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!


  1. The list is great, thanks, Tilly. I'm a bit late posting my results:


    though I realise I am not adding anything new as most of my conclusions have been mentioned.

    It's been useful, so thanks again for inviting people to tag along!

  2. Great list! I definitely need to become a more productive sewer - I get swamped by uni work, making it difficult to sew. I'll post about this on Monday :)

    My sewing machine sits on the same Ikea table as you, also with a Matou en Peluche hanging above(weird coincidence???)

  3. Thanks for the mention. Great tips Tilly. It was a really useful exercise.

  4. Good stuff Tilly, it was really nice to see it all put together. These are truly useful tips. I think what you are saying is, bottom line it comes down to vision, careful planning and creativity. What could be better than that!

  5. What great tips! I think Laura's tip is the most useful for me, as I tend to sew in the evenings. If I have small goals that only take half an hour or so, I'm more likely to get up and do it! :)
    Also, since I organised my sewing stuff and found a shelf for my sewing machine that is easy to get to (it had previously been on the top shelf of the wardrobe which I could barely reach) I've been sewing more! I use a little set of drawers from argos - one drawer for each project! Everything for a project goes into its drawer, so I don't lose it :)
    Ashley x

  6. these compiled tips are great! Now I hope to be much more productive!! LOL

  7. I agree that sewing what you love - and with material you love - is *so* important for motivation.

  8. I love all of your experiences. There are some really useful tips there! Thanks. And I love the last picture on this post, it inspires me to go and tidy up my own sewing space a bit! :-)

  9. Tilly, i love the blog redesign. And thanks for the great tips. I like the idea of making a note of what needs doing in the next session, and also breaking things down into small chunks. Ashley, i like the idea of having a drawer for each project too. Also, i have the same ikea table as Tilly and Sarah for my sewing machine....spooky! Right, i'm off to organise my sewing space...i've been inspired!!

  10. What is it about this Ikea table that makes it so popular with seamstresses? Must be the clean, white surface... nothing to do with the price, I'm sure!

    Thanks for your comments everyone, and thanks Kat for noticing the blog redesign - I'd been meaning to do it for ages.

    Ashley, that's a great tip about having a drawer for each project.

  11. Thank you for compiling this mega-list! I often struggle to fit in time for crafting amongst everything else. I'm lucky that I have a desk in a shared studio space without internet (so no distractions, just crafting!)

    I find it really inspiring and helpful to keep an image diary of anything that takes my fancy and could inspire and give me ideas for new craft projects. This could be a paper diary, or something online like Pinterest or on Tumblr. In moments of low inspiration it's great to have something to refer to and reignite that creative spark.

  12. Great list Tilly. My goal for May is to sew at least 3 times per week, at least 2 hours per session. I have been so busy that even this may not be doable, but this project has inspired me. Thanks.

  13. Kitiya - great idea to keep a pool of inspiring pictures to get you going. I've been meaning to sign up to Pinterest, just haven't quite got round to it yet.

    Corinne - that sounds do-able. I should take a leaf out of your book and schedule in regular sewing time.

  14. I'm thinking of trying to book in some regular sewing time too - I sew in intensive bursts and it's nice, but I think more frequent sessions would make me a calmer seamstress!

    I find that sewing with friends is good too - having a few friends over for a few hours sewing is nice because you can chat and help one another out and still be productive.

  15. Yay, excellent tips! Thank you for collating these ... I might have to make some sort of pretty, bullet-pointed reminder sheet to stick on my pinboard. It might involve the laminator!

  16. What a great list of tips, Tilly! Thank you for taking time to do this. :) I think I will be able to follow all but one. I live in a tiny apartment with my husband, his parents, and our two girls so there is NO space for any kind of designated sewing. It is my dream to one day have a craft room! Ah, what a dream!

  17. I've loved reading your conclusions & collections of hints & tips. And your 70s dress - so cute! (Sorry a combined comment - am catching up!!)

  18. If I may add something to your wonderful list, organize your work so when you pin, pin everything that can be sewn, sew everything, iron everything, repeat until you have a garment. I have found this method very easy to break down in tiny little tasks you can do in 20-30 minutes. I just need 1 big chunk of time to cut, which as you suggested, you can schedule.

  19. Carmencita, that's a good one - I'll try it!

  20. This is so cool! I only just found your blog so I didn't see this earlier. I have a huge studio, very lucky lady. But I do find that it is easy to get into the habit of spending sewing time organising and planning and not getting on with it. I think it is really important to take a leaf from Nike and Just DO it. Take least favourite jobs to a sewing group as that makes it more fun. For me this is cutting, and also saves lugging my sewing machine around. Time hand sewing tasks for a favourite TV programme so you can sew and watch. Have a range of projects on the go from simple to complex so you have choices and can get light relief from hard projects. These take time and that is how it should be. But in the end, never let anything come between you and sewing when you want to sew. :)

  21. i have to agree with how blogging and reading blogs eats up most of my time when it could've been more productive crafting and creating. i'm totally guilty of that, but i have to say that it is a source of inspiration and motivation as well! I get so excited reading about other people's crafts and creations i want to start right away. that is, until i come across the next blog. :P

    great post btw

  22. This is a perfect list, and you are in reason in all the points, but the last: ¡how much time I spend blogging!. I have discovered you by craft magazine, I live in Valencia (Spain), thats why I write so badly..., and here there are no faires like there, or at least I dont know them. Im going to visit you from my blog missoluciones-pangala.blogspot.com. Thank you !!!!!!!!!

  23. Just found your blog via One Pretty Thing, and I'm hooked! Just have a question - what's that little house on your sewing table? It's gorgeous!

    1. Aw thank you! It's a sewing box by Cath Kidston, a really cute Christmas prezzie I got a couple of years ago. I keep my embroidery stuff in there. You might be able to get one on ebay?


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