OK, so I do have a bit of an reputation for being a fast sewer. And because of that I have been exposed to a variety of opinions ranging from ‘ Wow, you sew so fast, you must be good!’ to ‘ It really must be crap, nobody can make it properly in that time’.
The fact is, however – neither of these sentiments are always true. You may be labouring on one item for ages – but that in itself doesn’t mean that the finished item will be a masterpiece – it may still be ill-fittng, badly stitched etc. Similarly – you can make items fast – and that in itself doesn’t mean they are poorly made. There are exceptions to every rule, but the most important thing is –
FIND THE PACE THAT SUITS YOU
To produce a quality garments you need to be working at a pace you are comfortable with. If you rush it – it will be reflected in the final look; but if you procrastinate too much, you may loose interest/heart to the project , get bored – and that will show in sloppy work too.
If you are in the comfortable position of sewing just for yourself, as leisure, do take your time. Unless, off course there is an unexpected event this weekend and suddenly you have an urgent need of a new frock… If you are earning your bread sewing things, you will need to find a pace you are the most efficient at without compromising the quality.
I get asked a lot, how I can make things quickly – and the answer is – not every item is made quickly – this simply depends on the purpose of the garment, the client’s purse and my own private time constraints . The most important factors are the purpose – and the quantity you are making.
The purpose of the garments will considerably influence the speed at which you can produce an item -. If you are aiming at historically accurate garments and are making everything by hand ( the ‘before Singer’ eras) because your garments will be shown to the public etc – it will take much longer than a garments that looks fine, has handfinished details but inside seams machined. But if you are making modern clothing and are free to use sewing machine, overlocker etc – that would cut the timing considerably.
a few examples
1. – 2 17th century gowns, one handmade ( 1660 style, in green silk); and a 1634 in blue satin with machined innards and the rest handfinished. The handmade took me 5 solid days of stitching; the other one only 3. But can you spot a difference ? unless you look very, very closely, you cannot… (more on making the blue gown and construction details here)
2. Tudor gowns – this one is completely handstitched – petticoat, kirtle, gown – every single stitch. Took 2 solid weeks
These two were made using a machine, with hand finish – all inside seams are machined, but lining is inserted by hand, all visible seams, eyelets etc are hand stitched. Each took about a week.
3. Napoleonic bling – military lace sewn by hand ( 6 hours each side)
and on a machine, with hand finishing – 3 hours each side
A short tutorial on the machine style is here
The other factor is the quantity – how many items of the same sort you make. In short – experience. The more doublets/corsets/bustles you make, the easier it will get and the faster you will become. This is mostly down to the fact that if you are making a new piece of clothing, you do take your time considering the best way of putting it together, you make mistakes – but this is a very valuable time, as with every mistake, ever minute spent pondering on how on earth do these two bits fit in, you learn. My first corset took 3 days as I was just experimenting with techniques. Nowadays I can make simple corset in 3-4 hours, and if anything, is is better and much more structurally sound than the one I made in 3 days…
With that in mind, if you feel you would like to speed up your sewing, these are the tips I found worked for me:
* quality sewing machine and tools. The machine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to be reliable. You don’t need an industrial model straight away – though I love my semi industrial Janome for its speed – just make sure it does its job consistently and without mishaps. Also – do that the advantage of the many different attachments. I love my ruffler for example – without it it would take me much longer to make flounced petticoats, gathered chemises etc.
It is worth investing in some specific machinery if you make lots of similar items -for example, for corsetmaking getting an eyelet setting press meant shaving at least 30min off the complete making time.
*take notes. If you are working on a new project, just jot down bits that caused you problems – next time you wont have to work it out from the very beginning. I admit I had problems working our suspenders production – and since i wasn’t making a lot of corsets with suspenders , the first couple of times i had to work out how to make the things, made mistakes and wasted time. Once I started making a lot of them – I simply made a sample one and pinned it on a board, within reach if i ever need to be reminded how to put the thing together. Sorted, no more wasted time. you can always take photos and scribble on them too 🙂
* Practice – basically that’s where the experience kicks in. The more you make, the better you can get at it ( practice makes perfect!) but remember to practice only the bits that worked – repeating the mistakes again and again wont do you much good, o matter how long you spent practicing it :-(. The more you sew, the more you will learn about how different fabrics behave, which stitches, needles, setting to use – almost automatically, without sitting there and looking for the manual.
* if you are making clothes mostly for yourself, save the mock ups and make them into generic patterns, you can then adjust them ( neckline, hems, sleeve length etc) to fit in with a new project – and it will save you at least an hour or two on making a mock up from a scratch. The same applies to your repeat clients; or, if you are making a lot of stock items, a few graded hard patterns will not only speed the work up, but also ensure consistent sizing.
* Neat work environment. Well, this actually doesn’t work for me at all, by work space is consistently chaotic, cluttered -some would call it messy, even… but I generally know what is where. I have attempted a neat work environment, works for about 2 days and then get s back to its original chaotic state. But if you are a person who can tame the chaos, and organize the space well – that would help too!
* plan ahead. Time management is essential, especially if you are running a business – I have written a whole post on just this issue – here
*outsourcing. Sometimes it is simply easier and faster to rely on others who are better at certain things. I can make handwoven braid, lace, etc – but I know I cannot make the braid as fast as those who specialize in it. So when time is an issue, I buy my braid, points, laces from people who are expert. Money well spent!
* limit procrastination. Yes, I am guilty here too… when time is of an essence and I know I need to concentrate I simply try to eliminate the procrastination sources – switch off facebook, usually.:-)… I answer my emails once a day in the morning, then switch off the outlook too, so no notification, pings etc distract me. It is not always possible, but when it is, it is great. I found I work much faster when I go to my Stitch and Bitch sessions at Julia, at Sew Curvy – I haven’t got a laptop with me, I put the phone aside, and all I can do is work ( and chat) – and am at my most productive.
* set a time limit. If you like competing against yourself and enjoy a challenge – set a deadline. I work best when on a tight deadline, it motivates me far more than anything else – and I love it. Not everybody’s cup of tea as some people find it stressful – though there is a way around it, if you are willing to have a go. If you set a deadline on a bit of sewing that is not hugely important and failing it won’t influence your work in general, you can see whether you enjoy the challenge. And if you don’t – back to time management and planning….
*music. Again, different music works better for different projects – so find out which tunes motivate you, jeep you alert and happy. Similarly, for hand sewing I love audio books and learning languages. while stitching hems is pretty boring, listening to the Game of Thrones etc makes the task not only enjoyable, keeping your mind occupied and stopping if from looking for distractions, but you will sew faster too.
Having said all that – remember it is not always a race. I do often have to rush things for myself, as I ‘squeeze ; private projects in between the commissions ( best example , a ballgown in 24hours here_)- but I also have a few long term bits I work on and I enjoy taking my time – I am just finishing a lace making project I started about 3 years ago, for example:-)
So find your own pace, the pace that works for you, and stitch happy ! 🙂