Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sewing Fast

How do you sew so fast???

I am often asked this question. And I guess I am still amazed that it is asked of me because I truly don't think I sew that fast! I keep thinking that if I didn't stop to spend so much time on the computer or if I didn't watch a couple of hours of TV or if I didn't putter around the house for half the morning that I could have gotten at least two more pieces done.

Let's take last week for example...I didn't work on Friday but I went out to lunch with a friend and when I got home I took a nap. Then I puttered around the house during the evening and hung out with my kids. Went to bed early and got up Saturday...more puttering but this time I watched television, talked to a few friends on the phone, watched QVC most of the morning (it was Fashion Day!) and finally around 7:00 pm sat down to sew.

Now I will admit two things - "The Ladybug Dress" - what someone nicknamed the black/red polka dot dress at work - was half way done. I did start constructing it the previous Sunday evening. And two I didn't get up from my sewing area until it was completed.

I think there are two aspects to my sewing:

1. I am very organized.
I make lists (blog post about the lists I keep), keep supplies stashed and make sure that I have everything I need to make & complete an outfit before I sit down to sew. If all of the components aren't on hand, I don't start the project. There are no trips to Joann's or Wal-Marts midway through a project to pick up something that I don't have.

2. I am very focused.
I know that I am most productive when I sew in blocks of time so I schedule my life to have those blocks of time. Now this task is much easier now that my children are grown and pretty much have lives of their own. I don't drive children anywhere. I don't mall - can't stand it! Only do it when forced - usually by my mother. I also don't cook much you know how much time cooking takes up?! *smile* My DDs are pretty self-sufficient and can either make a meal or supply one that someone else has made...and I think I own every take out menu for every type of food in the area! *LOL*

This is not to say that I don't go out with friends, to the movies or sometimes just sit and read a book...but when I want to sew, I just sew.

Let's take Sunday for instance when I made the seersucker suit. I started sewing about 10 am. I put my last stitch in the garment at a little after midnight since my goal was to wear the suit to work the next day. I worked on that suit for over 12 hours. Yes, I had something to eat. Yes, I stopped to watch "The 4400" - totally stopped sewing because I love that show! I know I took a break in there to eat dinner with my oldest daughter because she will be leaving me soon so I try to spend some time with her every weekend. And I know I talked to a few friends on Sunday but mostly I just sewed.

So the 10-12 hours it took to make the suit seems really fast but in actuality it is the same time that everyone probably takes ~ they just don't do it in one sitting. And I think that is the real difference in my sewing than in others...I just sit and sew for really long blocks of time.

Now I will admit that back in the day ~ not that long ago! I use to sew the "fast, faster, fastest" method. Hand sewing ~ that was two curse words. Paying attention to detail or very involved methods - didn't happen with this girl! That seersucker jacket's insides would have been serged and sewn. In my FFF days I would never have taken hours to sew binding to seams - I mean what in the world was my serger for??? *LOL* Lining a garment - pleeze! That meant making it twice which took too much time! A skirt could be worn with a slip and pants could have pantyhose under them in the winter...and who needed lined pants in the middle of a hot & steamy summer anyway! The sad thing is that I was very proud of that type of sewing. I could be overheard bragging about how fast I could turn a simple skirt out...

Then I happened onto Sewing World (now defunct) and my life changed. I met women who invested serious time into their sewing and made these amazing garments full of wonderful sewing techniques. And I wanted to be like I re-evaluated my sewing methods...became a proponent of linings and underlinings...bought my first piece of silk organza and was hooked.

My "fast" sewing does not skip steps. It only eliminates steps if they don't fit my design vision (i.e., the lining for the Ladybug Dress), and hand sewing is definitely a part of my sewing repertoire.

So no I wouldn't say I was fast, just a little focused...However, I have a question for you who read my ramblings...Do you do everything possible before you sit down to sew? If so, why? I mean have you ever thought about why you put something that gives you so much enjoyment in last place? And if you do give sewing priority, do you ever analyze why you sew slowly? Do you enjoy the journey and want to savor every minute of it? Or are you paralyzed by choices which makes it hard to make progress?

Share with me...I am truly interested because I just really don't think that I sew that fast!


  1. Oh,great post! It really got me to thinking. If I really do enjoy sewing as much as I say I do why do I sometimes rush through the process?

    Hmmm, sometimes I think I like the thought of sewing more than the actual sewing. I love planning, and designing, and dreaming and coming up with ideas, but I'm not always so good at the follow through. Actually, as I write that I realize that holds true for a lot of things in my life. At work I'm a great idea person but others are better at executing it to completion because I'm already thinking of the next big thing to work on.

    Interesting to point out that the total time spent sewing is probably the same for most of us, its how we allocate that time. You have one large chunk while many of us spread it out over weeks. When DH goes away on his yearly weekend ski trip I do manage to sew all day long now that I think about it.

    You say you happened onto Sewing World and it changed you. For me, it was PR and some sewing blogs. Yours is one of them. Years ago I spent lots of time on details but fell into the same FFF sewing you described. I was laughing as I read about your rationale for FFF as I could relate! I'm slowly trying to learn to slow down and savor the entire experience.

    Well, you said you were truly interested, so I hope you don't mind this incredibly long response!

  2. Oh gosh, I could be alot faster too if I actually sewed when I "wanted" too...I don't know why I put me last place?? Now I want to know that in a really bad way! LOL.

    Like right now, I have some custom orders I need to do before I sew any clothing for me for "back to school". 5 skirts and an embroidered pair of jeans. Individually they wouldn't take a couple of hours to complete...but all 6?? That's a solid day of sewing (and I don't have a solid day in me.)

    When all I really want to do is play with my own fabrics and patterns. Sigh.

    (Love the ladybug dress, btw!)

  3. Oh how funny! We approach sewing the same way. People ask me how do I get it all done with 3 kids. I tell them, you have to look at the ages of my kids -- 17, 15 & 10. It's not like I have to actually "take care" of them. They have chores, they help cook meals and can even drive to run errands for me. Wow... I really should be able to get a lot more sewing done! LOL

  4. I am the paralyzed one you described! I tend to over analyze every project until I just stop. I think I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to sewing. I am not in other areas TRUST me!!! Reading you posts always make me rethink my sewing. Thank you for all the help you are to me

  5. I would consider myself a "slower" sewist.

    I think that's in large part because I feel like I'm still at the beginning of the learning curve. I take a lot of time to thoroughly understand processes and techniques as I go along. That makes many tasks take longer.

    Also, between work and 2 kids (11 & 6), I do get distracted alot. As others have said, sometimes my sewing is more thinking about sewing than actual sewing :)

  6. Great post!!! I don't think I sew "fast" but when I sit down, I normally don't get up until I am finished or ALMOST finished!! I sew later in the evenings when my kids (5,7, and 11) are winding down. Now that they are in school....I can sew a little more during the day! But I do have to have everything I need BEFORE I start a project! Makes it run more smooth!

  7. Sewing is a priority for me - if I don't sew, I don't have a wardrobe and going to work naked is not an option. The thought of buying RTW again gives me the chills, so sewing serves two major purposes in my life: it provides clothing for me and it provides a creative outlet. I can't not sew and create - I think I would shrivel up and die.

    I'm lucky though. I have alot of vacation time: a week in March, 2 months in the summer and two weeks at Christmas. I also have no kids and I pretty much ignore my husband (just kidding, but it is nice that he has his own hobbies that he can work on when I'm in sewing mode). The only creature that relies on me completely is Simon, but he's not a huge time investment like a small child (an hour walk in the morning and some playtime during the day keeps him content).

    I'm like you - organized - with a capital "O". Everyone I meet says I am the most most focused, anal retentive person they know. Sometimes, this can be a curse, but when it comes to getting things done, it's a blessing. Also, like you, I am a stasher...of everything. I don't buy some interfacing, I buy all the interfacing and why stop at one zipper when you can buy 100 zippers in a bundle? Like you said, stashing means never having to halt a project because you ran out of thread or seam tape.

    However, like Sharon, sometimes I find that the planning can get in the way of the execution. I can happily spend days designing a SWAP storyboard. The interplay of fabric colour and texture, along with the partnering of fabric with the perfect pattern, ensuring that all the garments work harmoniously together is sheer bliss.

    Lastly, I find that I need to have a mix of quick and easy pieces interspersed with larger, more time consuming projects. Like right now, I have a tailored jacket/skirt suit on the go, as well as a vintage gown for my "hard" projects. However, I also have several quick tops and summer skirts in the works for my "easy" projects. That is where I seem to differ from you. Although I sew best when I have large chucks of time, I can't stay focused completely on a challenging garment from start to finish. I find it too draining. So, I toss in a few zippy projects to "cleanse my sewing pallette" and then I can go back to the tricky stuff revitalized.

  8. My dirty secret is, well, my dirty house!!

    With 3 boys ages 8,7 and 6, and a full time job, I often get the "where do you find the time for sewing and knitting?" question. I have a good husband who digs the sewing and needlework stuff I do.

    I'm lucky that my kids are at the age where they are sorta like Simon without the walk, ie, they can get their own drink of water and tolerate playing with me when none of their real friends are around.

    I'm also super-organized and like to work in chunks of time, or to a certain point of completion in a project.

    Also, the only tv I watch for myself is Simpsons and Dr Who, though I have been known to sit with sewing/knitting with the boys to watch some Spongebob.

  9. I'm glad I'm not the only one out there who has a sewing notebook - I carry mine with me everywhere and it has all sorts of information, swatches, sketches, photos, notes, etc. People look at me funny when I pull it out at the fabric store, but I don't care - I especially love having it with me when I travel.

    One question I do have for you - I know you said it took 10-12 hours to finish the seersucker suit, but I want to know how much additional time did you spend dreaming and planning and constructing it in your head? That's where most of my free time is spent!

    As far as how I sew - well I don't do everything before I sit down to sew. Sometimes the dishes get neglected for a few hours. They'll be there when I'm done! Hubby and I both work full time and he does a great job of taking turns with the household chores so things don't get totally left behind. When I do sit down to sew, I find that I am sometimes easily distracted - mostly by our 8-month old puppy who likes to "help" by drooling on everything in the sewing room.

  10. Excellent post! I would have to say organization is a priority! I like to have it all together and ready to roll. If I'm devoting the next day to sewing a garment, I try to get it all cut out and waiting for the next morning.

    I also find that using even 10 or 15 minutes to cut out a pattern or do a small sewing task can be beneficial.

    I also read through the instructions well ahead of the project and then put it together in my mind and figure out all the seam finishes, tricky parts, etc. before I even sit down to sew. That way, I am on my way and don't have to dwell on the details while sewing.

    I also try to do easier sewing when the kids are around - so I don't get too distracted. If it's intense or something I have to think about I'll wait until they go to bed or I'll put in a movie for them.

    Now, if my kids were Erica B.'s kid's age and could drive and run errands, can you imagine how much I'd get done?

  11. You really got me thinking about how I sew. I would say I'm somewhere in the middle in terms of the level of detail I put into something. If I'm making a really nice jacket or some other type of garment that automatically requires lots of time and effort, I'll put in the extra time and effort to make it extra special. If I'm making a summer sun-dress that I'll probably only wear one (maybe two) seasons at most, then I won't put in the extra time.

    I'm with you on sewing in blocks of time, though. I've been on a kick recently where once I start a project, I get obsessed about it until I finish it. As a result, I end up sitting at my machine for long periods of time... not sleeping until it's finished (otherwise, I wouldn't be able to sleep), etc. I'm most productive when I have a long period of time to really focus on finishing a garment.

  12. What a great post! I share many of your strategies. And I will probably become more productive as I emerge from this recovery period. I had major abdominal surgery 7 weeks ago and being back to work has demolished free time. Now all I do is rest. But that will pass.

    Anyhow - I have perfected my sewing nook and it is superefficient with everything I need within reach. I keep it organized, too. I can find buttons, elastic, thread, etc.

    Lately I buy fabric in coordinated capsules. That is a huge boost! And I round it up to the next yard. I have found it incredibly freeing to have enough fabric on hand to re-cut a piece if I am unhappy with the results. I am very disciplined about completing something if it is "good enough", but I will re-do a sleeve, for example, if I know it is the difference between wearing it or never wearing it.
    And- I drive 2 hours a day. I work out all my questions during that time.
    My latest brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, is to go through my stash and identify where I need thread and any other notions. I have a catalog from Atlantic Thread Supply with a Gutterman color chart. I plan to order my thread on those nice big spools so I have plenty for the SM AND the serger. I really love to sit down and know I have everything I need.
    Ooops, yet another long post, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart.
    Oh one more thing- my sewing nook is in the master bedroom. Sewing is always right there - if I want to sew in my underwear, I can. If I want to sew lateor early, I can do so. I love having it this way.

  13. I think I'm pretty much like Summerset... I do plan ahead, I make the garment in my mind before I actually start sewing it. I don't have kids so that gives me an edge; even so I think I'm a VERY slow sewer. I also carry around a small notebook where I take notes of ideas, fabric yardage, notions, etc. When I'm at home, when I'm not sewing I'm dreaming of sewing, lol, so it feels like I never stop :).

  14. Great post. You always get me thinking!

    It got me thinking about the process. In terms of actual time spent sewing the hours seem to just fly by but all of the planning and organizing (and dreaming) that comes beforehand are where I spend the majority of the time. For me sewing is like meditation, I feel like I'm at my highest level of mental clarity when I sew/work on a project.

    I loved reading the comments to this post as well.

  15. Carolyn - great post and wonderful comments! I wish I had found Sewing World when you did. I tend to be a fff sewer and I'm not sure I like that method. I am trying to find new reference books and new finishing techniques. Lately I have been doing things on my own - like enclosing the sleeve seam in a sleeve that the pattern has lined. I didn't know how to do it, so I just punted and hand sewed. It wasn't aweful and the inside of that dress looks and actually feels much better!

    This is a slowly evolving process. I do tend to get all the housework out of the way first, mostly because the hubby doesn't have an inside hobby and I feel guilty letting stuff go and "playing" when he isn't. I'm sure I'll get over that some day!!! g

  16. Carolyn,
    Great post and very interesting comments, I feel like I have just attended a sewing circle. I am with narcissaqtpie, when I am sewing I can get into a focused state of mind/meditation that is really like a tonic for me. Sometimes when I start to guide the fabric through the sewing machine I take a moment to notice the sound of the machine motor, and realize that it is one of my most favorite sounds. If I have the luxury of a long block of time to sew I can forget to eat!
    And what can beat that proud feeling of "see what I made" that we all experience at the end of our time sewing?

  17. Mm...this is the third time I am here and still I am not sure what to post. Your post and the comments are great and have got me thinking. I have quite a lot of spare time - I only work 3 days a week and my girls are teenagers and I do absolutely nothing with my husband. The girls do distract me a bit by seducing me off to the shops for browsing and coffee!! Or come watch TV with me. lol. But when I DO sew I am reasonably fast. My problem is actually getting down and sitting at the machine. Like yesterday I had the day to myself and I could have sewed all day, but no, I wasted it on the computer.....I am not sure why. No doubt some deep seated psych problem.....but I did sew last night - I made mum a cushion!

  18. I must say that your posts are always interesting and thought provoking. Your approach to your craft and your work rate is inspiring. Thank you.

  19. I try to get as much non-crafting stuff done before sitting down to sew.... b/c I can become distracted easily if I opted to jump into sewing and then realize I should've done something beforehand. Also I am a very slow sewer I will pull out a pattern and look it over one day, the next day - lay out the fabric - 3rd day cut the pattern - 4th day baste stitch and day 5 sew it. Talk about utterly I think I take each step slowly b/c I'm new to making garments.

  20. I do a little bit of everything. I am fairly organized, but sometimes I don't have a zipper in the color I need or such, but rather than stop and run into town for it, I fake it with another color, LOL.

    I love the planning and design process, and that gets in the way of actual sewing. I will look at patterns, pick out my fabric, and change my mind 564,928 times before I get started on something.

    Then there's the fabric. I tend to buy fabric that is a pain to sew, so I put of actually cutting out. I have a brown slinky on my cutting table right now. The pattern is pinned on it, but I have not cut it out yet because I think it's gonna be a pain to sew.

    I almost swapped it out for a cotton interlock which would be easier. See about the mind-changing. I'll probably waffle back and forth until I scrap it all together and pull out a seersucker.

    I'm a mess!

    When I DO get started, I normally complete the project fairly quickly. I'll sew until it's done. I do not usually leave things in a half finihsed state unless I've been having problems of some sort.

  21. I am not a "fast sewer" because I do pay attention to details. Also, I make mistakes and always have to rip out something on every garment I make!
    I do, however, stay focused when I'm sewing (one of the few things I can stay focused on!) and, like you, make sure I have everything ready to go before I start. I usually take one project from start to finish, so I rarely have UFO's lying around.
    Thanks for your post - and yes, another thing that keeps me from being "fast" is that I truly enjoy the process.

  22. Carolyn, you always throw out thought-provoking questions. And the responses have been very informative and interesting. Sewing FFF, I do also, and I'm trying to slow down. I'm highly energetic, so I do most things fast. As a musician, this was always a problem, the slow pieces! After I made my silk/taffeta ball gown last October, I realized what I'm capable of, so I'm trying to sew slower to make more "quality" pieces with more detail.

    As to what keeps me from sewing, many things! Lots of people around, and the fact that I enjoy many creative processes. My roots of creativity are 1) my family of origin, where everyone is/was creative, and 2) my roots as a musician. I've learned from my musicianship that I create best in solitude and having a lot of people around makes solitude a difficult goal. While I have discipline, I also am easily distracted, which can be a big problem for me. I may be sewing, but knitting may be calling to me. Then it's best to knit. But I also design beadwork and I'm a passionate gardener, and I do love to cook and bake, which takes up a lot of time as well. So it's just myself keeping me from sewing because other things are calling to me!


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