Speed up your sewing – sew quickly with these tips and tricks
Hey y’all! The holidays are a time of both 1) lots of sewing demands and 2) less time to sew. Which means that any little thing you can do for faster sewing is a good thing. So with that in mind, my sewing machine(s) and I are going to share our best tips for assembly line sewing today.
I made a video to share my quick sewing tips, which you can also watch on YouTube here if it won’t load below for some reason.
10 Tips for Faster Sewing
I will elaborate on each of these tips, but here’s the speedy sewing summary to stitch through your projects as quickly as you can.
- Organize your sewing projects
- Cut multiples at the same time
- Use pins or clips sparingly ( substitute pattern weights when cutting the patterns)
- Group your sewing tasks
- Use gray thread for interior seams
- Chain stitch
- Use flat construction methods
- Get a rolling chair and organize your sewing space
- Use a knee bar
- Minimize thread changes
Tip #1: Organize fabrics and Patterns
I have discovered that it often takes only a little longer to sew multiple items than it does to sew one item. This is particularly true when you can sew multiples of the same thing or the same types of things. For example, we’ve had some early cold snaps this year, and that led to figuring out that the boys don’t have enough long sleeve shirts and long pajamas. So, I pulled a whole pile of fabric and a few patterns, and sewed all of these in one day.
They’re not exactly the same – a few raglans and a few Tee x 3 and a set of cuffed legging pants. But I sewed all of them from pulling fabric to finishing in about 2 hours. I like to create piles of fabrics that are going to be cut with the same pattern and stack them.
I regularly employ these tips when I’m sewing all the annual cousin pajamas every holiday season, like pictured below. In that case I’m generally using the same pattern but in different sizes, and sometimes the same fabric or coordinating fabrics. I generally head to my sewing room with my scissors and cut the largest size, then work my way down to the smallest cousin. I stack the cut pattern pieces on my sewing table with labels for each kid and cut the paper down to the next size.
Tip #2: Cut Multiple Items at the Same Time
Whenever possible place your fabric in layers so you can cut the same pieces out of multiple fabrics at the same time. If you’re sewing many versions of a simple pattern, this is easy to do.
A rotary cutter can also be useful to cut multiples at once, but I don’t have a big enough mat on my cutting table to make that work with clothing, though I do sometimes use this technique to cut out cuffs, waistbands and other small pieces in bulk.
Tip #3: Use Pins or Clips Sparingly
I’m a pin girl. I love to pin things. I also use wonder clips on things like leather, or when I’m putting things together for the serger. But when I’m assembly lining it make sense to use pattern weights to cut the pattern instead of pinning because they’re so much faster. And whether I choose pins or clips, I try to use as few as possible. Not only does this save time sewing since you have fewer pins or clips to remove as you go, it also saves time when you put the pins or clips on. And while it may only be a few seconds, over the course of a project or sewing multiple items, those seconds can add up.
When I got to the neckbands on these, I put two pins (center front and center back) to hold them, and did the rest of the stretching/alignment as I sewed. That may seem slower – because you can’t speed through stitching a seam when you have to constantly stop and align raw edges. But I’ve timed myself and the time it takes pinning is longer than the time it takes to stop as I’m at the sewing machine. This may not be true for you, but it’s worth trying. Fewer pins also means less chance of breaking your needles if you accidentally hit a pin while sewing.
Tip #4: Group Sewing Tasks
And by that I mean put things right sides together pinning everything that you can pin, then sit down and sew as long as you can without going back to pinning or pressing or anything else. Get up and do as much pressing as possible, insert all the elastic at once, sit down with any hand sewing and do all of that together.And by that I mean put things right sides together pinning everything that you can pin, then sit down and sew as long as you can without going back to pinning or pressing or anything else. Get up and do as much pressing as possible, insert all the elastic at once, press all your hems at the same time, sit down with any hand sewing of buttons and do all of that at once.
This tip is probably the biggest time saver, but it does require a thorough familiarity with construction methods and pattern instructions because you will likely be going in a different order. I don’t recommend this for a pattern you’ve never sewn before.
I organized a stack for myself, then sewed all the neckbands and cuffs into loops, sewed all shoulder seams, and front and back crotch seams all without needing to move back to my cutting table to pin. It’s also possible to set in sleeves, fold to sew side seams, and sew then inseams of the pants while sitting when you use flat construction methods (I’m pretty confident about doing these without much pinning; see Tip 7 for more).
Tip #5: Use Gray Thread for Inside Seams
This is a trick I learned from my years of theatre. If it’s not couture, it’s unlikely that people are going to see and/or care about what color thread you used on the inside of things. So go with gray. It blends into most everything, except black or white. Which is why my serger so often sports gray thread cones.
Tip #6: Chain Stitch
Don’t trim threads between each piece. When you can, sew chains, then you can cut all the threads later. If you’ve stacked up a pile to take to the sewing machine like I do, stitch all those seams one after another – this is called chain stitching. Again, it minimizes movement from one task to another. It’s faster to do the same thing over and over in a row instead of switching back and forth between tasks – these principles are the basis of assembly lines and efficiency. So stitching a bunch of seams then trimming all the threads is faster that stitching, trimming, stitching, trimming, and so on.
Tip #7: Whenever Possible, Use Flat Construction Methods
Flat construction means manipulating your pattern to sew seams while you can still lay the garment fabric flat. One way I do this is with sleeves – I sew the sleeve seam before the side seams or underarm seam. At each of those steps I can lay the garment totally flat while I’m sewing and only shift to round construction for cuffs and collars. Flat construction is almost always faster (and for me, easier. Less likely to sew a sleeve closed this way). Flat construction is instead of round construction, which is the method you use for set in sleeves.
Tip #8: Get a Rolling Swivel Chair and Organize Your Sewing Space
And set your machines close together if you’re using more than one. As you can see in the image below, my sewing machine , my serger and my cover stitch machine are in a corner together, and this allows me to turn or roll from one to the other easily. If you’ll be pressing, put your pressing station near your machine(s) too to save even more time. I usually use a table top ironing board that I can set on the cutting table right near my machines.
Tip #9: Use a Kneebar
If your machine comes with a kneebar that controls the presser foot like mine does (pictured above), use it. I was skeptical of it at first, and it did take some getting used to. Not moving your hand to make the presser foot go up or down really does save time. A few seconds, but those add up over multiple garments. Some machines have this feature built into the presser foot instead, and that also lends itself to fast sewing.
Tip #10: Minimize Changing Topstitching Thread
And think about using a gray bobbin for all your finishing. For the last step on all my shirts I was hemming and topstitching neckbands down. So I put gray thread in the bobbin, and then grouped items together based on what color thread I needed for the top side of each garment. The fewer times you have to change thread colors, the faster everything will go.
Hopefully these tips will help you get through your holiday sewing list and any time you want to sew faster!