Tips for Productive Sewing

Dear readers, I just wanted to let you know, I’m not a perfect seamstress. No, really. And I get very easily distracted. Not because I’m slow or unfocused, I just usually have a few things on the go at once, and float from task to task. Computer’s on, laundry’s on, and there are at least two different projects in various stages of completion.

So I thought I would share some of my tips for productivity, even if it’s somewhat of a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ list:

  • Number one, turn OFF the computer! I’m so easily distracted by my computer when I’m sewing. It’s usually on, and nearly every time I walk by I can’t help but stop. Oooh, emails! Oooh, comments! Oooh, beautiful things for sale on Etsy! It’s a major time-suck and eats into my sewing time. If you want to have more sewing time, keep the computer out of it.
  • Don’t watch TV, either. I’ve found myself making cutting, pinning, and ironing mistakes because the TV’s got more of my focus. Plus, then I start only sewing on the commercial breaks, and pinning or trimming during the show. TV = bad! Another time waster.
  • On to the ‘do’s’ – put on fun music! Whatever floats your boat, just make sure you’ve got enough tunes to last, and that you won’t have to get up and change every second song. Make a playlist that gets you going, and then get to it!
  • Have all your supplies ready for your project! Don’t forget the little annoying ones like interfacing, twill tape, seam binding. If you have time beforehand, read through the instructions as well as the back of the envelope. Sometimes there are hidden requirements in the instructions, especially when sewing from vintage patterns. They expect you to be stocked up on essential supplies – so make sure you’re ready! Nothing like finally getting a night to sew, and running out of white thread. Argh!
  • Prep your workstation: fill the water in your iron, grab your scissors, pins and marking tools. If you’re anything like me, clean up a little. Get rid of dishes or anything that’s going to irk you while you’re trying to get creative. (Is that just me? Please, make me feel better and tell me you can’t work if there’s a dirty cup in the room, too…)

Now if I actually followed my own suggestions, I’d be so much more productive! When I finally get some quality sewing time, it sure helps to be prepared a little, and find the best ways to work without (too many) distractions.

I’m sure there are more tricks to getting more out of our sewing time. Does anyone have tips for being more productive? What works best to keep yourself on track? Share them in the comments! (I’m looking forward to coming back from vacation and reading your comments… hopefully I’ll learn new ways to be more focused!)


23 Responses to Tips for Productive Sewing

  1. Stephanie August 18, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Good tips! I have to stay away from the phone too. Plus it helps when the hubby’s not home…it seems to work out better when I can just do what I am trying to do without the conversation. Plus I’m new to sewing so it would be easy to mess me up!

  2. Psycho Sue August 18, 2010 at 6:42 am #

    I am ok with having the TV on; as long as it’s in the next room and I can only hear and not see, it’s more like listening to the radio. LOL

  3. Stacy August 18, 2010 at 6:55 am #

    Great post! I am tweeting this!

  4. Peter August 18, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    Excellent tips. I’m turning off my computer now!

  5. Cathy August 18, 2010 at 7:31 am #

    Music is an absolute must for me, could be the radio, could be a playlist, but there needs to be some background music going on. I find I focus better with that covering whatever else is going on in the house.

    I also need to do a little tidying before I start. Not so much for the cups and dishes, but putting away whatever else I had out to feel like I have more space. I tend to end up with a lot of fabric out while picking the next project or scraps from the last project still out, that kind of thing.

    I think initiative is key though. If I am excited about a project, want to work on it, I will. If I’m hung up on an invisible zipper, working on tweaking fit, things that frustrate me, it will sit. Finishing projects are not my strong point I’m afraid.

    Can’t wait to see suggestions from others, this is a great post.

  6. Beth August 18, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    you are so right – especially about the computer. Too many great blogs to read or virtual window shopping. The TV is OK – I have developed into a TV listener.
    (except Project Runway – then I watch)

  7. amber August 18, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Music is absolutely key for my sewing productivity. Although, I can’t say that it doesn’t inspire random dance parties every so often. Heh. ;)

  8. Darci August 18, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    I usually forget to eat while I’m sewing (I totally lose track of time) so my tip would be to make sure you’ve got something easy-peasy prepped for lunch/dinner/snack so that when you feel your blood sugar dipping, there’s something handy to munch on.

  9. Janice August 18, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Good tips! I’m ok with having the TV on, since I don’t pay attention to it anyway while I sew.

    This is leftover from my knitting days, but I only sew one project at a time. I don’t start another project unless I’ve finished the project I’m on. This keeps me focused and I think about each project very carefully before I start (as to whether I’ll wear it, etc) since sewing is such a big time investment for me as well.

    My biggest source of bad projects in the past is poor fit. From now on, I start each project by fixing the flat pattern/making a muslin and making changes for fit. Sometimes I’ll draft my own patterns based on a bodice block. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve lost fewer projects to poor fit.


  10. Uta August 18, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I need breaks, so I handle it the opposite way. This only works if the kids are in school/on a playdate, though. As soon as they are out the door I sort of clear off the dining table and start tracing/cutting/sewing. When I need a break due to too much concentration/crummy posture/difficult sewing situation, I start clearing away stuff/cleaning/whatever. I hardly ever finish a project in one session but that’s okay, I make mistakes when I sew too much in a day!

  11. Tilly August 18, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    I have to brush my teeth and put my pyjamas on before I start, firstly for comfort’s sake, but also so I know I’m ready to go to bed whenever I’ve had enough and can thus get into the zone. I say this, but I haven’t been in the zone for a while now – no free time! (She says, reading lots of blogs…)

  12. Becky August 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    I’ve gotten pretty good at sewing with the tv on, actually! For the most part, the shows I watch are ones that I can more or less listen to and still pin and such at the same time. For the select few shows that I really *have* to watch or I miss things, I just don’t sew during those.

    But I have found that I am more productive with music… I just use crafting to justify taking time to watch tv, lol!

  13. Gail August 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    Talking books – simultaneous participation in both of my passions.

  14. Celkalee August 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Organization is the key. Right now my sewing studio is in my bedroom, not the best situation, but truly workable. My sewing station is in a converted double closet. My sewing/embroidery machine and favorite serger live there. A second sewing machine can be set up on a sturdy folding table if required. Four plastic drawer rolling bins underneath the desk contain multiple tools and notions. Each cart is a category (example: thread:… whites & off-whites, black, grays, browns and blues, multiple colors and rayons for embroidery (divided into color families) Another cart nothing but interfacing, twill tapes etc. Each cart has a number and is labeled per drawer with its content. These are all listed in a Master list that is cross referenced by item. I know this sounds obsessive, but I moved from a dedicated 300+ square foot studio, so bear with me. On the top shelf of this “closet” I have purchased multiple IKEA shoe-boxes with clear front panels. Each of these holds a quilt in progress or all items to make that quilt. Binders with hundreds of tear sheets for inspiration for quilts (each in its own plastic sleeve) and my favorite fitting books are there within arms reach. Each machine has its instruction manual nearby for quick reference. The second serger sits on an IKEA file cabinet my left. It ‘s drawers are labeled as the others. I had to squeeze my cutting table into this room also. It sits in a little alcove with its mats on and a utility basket with all the needed cutting utensils as well as specialty rulers, measures and pins. I have a comfy chair with footstool for breaks and hand stitching. My dress form “Miss Bertie” stands in the corner near the closet on my right. Fabric storage is in several places: quilting fabrics are in two 4 drawer IKEA chests in my laundry room. There are large department store drawer units there as well. Garment fabric is in a large chest in the bedroom and well as hanging in a closet that leads to my attic space. I need this organized work space to function. My iron sits on an end of the cutting table with a small ironing board for most functions, if I need more ironing space, I use an over-the-door board.

    I plan my projects usually by month. Then I spend one day cutting each item, assembling the pattern, all notions and notes to myself at one time. This is usually the first Sunday afternoon of the month, it keeps me on track, I hate cutting and marking. If fitting is an issue on a new pattern I will cut the muslin and wait on the fashion fabric until I have all the kinks worked out. I then put each project in its own zip lock bag. I usually do 3 projects per month. My time is limited so I try to be realistic, avoids frustration and wadders. I tend to work on one or two easy projects per month and one more challenging. After you organize your workspace, no matter where it is, the rest comes easier.

    All this preparation (it took a week or two to set up) releases my ability to enjoy my sewing and let my creativity work. Hope this isn’t too long or boring because this process has helped me get back to doing what I love….sewing:),

  15. Tara August 18, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Having the computer on can be both good and bad for me. Bad in that it’s a time-suck. Good in that if I’ve lost some motivation or inspiration, I can look at pictures of other people’s finished products and go back to sewing! (Honestly for me it’s more the former than the latter.) But, hey, motivation is motivation right?

  16. Katherine August 19, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    If I know that I am going to get a block of time for sewing, but it isn’t just now, I use any 10 minute blocks of time before then to wind on a bobbin in the correct colour, or change the threads on my overlocker and thread my machine, change the needle etc, so that when I get the time to sew, I can just sit down and get started.

    I also read the instruction sheets beforehand….perhaps when i am waiting for the kids somewhere…and understand how the garment is to be constructed, so that this doesn’t slow me down when I get to sewing time. Sometimes after I have read the instructions and understand the construction, I can change the sewing order to be more efficient.

  17. Funnygrrl August 19, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Sewing for me is a hobby and if I give myself too many rules I’ll feel like it’s work. So I watch tv or chat with my husband while he cooks. When I really need to concentrate I’ll turn things off but for the most part I want it to be recreational. I vowed that sewing would not become another thing that stresses me out so even if I don’t improve as quickly as I’d like I’m still finding joy in it.

  18. Red August 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Great list! My addition is to bring something to drink with you–I almost always have a soda with me while I sew. That way you have a little something to keep you going without having to get up. Of course, be sure to put it someplace safe so that you don’t spill on your project!

  19. Tasia August 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    Oh good. I knew you guys would have great feedback and tips!
    @Red: Great tip about keeping a drink handy (and out of arm’s reach to avoid spillage!)
    @Funnygrrl: Good point, tips and strategy aren’t for everyone. I’m kind of an efficiency dork so I like finding better, faster, easier ways for all parts of my life, why not sewing? I’d hate for it to start feeling like a chore though, that would take a lot of joy out of the process. I hope you always enjoy sewing and never let it stress you out!
    @Katherine: Ok, that’s a fantastic tip, using the little 10 minute blocks whenever they come up. Winding bobbins and changing thread are those minor annoyances that keep me from diving right in sometimes. If they were done ahead of time, well that would be excellent! Great suggestion. And, doesn’t feel like too much work when you break it down like that. @Tara: Agreed, sometimes you’ll see a great tip or tutorial at the perfect moment too, in which case it’s a good thing you were at the computer! And all motivation is good motivation.
    @Celkalee: Wow, long response! Great thoughts and thanks so much for sharing. Organization is key, and can make a huge difference! You’ve got to be one of the most organized seamstresses, I admire that!
    @Tilly: I would have never thought of getting ready for bed before starting sewing.. but I could imagine it, after a night of struggling with a project, it would be delightful to just slip into bed without any hassles. Love it!@Janice: I wish I was disciplined enough to only work on one project at a time. It’s so hard for me! I lose focus and just feel like starting something new.. or I go backwards to a half-finished project once I see a similar project that someone else just finished..Agreed, planning and making a muslin, to perfect the fit first would make the sewing process much smoother. Then you’re not worried about fit half-way through, all you’re focusing on is construction.
    Thanks all! Feel free to come back if you think of anything else to add :)

  20. bethimus February 5, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    I combine #2 and #3… I put on an old musical that I’ve seen a million times. The plot isn’t so intriguing that I forget what I’m working on, and the music is usually nice. I also get inspired by the costumes, and I’m excited to finish my project.

    Oh, and I forget to eat and drink while I’m sewing, so I keep a smoothie and a big glass of water (with a lid) nearby.

  21. Meryl Smart March 7, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    I am extremely fortunate to have a whole room dedicated to sewing, with machines etc.permanently set up. I admire people who set up and clear away every time. I would definitely struggle with that. I don’t have the computer in my studio, but I do have TV, which is on most of the time (as background noise/company) I do not find it distracting and would stop work and move to my living room to watch anything I wanted to concentrate on. I never have any food or drink (other than a bottle of water) in the studio to avoid spills/stains. I love having several projects in various stages of completion on the go. It keeps things interesting and helps to inspire me. I find I work quite obsessively for hours at a time without a break once I get in there, which is just as well as I always have so much to do. I find breaks ruin my focus. My business involves more time at my computer than would be ideal. Switching it off and getting into the studio to start on the sewing is my problem. I love it when I do though:-)


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