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10 tips to Sew More, Better, Faster

The most common question I get here at Sewing By Ti is "How do you do it?" Today, I'm going to answer that question and help y...

The most common question I get here at Sewing By Ti is "How do you do it?" Today, I'm going to answer that question and help you sew more, better and faster!

Many years ago, when I was a young adult, fresh out of college and holding down a job, I read the book 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew by Nancy Zieman. I didn't realize it at the time, but that book was going to change my life. The premise of the book is that you don't need to be standing at your sewing machine to handle your "sewing" work. The reality is, when you break it down, very little "sewing" is done at the sewing machine. So how do I get so much done?

#1- I have a dedicated sewing area in the middle of our living room. It includes all of my sewing machines (sewing machine, serger and coverstitch), cutting mat, and ironing board. Not having to take out any items for sewing means I can stop in for just 5 minutes to work on a project. Yes, even 5 minutes is worth the effort.

So, when I'm waiting for a pot to boil, I'm sewing. While I'm waiting for kids to brush their teeth before bed, I'm sewing. While I'm waiting for kids to finish their lunch, I sew. Getting their shoes on to go out, I sew. Get where this is going?

Not everyone can have a dedicated sewing area. If you can't, don't fret. Because limiting when you take out your machine to actually sew means you'll actually get more done.

#2- As a homeschooling mom, I spend a LOT of time at home sitting at our kitchen table with between 1 and 3 kids working on their school work. You might be surprised, but very little time is dedicated to "teaching." Mostly I am just here for "moral" support as they complete each task. I use this time to:
-Write blog posts
-Browse sewing patterns
-Review instructions for patterns that may have complex parts
-Assemble patterns (and make "premuslin adjustments")
-Pin fabric together
-Shop for fabric
-Doing laundry (including preparing fabrics for my sewing projects).

And what about when we aren't sitting at the table? I also spend 5 hours on Tuesdays taking kids from one activity to the next. That could in theory be considered "wasted" sewing time. But it isn't. I can use my phone to browse pinterest for style ideas, check out new patterns and fabric and plan my next project.

All of these little things can be done WAY before you actually get to your machine. Don't lose precious sewing time doing the things that you can do throughout your day.

#3- Make the most of your time. When you finally get to your sewing machine, you should be set to do actual sewing. That means cut out your patterns or sew things together. Before you start sewing, be sure to take the time to locate your scissors (my thread snips always go missing) and wind all the bobbins you'll need for your project. Do not start sewing until you are sure your bobbins are ready. Interrupting to fill a bobbin takes up much needed time! If you're going to change your serger or coverstitch thread, now is the time to do it. If you wait until you're ready to do that part, you'll probably be tired or so eager to just be done, that you skip it all together. Don't do that! And if you have a dedicated sewing area in your home, you can stop in at any time to wind a bobbin or change thread colors.

#4-Less pins equals more sewing. Sure, it is scary at first to not use a ton of pins, but unless you are pinning an unusual curve, most garments only use 1 or two pins per area. And honestly, I only pin so I don't accidentally sew two right sides together or a sleeve in upside down. So just 1 pin to pin a shoulder together. 2 pins for a side seam (3 if it includes a sleeve). 4 pins for a neckband, etc. I do make a pretty serious allowance for pinning a hem (which usually gets 8-10 pins in adult sizes). But mostly hems are pinned and pressed immediately, so the pins get pulled as I press.

#5- PRESS all your seams flat or to one side (depends on what you're working on). Nothing looks sloppier than seams that aren't pressed. And a pressed seam looks nicer. BUT, to really save time on this process, aim to press as many seams as possible at one time. Also, keep in mind that a pressed seam will actually sew nicer. Nothing is lumpier than an unpressed seam that you need to sew over. That can cause slippage and then you need to use your seam ripper. Seam rippers are time wasters! So try not to use your seam ripper if you can help it by planning ahead.

#6- Always make doubles, triples and quadruples of a pattern. The way to master a technique or process is to do it over and over again. No, it isn't exciting, but let your fabric excite you.

#7- Don't buy multiples of the same type of pattern. If you have a raglan you love, do NOT buy another raglan just because you got sucked in by the advertising. Cutting out and fitting a new pattern takes away precious sewing time!

#8- When sewing a project, ignore the sewing instructions. (ok, not totally, but hear me out). Most patterns have you work on each part individually. That wastes time and you're constantly moving from one machine to the other and then to the iron. Do as many parts at one machine as you can before going to the next step.

For a shirt or simple t-shirt style dress, instead of the usual instructions, sew your neckband, and shoulder seams at the same time. Then press them both. Next pin on your sleeves AND neckband. Sew those both. Press. Sew both under arm seams. Press. Now fold up and press both sleeve hems and the bottom hem. Press all the seams. Now you're ready to top stitch hem, sleeve hems AND the neckband. WAY faster than doing each part individually!

#9- Use good tools. Not everyone can afford a $10,000 sewing machine (I sure don't have one), but you should always buy the most expensive tools you can afford. That doesn't always mean money either. Sometimes it means waiting for a good deal on a used machine. Just keep in mind that the $100 Brother sewing machine at Walmart is $100 for a reason. And if you want to have good results consistently, you're going to want a machine that you can count on. My general rule is that if I can't justify paying for repairs for this machine, that it shouldn't go home with me.

#10- Use good materials. I'm not saying buy $30 a yard fabric to make your muslins, but truly cheap fabric is going to be a nightmare to sew. It is more likely to fray, pill and tear unexpectedly. The money saved on materials is always paid back in time, LOTS of time.

I could keep going for days about all the ways I get more sewing time. And perhaps I will another time. But for now, hopefully these ideas will have you getting more sewing done

Until next time!

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  1. Wow. I didn't know you were a homeschooling Mum! All this time I assumed you sewed whilst your kids were at school, and I was envious.
    However, a lot of what you suggest I've found I'm doing naturally anyway, which is good. My only real drawback is my sewing room is in my summerhouse at the bottom of the garden, so not so easy to just nip to whilst the kids are involved :/
    I've done blogging at the table whilst they work too, but mine seem to need a lot more of my attention to get anything done. Maybe they just need a few more years to work independently!
    I'm aspiring to be more organised like you seem to be with my own kids, their learning, and my sewing. Thanks for this :)

  2. I do a lot of those things too, so that was refreshing. I had prepped a bunch of stuff the other day as I was helping a friend sew. So last night I was able to hem two shirts, turn a sweater into a cardigan, sew three tank tops and a pair of stretch pants in about 3 hours. Seemed like a good nights work. But it only happened because everything was prepped and muslins had already been checked, etc. But I am going to check Nancy's book out! Thanks for these ideas.

  3. One of my helpful habits is when I stop sewing for the night, to read ahead in the tutorial for the next few steps...then when I have 5-10 minutes to sit down and sew the next day, I can get right to work and not have to waste time booting up the computer.

  4. Facebook is probably my biggest time waster for sewing!

  5. #8 is my favorite time saving technique. I also like to press up my hems before I assemble whenever possible. So much easier for me to get a nice, even hem on flat pieces than in thugs that have been sewn together.

  6. *things, not thugs. Autocorrect strikes again.

  7. #8 is where I save the most time and usually the main reason I read through intructions first. I want to batch my processes as much as possible.
    Pinning is probably where I lose the most time. I just don't have the knack to ease in sleeves without pinning first.

  8. Awesome ideas!! I like to prepress or memory press my hems when I'm pattern prepping before sewing- it's easier to be more accurate when it's flat for me and for smaller hems like a three year old's sleeve.

  9. Another tip for faster sewing that I've adopted is to leave projects with your next step clear - ie having a few seams to press so the next time you return to your project you know just where to go and it gets you into the flow more quickly. This has helped me tremendously!

  10. I LOVE this post so much! It inspired me to get my hands on a copy of that book. Do you have any other suggested reading? I just had a baby and am trying to figure out how this whole hobbies thing works when responsible for the survival of another person...


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