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Episode 94

What Are Some of the Best Sewing Shortcuts to Save Time?

If you love to sew, you probably love a helpful shortcut. In this episode, Sarai and Haley share a long list of shortcuts to help save you time and headspace while you sew clothes.

The best sewing shortcuts are the ones that free up time during the moments of sewing that are most tedious for you. This might be cutting out fabric, pressing, or finishing seams. So latch onto the shortcuts that help you the most with the parts of sewing you like the least. Then you’ll not only save time, but you’ll conserve your focus, enjoy your process, and have more fun.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. Today we’re talking about some of the best sewing shortcuts to help you save time off sewing. And we’re going to cover tips that we use to shave time off sewing, and then where we like to take shortcuts and where we don’t like to take shortcuts. And we’re also going to share several tips from Seamwork staff and community that we love.

Alright, so our ice breaker today comes from Seamwork member Stasia. And Stasia asks, “did you ever have a garment fall off or fail to stay fastened?” This is a fun one. How about you, Haley? Ever had that happen? I know you have.

Haley
Yes. Sarai knows this story. This wasn’t really the fault of the garment, necessarily more my own personal fault. I was living in LA, and my best friend Rachel took me out to this really fancy restaurant in Hollywood for my birthday. And so we got all dressed up, and I had just made this really fitted skirt for myself, which did have a vent in the back for walking and being like, a total goofball, like, I am. We’re in the restroom while we’re waiting for our table to get ready. And I decide to show Rachel, like, the butterfly, the dance. And so I’m like, straight up twerking in this restroom totally split my skirt from the vent straight up to the butt. I turned the vent, the modest vent, into a very daring, very daring. Rated R vent. I was horrified. Oh, my gosh. Even more horrified because I did this to myself. It was my fault that my skirt is about to fall off my body. You’re just cracking up. Look at Rachel. I’m like, what am I going to do? She’s like, girl, we’re in Hollywood. Do you think that you’re the most scandalously dressed person here?

I was like, yeah, you’re right. And so I just walked around the rest of the night like, this is how I want this to look. I want my butt cheeks to show I just owned it. So that’s my story about my wardrobe malfunction. It’s really more of, like, my thighs just ruining a garment.

Sarai
They couldn’t be contained, Haley.

Haley
They could not be contained. This butterfly cannot be contained. What about you?

Sarai
Oh, man. I’ve had so many wardrobe malfunctions over the years. Like, for some reason, there’s one that comes to mind. That was when I was living in New York. I don’t know why this one comes to mind, because I’m sure this has happened many times to me. But I was wearing sort of a full skirt. It was a wrap skirt. You can see where this is going. So I’m, like walking down the street, and I remember just, like, stepping off the curb into the sidewalk, and this huge gust of wind came and just completely blew my skirt open, like, over my head open. And it’s New York so there are people everywhere. So it’s not like I could just pretend like nobody saw this. This was a very public display of my underwear. So I just pushed it down in a frantic panic. And then when that happens, you just have to walk with your hands, like, clench to your thighs the rest of the way home to keep it from happening again. And I don’t know, it’s so stressful. It must be a stress response that has made that sear into my brain whenever I wear, like, a full wrap skirt like that.

Now, if it doesn’t have some kind of, like, a fastener on the bottom, I’ll just safety pin it because that was embarrassing.

Haley
Yeah, fool me once. Shame on you. You hear that one? I also am now having a memory Sarai of you getting stuck in a dress at work. You were trying on some kind of sample or something, and the zipper got stuck and I had to cut you out of it.

Sarai
Oh, my God. It’s happened so many times. I’ve gotten stuck in dresses so many times. It’s so awful when you’re in a dressing room trying something on. And I remember that happening once in a vintage store, and the dress is literally stuck on my shoulders. I have pretty wide shoulders. It was stuck on my shoulder, like, I was trying to pull it over my head, and it was just stuck there with my arms above my head. And I was terrified I couldn’t get out of it. Like, what do you do? What do you do?

Haley
Oh, my gosh, I’m so claustrophobic. I hate when that happens. I freak out. Totally freak out. I guess I’m an ice breaker.

Sarai
Yeah, I guess I managed to wriggle out of it eventually because I’m here.

Haley
And spend the rest of my life in that dressing room.

Sarai
Thank you for this icebreaker stuff. Yeah, this is a really fun one. If you have an idea for an ice breaker, especially a funny one like this, I love this one. You can submit it to us just by going to seamwork. com/go/icebreakers if you’re a Seamwork member and it’ll take you right to the post on the community where everyone can share the ice breakers they would like to submit and we choose from them when we put together the episodes. So thank you again, Stasia. I love that one so much.

So on to our topic today, which is shortcuts for your sewing, which is a really fun topic. I personally don’t like to rush through my sewing too much, but I do feel like shortcuts in certain areas help me to save time so that I can spend more time on the parts that I really enjoy about sewing. So I want to talk about that a little bit first. And Haley, what are your least favorite parts of sewing, first of all?

Haley
Well, I think I talk about this all the time, but I just do not really enjoy cutting, and something related to that that I also don’t enjoy doing is trimming and grading seams. I do it because you have to. You have to do it. I think it really stresses me out because I’m always freaked out that I’m going to cut a hole in my garment, which I have done before.

Sarai
I think we’ve all done that.

Haley
That is not a step that I enjoy. What about you?

Sarai
Yeah, I really kind of similar, but different. I think we’ll cover this in one of our tips, but I really hate getting to the end of a project and having to cut off all the little threads. I just find that so annoying. And I always miss a whole bunch of them, and then you find them when you wear it for the first time. And I don’t know, I feel like I should be done by this point, and I still have to fiddle around with these little threads. And for some reason, that just is not fun for me. That’s a little thing.

I’m not a huge fan of cutting either. You can make it fun. Like, I put on music and try to kind of batch my cutting together, and I try not to do my cutting and my sewing on the same day a lot of the time, so that I’m not trying to rush through the cutting to get to the sewing, but I do kind of feel that way about cutting as well. I’m trying to think of anything else that I really dislike. I think that’s probably those are the areas that I think really stand out to me. What are the parts that you don’t like to rush through? Are there parts that you like to take your time with?

Haley
Yes. I think you and I might have the same answer to this pressing. I love pressing. I think that it’s the most, like Zen part of sewing. Another thing I don’t like to rush through is darts, because I think that a bad Dart can ruin a project. So I really take my time and try and make them really lovely.

Sarai
Yeah. I feel that way about finishes and zippers and things like that, like just taking my time to make sure that they really look nice because I think it makes a big difference and not just how the garment looks, but just how I feel about it. If I feel like I took my time to make it really look good, I think that’s an area that I don’t like to rush through. So I feel like the important thing is more how you feel about the garment than how much time it took you. So I think when we talk about these shortcuts, like just evaluating, will taking a shortcut here make me feel any differently about this garment, or will it just speed up a part of the process that needs speeding up a nice kind of way to approach it?

Haley
Well, that leads us into our tips. We have kind of two sections of tips today. I’m going to share Sarai and mine’s favorite tips, and then Sarai is going to share some member tips and some team tips. So kicking us off. Make a muslin. It doesn’t seem like a time saving tip, but it is because you’re going to spend probably more time trying to salvage bad fit than if you would have just made a muslin to begin with. I think that this kind of feels counterintuitive, but it’s very, very true. Another tip is use a Rotary cutter. If you’re like me and Sarah and don’t love cutting using a Rotary cutter, making that investment in the Rotary cutter, the mat, all of that is going to cut down your cutting time probably in half. It is that big of a time saver, so definitely check that out.

Sarai
I always use a Rotary cutter. Always.

Haley
Yeah. It’s a game changer. When I started doing it, it was a major game changer. Tip three is to properly prep your project, make sure that you’re transferring all of your markings, cut and apply your interfacing and stay stitched. Do all of that at the very beginning. Something that I see a lot of people do is they don’t transfer their markings or they wait to cut and apply their interfacing or don’t stay stitch or wait to stay stitched. All of these things. In the case of the cutting, you’re interfacing and the marking you’re having to break your flow to, then go back and do things you should have done at the beginning. And that just really slows you down. In terms of stay stitching. If your neckline stretches out or whatever edge you were meant to be, stay stitching, then you’re going to be spending a lot of time trying to counteract that stretching and that growing. That happened. So do all of your prep up front. It really does make a big difference if you don’t already. Using a screw punch to help you Mark more quickly is a really great time saving tip.

Haley
A screw punch is like a mini kind of hole punch. You use it to punch holes in your patterns, and then you can really quickly transfer those circle markings with chalk over onto your pattern. And it is a great time saving tip. Press and snip threads as you go. This is related to Sarri’s least favorite sewing step. Snipping your threads as you go is going to save you a lot of time at the end as well as pressing this is going to save you time, and it’s also going to make your projects look so much more professional and you’re a lot less likely to make mistakes and get little weird puckers in your seams if you’re properly pressing your fabric.

Sarai
Yeah. What I like to do with the threads is just sew a few stitches and then snip off the beginning thread tails and then finish stitching to the end, because that way you remember to do it. I think if I wait until after I’ve stitched the whole thing, there’s a temptation to just move on to the next seam.

Haley
Totally.

Sarai
Then you have to search out where the beginning of the seam was and cut the threads. But if you just stitch a few stitches, snip and then keep going, you don’t have to find those thread tails again.

Haley
What I like to do as a reminder for snipping my thread tails is I keep my thread nips on my ironing board and I keep my little waste basket underneath the ironing board. So when I go to process seam, I can trim off anything. And I also do any trimming or grading or clipping that needs to happen.

Sarai
That’s smart.

Haley
That leads us right into our next tip, which is a great one. Lower your ironing board down so it’s the same level as your table. This is especially great if, like me, you sew on a chair that has a swivel to it, because then you can just spin around and press. Just be careful not to get dizzy, I guess.

Sarai
Don’t spin too many times.

Haley
I’m talking like a 90 degree, not like a 360 situation. Safety first. Yeah, especially with a hot iron nearby. I don’t know you do you? Our next one is a fun one. Use an old wine bottle with a pour spout to refill your iron quickly so you don’t have to go to the sink every time. I also stress my husband out when I bring my iron over to the sink to refill it, he thinks I’m going to electrocute myself or something.

Sarai
I think it’s unplugged.

Haley
He doesn’t iron much. I love ironing, so I’m always like, I’ll press that shirt for you. Not because we have any strict gender roles in our house, because I’m weird and I like ironing. Our next tip this is my favorite timesaving practice, not necessarily. A tip is to learn how to batch sew whenever possible. So, for instance, if you are reading your sewing instructions and the next two steps are to sew and finish the underarm seam on the sleeve and also the side seams. Go ahead and pin all four of those seams, stitch all four of those seams, finish and press them all at the same time. You’re going to save a lot of time incorporating practices like this into your sewing. And this kind of goes along with another tip we have, which is to make sure that you’re skimming through your instructions beforehand, because you’re going to be able to identify those batch sewing moments a lot more easily if you read your instructions in advance and also have a general understanding of how something is going to come together before you start selling it.

Sarai
Yeah. I always like to think about how far I can get with my stitching before I have to press, and then that helps me to think about how I can batch things together. And you’ll know that you can batch things together if, for example, the seams don’t intersect. And so if they do intersect, then you might have to press one seam before you stitch over it because you don’t want to stitch over a seam that hasn’t been pressed because you might get some bubbling there. So just think about, like, how many seams can I do without pressing before I head over to the iron?

Haley
That’s a great way to think about it. Our next tip is to mark fold lines with machine basting instead of chalk. This is specifically for your hem. So if you’re doing a double fold hem and you’re folding up at a quarter inch and then folding up at three eight, go ahead and put a basting stitch in at a quarter another basting stitch three eight away from that quarter inch. And it’s actually a lot faster than using a chalk. And the needle kind of perforates the fabric in a way. It makes it a lot easier to press under. This is a really great tip, especially on curved hems. I find it to be really helpful because those can be a little pesky to mark.

Sarai
Yeah. I think on curved hems or any fabric that’s a little bit more flowy and difficult to press neatly, like a silk or like a drapey rayon or something like that. It just kind of creates that line for you. It’s almost something that you can press over. The thread that’s in the basting stitches almost allows you something to press over and stabilizes it a little bit. So it just makes it so much easier.

Haley
Totally. Our next tip is to try chain sewing. This is a little Quilters tip. I know a lot of Quilters do this by chain sewing. What we mean is that you can do this on your domestic machine with a straight stitch. You can do it with a serger, even it’s when you’re piecing things together. So, for instance, if I am sewing side seams, I need to sew the side seam on my bodice, and then I need to sew the side seam on my skirt. I can pass the bodice through my sewing machine, sew a couple of stitches, creating beyond the bottom of that bodice, creating a little chain, and then sew the side seam on the skirt. And it’s just kind of a quick way to speed up your sewing. It probably doesn’t save a whole ton of time, but it can in cases where you are finishing a lot of edges or doing, like, a lot of paneling or something like that.

Sarai
It’s definitely handy for making a quote when you’re piecing a lot of pieces together, it can save a little bit of time on garments, too.

Haley
Yeah. I like it for when more for serging. If I have to say, if I’m making a pair of pants and I know I’m going to need to finish the side seams on all of the pieces that I can do all of those at once on my search. I think that can be really helpful. Our next tip is two of sewing. This is more of like a practice or a way to think about these little hacks per se is find the part that’s most tedious to you and then find the time saving tool or the technique that’s going to speed that up for you. So in my case, I’m not the biggest fan of cutting. So using a Rotary cutter and using a screw punch, all of those are things that I incorporate into my sewing practice because they speed up that part of sewing that I don’t necessarily want to spend oodles of time on, in my opinion. I think that focusing too much on time saving can sack a little bit of the joy out of the practice of sewing. It becomes more about the finished product then the process itself. So really finding the tips that are best applied to your least favorite steps and latching onto those.

Sarai
Yeah. I think there are certain things that can become just like kind of a part of your regular setting practice, and it’s less about trying to get through it as quickly as possible. Is just finding that little tip that makes something a little bit easier, maybe a little bit simpler, a little bit less. You can don’t have to pay quite as much attention because there are so many things in sewing where you do have to pay a lot of attention. It’s nice to have those times that make it a little bit take less focus so that you can have that focus and reserve when you really need it.

Haley
Definitely.

Sarai
I wanted to share a few more tips that we got from our community, also from our staff. So the first one I wanted to share, we had some variations on a theme which is using adhesive to baste things in place. So there are various adhesives that you can use to keep things in place while you’re sewing, and a lot of these can make your sewing a lot easier and less fiddly. So this first one comes from Stephanie M. And I’m just going to quote her here. It’s a little bit long, but Stephanie said:

“A quarter-inch quilter’s tape is a pretty handy sewing tool that I don’t often hear garment makers mention. It sticks to fabric, firmly, peels off without leaving a residue, and depending on the lint factor of your fabric, can be moved and restocked several times as needed. I first encountered Quilter’s tape in a Joanne zipper class where we stuck it on as a top stitching guide. From there, I’ve used it for a lot of random tasks marking, guiding buttonhole placement, lining up plaids, temporarily, holding muslin in place when fitting on the body. Alas, I have yet to master the yoga move that will let me pin my own side seams. Its versatility makes it a great tool to keep on hand.”

That’s a really great tip, and I love that Quilter’s tape has so many different uses. A quarter inch is pretty small, so you can fit it into a lot of different places. I think that’s a really, really handy tip. And then a related one came from Taylor on the Seamwork staff, and she mentioned using Wonder Tape with some of the more detailed processes like collars, cuffs, and buttons. And Wonder Tape is a little bit different from Colter’s tape because Wonder tape is double-sided, so you can use it in slightly different ways. So I think maybe having both of those types of tape on hand for different uses could be really helpful. Haley, you mentioned using Wonder Tape just to keep buttons on, like kind of temporarily keeping them in place before you sew. I want to try that because that’s really helpful. I’m always worried about my buttons sliding around underneath the foot when I’m trying to sew them on.

Haley
Yeah, it is really helpful. The other thing I like about Wonder Tape or that’s just a brand name. I think that’s the Dritz brand name. Wonder Tape is a water-soluble tape, so it’s great for things like centered zippers, too, and using in places where once you’re finished sewing, you’re not going to be able to go back in and retrieve that tape. You don’t have to worry about it because it’s going to wash out the first time you put it through the wash. So that’s a really great tool.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s true. And then a related one from Anna, and she says I use glue sticks to base my hems beforehand or machine sewing. The glue sticks are nontoxic acid free and wash out. This works especially well with narrow hems that are otherwise a little tricky. It also works well with bias bindings. I think that’s a really good tip. I’ve used glue sticks in the past for doing like a centered zipper, just holding the zipper temporarily in place without having to base it. And it worked really well for that, and it does wash right out and it doesn’t hurt your garment. I might test it if I was putting it on something that would react to even water, like silk. You might not want to use it on something really delicate like that, or you might want to just test it out first. But overall, I found it to work really well. So those are all different types of adhesives that you could use to help you with your basting, which I just love this idea. I think it saves time, but it makes it a little bit easier too, especially if it’s things like a button that you might not be basing on otherwise.

So the next one comes from Sigrid. And she suggested making a hem template. So Sigrid said I have a piece of heavy paper, legal size, with lengthwise lines marked at ¼, ½, and 1/8. It comes in handy when sewing instructions directly to fold fabric over by one of these amounts and iron. I fold my fabric over the paper template and press evenly without having to mess around with the seam gauge. I developed this technique when I was teaching African refugees to Sew. I think that’s a really great tip and I think templates can be so helpful in a variety of situations. I think we kind of underuse them in sewing and home selling, and I think they can be really, really helpful. I love the idea of using like a really heavy paper because that just makes it even easier to press something over it. So that’s a really great tip. It seems like it would just be so helpful. And unlike, for example, a ruler, which are usually plastic, I guess you could do something with a metal ruler, but they don’t usually have the markings going lengthwise on them like a grid ruler does.

Haley
I have seen recently pop up, heat resistant rulers made with this specific purpose in mind. I think I saw one at Modern Domestic last time I was there. So that’s a cool little tool. It looked like a gridded ruler, except you can iron right over it. So look out for those if you don’t want to make one yourself.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s a cool idea to look for one of those, although a piece of paper is pretty cheap and easy.

Haley
Yeah, totally.

Sarai
The next one also came from Sigrid, and she said to place pins with a head toward the edge. So she said whenever you pin, put the heads at the outer edge of the fabric. This makes it much easier to pluck them out as you sew and you can sew with either side up and still access the pins. I do not do this. We were talking about this because Haley does do this and I do not do this. I always learned putting the pins the other way. I find it a little bit easier for putting the pins in and just like getting everything aligned, maybe just because there’s more fabric on that side, since that’s the side you’re pinning from. But I could see how pinning from the other side would be so helpful for the reasons that Segregate mentioned. And I’m sure that’s why you do it, Haley.

So maybe I’ll try it out on my next project.

Haley
Yeah, I really like the added bonus that I can retrieve the pins from either side so you don’t have to think about the orientation and how you’re going to be sewing it when you’re pinning just pin kind of willynilly.

Sarai
Yeah, that would be a real bonus. I feel like I’m always having to do that mental calculation which side is going to be up.

Haley
Yeah, I’m all about those things that kind of like remove mental overhead when you’re showing.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s the theme here. Is just where can you remove the extra step or the extra thought that it’s going to take and make it a little bit easier on yourself? Just because, like I said, it’s just sewing is inevitably going to take a lot of concentration. And concentration is a finite resource. Focus is a finite resource. So if you can find ways to just make something a little bit more wrote and a little bit easier, then freeze up some of that concentration for the things that really need it and you’ll probably make fewer mistakes.

Haley
Definitely.

Sarai
Those are our tips.

Haley
Yes, we shared a ton of tips today, so I’m not going to recap them because I think that would take me ten minutes. But if you want to review some of these for yourself, you can check out a related article we have on our website seamwork.com. We will also link it in the show notes so that you can reread all of these times saving tips and really cement them into your mind or Quilters tape them into your mind, either or. While you’re on our website, you can also take our sewing quiz. Our sewing quiz is totally free, and it helps you to learn what kind of sewist you are, based on your unique sewing goals and personality, and kind of identifying what’s most important to you and sewing right now. It gives you lots of suggestions on what to make or what to learn so you can achieve all of those goals. This quiz is super quick and easy and free. It only takes about two minutes to fill out, so you should definitely check it out. You can find it at Seamwork.com/quiz and if you liked this episode, we’d love it. If you could leave us a rating or a review, we really appreciate all the love that you guys give us.

Sarai
And that’s it for us today. I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley, and this is Seamwork Radio.

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