22 May 2011

Guest Post by Debi: Increasing Your Sewing Productivity

I was very excited when Tilly asked me if I would do a guest post on her blog about my thoughts on sewing productivity. It’s really only recently that I’ve felt even remotely productive with my sewing…

Let me first take a step back. My name is Debi and I blog over at My Happy Sewing Place. I started sewing earnestly in 2009. Though I took a few lessons back in 2007 it wasn’t until late 2009 that I finished my first garment. I sew almost exclusively from vintage sewing patterns and am mostly self-taught. I absolutely LOVE sewing. In fact, when I’m not sewing chances are that I’m either a. thinking about sewing, b. checking out other sewing blogs, or c. thinking of buying that extra pattern I don’t really need! I do have a full-time somewhat demanding job and I also occasionally do freelance consulting on the side as well.

In 2010 I joined as a contributor to the Sew Weekly website to sew one outfit a week for the duration of a whole year (with a few breaks allowed)!! Just so you don’t get the wrong impression… I sewed up a total of 12 garments during 2009, which could probably make up a total of 5 outfits. Well to go from 5 to 50 odd outfits - that’s quite a leap!!!! I knew it would be a huge challenge for me and I decided to do it because I really wanted to start focussing more time on what I loved - sewing.

So we are now in week 18 and I’ve created 17 outfits so far.

I’ve been really amazed at what I have been able to do and I have really enjoyed the challenge. I’ve also learned a lot along the way about my own personal style of working, what motivates me, what hinders me and what keeps me going with the same enthusiasm week after week.

Now the thing that I’ve found useful with the Sew Weekly that I didn’t have on my own — is a deadline! Ok, I know what you are saying… I have deadlines in my day job; I don’t want or need deadlines with my hobby… Ok, hear me out with this one. You know how they say that the way to create a new habit is by doing the same action over and over again (consistently) until it’s just second nature? I think the same is true with sewing. Having a structure that is consistent helps to get the ball rolling until it seems much easier to get into the rhythm. I think this is especially true with sewists. Just from the type of blogs I read, I notice that we tend to be the type of people that have lots of demands on our attention and time (we’re passionate about many things in our life - from our children, to our jobs, to our social life, etc.). With this increased pressure on time and attention there is likely to also be procrastination - especially by those that want to succeed with sewing the most.

I’m the worst with procrastination. Due to everything going on, if it’s not something that’s immediately due it tends to take the backseat. What I love about a deadline is that sewing is forced to take equal status with other areas of my life. And why shouldn’t it?? Why should I relegate the thing I love most to the very last? I once read somewhere that we only procrastinate about those things that have value to us. Interesting thought, no?

Now the kicker is that it has to be some sort of external deadline. I’m rubbish at keeping self-imposed deadlines!!! An example of an external deadline would be creating an outfit for a specific event and telling people that you are doing it. As bloggers we also have the chance to create deadlines — whether through hosting sew-alongs or simply letting people know what we are working on (and maybe asking them to check in on us). I’ll never forget a comment from a reader asking how the 1930s cape I was working on was coming along (a couple of months after I had originally posted about it) — that was just the impetus I needed to get into the sewing room!!!

Not all of us will find having deadlines to be useful. There are lots of different working styles and deadlines may not be your thing — especially for your hobby. I do want to share another thing that I have found particularly helpful for me and that is visioning. I am a super visual sewer. From the very start of an idea, I try to create a clear mental image of the completed outfit and how I will feel when it is completed. Visioning is so integral to how I think about sewing—everything from my fabric choices, to the locations where I take pictures to where I will wear the finished outfit and how it will fit in with my existing wardrobe.

I keep my visioning very positive. I never imagine running into problems — I always imagine a smooth sewing process.

Part of this process is banishing negative self-talk. You know, those thoughts that come into your head without invitation. Here’s a few of my recurring negative thoughts: you don’t know how to do that… You’ve never done it before… You’re not good at lapped zippers… You’re not advanced enough to grade that… You can’t do this… Everything is always going to take you a long time… UGH! Let’s get out of that space QUICK! It’s amazing how those thoughts can just come in without even wanting them to! When I find myself thinking this way, I immediately say something aloud to counteract them (this can seem a bit silly at first—but hey, it’s just me in my sewing room so I don’t really worry about it). This may seem funny to say aloud but what I say the most to myself to counteract negative thoughts is, “I CAN have it all. I can have the job I love and have enough energy for sewing AND having an amazing time with my partner… etc.” I just keep going. However much I think I need to say for it to sink in. It’s really amazing how it makes me feel. I think especially for women, this can be very empowering. Society is always telling us how we can’t have it all... Your personal pep talk may sound different — whatever it takes to get you pumped up and to give you that little extra boost to do what you truly love!!

Those are my main productivity tips. There’s the usual stuff about removing distractions and breaking tasks into bite-sized portions but I find those things do little to improve my productivity. I’m the ultimate list-maker so chances are I’ve already made 20 lists of the task to do (which may or may not mean I’ll actually do them) and I tend to be able to work quite well with distractions — so that doesn’t really affect my productivity. My hurdle seems to be the little me (and some days the big me) inside my head saying that I’m too tired, or I don’t have enough time to actually accomplish anything. So for me, the biggest improvement to productivity seems to be countering the little me in my brain (in a gentle way) and reminding her that at the end of the day, there’s nothing I would rather being doing — whether I have 5 minutes or 5 hours.

What about you? Do you get those awful negative thoughts? What are your major hurdles with regards to actually getting to sewing?

Thanks again Tilly for asking me to guest post… happy sewing everyone!


  1. Lovely! My two favourite sewing blogs rolled into one! and what an inspiring article... this said, as I'm sitting and reading instead of sewing as I have promised myself! I utterly agree that vision plays a HUGE role in sewing productivity. I just finished a dress (after working on it for 3 weeks!) that was made of navy blue crepe - it just looked so uninspiring as it was coming together and I lost all my enthusiasm, but I persevered and now I love it, in its simplicity. Perseverance is key, either that or always pick some pretty, happy fabric thats exciting to look at :)

  2. Fantastic article - I'm absolutely with you on needing external deadlines and blogging is an ideal way to make external deadlines FUN! Thinking about it, my sewing productivity has gone up recently because I know seven people expecting babies this summer - that's seven toys I need to get whipped up pronto!

  3. Wow, this was really inspiring. Your text spoke right out of my heart. I am a last minute sewer, so maybe this deadline idea would help me. And I should give my sewing more importance. Normally I save it for the time when I am alone and my boyfriend is not around. But this steals so much time. So maybe I should be more selfish and sew at least an hour or so. This would make a difference.
    Thank you very much for your post.

  4. Wonderfully inspiring post Debi, thank you! Your bit about having a vision beforehand of your finished garment and of banishing negative thoughts really spoke to me! Keep up the incredible work. xx

  5. Great post, Debi! You really make some interesting points here, both about deadlines, but also about the vision. I need that too! Most of the projects that I finish quickly comes from a clear and strong idea of what I want to do.


  6. Fantastic article! I too, agree with having an external deadline. I am the worst at meeting self-imposed deadlines 'cos I can break them and nobody is affected except me. As Salvia said, I usually sew when my husband is not around, so maybe I should put more importance on my sewing, making time everyday even if it's just a few minutes. This surely would increase productivity.

  7. Wow, I really needed to read this. I haven't sewn anything since last year, and that makes me sad. My husband lost his job, so I am currently working two jobs to pay the bills. Free time and energy are two things I don't have much of these days. But I miss sewing so much, and I know if I could find a way to make it a higher priority, I would feel better. Thank you for inspiring me to work on making this happen!

  8. I agree with Debi on the deadlines - most of my sewing tends to get finished directly before holidays or big events!!

  9. Wow- this is exactly what I have been thinking about the last few days. I had plenty of time to sew this winter when I was on sick leave and when I got back to work I completely fell of the sewing wagon. I feel that I don't have the time, which isn't true, I have exactly the same amount of time as I had before my sick leave. And now I have been mulling over that, as I get antsy and irritated when I don't get to sew.

    Outlook is so important as well as structure. You have deinitely given me some new stuff to mull over!

  10. Wow great post! I haven't really thought about it, but it is so true that external deadlines work much better than self-imposed ones. I also like the idea of not relegating doing what you love to last place! Great tips and food for thought, thanks so much!

  11. A brilliant post Debi ! I totally agree on deadlines, I have found it is working wonders, I feel challenged and sucsesfull because I have actually made stuff instead of just thinking about it. Also your key to everything in life should be positive thinking, and empowering energy! Also a little point is inspiring friends, and Debi you are one of those, your clothes are just amazing and the joys of following each other in blogs has been a great experience for me.

  12. So excited to see your guest post today! :) This is such a great post and something I've been mulling over lately! Deadlines are my real key with sewing; either I've promised someone something or I make up my own deadline (lately it's been deciding a certain project will be posted about on my blog on a certain day. That works wonders for me!). Otherwise I tend to suffer from project ADD and get too distracted with other ideas or things going on (that aren't necessarily bad or worth my time--but sometimes I need to sew something and just get it done!).

    I really like what you said about envisioning a project; that is something I do and really helps loads to eliminate any nagging doubts I have or possible hurdles I'm worried about facing. I honestly sometimes fall asleep at night thinking about the step-by-step process for my next sewing project! (I know... does that mean I'm obsessed? haha.) Plus it helps to excite and motivate me to actually stop just thinking about the process but actually doing it.

    Just reading this is making me itch to hit the sewing room to finish some shorts I started yesterday! (Alas, I have other things that need to be done... lol.)

  13. First, thank you for such an inspiring post. As sewists who all have multiple responsibilities, we appreciate any information that helps us be more productive and creative. I agree that some kind of deadline is always incentive for me. My professional life was nothing but deadlines, stress and deadlines, so I tend to temper my to do and wish lists a bit. I have some "event" deadlines, of course, but mostly I sew what I want and what I like.

    I agree that the vision of the project is a great driver for completion. I also went to sleep last night planning how I would finish two small projects and an event piece before Saturday with limited time today and a couple hours on Thursday!


  14. I loved this post, Debi, I adore reading about how other people do things and make time to sew and your garments are so inspirational, it really gives me hope because I've only been sewing for a year, honestly, and sometimes I feel lost in a sea of people who have been sewing their whole lives!

    I love what you wrote about deadlines. I love deadlines, I do, they are the best, for my writing and for my crafting. I've found it's really helpful to have an event to sew for,and what I mean by that is a date or a show or something for which you would want to have something new and pretty. Before I sewed, I would go out and buy something. Now I make something. Maybe this is only useful in my own life because I work in theater and so I go to a lot of premiers and benefits and can plan around those events and make those my deadlines, but I think it might be useful even if you don't go out a lot, sew for holidays, for Fridays, for trips to the market, it's an easy way to have a deadline that is both external (You can't control time from moving on) and internal (you decide you must have a new dress by Wednesday night).


  15. Thanks so much for this post - it came at just the right time. When I read it I was having a hard time with a pesky little project and after reading your post I went back into the sewing room and said out loud: "I will make this happen", and I did! Yippee for positive thoughts!

  16. Thank you for this. I think I'm heavily motivated by external deadlines. If I say I'm going to do something and I don't, I'm often embarrassed by it. I think I could use my blog as a starting point in accountability. Thank you!

  17. This post really touched me. I feel that Debi shared some genuine wisdom and something that hasn't been said before. This reminds me of weightloss, where you can get hundreds of tips on how to cut calories, when what you really need is to deal with your underlying emotional issues about why you overeat. Hope that makes sense.

  18. This post was amazing Debi. I also work full-time; in fact, I'm the editor of a quilting website (FaveQuilts.com), and I'm surrounded by pictures and articles of wonderful crafts every single day, which I love! But that also leaves me very little time for my own crafting. What you said about giving the hobbies that I love equal status in my life really got to me. Everything you said in this post was so simple, yet so insightful and motivating. Thank you so much!

  19. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and tips Debi! I'm in awe of how productive you've been since you took on the Sew Weekly mantel. Can't wait to see what else you have up your sleeves!

    Zoe x


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