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There are many good reasons why you should take time and care when
you’re sewing, but there are also some easy things you can do to speed up without compromising quality or finish.
Here are my top ten tips for faster sewing.
1. Sew in a chain
This is something I learned when I first started quilting, and it makes a much bigger difference in time than you might think. Once you’ve finished sewing one set of seams, butt the sewn and unsewn pieces together and keep sewing until you’ve sewn everything you can. This ‘production-line’ style of sewing also means you only get up to press seams once all pieces are stitched together. This can also save thread and mess as there shouldn’t be as many long threads to cut off.
2. Get all your bobbins in a row
Although this isn’t necessarily a time-consuming job, having to refill the bobbin part of the way through your project can really interrupt your sewing flow. Spend some time to save some time later by filling up several bobbins of your most commonly coloured thread for future sewing.
3. Use a rotary cutter and mat
If you’ve already got these, then you’re already saving time! If you’ve never used them before, these two items were a revelation when I first started using them a few years ago. Before I discovered the magic that is my mat and rotary cutter, I was a die-hard scissor user – I was so worried about accidentally cutting myself that I didn’t want to risk it. However, these tools can make a huge time difference, as not only do you save time by cutting fabric more quickly, a lot of the time the rotary cutter is more accurate too, which can save you time in adjusting seams and fit later on.
4. Go pin-free
There two ways you can go pin-free – firstly, don’t use pins (or clips) for sewing seams together at all! Sounds radical I know, but this is how most professional seamstresses work (and it’s also how they work so quickly). There are occasional times when a few pins are needed, such as sewing very slippery fabrics, but even then, try to use less pins if you can – it saves you time as you don’t have to pin, and you also don’t have to stop-start your sewing to make sure you don’t accidentally snap your needle!
Secondly, don’t pin your pattern to the fabric – use pattern weights instead! Pattern weights can be almost anything (a lot of people use tins of baked beans) but you can also make your own using a variety of different materials. Here are some donut pattern weights I made using metal washers and polymer clay.
5. Lengthen those stitches
This is only something I do with stitches that aren’t going to be put under too much pressure, such as topstitching or hems. By lengthening your stitches, you can literally sew quicker! I also prefer the look of a 3.5 or 4mm stitch for a hem. It doesn’t seem like much, but you’ll thank me next time you’re in the middle of hemming a women’s circle skirt!
6. Interface your fabric first
This is a simple but effective timesaver that is well known to many experienced bag makers. I always used to cut my interfacing and fabric separately to try and get the most out of my fabric and interfacing, but if you’re not too worried about this, this can save you lots of time. By interfacing a large piece and then tracing/cutting your pattern pieces, you only cut once! You also end up with perfectly aligned fabric and interfacing (which saves you even more time by not having to trim edges).
7. Fabric glue is your friend
This is something I scoffed at for a while (“Fabric glue, you say? What new-fangled thing will they think of next?!”), but I saw so many people recommend it that I thought I’d spend the $10 and see what all the fuss was about…well, I’m happy to admit to being totally wrong on this! It’s fantastic for anything you might use pins for, but my favourite use of fabric glue is for holding buttons in place to machine-sew to shirts and dresses (if you haven’t tried this yet, I promise you won’t be disappointed!). It washes out easily and usually dries fairly clear (unless you use a bucket load of it, and then it dries a whitish colour).
8. Don’t be tempted to ‘oversew’
This is something that has only recently been brought to my attention in my own sewing. When I was taught to sew, the motto seemed to be “backstitch everything!”. However, this turns out to be untrue. If you have seams that will be enclosed or stitched over by other seams, you don’t really need to backstitch and lock your stitches every time – I know, it’s true! This is something that the quilters out there already know, but it’s a useful tip for making clothes too.
9. Take photos of stitch settings
In the long run, this is a tip that probably saves more time than you realise. Whilst most of the time we tend to have two or three stitch settings that are used 99% of the time, it can take lots of trial and error to get that perfect zigzag length and width for a particular purpose, or to remember the exact settings you used to sew rolled hems on chiffon three years ago! Use your smartphone to take a photo of the settings, and then create a photo folder for your stitch settings. Most of the time you have an option to add a label or note to your photos, so you’ll never forget that perfect zigzag combo for your swimwear elastic ever again!
10. Be organised
Finally, being organised is probably the best way you can save time when sewing. This is more than just about having a clear space; if you make sure everything you need to get sewing is where it’s supposed to be, you’ll spend less time looking and more time stitching! There a lot of simple and cheap solutions too, like stackable storage trays or plastic tool boxes (most hardware shops sell these). If you have a handy person handy, they can quickly and cheaply make things like this thread rack too. Although I sometimes let the mess take over, I do notice that spending a few minutes putting my pattern away where it belongs means I don’t have to print it out and cut it again because I can’t find it (I’m sure we’ve all done this, am I right?!).