Tips for Faster Sewing and Staying Focused

I finished four, fully lined dresses, with hand stitched buttons in 23 hours and 50 minutes. That's about 6 hours per dress. I'd say that is pretty good. I could whittle that time down even more, but with all the work that goes into one of my dresses, I don't think I'll consistently break my record. Sewing takes time, and time alone can be daunting enough. So I have put together a little list of things that I think helped me accomplish this 6 hour time. These are directly related to sewing (but I am sure some of these principles can translate to other things). I've also included a list of how I try to stay focused in general.

Tips for faster sewing:

  • This one is just so obvious to me, because I can't work any other way, but start with a clean work space. Have only the project you are working on and only the tools and notions you need for that project out. 
  • Cut out every pattern piece, and interface all the pieces that need it before sewing a single stitch. 
  • Do as many of the same things at the same time as possible. Sewing does require a certain order, but read through an entire set of sewing instructions and, as much as you can, sew all the similar things at the same time. This might mean doing some stuff out of order. For example: Let's say the pattern you are working on has bust darts for the bodice and hip darts for the skirt. The instructions might say sew the bodice darts and then follow up with more work on the bodice. Then sew hip darts and do other things on the skirt before attaching the two together. But all darts should be sewn at the same time. Another example: Sew all basting stitches. On the dresses I worked on, basting stitches were required for the set-in sleeves, for gathers on the skirt,  and I also added them to the sleeve hem (more on that next).
  • Basting hemlines (I usually do this for a sleeve hem, as seen below) instead of getting your seam gauge or ruler out when you are pressing hems, having a stitched guideline to press along goes a lot faster.
Look at that nice hem guide.

Look at that nice hem guide.

  • Try to use less pins. Whenever I am sewing straight seams where I do not need to match the pattern on the fabric, I don't pin. This will take some practice, but once you get used to it, it saves a little bit of time. Also on the subject of pins, get yourself a pin magnet. They are way better (and faster!) than pin cushions. 
Look Mom, no pins!

Look Mom, no pins!

  • And this one might seem counter intuitive, but sew two projects at once. Do you have a favorite dress pattern? Make two of them, or three! As long as you use fabric that requires the same color thread, you can get a little production line going. When one dress might take you 10 hours to make, making two at a time probably won't take you 20 because you will be repeating the same motions over and over again. This will also help you get better at sewing. If you sewed 10 zippers in a row, you will be a pro at it by the tenth one. But if you sew 10 zippers on different projects spaced out over months, that tenth one might still feel like your first. 
  • Don't skip pressing! But do press only when you've sewn as many things as possible. In other words, don't sew one dart then press it, then sew another and press it. Sew them all, then press them all.

Tips for staying focused:

  • Ban yourself from social media. Not indefinitely, but at least for the duration of your allotted sewing time. I am on a fairly strict sewing schedule because I have deadlines, so there are a certain amount of hours that I must sew per day or per week to achieve my goals. If I have a 5 hour sewing day, I don't check anything on the internet for those 5 hours. I do give myself scheduled breaks, but I don't check anything on them. Here is my reasoning: Social media is distracting, we all know this, and that scheduled break, when you are just thumbing through and liking something, goes by quickly. Then, before you know it, you are videos deep on YouTube wondering what sparked looking up dung beetles in the first place? It's a rabbit hole, and your time is dwindling away. Plus if you don't check it at all during your sewing time, or your making whatever time, you will be less tempted to just check something real quick. Those just checking something real quick moments can add up. 
  • Give yourself breaks. Give yourself 10 minutes every couple hours. Or 15 minutes after completing a set of sewing steps, whatever works. I use my breaks to play with my dog, sit on the porch for a while, read a bit of my book (never the news, which is on my phone, and with all those clickable links, well you know where that leads). Sometimes I just lay on my back on the hardwood floor because sewing involves looking down or hunching over. 
  • Also the thing that keeps me most focused? Podcasts. I listen to quite a lot of them, and I love all kinds. Comedy, investigative reporting, interviews, storytelling, history. They all help keep me in my chair for hours at a time. Here is a growing list of the ones I listen to.  
  • Try clocking your hours. I've done this out of necessity, because I want to see how many dresses I can make in the shortest time. Clocking your hours can hold you accountable for the time you have worked, and be proof that maybe you haven't worked enough time to start rewarding yourself with a break. 

I hope some of these ideas are helpful. The irony is you probably popped over here from my Instagram. Hopefully it wasn't during some of your valuable time, but if so, get back to you what you were doing! If not well then, keep using your time wisely, and keep doing cool shit. 

Recommended Podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts while I sew. Some of these I've listened to every single episode, others I've only listened to a few. I could elaborate more and maybe better categorize these, but for now, here is the growing list. 

Comedy:

  • Professor Blastoff
  • Comedy Bang Bang
  • Superego
  • Pisto Shrimps Radio
  • The Dead Authors Podcast
  • Doodie Calls with Doug Mand
  • With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus

Interviews:

  • I Was There Too
  • WTF with Marc Maron
  • You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes
  • Fresh Air 
  • Waking Up with Sam Harris
  • The Joe Rogan Experience

History/Politics/Reporting:

  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin
  • Hardcore History
  • Revisionist History
  • In the Dark
  • Serial
  • Reveal

Storytelling

  • The Tobolosky Files

I'm Becoming a Depression Era Grandma

Today, at my coffee shop job, I was unpacking some ceramic mugs, and they were all wrapped in these little plastic bags that I just couldn't bring myself to throw away. So I brought them home and tucked them away in my closet for future use. Oh geez, I've got all kinds of stuff like that in the cupboards of my house. I assure you, though, I am not a pack rat, but if I can find a second use for something, you can be sure I am going to save it. 

Over time, I've rid myself of so many one time use products. Water bottles? Stop buying them! I plan ahead and fill my reusable bottle or go thirsty for a couple hours. Paper towels? Don't buy 'em. I cut up my boyfriend's old T-shirts to clean with. Dog poop bags? I use newspaper instead. Cotton balls, makeup remover wipes, other papery facial things? Don't need 'em, I don't wear makeup. In fact, I don't even have face wash. Tampons? pads? Those don't go near my vagina. I use a menstrual cup. And boy let me tell you, I love that thing.

A friend recently asked me about the menstrual cup I use, and it sparked a whole group discussion about the thing. I don't mind talking about it, and I definitely don't mind touting its effectiveness. I use the Diva Cup, (there are numerous other brands as well) and their FAQ section on their website will answer most of your questions, but here are the questions I usually get asked, and how I answer:

Q: Ew, is it gross to use?
A: I'll tell you what's gross, having to wipe your butt after pooping with a tampon string hanging down. And what about those sanitary napkin bins in public restrooms? Those are gross. Because you can wear a cup for 12 hours, you shouldn't need to empty it in public restroom. I empty mine once in the morning and once in the evening. Easy.

Q: Can it get lost?
A: Lost where? The vagina isn't a portal that opens to the rest of the body. It is a hole with a tiny hole at the top. I don't think anything but sperm gets past the cervix. It can be inserted too high, making it more difficult to get out, but lost? No.

Q: Is it hard to put in?
A: It does take some getting used to. I suggest giving it a try when you aren't on your period. Trying it over and over again when you are on your period can get a bit messy.

Plus! (I always add)
There is no risk of toxic shock syndrome, which is great. It is made of silicone, so no more perfumed or bleached paper is being stuffed into your vagina. It saves money and is less wasteful! Seriously get one, it will change your life. I know tampon waste is just a small portion of the overall waste one person contributes to landfills and the ocean, but combined with the other ideas I mentioned above, well that's something. Especially when more and more people start making an effort.

The Start of Something Meaningful

I've been sewing a long time, and during this time I have tried an array of fashion related things. I've made custom dresses, pants, and jackets for clients, I've costumed plays, I've taught lessons and classes, I've provided tutorials on my blog, but in all that time, I have never pursued a ready-to-wear line. I set out on that goal last year, but I haven't gone about it in the traditional way, which goes something like this: Design a line, get patterns made, source materials, get samples made, show the samples at trade shows, hustle the line to retailers, then get the line manufactured and delivered to retail stores where it gets sold or not. Well it goes something like that anyway. 

But me? I am doing all of this myself, from designing to sewing. This seems crazy, I know, but doing it this way feels right to me. I love the connection to the fabric, to pattern making, to sewing. But it takes a lot of time, and that got me thinking that fashion should take time. It should take longer to get made, because that would mean garment workers are working less hours. It should be more expensive to buy, because that would mean garment workers are getting paid a decent wage. And it should take longer for clothes to make it to a landfill, because that would mean they are getting worn longer. 

This is 'fast fashion' and it is depressing.  But what's more depressing, is that we know all of this. It doesn't take long to find statistics about our landfills, or the poor working conditions in sweatshops, or the meager wages and no collective bargaining rights for factory workers. But we are constantly being pulled into these fast paced, ever changing trends, because when something costs a mere $20, who cares?

I've decided I don't want to be a part of that model. I've always been environmentally conscious, and knowing that the industry I work in has a huge impact on the environment, gives me a chance to be a voice for change.

And we need to change, we need to spend a bit more money on less, learn to sew or pay for repairs, buy used, re-sell or donate, and support smaller businesses that are taking these challenges head on. 

That's what I want do here. Start the conversation and share what I am doing through tutorials, research, videos, sew-alongs, and other cool and silly ideas I might come up with.

Stay tuned.