Assembly-Line Cutting and Sewing

I’m sewing a batch of new Renfrew Tops and for efficiency, I’m going to cut and sew them assembly-line style! What does that mean? I’m going to group together the cutting, sewing and pressing processes to make the sewing go faster. For some of you, this might sound awfully boring. I like efficiencies, so this actually sounds like fun to me!

I’m making a bunch of new knit tops out of striped and solid fabric:

The first stage is cutting. If you have to cut in a public part of your house – the dining table, perhaps – then assembly-line cutting might be perfect for you. While the cutting surface is clean and empty, it’s a great time to do all the cutting at once. You’ll save time in the long run as you’ll only have to clean the table once. After a marathon cutting session you’ll be ready to sew a whole series of projects!

Plus, it’s so easy to cut the second and third projects after cutting the first. The tape measure is handy, the pins are easy to reach, and you’re already in the cutting frame of mind. If you love cutting out projects, you get to do it over and over, and if you hate cutting, then it’s all done at once!

Note: This is not a good idea if you’re a great starter but terrible finisher. Do you love starting projects but never get around to finishing them? Do you have a dozen UFOs stashed in a drawer? Then perhaps cutting projects one-at-a-time is more your style, as there’s a better chance of finishing the project if you’ve only started one.

Here are more blog posts about the Renfrew Top. (Get the pattern here.)

Do you ever sew projects assembly-line style? Are there certain types of projects that seem to work better this way for you? Does it end up saving you time, or do you find it more tedious? I’d love to know what you think!

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41 Responses to Assembly-Line Cutting and Sewing

  1. Maureen September 26, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Most of my sewing time is spent either making uniforms for a girl’s choir, or costumes for a musical theatre production. If I didn’t use an assembly line process, I would never get things finished. Currently I have fifteen jackets and 9 long skirts on the go. If I ever start having the feeling that the end is NOT is sight, I finish one completely – and then go back to assembly line.

    Can hardly wait to see the new Renfrews!

  2. ms. modiste September 26, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I recently started doing this and LOVE it. I agree, efficiency is awesome.

    Also, I tend to be an obsessive sewist… the kind who puts in marathon sessions to the point of fatigue (and mistakes) because I keep saying, “just one more step, just one more seam” etc. Another bonus of the assembly-line is that it puts an automatic limit on how much work I’m going to do on a single project in a given session. (Because committing to “just one more step” on two or three projects at once is way too crazy!) So I go into it just thinking, “I’m only cutting tonight” or “I’m only hemming tonight” instead. Saves me from myself a little :)

  3. Allynara September 26, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Sometimes I do sew assembly style, but only when I know what projects I’m going to be making (obviously). And it does seem to go a lot faster. I like to do my muslins assembly style because the fitting and stuff takes a lot of time and I’m an impatient seamstress.

  4. amy nicole September 26, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    I love sewing in assembly line style! Its so quick and easy :)

  5. Anthea September 26, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Although assembly stile is more efficient, it’s not really for me. When I get bored, I get impatient, which means untidier results. To keep myself focused I love to switch between different tasks/projects.

  6. annabelvita September 26, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I haaaate cutting out so this really appeals to me!

  7. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) September 26, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Assembly line sewing is great – I love to have plenty of cut out projects, I put them in plastic bins to keep all the correct pieces together.

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Smart idea! The worst is when you throw away a small piece that looked like scrap, but was actually a belt loop or something necessary. Plastic bins for each project would make it really clear which pieces were for what project.

      • Amanda September 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

        I use 2 gallon zip lock bags. Then I scrawl on a piece of scrap paper what the pattern name is and who it’s for, and place that on top of all the items in the bag. Along with any notions and the pattern.

  8. Mary September 26, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I often make flannel pyjama bottoms as gifts for Christmas. I actually stack and cut up to 3 pair at once. Saves lots of time but only works if you are making a few pair in the same size. I do the sewing assembly style. Love seeing several pair of them finished at the end of the day.

  9. Seraphinalina September 26, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    I often make patterns twice, but usually the first is a (hopefully) wearable muslin and the second is tweaked based on the results of the first. I have done this when I was making a gift and the same thing for myself. I was sewing my own first to remind me how to do it and that was hopefully going to make the gift perfect.

    As time saving as it would be, I don’t think I’m much of an assembly line sewer. I sew in fits and starts. I would likely cut out more than I could sew in 3 months and then I’d feel like it was hanging over my head waiting to be done even if I was feeling like sewing something else.

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      I totally understand, it’s not for everyone! I don’t like the feeling of a project hanging over my head either.. and if the fabric is delicate, it’s better to sew it up right away rather than have a bunch of delicate fabric pieces lying around and shifting from place to place!

  10. Christina September 26, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I am doing exactly this for my fall/winter sewing! Right now I’m tracing and I may have stopped in the middle of that because I HAD to play with my new serger, but I’m thinking it will really help me feel like I’m getting things done. Plus I hate the end of a project and then you have to trace and cut. Those are my least favorite parts of sewing.

  11. Timesha September 26, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Does it take to much time the re-thread in between garments?

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      I’ll find out! :) It’s even better if you sew similar colours together. Like, if I were to sew the beige stripe and the pink stripe tops at the same time, I could use a cream thread on both and cream serger thread and never have to change it.
      That won’t work with the purple though, so I’ll have to change it for that top. But if I sewed the purple and the teal at the same time or one after the other, I could use a dark grey serger thread for both tops.
      I also tend to use ‘close enough’ serger thread, usually a mid-grey or a mid-taupe or whatever is closest, but not perfect matching thread for each project.

  12. maddie September 26, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    this is what I do with almost all of my projects. When I have multiple projects going on at once, I complete them all in the same stages. I cut all of them at once, then I interface and staystitch all of them, then I sew, etc. It definitely saves A LOT of time!

  13. Sassy T September 26, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Am only a beginner but I done that when I was making two of the same skirts. I found it easier. I don’t sew the whole item all at once anyway. I do it in little stages, so found it easier doing the same stage but on two garments. I don’t even feel as if am doing double the work. You kind of get excited as when you have finished you have two items.

  14. CDL September 26, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    I love this process, I keep bins with different size, sew and press all at the same time. It keeps the electric bill low since i don’ t have to have it on all day.I get about 5 to 7 dresses a day. I sew for children.

  15. nothy September 26, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I’ve done this with great success. But I caution a word to the wise, label or take snapshots of what you plan – otherwise you’ll waste time if you put the project down trying to figure out what you planned…(this isn;t a big deal if you can make changes easily but once I made triplicate shirts with contrasting bodices and I had a hard time figuring out what went with what. Lesson learned: use the camera that’s what it is there for!

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      That’s a good idea too! I take a lot of photos just because I might want to blog about things, so I always have photo evidence of what I was thinking even if it never turns into anything. But if someone isn’t always taking blog photos, they might not think of photographing work-in-progress until it turns into something real. Great suggestion!

  16. funnygrrl September 26, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Just remember to take breaks. I don’t sew this way on purpose so that I’m not in a static position for too long.
    My walks to the ironing board etc. are my mini-breaks from sitting and bending over the sewing machine.
    I just spoke to our ergonomics person at work about how to set up my sewing room. Don’t let striving for efficiency wreck your neck, back or wrist. :)

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      That is a really good point! I’ve started to set a timer when I sit at the computer so I remember to take breaks. I rarely get that much sewing time all in one chunk, I’m often interrupted by something else or think of something I need to do, so there’s less worry of being at the machine too long.
      It seems kind of silly but I’ve been using on my computer – when it beeps, I get up , stretch, walk around and only go back to the computer when I’m feeling fresh. Whether it’s sewing or computer work, it’s easy to get lost in what you’re doing and have the hours fly by!

  17. Erin B September 26, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I do assembly line sewing for things like my son’s shirts and pants but I’m always too excited to move on to the next pattern for myself. I have a queue of about 50 patterns for personal sewing and I’m always adding to it when I get a new batch of patterns for my shop. I can’t resist plucking out a few for myself! Though I may reduce the queue as I have limited my shop purchasing until I check and post this latest batch of 400+ patterns that I acquired!
    Although, I have to say, I do enjoy assembly line style when it comes to my jeans. I tend to wear out all my jeans at once and sewing up 7 identical pairs makes assembly line a must.

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      That makes total sense – something like jeans, you’d want to sew all the pockets, all the flies, all the waistbands, especially if you’re switching from topstitching thread to regular thread over and over. Sewing a vintage dress pattern, now that to me sounds like a slow project, sewn with love and care and not trying to speed-sew.

  18. Becky September 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    I tend to focus more on one project at a time– while I revisit patterns later, I don’t usually make multiples of the same thing at once. I had decided that once I get those Thurlows fit (after the wedding dress now), I’ll probably make 5 pairs of those at once. I can see myself doing the same with jeans, too!

    The one thing I do usually do assembly-line style is cutting out, because it’s the part of the sewing process that I like the least. So I’ll often cut out for 3 or 4 different projects at once.

  19. Liz Chaisson Thompson September 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    I’m sort of new to this whole garment sewing thing (although I’ve got years in as a dance costumer, beader and knitter). I’ve tried doing it both ways, and I’ve found that the cut pieces just SIT there while I work on something completely different that caught my fancy.

    I guess, for me, assembly line is a no. It’s a shame, because it makes such great sense!

    • Tasia September 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Sewing should be fun, right? If sewing assembly-line style sounds like a chore or like you’re likely not to finish things, then who cares if it’s efficient? We’re not machines thankfully, we’re doing this mostly for enjoyment and the final product.

      Sometimes the logical way isn’t always the best or most rewarding way!

  20. ana September 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    me encanta cortar varios proyectos y hacerlos de una vez sobre todo cuando son del mismo color pues me fastidia tener que estar cambiando la overlook a cada momento pero si me gusta llevar varios proyectos la vez

  21. Sarah Connell September 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    I do this all the time. I have twin boys, so I’m usually making at least two of something for them, and when I make things for me, it helps me get more done in less time (always a commodity here!). Te only downside is that you can end up making the same mistake multiple times, so it’s best when you’ve done a pattern at least once!

  22. Caroline September 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Yes! I sew assembly-line style about half the time. I’m forced to not only by the fact that I’m making several of the same thing, but also because of the thread color changes that happen with various steps. I also have to consider what color threads are in my serger, and work projects around that to limit how many times I change serger threads in a day (I know, awful prospect, right?) And it all totally gets tedious. I look forward to the next step soooo much, and can’t wait to get there. Which maybe makes it go even faster!

    • Tasia September 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      I bet you sew assembly-line style! Does it get boring making the same things over and over or are they quick enough that it’s still rewarding to see them finished? All that thread-changing makes all-black hats seem like a smart idea, I bet! :)

      • Caroline September 28, 2012 at 11:54 am #

        Every once in a while it occurs to me that making the same thing over and over for 7 years might be boring, but luckily I have enough variety courtesy of special requests that it doesn’t. Somehow, I’m always learning while sitting at the sewing machine. It amazes me.

        And yes, if all my hats were black that would be AMAAAAAZing. Incidentally today is an all-black cap sewing day. I don’t plan to have to change my thread color all day, on either machine. Yay!

  23. Caroline September 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I do this some of the time, but not all. For “task” sewing (you know, where you want to finish the task more than enjoy the process) more often – like sewing for my etsy shop, or sewing wardrobe items for my son (I’m about to sew his pants for this winter –
    it is on my list for October!) for myself, not so much, as I tend to sew things one or two times and then want to sew something else for variety. When I made shirts for my boys this fall I did matching father / son in brown and red – so I did all the cutting / fusing (alot of the pieces for the little one’s shirt could be squeezed into the gaps for the big one – so it helps save fabric!) but then I sewed up all of one shirt before doing the other – partly to be able to have something done; partly because sewing up a shirt once all the pieces are cut is actually fairly quick, and partly because hubby’s shirt still had the 5/8″ seam allowances while I trimmed the little guy’s pattern to 1/4 inch. I didn’t want to get mixed up going back and forth.

  24. anne jewell September 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    i agree with erin–currently i’m making bath towels into aprons and since each bath towel makes 2 aprons, asembly-line sewing is much faster. however, i like my dresses to be unique, so they don’t really work ‘factory-style!’

  25. Marloes September 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I do make T-shirts that way! Even though I find the cutting out process boring I am always glad that I did it. A month or two back I managed thanks to this to make four Renfrews in a bit more than an afternoon! So efficient. With other garments it is different. I usually make only one of those at a time before moving onto another project…

    • Tasia September 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      Maybe it’s just the Renfrew that has me thinking it would be nice to build in some efficiency! I don’t even think of it when it comes to more detailed projects.

  26. aprilshowers September 28, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    I am currently working on my first projects using this method and am loving it! I think it helps that I’ve made this pattern before, so I’m a little more confident in each step (I’ve only been sewing a year so still not 100% sure of myself). But the thing I am finding tricky is that I’m making two different sizes out of the same fabric. So I have to keep all my pieces in 2 distinct piles which takes up a lot of room in my dining room where I sew. Luckily I don’t mind the mess and no one in the family else dares question it. But I think this method would be easier if you were using different fabrics. Still, I love it and it feels a LOT faster.

  27. Samantha September 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Once I have found a pattern I like and, made any or all alterations necessary, If I like the pattern I like to make a whole bunch of them all at once. The construction quirks are fresh in my mind, so the process goes quickly. And then I have a couple versions of a new garment all at once. It’s like buying multiple colors of a pair of shoes that ft perfectly. You never know if you’re going to be able to find them again, so best to buy in multiples. The same thing applies to sewing….

  28. Michelle October 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    I definitely sew assembly line style for dance costumes – up to 18 of one style in one fabric – I need to speed it up somehow. I put all the pieces for each girl in a ziploc bag labelled with their name. Also, the zippered bags from sheets or curtains work perfectly for keeping bigger projects together.

  29. Virginia March 7, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Assembly sewing sounds like it could be very useful if you were doing a load of clothes in the same colour. Say, if you were doing a red jacket, a red top or two and a red skirt then you only need to thread the machine once.

    I have loads of black fabric I bought while depressed that I want to use up and this could come in handy. :)

  30. Lina March 14, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Hi girls,
    I don’t know if it is a right place for me to ask questions but I am going to try. I just had an offer to work with a new company and it is going to be an assembly line. I am an experienced seamstress but I mostly do custom work. I have never done assembly line before and I have some questions. I understand it is much faster to make something this way. But how much faster it is? Let’s say that to make a top for one particular customer takes 5 hours. It includes 1-st appointment when I take measurements and discuss the details, pattern making, cutting and assembling it. Then it is 1 fitting for about 30 minutes and some changing and finishing of the project (may be another hour). So, all together will be 6-7 hours. How many tops could you possibly make during this time doing assembly line? The company wants me to estimate the price I am going to charge them for making 50 items order for the same size. And it is difficult for me. Thanks in advance for all your answers and help.