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.
- 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.
- 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.