30 April 2011

Sewing Productivity Project: How to be a more productive stitcher

Thank you to everyone who has been taking part in the Sewing Productivity Project. It's great to follow your progress and read your strategies for improving your productivity. Oh okay then, so it's also nice to get a nosey into other people's lives and see how the organise their lives. So anyway, here is the uber list of sewing productivity tips I've been promising, compiled from things I've learnt from the project along with some tips shared by other participants.

Sew something exciting and gorgeous
This is controversial, but if a UFO (un-finished object to newbies) really isn't appealing, leave it and start something that you're excited about making. If you're not enjoying sewing something, why bother? You can always come back to it.

Decide on your project in advance
Knowing exactly what you're going to make, along with what details and pattern views you're going with, means the thinking time doesn't eat into your precious sewing time. Less faffing, more sewing!

Gather and prepare your materials
Make a list of all the bits and bobs you're going to need for your project and take it with you when you're going to be near a sewing shop, so you can have everything ready. Gina keeps all the materials she needs for one project in a basket, including two or three pre-wound bobbins of thread. There's nothing more frustrating than sitting down to sew and realising you don't have enough matching thread in your stash.

Keep a sewing projects notebook
At the end of a sewing session, write down what you need to do next time you pick up the project. It'll save time and head-scratching when you're trying to get back into the project.

Have a dedicated sewing space
Everyone is in agreement about this one. Having a dedicated place where you can keep all your sewing gear in one place saves tons of time - you don't need to waste any time gathering your bits before a project, finding tools during your sewing time, or packing up afterwards. And seeing your project all ready to go provides great motivation. It doesn't have to be grand - my sewing space is a £20 Ikea table shoved in an unused corner of the sitting room. Check out the Blue Gardenia's sewing space interviews for tons of inspiration.

Keep your sewing space tidy
Don't let having your own space be an excuse for leaving everything in a mess. I find it much easier to work when I have space on the table to lay things out properly and don't have to go hunting for the seam ripper under piles of fabric and pattern pieces.

Schedule sewing time into your diary
Don't feel guilty about blocking time out in your diary for sewing and saying no to social engagements if necessary. I find it really important to have time alone to do something creative, and I'm not a great person to be around if I haven't got that out of my system!

Sew with other people occasionally
Having said that, sewing alone can become tiresome and lonesome, so mix it up with social sewing time - like my Craft Club or the classes that Clare has been attending. It becomes scheduled, dedicated sewing time that you're more likely to stick to, and chatting to other people and receiving feedback on your project as you're going will keep you working longer.

Set a realistic schedule
Don't try to be too ambitious by setting yourself a deadline you'll never meet. Be realistic about what you can achieve according to how busy you are, otherwise you'll just get frustrated and sewing will become a chore rather than a pleasure.

Divide a project into manageable tasks
A complex sewing project can become a bit overwhelming. A great tip from Laura is to break down what you need to do into manageable chunks (eg. interface the pieces, insert the zipper...), each taking about 30 minutes, and write them down on a list. When you can tick these goals off your list, you'll feel like you're getting a lot more done than if you are thinking about productivity in terms of finishing the whole project.

Just do it!
Breaking down your project into small tasks will also make it easier and more appealing to do a bit of sewing here and there when you have limited time, knowing you can tick something off that list. Even if you only have 30 minutes spare, as Julie says, just do it - get that project moving!

Don't rush it
Or as Gina puts it, you need to slow down to speed up. Read the instructions properly, double check what you're about to cut into/sew over, or it'll take three times as long to rectify the mistake. And, as Diana points out, if the quality of a project is second rate, you're not going to enjoy it, so inject some pride in your work.

Blog in moderation
Rachel finds that she gets much more done when she's not blogging and Casey makes sure she stays offline at the weekends. Writing my blog and reading other sewing blogs can, as we all know, hoover up the whole of your life if you let it. Having said that, I find that seeing what other stitchers are creating, and knowing that I am part of a network of people encouraging each other along, is really inspiring and motivating. I will continue to blog, but will try to limit reading blogs to 30 minutes per day at the most.

Anything I've forgotten? Let me know in the comments!

27 April 2011

A 1970s Dress for Summer

I've been sewing! Hurrah!

I made this dress using vintage pattern Simplicity 7341 from 1976, which was pretty simple to follow with only one side of instructions.

The fabric is a lovely Japanese double gauze, Nani Iro Fuccra in eggplant, a gift from Aunt Bea's Fabric before they unfortunately closed. Double gauze is formed of two fine layers, making it light and airy, snuggly to the touch, sturdy but with a nice drape. It's very easy to sew, although it frays quite quickly so it's a good idea to finish the seams as quickly as you can. It's also a bit transparent, despite the double layers, so make sure you're wearing sensible underpinnings! The pattern suggested using a different fabric for the cuffs, neckline and belt, but as my fabric was already fairly busy I just used some fancy top stitching for definition. Ooh and it's got pockets!

[Soundtrack: 'The Look' by Metronomy]

24 April 2011

Sewing Productivity Project: Reporting back

I've kept track of my sewing productivity over the last 15 days for the Sewing Productivity Project and can now reveal the results. They're not great. But it has been a learning process!

How many hours per day do you sew?

As you'll see from the chart below, I had quite a long drought period of no sewing whatsoever for 12 days, sandwiched between spurts of intensive stitching. I was away at a wedding last weekend and the weekday evenings were spent either seeing friends, being zombified with a cold, or both. The time spent sewing averages out as 48 minutes per day, which doesn't seem that low, but I'd really like to maintain a bit more consistency in my productivity.

What are you spending/wasting the rest of your free time doing?

The majority of my free time is spent on social engagements (seeing friends and family, Skyping my boyfriend, hanging out with my new flatmate...). This is probably how it should be, but the misanthrope / complete saddo in me sometimes wishes I could spend more time sewing! I'm not too shocked by the amount of time I spend doing other things. I should maybe cut down the time I spend reading blogs, but you guys are just too inspiring! I'd basically like to do more of everything - more sewing, more exercise, more films, more work... without having to sleep any less. Is that possible?

When you do sew, how do you feel before, during and afterwards?

Bursts of stitching have been preceded by days of excitement, dreaming and generally wanging on about how I can't wait to have time to sew. During sewing, I felt pleasure from creating something with my hands, a sense of calm from getting into the zone and satisfaction at seeing something come together. Afterwards I felt physically achey from bending over my sewing table, a sense of achievement and an urge to do more more more!

What factors are you aware of that impact upon when you make time to sew?

- I generally feel physically tired after work (not that I work on a building site or anything), so by the time I've cooked and eaten dinner, getting down to sewing can be quite difficult. I find it much more appealing to start sewing at the weekend.

- Having lots of things to do, with pressing deadlines, makes me feel guilty about spending time sewing. I made an agreement with myself in advance to block out Day 15 for sewing and hid my 'to do' list, which made me focus and get down to business.

- Sewing with other people helps. Day 1 was Craft Club, dedicated sewing time with a social element. It feels more of a thing and you feel motivated to complete a project (however small) by the time everyone has to go home.

- This is controversial, but if a UFO really isn't appealing, leave it and start something that you're excited about making. My trousers have been sitting on my table half finished for a month and the smart dark grey fabric just isn't doing it for me with the summer weather, so I'm giving them a rest and making Simplicity 7341 instead.

- While I do spend a bit too much time reading blogs when I could be sewing, seeing what other people are making is great motivation for me to get going.

What are you learning about sewing productivity from this process? What tips can you share?

1. Decide what you're going to make in advance, so the thinking time doesn't eat into your precious sewing time. I could have got a lot more done on Day 1 if I hadn't been faffing about choosing between different projects.

2. Make sure you have all the materials you're going to need, gathering them up when you're out and about in the previous week. There's nothing more frustrating than sitting down to sew and realising you don't have any matching thread in your stash.

3. The optimal chunk of time to spend sewing is probably 3 hours (with tea and stretching breaks). Shorter bursts mean having to review the instructions and spend some time getting back into it. Longer bursts cause back ache!

4. Having a tidy sewing space - and preferably a tidy house - is a must for me. I like to be able to see where everything is and have space to lay out the instructions and the project pieces.

5. Don't feel guilty about blocking time out in your diary for sewing and saying no to social engagements if necessary. I find it really important to have time alone to do something creative, and I'm not a great person to be around if I haven't got that out of my system!

6. Having abandoned your friends, you can listen to the radio while sewing to make it seem like you do have a social life after all. I love Adam and Joe and Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service and am not ashamed to say I often feel like they're in my sitting room with me, I just can't see them when my eyes are glued to the machine. Okay, so I am a little bit ashamed.


There are quite a few people joining in with the Sewing Productivity Project and I've been enjoying reading the results already in:

Leah gave a detailed report on her findings
Karen wins ten points for her snazzy pie charts
Gina has discovered what makes her sew productively
Seeks is writing detailed daily updates
Amy has set herself some rules for her sewing
Clare has noted some influences on her productivity
Julie has analysed 13 days of sewing

Thanks to everyone who is taking part. Next week I'll compile an uber list of productivity tips, so please leave your tips in the comments below, and if you're writing posts about this please leave a link too. Let's go!

[Soundtrack: 'Handle With Care' by Traveling Wilburys]

23 April 2011

Fancy Top Stitching

So that's what the fancy stitches on my sewing machine are for. Making things look pretty! 

All those knob functions sitting there untouched (behave) seems like such a waste. But I can now proudly say that I have used a grand total of 4 out of 18 of the stitches on my machine... which is more than 3. How about you, do you use fancy stitches? Which ones and what for? Let's play with fancy stitching! Yay!

[Soundtrack: 'Who Will the Next Fool Be?' by Charlie Rich]

19 April 2011

Plans and Schemes and Sewing Dreams

How is everyone getting on with the Sewing Productivity Project? I'm going to continue keeping my diary for a few days longer as my sewing productivity has dipped to an all time low and I really need something to report on. I know. I'm rubbish. But I do have quite a good excuse, honest. I have been oh so busy with this fellowship thing I'm doing, working on lots of different projects and generally feeling like my brain is going to explode. However, I'm finishing my V&A secondment this week and I'll have a few days to play around with. I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into some sewing. Just you wait, I'm going to be soooo productive - especially with all the productivity tips we'll have compiled.

In the meantime, here are some of my Spring project plans that I've been daydreaming about...

1) Middle view of Simplicity 7431 (from 1976) in Nani Iro Fuccra double gauze:

2) A second version of Ceylon in mystery bargain fabric from Walthamstow market:


3) Has anyone made Oolong? I'm pondering trying it with this other mystery market fabric. Or should I try making a Sencha dress? Or a Swing dress? Hmm... :

4) I need your help with this one - what pattern could be worthy of this INCREDIBLE Alexander Henry  cotton lawn?

I definitely don't want this to go to waste on a second rate project, so it has to be perfect. Ideas welcome!

[Soundtrack: 'Will Anything Happen?' by Blondie]

16 April 2011

It's Like Drawing... But With Thread!


It took all of ten minutes for me to fall in love with embroidery. Head over heels in love. So easy, so much fun and oh so pretty! I had a lovely afternoon of Craft Club with Sarah and Kemi, stitching napkins and tea towels. We used the amazing Sublime Stitching book, which has super easy instructions and sweet little transfers to get you started. Yay for embroidery!

[Soundtrack: 'The Girls Want to Be With the Girls' by Talking Heads]

12 April 2011

Stash Amnesty! featuring Rhinestones and Telephones

It's Stash Amnesty! time again, and this month I interview Sarah from Rhinestones and Telephones. I can't remember when I first discovered Sarah's blog, but her lovely line is floral handmade dresses, her scrummy recipes and her inventive schemes keep me coming back for more. Ooh and she's also a compulsive list maker - a woman of my own heart!

How long have you been sewing? How did you learn?

Sarah: "I have been sewing since I was nine years old. As a child, I spent summers with my grandparents in Worcester (UK) and it was then that my granma taught me to sew on her hand-cranked Singer. Luckily my mum had a sewing machine at home, as I was instantly hooked! Granma taught me to be proud of my abilities and to make things with care and attention.

I started out hemming simple napkins and then moved onto doll blankets and doll clothes. Sewing in my family is something of an expectation, rather than a hobby. My granma grew up in West Ham and was one of five girls. By necessity, sewing, knitting, crochet, and other domestic abilities were taught at a young age. She passed those onto me and I am now teaching my daughter."

Talk us through some of your favourite things in your sewing stash...

Sarah: "I have lots of favourite things when it comes to my sewing stash! I love my big metal pinking shears that were my husband's grandmother's. They are sharp and cut like a dream. My rotary cutter makes cutting out fabric so much easier and more accurate. Cutting out is my least favourite step in the sewing process. By far, my most favourite thing is my 1946 Singer Featherweight. I inherited it from my husband's grandmother last year. It sewed beautifully even after not being used for over 25 years."


Some of my favourite vintage patterns are: Simplicity 3427, Butterick 7762, and Butterick 2235. I've used Butterick 7762 several times and made my favourite flannel top with it. Butterick 2235 is my go-to skirt pattern and I used it to make my scissors skirt."

How long has your fabric stash been accumulating? Do you buy fabric with projects in mind or do you hoard?

Sarah: "Oh, dear! LOL! My fabric stash has been accumulating steadily for the last several years. It became so large that I ended up having a big fabric sale on my blog. I was delighted to be able to pass on fabric that had been sitting unused and unloved in my stash to other stitchers.

Since taking my Thrifty365 Pledge, followed by my fabric sale, I have been working on changing my mindset to per project fabric purchases and I am trying not to stash nor hoard anymore."

How is your sewing stash organised?

Sarah: "My stash is organized by colour in clear Rubbermaid bins. I have one bin for yardage and another for smaller pieces. My last bin is for fabric scraps that I use as facings or make into patchwork bias tape."

What are your favourite places for sourcing fabric?

Sarah: "While I do have a good fabric district where I live, the prices are hideously inflated. I find I can get a much better bargain, even with the exchange and shipping, online. Some of my very favourite sources are Hawthorne Threads, Fabrics from the Heart, and Treasure Bay Fabrics."

What projects are you planning to work on next?

Sarah: "I am working on finishing up my Hepburn Hepburn Project. I have Simplicity 3427 in a beautiful yellow pin dot on the cutting table that I can't wait to dive into. After that, I have an awesome cherry print wrap dress to sew for my dear friend Vanity Boom, and then I plan to sew some new designs for Crash Landing. Sue and Crash are lovely and it's wonderful to have the opportunity to sell my designs locally."

Thanks, Sarah, we look forward to following your progress!

8 April 2011

Launching the Sewing Productivity Project

I'm so glad some of you are interested in joining me in my quest to find out how to become a more productive stitcher.

If you're joining in, what we'll do is this:

1. Keep track of your sewing productivity for one or two weeks. We'll keep the timeframe flexible so anyone can join in whenever it's best for them. Things you might want to note in your sewing diary:
- How many hours per day/week do you sew?
- What are you spending/wasting the rest of your free time on?
- When you do sew, how do you feel before, during and afterwards?
- What factors are you aware of that impact upon when you make time to sew?
- What are you learning about sewing productivity from this process, if anything? What tips can you share?

2. Write up your results as a report (or series of reports) on your blog. If you don't have a blog, you could leave a comment below. Earn yourself some extra geek points for graphs, pie charts, or... surprise us! Most importantly, don't forget to include your tips on productivity.

3. Once we've got a critical mass of productivity tips, I'll compile an uber list of productivity tips for us all to share.

To help me keep track of who's taking part, it'd be good if you could link to your post(s) on the subject in the comments below. If you'd like to add a button to your blog, you can grab the code below (hope it works!)

Let's go!

[Soundtrack: 'C'mon Billy' by PJ Harvey]

5 April 2011

Beauty shop!

Urgh, I'm so bored with my hairstyle at the moment. But it's taken me so long to grow out that I'm not quite ready to chop it into a crop again... yet... What's this got to do with sewing? You may well ask. Well, I'll admit it's tenuous, but I'm thinking about sewing a dress or two for weddings coming up later in the year, and I need a good hairstyle to go with the dress. You see? I've been saving some links to hairstyle tutorials to inspire me and thought I'd share them. I haven't gone as far as trying any of them out yet, but I just love watching other people do their hair, particularly if they have a delicate touch - so hypnotic...

Princess Grace curls

How to finger wave

Styling maiden braids

Easy, romantic updo

How I do 1940s hair

Pin curls - beginner's guide

The eternal roll

Do you do your hair in snazzy styles? Any favourite tutorials you wanna share?

3 April 2011

Sewing productivity

How many hours of sewing do you get done each week? How do you fit sewing around the other things you do in your life? Do you ever get frustrated by how little time you seem to have to sew?

In my work (and... er... social) life, people often comment on how efficient, conscientious and generally productive I am. These attributes don't, however, seem to translate into my sewing life. Other things always seem to get in the way - paperwork, cooking, eating, social engagements (although sometimes I try to get out of social engagements so I can spend time at home sewing - sshh!), commuting, eating, sleeping, eating, reading blogs, faffing about... I'm particularly busy at the moment and all the other projects I'm working on don't leave much room in my head to even think about sewing.

Sewing is, however, a big part of my life. I want to make it bigger. I want to make time to sew. With this in mind, I'm planning on implementing a three part research and strategy process to improve my sewing productivity:

1. Keep a diary for a week, maybe two, noting what I do with each hour of each day. When sewing happens, I'll note down how I feel before, during and after a chunk of sewing time.

2. Review the diary to assess what I'm spending my time on and to identify factors contributing to sewing productivity. Report back on my blog.

3. Create and implement a strategy to improve my sewing productivity based on what I learn from my research.

Now, I'd love to add a fourth part to the strategy - external research. Basically, you - how much sewing you get done each week and what makes you productive. Would you like to join me in this process? It would be great to pool ideas on how to become more productive.

If you'd like to join in, let me know, and I'll post up some more details next week about how we'll go about it. Pie charts will definitely be involved. Do you think one week or two would be best? Or maybe even a month? If you want to participate, any other ideas about how we should go about this?

Thoughts, please!

[Soundtrack: 'Guilt' by The Long Blondes]