Last week we talked tips for accurate sewing, and I enjoyed reading your own ideas in the comments. But what about when you need to sew something really fast? Maybe you’re snatching a precious half hour of creative time before work. Perhaps you’re finishing up a dress to wear to a wedding in a couple of hours (we’ve all removed pins and sewn buttons on our handmade dresses on the train, right?!). Or maybe you’re a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee and only have two hours to cut and stitch a pair of trousers!! I enjoy sewing for pleasure, and will take it at a leisurely pace when I can, but it’s good to have a few speed sewing tricks up your sleeve when needed…
1) Forego the pins
Don’t have time to pin? Then don’t! Live dangerously, people. Match up the first few cm of the seams and start sewing, bringing together the edges of the fabric bit by bit as you sew. If you need to pause to adjust the seams, do so with the needle down so you don’t accidentally shift the fabric and thus the stitching line. Once you get the hang of it, this technique is pretty straightforward on many fabrics and areas, but personally I would still pin the heck out of slippery fabrics, gathering, and set-in sleeves. I’ve tried setting in sleeves without pins and much prefer to take the extra couple of minutes to get it right ;)
2) Try chain stitching
Stitching a simple seam doesn’t seem like a lot of work, but if you think about it, it involves a number of steps – lowering the presser foot onto the fabric, checking the threads are behind the needle, putting your foot down on the pedal, stitching, lifting your foot from the pedal when you come to the end of the seam, raising the presser foot, taking out the fabric, and trimming the threads. Phew! Chain stitching is a way of saving time on all the stopping and starting by stitching continuously between multiple pieces in one go. Once you’ve come to the end of the first seam (and backtacked if you want to – see the next tip below), keep stitching and feed another but seam under the presser foot. Keep going until you’re out of pieces to stitch (or need a cup of tea), then raise the presser foot and trim the threads on all the pieces in one go.
3) Bye bye back tacking
Back tacking – sewing backwards over the start and end of a line of stitching – can stop your stitches coming undone before you’ve had a chance to sew over them. It’s something we include in our sewing pattern instructions, but to be honest it’s really just a precautionary measure. If you’re going to sew across the same seam in the same sewing session - for example, if you're going to cross a side seam by hemming it - you don’t necessarily need to back tack. Simply attach the next piece (or hem it or whatever you're doing), and the second stitching line crossing the first one will do the same job of keeping the threads in place. Be aware, though, that the stitching might unravel at the seam allowances unless you finish the seams. And do back tack if you’re not going to be going over the stitching line again – for example, if you’re topstitching a patch pocket to the outside of a garment.
4) Save up your pressing
Pattern instructions often tell you to press seam allowances open or to the side after each step where needed. You don’t literally have to get up from your sewing table at that point and press the seam allowances open though. As long as you’re not about to sew across that unpressed seam, save up a few pieces of pressing, then go over to your ironing board and press a whole batch of pieces at once. (Also - omigawd my hands look so cold in these photos!)
5) You don’t always need to press
We’ve heard it said countless times - pressing seams before stitching over them can make a handmade garment look lovely and neat. And it’s true. However, you don’t always have to press every single seam. For example, when you’re understitching a facing to seam allowances, if you pull the fabric either side of the seam nice and taut as you’re sewing, then not pressing beforehand shouldn't really make a difference to the end result. Every time I come to understitch a facing, I remember saying to a tutor at the London College of Fashion that I was going to press it first – her reply was a bemused, “Why would you bother doing that? Understitching serves the same purpose”. As with so many sewing techniques, you can add the qualification that it depends on your fabric, so use your judgement here as to whether you can get away with not pressing it. But if your fabric can get away with it, this is a useful shortcut to know!
Do you have any other tips for speedy sewing? I’d love to hear them!
And don't forget to check out the tips for accurate sewing if you missed last week's post.