Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Productive Sewing Room

I have promised a few people I would jot down a few notes on how I am so productive in my sewing room.  While not an expert on sewing, I have managed to produce a garment a week for the last 5 to 6 years.  All this time I have been homeschooling 4 kids, driving 3 kids to their competitive athletic events, gardening, making dinners, reading, and going to bed on time, which means I am just like you and limited to 24 hours in a day.  So, here goes......

Set your sewing goals.

Decide what is important and strive for that goal.  Everyone's goal is different, so find a few things that interest you and learn more about those topics.
My goals:  
  1. Sew many patterns and use a variety of construction methods.  
  2. Find or design the perfect nightgown pattern for myself.
  3. Master sewing with knits.
  4. Sew-a-long with my daughter's AG club to give her  a year of historical outfits.
I know I have reached my goal when the garment I finish makes me go, "Wow! The fabric, design, and construction all combine for that perfect moment."

The moral:  When you aim at nothing, you hit it every time.

Set up your sewing area for success.

  • Get rid of visual clutter.  This also means all those stacks of fabric on your cutting surface.  Not only does it take time to move, but you will be using mental energy as you think about those projects.
  • Keep you sewing spaces clean and accessible.
  • Don't sew when you are tired or don't feel well.  You will make mistakes that will take you longer to fix.  Come back when you are rested.
  • Don't be afraid to trash a project when it doesn't work out.  It isn't worth the second thought.
  • Keep a record of what you have accomplished.  You may be surprised!
  • Keep a list of items you need at the store.  Consolidate these trips for multiple projects.  Try not to go to the fabric store for 1 item.
  • Keep your sewing machine in good working order with yearly service by the dealer, cleaning it between projects, and changing your needle.

Pick your projects for success.

At the beginning of every season,  I pull out all the patterns and fabric that interest me for the upcoming season.  I will spend a few hours matching fabric and patterns until I have about 20-25 matches.  Below are pictures of my last fabric stash match-athon.

I usually end the time with some fabric and patterns that just don't make the cut with a good match.  They go back into the fabric stash for the time being and will wait until I find the perfect project for them.

The big tub holds the projects that I hope to make this fall and winter.  As I empty other projects from my plastic containers, I will add the new ones.  Each shoebox size bin holds one project.

I keep the projects stacked up under my cutting table.  As I get closer to being ready for a project, I will add any notions I need (zipper, thread, or buttons).  (This helps build that list for the fabric store before it becomes a crisis.)

I save time by gathering projects in bulk.  I only go through my stash a few times a year, not every time I want a new project.  I only have to clean up the mess I make from this process a few times a year.  Stash reorganization is fun, but a huge time zapper.  

I have found that I get excited about a handful of projects that I just can't wait to get started on soon.  This is excellent momentum to dive into the next phase of my process.

Sew in short burst for success.

Years ago, I read 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew by Nancy Zieman.   The book looks dated, but the information is great.  I took Nancy's method of sewing in short time periods and adapted it to fit my needs.  Every time I step into my sewing room, I have something that can be done in the time period I have.  

5 Minutes
  • Ensure I have everything for an upcoming project.
  • Iron on interfacing.
  • Clean and rethread my sewing machine.
  • Lay out fabric and get ready to cut.
  • Put a few seams together.
10 Minutes
  • Put together a few more seams.
  • Trace off a pattern.
  • Iron seams.
  • Prepare an item that needs gathering.
  • Pin as many items as I can before I go to the machine and then lay them there for another day.
20 Minutes 
  • Add buttonholes.
  • Cut out a pattern.
  • Darts and other tricky items I want to be perfect.
  • Sewn in hems.
  • Make collars.
30 Minutes or more
  • I save those really tough projects for these longer stretches.  
  • Putting together smocked items.
  • Pleats and pintucks.
Keep a "to-go" bag.  This is where I keep my current smocking project, and garments that need buttons, hems or facing hand sewn down.  I DO NOT HAND SEW at home, unless my husband needs a friend to watch TV.  Some garments have traveled for weeks in my bag until I had time to finish the hand work.

By using this system, I have 2 to 3 garments in various stages of construction in my sewing room.  Anything you do consistently will get finished in time.  If I have a project with a deadline, I start as soon as I have the items together.  Crisis projects don't fit into my life well.

After so many years of doing this, I don't feel this is very revolutionary.  It is a glimpse of how my process works.  I hope it helps you to get more done.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing! Excellent tips. I loved your idea about only going through the stash once a season. Very smart!

  2. Wow! I have only one more kid, but I'm certain that that is not the only thing keeping me from such productivity!! Your by-the-project system is very well done. I often go to JoAnn's for just one thing; maybe I can start with that! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for the info! I have just started to sort my projects under construction into clear containers with all the bits they need and have a "on the go bag" for hand stitching. But what I think is the biggest obstacle to productivity is your number 1 and 2 'rule' and that is clutter and a disorganized/messy sewing room. Mine is full of clutter and seeing all that fabric all the time is a distraction that takes ones mind off current projects!

  4. Wow. I can see its a very productive approach for you. I have that book too :-)