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!
Hmm… these are useful! I never thought about grey. I tend to switch between black and white cones on my serger, but grey might work for even more things. And the idea of changing the top thread but not the bobbin – clever.
Interesting, I never thought about using grey thread in the serger either. I have 3 sergers setup, white, black and colored thread. But I will give the grey a go, what a great idea.
Good tips-I never thought about using gray thread in the serger.
genius…my kids are both big time in need of clothes. seems like a very daunting task until you start thinking assembly line style! now I just have to learn how to use my serger that’s been sitting on my sewing table for almost 365 days:)
Same as my Serger been doing under my sewing table as bit nervous about threading it etc????????????????????
Oooh! Good tips! Thanks!!! I just have to get all the Christmas presents that need to be wrapped off my cutting table………
Such great tips. I recently made 15 princess tutu dresses for a birthday party with homemade T shirt tops. I used assembly line methods, but wish I had thought of a few more of yours. Great time saver!
Thanks for the tips. Im using some of these already but a little fine tuning and I can do better. I look at that pile of tees and think, no way could I do that in a couple hours. Pinning the necklines and sleeves is a time eater for me. Perhaps with a little more practice I could just sew them in.
Love love love sewing continuously without cutting the thread! Also helps to keep pieces together when I have a sewing hiatus (which happens wayyy to often for my liking).
Sewing hiatus… me too… much too often I just seem to have lost my mojo since #hypothyroidismsucks got me???? lots of ideas but no energy????????
Thanks for the wonderful tips…esp. the Gray thread, right now my Imagine has aqua thread, but soon gray…
Also. I need a table like the one your sewing machine is on. Where did you get it?
p.s. dont we love our “babylock Imagine sergers….
Great tips ! I love my Imagine too !
I tried grabbing the closest thing at hand/under foot instead of pinning, but it cried and messed up my pattern and fabric. What should I do?
You can either replace the part that your machine damaged or you can make the garment a smaller size if you have children that could wear a smaller size or know someone that could use it. That way you won’t waste the fabric. You can also put an applique over the part that is damaged or embroidery over it if it made a hole in the fabric. Make it look like it was supposed to be that way.
Have you tried putting the pin replacement in a cage or playpen and using your cup of coffee instead? Just remember, the nearest doesn’t always turn out to be the most effective.
You see? I knew this is why we are friends! HA! I already do a lot of these. tee hee. No matter how hard I try though, I cannot get into my knee bar. I just can’t.
Thanks for the tips. I’ve used some before, like many never thought about the grey .
Great tips! Thank you!
I use grey thread for quilt pieceibg. Don’t know why I never thought to use it for clothes. Thanks for the tip.
i do most of these things (sewing for my 5 kids forces me to, HA) but, #2, why have i never thought to cut multiple garments of the same size at once?! that’s genius! thanks!
Good tips! One thing I do is reorder my pattern directions. Make a first pass at sewing everything I can. Press. Sew more, or maybe top stitch. Press. I even write down the new order so the next time goes faster. I sew jeans and denim skirts and this really helps when I’m changing the top stitching thread
Where did you purchase your swivel, rolling chair? (I’ve had a sewing chair on my “wish list” for a few years now) THANKS for the great tips!
Looks like IKEA to me. Those are pretty cheap too, I had one for years. But it did make my butt sweat, so I put a pillow on it 🙂
I bought a very comfortable swivel chair with wheels at the annual desk chair sale at Staples. Also bought one of those carpet protector things for underneath it so my chair moves smoothly in the carpet and dropped pins are a bit easier to find. If you get rewards from Staples or Office Max/Depot, you can also use those to get a better deal on the chairs.
Great tips! Thanks for these. Never thought abouit the gray thread before.
I buy used very nice office swivel chairs at a local used office furniture store when I need them. You can find some great bargains and very high quality chairs, depending on the store. Large offices with multiple cubibles and lots of employees eventually change out all the furniture at once, selling all to the used furniture guys, and many of the items show little wear or soiling. I bought three matching padded high-dollar office swivel chairs at one place for $55 each. New, they sold for well over each $200. They are quite comfy and no worries about sweaty butt on a plastic chair. I’ve had them for a few years and the upholstery still looks brad new.
One caveat. If they have one of a used item only in the showroom, tell them you want to examine the one(s) they plan to sell you before paying. Of course, some places have a very clean showroom and may display only one (the best one) of a lot of a particular item. When you pay, they bring a different chair or desk or other item from the warehouse, sometimes perfectly good and in great condition, to load in your vehicle, but it may not be quite as perfect as the display modle. I actually prefer the place that lets me wander all over the (not so clean) warehouse and pick out the exact chairs I will buy. Be sure to check the up & down gas air pump for the seat height by sitting in the cahoir with the height set and see if the seat falls down under your weight. If people flop down on them hard (like my hub is prone to do) repeatedly, over time they will not hold at the set height you pick.
One chair is at my craft/sewing table, one at my office desk, one at the dining table as I will no longer tolerate my lovely but hard maple dining chairs.
Thanks for sharing! I already do most of these, but the “use flat construction methods” is something I’m going to start doing!
You mean having to walk from one of the house to the other for each step (because your studio sewing table is so covered in mess that you have to cut and iron at your dining table) isn’t efficient? Ha! Seriously, great tips. I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later today that links to your post:
I too have the dining table as cut out area as not enough room on desk in sew area????????????????
You are a machine! Great tips!
I love the gray thread in the serger idea! I’ll do that for sure! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I need to stand up and walk across the room to press or use a different machine. It hurts if I sit too long!
Excellent post! Thank you! I use a lot of gray thread, have two or three shades, goes with almost everything. But sadly, I cannot locate the knee bar for any of my machines.
Thanks for a really great blog!
Thank you “Sew” much for these tips.. Im going to give them a Whirl as soon as I sort out my Tension on the Bobbin on my new machine Grr (why did I sell my old machine?? Crazy)
Now I know what to do with all the bargain priced grey overlock thread I bought one day in a mad fit! Thank you!
Thank you for the great tips, I grew up watching my mom sew and use the knee bar I had forgotten how much easier and faster it is to sew with on of those.
Having read your tip about grey thread instead of buying coloured thread I’ve gone for a shade of grey, it works so a big thank you. It means I buy good quality and rarely need any other colour. x
Excellent reminder for being efficient when sewing things. Ilime many others never thought of gray thread as a neutral. Butyou are correct. Good thing I live near a Joanne’s and a Walmart with fabric and notions. I need both serger thread and regular thread in gray.
Thanks for always having something that makes my life better.
Using gray thread is also used alot in piecing quilt tops for the same reason. I love it. It sure cuts down on buying so many different colors of thread. I keep 3 different shades of gray and it has helped tremendously. Great idea to use gray on the serger too!
Great idea to use grey thread on the serger. I have other basic colors, but hadn’t thought of grey. I have a great swivel chair, but the cat took it over and I don’t want to sit on it anymore. I especially like the idea of cutting and sewing multiples at one time! I need to try that. I’m really considering getting a newer serger, mine is a 3 thread that I just use to finish seams.
I really love your page. I find it very helpful and interesting. Thank you
These tips are fantastic for the home seamstress. Years ago I worked in a sewing factory. This is the way most garments are made.
Thank you for re-posting these very helpful tips! I actually try to do many of them now. I was thinking about the grey thread but, for my cover stitch machine as the bottom stitch. Using quality thread on top can be expensive, so it’s a great idea to spend money where you can make a difference A.K.A. it will show!
Thanks for all of the good tips.
This is such a great post. Simple tips that make sense and are so helpful. I’m pretty sure it would still take me longer to sew just one pair than it took you for many!!! but I’ll take all the speed tips I can get! 🙈
I thread my 4/5 thread Viking serger with gray, beige and light pink and find it works with everything light colored and I keep my 3 thread serger threaded with black. I also often thread my Elna embroidery machine with gray bobbin thread and the top stitching in whatever color I need to match my project. I keep one little Bernina 801 threaded in white. I was lucky enough this week to purchase a 6’ x 3’ folding craft table for cutting. I’m still trying to organize our spare room into my new sewing room. I have recently retired and have rediscovered my love for sewing and I am making little dresses for the Dress a Girl project. Soon I am retrieving my mother’s Singer 401k from my daughters basement before something happens to it. I think I will have it refurbished and keep that one threaded in gray. Then I’m done, 8 machines has to be enough, right…..?
This is an AWESOME post. I knew about all of these tips, but don’t usually think about the flat construction. I’ll be implementing the ones I don’t already do hopefully from now on. The issue is I don’t usually make the same thing twice, especially if sewing for others.
Side Note: My current web site is not sewing-related.