get real bored of my face real fast – so I try to spread them out a little. This is not always the case when I’m posting like I’ve got a fire under my butt, but a lot of times it is. Sometimes those Finished Objects are kind of old!
I know this is a sewing blog, but I want to point out that I also do this with knitting. What can I say – I really love knitting, I don’t want to *not* have a project in the works (same with sewing)! Not having any creative downtime may make me sound like I’m working some kind of bizarre sweatshop with horrible self-imposed deadlines, but honestly… I just really love making things, and I feel lost if I don’t have a WIP that I can tinker around with at any given time.
So anyway, here are some tips that will [hopefully]help you accelerate your sewing progress.
#1: Have a Dedicated Sewing Space
I realize this leaves out a lot of people as not everyone can afford to set aside an entire room – or even an unused corner – dedicated only for sewing. That sucks! I’m lucky that I have the space (and I make enough money/live in an inexpensive enough area where the second bedroom is totally a dealbreaker when looking for places to rent), but I know not all of y’all have that kind of luxury. However, this is single-handedly the #1 reason why I can get so much done – I don’t have to spend half my time setting everything up and then later taking it down. My machines have their own tables and they are always plugged in, my ironing board never gets folded and stored, and my cutting table does not work part-time as a dining room table.
Having a dedicated sewing space means that I can indulge in my favorite part of sewing (other than the sewing itself): STASHING. Wooohooo I love my stash!! Actually, my stash has shrunk considerably this year (this happens when you stop adding to it and start sewing from it!), but, it’s still a stash. My pride and joy when it comes to stashing isn’t actually my fabrics, though – it’s my stash of notions, trims, interfacings, linings, and all those other little sewing goodies that make you stop in the middle of a project because you don’t have one on hand. I won’t say I have enough stuff on hand to open a store, but I do have a lot. You don’t have to break the bank to build up a supply – just buy a little extra something or two when you go to the fabric store. For a few months, I concentrated on serger thread – I bought 4 spools of whatever color every time I stocked up on fabric. Eventually, I had every color of the rainbow – without having to drop mad $$ on it all at once. Most of my trims and zippers come from ~vintage~ stashes – the flea market, thrift stores, yard sales (I have friends and parents of friends who keep an eye out for me, too!) – which, if you’re not shopping on Etsy, old sewing supplies are practically given away. I have so much shit in my stash, I can make entire outfits without leaving the sewing room to stock up on something.
Obviously, pointing this out is not going to magically grant everyone access to their own sewing room (I wish!), but I do want to point out that this does give me quite a sexy leg up on the competition.
Ah, UFO – or, Unfinished Objects (altho if you want to talk about aliens, I’m down for that too), the bane of most sewer’s experiences. How many times have we started something, only to shove it in a box when something with a little more sparkle catches our eye? Guys, I know it is tempting to embrace your magpie tendencies – but it is murder on your productivity! Starting up a project takes precious time – from determining your chosen pattern and fabric, to cutting and marking the pieces, to all the boring pre-work like staystitching and fusing interfacing… and we haven’t even gotten to the actual construction! What is the point of wallowing through all that, just to set it aside and start the process over again? Not to mention, I’ve noticed a lot of people who tend to pile up UFOs rarely stop at just one.
To me, UFOs just contribute to wasting time. It’s one thing to set something aside if it’s frustrating you, but you shouldn’t make a habit of picking up a new project and starting over, because it can quickly get out of control. I made peace with myself a long time ago and decided to eliminate the UFOs in my sewing room and finish every.single.project, even if it killed me. Sometimes it does make me want to destroy things – but I soldier on and finish that fucking garment. Occasionally, it actually speeds me up because I’m so desperate to finish and move on to the next shiny object. So maybe in a way, it’s kind of bad for my productivity since I occasionally will find myself cutting corners in a desperate attempt to just be done. But on the flip side – I don’t have those half-sewn pieces creeping around my sewing room (is it just me, or do they nag at you and make you feel all stressed and sad? Say it’s not just me!), and I have a finished object to show for it! Yay!
I know, it’s like toootally contradictory. When you’re short on time, ain’t nobody got time for a fuckin muslin. This is NOT even true and all of us need to collectively reprogram our brains, like, now.
Besides obviously avoiding the trauma of spending your time on something, only to discover it doesn’t fit – muslin-makin’ is also good for increasing your speed, as it will give you a chance to practice a little on the garment before you start hacking into the good stuff. This means you will spend less time pulling your hair out over the instructions – because, dude, you already did this! – and less time ripping out your seams when you inevitably made a mistake due to sucky instructions. I also feel pretty confident, post-muslin, in that I know the garment will fit (since I basically already tried it on), which means less futzing with the fit during construction-time. Of course, I do fit-check throughout my sewing process (and you should too!), but it’s one thing to put half a bodice up against your chest to ensure things are coming along smoothly, and quite another to suddenly discover you cut the wrong size… halfway through.
One point I do want to make is that muslins do NOT take a lot of time to put together, especially if you speed up the process. Unless the skirt is something that needs to be fitted, I generally only sew the bodice. I do include a sleeve, but only one. I sew all my seams with a long stitch so I can quickly rip them out if I need to (and it pushes through the machine faster). I don’t bother with facings, collars, or buttons, although I do baste in a zipper. Also, this should go without saying, but once you make a muslin and get your fit down, that’s it! You can churn out multiples of the same pattern and skip the muslin.
I’ll admit, this is probably gonna be real rough for those of you who don’t have a dedicated sewing space 😦 But I do think it’s important to maximize your time – so what if you only have 20 minutes to spend cuddling your sewing machine? You could use that 20 minutes to stay stitch some curved seams! Mark your pattern pieces! Thread your machine and decide what buttons you want to use this time! Skip ahead of your pattern and assemble the collar! The point is, there is SO MUCH that you can do in small chunks of time, so don’t waste it by subscribing to the thought that you *only* have x amount of time to do anything – think of it instead like you have enough time to sew your bodice darts, or prepare your sleeves to get set in, or whatever.
This is pretty dorky – and y’all are totally going to make fun of me for this – but I actually get a lot of my little sewing bursts done in the morning, before I go to work. I don’t necessarily get up any earlier than I need to (although sometimes I do, ok, sorry I’m a dork!), but sometimes getting ready doesn’t take as long as I need, so I try to utilize that time in my sewing room instead of just chasing Amelia around the house for 20 minutes. I set a timer on my phone so I KNOW when I have to drop everything (the timer is important, you don’t want to get carried away and make yourself super late!), and I actually listen to it when it goes off. I don’t try to rush myself – if I only have 10 minutes and I only get some stay stitching done, who cares? That’s one less seam I have to stay stitch when I get home, awesomeee!! Which brings me to my last point…
I treat sewing the same way I treat a bicycle ride – I’m doing this because I enjoy it, not because I’m in a hurry (if I was in a hurry, I’d take my car. Or shop at H&M. Whatever!). When I catch myself trying to rush through the process, I force myself to stop and slow down. Sometimes this can be hard because I’ve basically ingrained it in my head that I HAVE to post new stuff every week, and oh god people are going to stop reading my blog and the world will end and ughhh… but, you know. That’s not true. I’m sewing because I love the entire process, not just the finished piece (although that’s a nice bonus, let’s be real). In my experience, rushing only leads to stress, tears, and a lot of fuck-ups. Stop, take a breather, and just slow it down. It’s fine. I promise.
Anyone else have protips to share for increasing your sewing output? I’m still stuck on the couch and I’m bored as hell… let’s have a discussion!!