Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five Things I’ve Learnt About Professional Sewing


As a home stitcher, do you ever ponder how professional sewing techniques differ to those we are accustomed to? How someone sewing for a living will construct a garment in a different way to what patterns and books teach us?

I’ve just finished my Professional Sewing Techniques course at the London College of Fashion, a course I chose precisely because I was curious about the difference between home and industry practice. I once had a particularly mean-spirited comment on this blog along the lines of, “Us professionals laugh at you home sewists haha”. Now, while I certainly don’t want to give that commenter the satisfaction of thinking that their malicious words left their mark (because frankly it was just a bizarre thing to say for so many reasons), I must admit that it made me curious as to the differences in conventions between those who get paid to churn out clothing and home seamsters doing it for the love. Not that one is better than the other of course – they’re just different.

So what kinds of differences did I discover on my course?


1) Professionals rarely bother with pins
On a nine week course, I can count the number of times I used pins on one hand. Thinking about it, this isn’t surprising – professionals need to sew quickly, particularly if they’re making ready-to-wear clothing, and pinning creates an additional step. But I must admit it was a complete eye-opener.

Let’s take inserting a regular (non-invisible) zipper as an example. When I first started sewing, I was taught to pin the opening, baste the opening, pin the zipper, baste the zipper, stitch the zipper, unpick the zipper basting, and unpick the opening basting. Phew! On this course we simply stitched the zipper directly into the opening. No pinning, no basting – pure eye-balling. And guess what? It turned out fine.

The same cannot be said about my set-in sleeve, however. Pin, baste, stitch, then unpick the basting? Nope - we just sewed the sleeve straight in. I’m sure if I were working in a sweatshop I’d get much better at this. But I’m not working in a sweatshop! I’m sewing at home for pleasure. So I’ll stick to pinning and basting, thank you very much.


2) The steam iron is your friend
Your iron can help you with more than just pressing seams open. I knew that a hearty dose of steam can help shape darts and the like. What I didn’t realise before is that you can use just the steam – without touching the iron to the garment – to manipulate fabric. If you’re rolling the underside of a collar out of view, for example, if you hold your iron just above the piece and shoot out a cloud of steam it can help soften the fabric before coaxing it with your fingers.

3) Snip and knot only when absolutely necessary
When you finish sewing a seam, what do you do? Previously, I would cut the threads, either before or after hand knotting or back tacking (depending on what I was sewing). Waste of time, it turns out. Professionals will sew one seam, then put the next seam under the presser foot straight afterwards and keep on sewing, continuing like that until they really do need to stop – then snip all the threads in one go. If a line of stitching really needs securing, they’ll back tack it, but if they’re going to sew over the end of stitching anyway they won’t bother.

Okay, so admittedly this is only really going to save you a few seconds of sewing time. And if you’re sewing for pleasure, that’s not necessarily going to be a concern. But it looks so cool if you do it this way!! Check out this little video by Jen from Grainline. Doesn’t she look the coolest?!



4) A simple crease line can act as a valuable guide
A very simple trick that our teacher used a lot was to pinch or fold a quick crease into a piece of fabric to mark centre points, seam lines, end points of stitching… It may not work on all types of fabric, but is incredibly useful when it does work.

And the number one thing I learnt?

5) There is no single “correct” way of doing things
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already know that I already knew this. I can’t abide overly dogmatic instructions or people telling me I’m doing something “wrong” – I’m a firm believer in innovating and doing what’s right for you, and as a trainer I know that this is how people learn. I was therefore a little apprehensive that a course entitled “Professional Sewing Techniques” would attempt to convince me of the “proper” way of doing things. Happily it did just the opposite. The teacher kept reiterating the point that we should always experiment with techniques, make our own decisions, and go with whatever way was easiest for us personally. Hooray!

How about you – have you ever been surprised by the differences between home and professional sewing techniques? Do you use any particularly "professional" techniques or do you prefer home sewing methods?

If you missed it first time, check out this other totally awesome thing I learnt on my course...

[Soundtrack: 'I Should be Proud' by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas]

42 comments:

  1. Very cool. I learned a lot of this from a class at a Sewing/Quilt convention. However, why would someone thumb their nose at hobby sewists? I mean, what?

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  2. Very cool. I'd heard pins were out, and I learned the continuous stitching thing from quilting, but the power of the iron is something I always forget. Glad you got a lot out of your class!

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  3. Great article, especially the last point. Amen! I don't know how many times I've been told I'm doing things wrong. Really pisses me off, I tell ya!

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  4. That course sounds sooooo interesting. Would you recommend it, Tilly? My pattern making teacher was the same. Whenever I asked if a design was right or wrong, she'd respond with a question of her own: what do YOU want it to be. Of course, there are some basic techniques to pattern cutting that you can't get away from, but they're there to inspire rather than constrict.

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  5. Thanks for sharing, this was a great read!

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  6. I enjoyed this post. And you are right, there is no one way of doing things. Pins? I don't always use them, but they are essential for slippery fabrics. I just don't have that level of skill.

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  7. I've stopped pinning when I sew, except to set sleeves in and for zippers, and it's made my sewing WAY FASTER. These are good tips!!

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  8. I love reading about professional techniques - thanks for posting! I've never heard of chaining before. I'll probably carry on doing things the way I have been doing - glad to hear that's ok too! Great to try out new things though.

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  9. Interesting post. I once asked a customer (working in a fabric shop a couple of years) what she was working on when asking for silk thread. And she answered, a real seamstress only uses silk thread!? Thought that was very funny. From my experience, professionals sews with dental floss if it does the trick.

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    1. hah. You are right, Kristine. And in a pinch, thread works great as Dental Floss!!!!

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  10. Thanks for sharing those tips! I'm always worried about doing things the wrong way, especially when I want to make a small change. I'm not very experienced so I'm afraid to mess things up, not having learnt all the techniques yet. Now I'm a little less worried when trying out things before knowing everything I think I'm supposed to know :)

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  11. Thanks for sharing this Tilly, it was really interesting....I like many of these tips, and of course am also a firm believer in the last one!

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  12. Every professional sewer has to start somewhere, you can't just wake up and be the best. I'm wondering why some of them get so bent out of shape about hobby sewers? Either way that course looks amazing, I wish we had something like this in Dallas.

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  13. What an interesting post! I am always intrigued by the different ways people do things when it comes to sewing. A really helpful source that I tend to use is Sherry's blog http://buzzybeesworld.blogspot.co.uk, particularly the session called tricks of the trade. Eye opener!

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  14. Who would say that?! What a terribly rude thing to say. I'm glad it inspired you to seek out more techniques rather than get all boiling mad (like it would do to me.) You are a sewist with class.

    Cat

    www.catgotdressed.blogspot.com

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  15. Very interesting post - I would love to take some professional sewing courses (if there was such a thing near me) but I've learned a lot from books and bloggers and I'm happy with the skills I have learned so far.
    Out of curiousity, I took a few of my old RTW blouses and looked at the buttonholes, etc and found that I am doing a better job at keeping my stitching straight than some of RTW clothing! The most surprising thing was that some of that sloppy stitching was from Banana Republic!

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  16. interesting post! i've been trying to streamline my own sewing process as i'm always looking for the most efficient way of doing things. for me, sewing walks the line between hobby and necessity. over time i've learned to pin less, cut smaller seam allowances when possible, sew several seams at a pass before pressing, etc. but i don't understand the "industry sewing snob" mentality. i just want to do things the smart way!

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  17. This is great! Thanks for sharing, I forget about the power of the steam iron too…Such a great trick! :-)

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  18. Awesome! I learned some of these in school, and the stitching in a line, strangely enough, in quilting classes.
    I used to sew with no pins, except for sleeves (I always pin sleeves in), but these days I admit I'm using pins more. I like to at least mark where the cross points are to match, and with fiddly fabrics, it's, like, required for me.
    Your class sounds fun! I totally am in awe of your welt pockets. Those things are a pain.

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  19. I can't believe "a professional" took the time to leave such a snarky comment. I'd be like "us sewing bloggers laugh at you professionals who read home sewing blogs". Srsly, if they don't like it, why are they reading it? I wonder if it's because they feel they're being put out of business by people who do their own sewing.

    Sorry, I know that comment wasn't the point of this post, but I'd just read a pretty similar comment by a "professional" on a different sewing blog, so it's been on my mind. I just don't get why these professionals are taking the time to read home sewing blogs if they find us so deplorable.

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  20. Wow - some interesting techniques! It is funny how we all do things differently. I always chain stitch (and chain overlock/serge) and have never basted - but to go without pins? I get in a unholy mess! I also find pinning rather soothing - no noise from the machines, pin some seams together and you can check how you are getting along (well, that is my excuse!!!)

    Great post - thanks.

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  21. I started doing the sew-in-a-line thing, placing my next item under the foot after the first one - I started after I saw a quilter doing it, then I snip all my threads you then you don't have any thread tails either. I also stopped back stitching on seams that will be stitched across the other way too, I didn't know that was a "professional" thing, hehe, just me trying to cut out a step ;)

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  22. Oh very good advice! Thanks Tilly!

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  23. It's important to remember that the level of professional sewing affects how the garment is handled. A couture house sewer works differently from someone grinding out garments for The Gap, although each is quite talented in her or his way.

    You learned one style of production sewing. If you were working as a sample maker or in a sewing factory, you would adapt to the methods of that particular work environment.

    I've read a lot of sewing blogs in which people with a couple of years of home sewing experience act as if they know it all. I'm not surprised that professionals speak up every now and then, although they usually consider home sewists not worth thinking about.

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  24. Awesome post lady! I couldn't agree more with point five, but you know that already! xxx

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  25. Interesting post Tilly, thanks so much for sharing! I'm hoping to take an advanced pattern drafting course in January, so I hope to learn many more top tips like these ;o)

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  26. Hello Tilly,
    First I want to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I consider myself a hybred of professional and home sewer. I did study fashion design and I work doing alterations but I also love to sew clothes for my niece and nephew. Even though you do say that "one is not better than the other just different" I felt like you were putting down people who sew to make a living. My mother raised three kids by getting paid to work in a factory and "churn out clothing". You talk about the differences by saying that one gets "paid" but a home seamstress does it for the love of sewing but what makes you think that people who "churn out clothing" for a living dont love it as well and even it you dont love it we do what we gotta do to survive. You even say that your not working in a sweatshop but doing it for plasure wich is wonderfull that your not in a position were you have to work in a sweatshop to make a living. I have great respect for home sewers and for people who sew to make a living. Lets just remember not to judge each other or make assumptions that might not be true. I realize that I probably went completly off topic but I felt that I had to put in my two cents. Thanks for your time.

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    1. Hi ybat
      Ooh noo, I didn't mean to offend you! Believe me, I'm not putting down people who sew for a living. My mother, grandfather, great grandfather and their siblings all made and sold clothing for a living. Reading the post again, you're right I shouldn't have used the word "churned", it sends the wrong message. In my mind I was so focused on defending home stitchers against some professionals who criticise them for being amateurs, but I didn't mean for this to come out in my writing. I'm not the best writer :)
      Tilly

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  27. I totaly agree with you Tilly : however people try to convice you to do something rather than another, it's better to keep the way you used to do. Of course, never close your ears and eyes but no one has the ultimate way for stiching. The most important is the fun and joy of making something and how wonderful you feel when you finaly find THE way to do the seam after thinking about it for 30 minutes. Am I right ? (and clear?).
    Anyway, I'm happy you enjoy this lesson and I wanted to say that I would have love to be at that training. One day, maybe....Nice and of the week!

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  28. Have you seen this great post over at the Colette blog on what home sewers can learn from industrial sewing? http://www.coletterie.com/tutorials-tips-tricks/15-things-home-sewers-can-learn-from-industrial-sewing.

    Throwing my own tip in: Instead of tracing pattern pieces onto fabric, leave some excess around your pattern pieces when placing them on your fabric (on grain of course!) and then cut. Somehow that extra paper gives more "grip" when cutting and makes cuts more accurate. It's kind of like in fashion production, cutters have a paper marker (kinda looks like a Tetris game, but with pattern pieces) that they lay on top of many plies of fabric and then they cut.

    I know cutting paper with scissors is a huge no-no, but that's a rule you can break with confidence in this case! ;)

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  29. And another tip: This does not work with every sleeve cap -- best with crispier fabrics like shirting weight cotton -- but run the sleeve cap (I like to do about 1/2" before each notch) under a threadless machine just shy of the seam allowance (~1/8" away from seam line), while holding the back of the needle with your finger, which makes the fabric scrunch up. Let go when it gets to be too much, but try to get as much fabric crunched up in there. When you're done, you'll see that the cap is crinkly and curving into a cap shape! Pin into place and sew!

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  30. How funny, I must be a professional then ;-) I hardly ever use pins and when I do, I don't take them out either I just leave them in until the seam is done, I sew straight over top - is that normal? I don't mark darts properly, I just crease the fabric or eyeball it. Who knew my laziness just made me professional?!

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  31. I like using as few pins as possible, if only to keep from impaling myself on them or breaking my machine by running over too many, but sometimes they seem invaluable. A straight seam or hem, who needs pins! but attaching ruffles? That is something where I'll always need all the help I can get :). I wonder how much professional techniques are dependent on the styles that have been fashionable in the last few decades?

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  32. I love posts like this: instructive, eye-opening and affirming.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Anything else coming up, course-wise?

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  33. Tilly, a lot of these I learned when I started quilting (speed-piecing techniques). Interesting. And this confirms my suspicion that different methods work for different fabrics & tasks...and you're better off knowing as many techniqes as possible, so you have more choices when faced with a difficult or different situation. Thanks!

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  34. My mum used to sew professionally (her "specialization" were set-in sleeves), so in this post I find a lot of the things I've been observing when she sews.
    When I started to sew, she taught me to pin, baste, make tailor tacks, but I've never seen her doing it. Now that I'm more experienced, I stole some of the techniques that she uses and that you mentioned to speed things up, but I totally agree (and she does as well) that there isn't one correct way to make something, just what's best for yourself.

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  35. After sewing forever and taking workshops including going o/s to learn more about sewing, I've also realised there's no one way to do anything in sewing.
    Love your post/s.

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  36. I like your post and I love that people still want to learn to sew! I'm a professional costumer in the film & television business, and yep, those are pretty much true.

    #1 is sort of true, but probably more so for tailors/factory workers. I would say that most costumers I've worked with just pin differently than most sewing books describe - when you work with things like upholstery fabric to make something like a period garment, you definitely need pins (sometimes corsage pins)! But when I worked as a cheer uniform sample maker, I was using such basic patterns and fabric, I barely touched the pins. (I got really fast with the no-pins zipper insertion the day I had to replace 100 in cheer skirts that the factory did incorrectly.)

    #5 should be engraved on a plaque in every sewing room! It is SO true - I have learned so many different ways to do things from my coworkers (because everyone has a favorite) and we often brainstorm ways if we are having trouble with something. =)

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  37. I have always wanted to know the difference between professional technique and what we do at home. My Mother-in-law used to sew professionally doing piece work and specialty tailoring. I have always been amazed at the creativity and problem solving she demonstrates when she is working on a particular item.

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  38. Fear of ridicule is exactly why I'm not a sewing blogger. I occasionally post pictures of clothes I've made but I never write about how I did it. I have never taken a sewing class. I watched my mother (who was self-taught) when I was a little girl and picked up a few things from her but I'm mostly self-taught also. I read sewing tips all the time but I mostly stick with the way I've always done things because that's what I'm comfortable with and I'm usually pleased with the results.

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  39. OMG I feel like I'm listening to my teacher! (except that she doesn't speak english)She keeps on saying those things and it is soooo true!

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  40. thank you for the help but what do people do when they get mad from sewing? Do they quit and give up or do they keep going?

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