A refresher on basic industrial sewing concepts

The trend in comments from the first entry leads me to believe it could be time for a review of basic concepts of industrial sewing. It’s been a long time and maybe some people aren’t familiar with older content on this site. By way of introduction to today’s entry, Sherry writes:

I have always wondered why domestic sewing methods vary so much to industrial methods, but I suppose it is so a beginner is able to complete the project adequately. Take staystitching – for a beginner it would stop them inadvertantly stretching an area they shouldn’t, but an accomplished machinist could omit it. And industrial methods usually assume some skill – eg skirt cuffs, slotting the sleeve into a preassembled cuff and stitching down, I’m not sure a beginner could do that well. A couple of things that I think should become standard work in home sewing circles is more fusing and more notches!

Stay stitching: I don’t believe stay stitching is a skill. It is closer to a work around, a way to solve a problem on the fly that was created further upstream. The problem in question is usually a poorly made pattern. The facings and collar do not walk into the neckline correctly. In industry, we will never sew products without having tested the pattern first. Also, quality RTW products usually include a fused neckline.

In home sewing, the perception is that the industry takes short cuts. Not only do we not take short cuts, we actually do more work. Sewing time is shortened by mostly four things. One, taking longer in the front end makes the construction go faster. Two, the way we gauge sewing time is a different ruler; it’s not an apples to apples comparison. Third, each company determines standard work routines to complete operations most efficiently. Fourth, we tend to make the same things over and over so we have a lot more practice. This doesn’t mean we can’t learn to make other things quickly because we can. Having a hard won skill set from an earlier product class, allows us to approach a new type with more confidence and relative speed. Most of the deviation amounts to managing the order of operations for the new sewing project (further down).

The issue that many start ups and home sewers have in common is prioritizing. Each tend to prefer incurring technical debt which leads to the proverbial big ball of mud requiring constant vigilance and maintenance. Regardless of whatever decisions you make regarding the use of your time, professionalism means better, not bigger. And then there’s expectations (further down). Home sewers expect much more of themselves than we’d ever expect of a new machinist.

I didn’t mean to get so far afield. Returning to stay stitching, there is a concept that states you shouldn’t have to pre-do something that will be undone later because these do not add value to the product. This in a nutshell, describes why zipper insertion methods that require pre-basting of the seam is not worth the time or effort if better methods eliminate the need of it.

Returning to the quote we opened with:

And industrial methods usually assume some skill – eg skirt cuffs, slotting the sleeve into a preassembled cuff and stitching down, I’m not sure a beginner could do that well.

Expectations: In industrial sewing, completing a project is based on two different skills sets. One is machinist skill operating the equipment and handling the material. Two is executive functioning (project management). In most plants, the machinist does not need to worry about having the whole come together because they are only doing one part of it. Home sewers have to do all of it. While it is ideal if a machinist has some skills, I disagree that they need them. My test subject completed a fully lined vest, entirely bagged by machine, with double welt pockets, a collar and a full length zip -in less than six hours, start to finish (including pattern corrections, cutting, fusing and sewing). Before taking on the project, the only sewing he’d done in his life was hand lacing a pre-cut leather wallet together in elementary school. He’d never operated a home machine much less an industrial one. His notes on the process are here and here.

The other reason machinists aren’t assumed to have some skills is due to industrial engineering. Industrial engineering means analyzing the entire process or work flow and breaking sewing operations into their simplest components to develop service lines and determine varying seam allowances. Yes, it is ideal to have skilled operators for key functions (like top stitching) but most people can learn the necessary muscle memory for basic operations fairly quickly. In home sewing, having to learn machining (handling equipment and materials) and being expected to complete project management tasks too, can be a lot to expect of a beginner -or anyone- working solo. But yes, if industry had the same sort of expectations of sewing operators that home sewers had for themselves, a much higher degree of operator skill would be necessary. I think our expectations are more reasonable. In short, home sewers hold themselves to much higher expectations and with fewer resources, than we have of ourselves with everything at our disposal.

Returning to the opening quote:

A couple of things that I think should become standard work in home sewing circles is more fusing and more notches!

I agree about more fusing, definitely. Notches are another story. I go on about this at length in my book but there is no easier and faster way to see at a glance that a pattern maker is new to the trade than by the number of notches they use. Which is not their fault when the most popular book on the market uses notches to the extent they resemble a highly communicable disease. The easy out is to say notches cost money but that wouldn’t be fair. Notches are confusing if there are too many of them. If your pattern is well made with all pieces matching and your equipment doesn’t have a problem with differential or uneven feeding, you don’t need many. Truly, the biggest problem with notches is you don’t have the ones you really need (at the sleeve cap to mark the shoulder seam) and the pieces don’t walk from notch to notch. Oh wait, the other problem is the work around known as “ease”. But, I should shut up now or I’ll never finish…

The point is, in home sewing, it often boils down to a matter of opinion or “whatever works best for you”. In industry, we pay engineers for highly quantifiable determinations based on process and product analysis. I hope this summary of the basic differences in the concepts common to home vs industrial sewing has helped.

PS. Again, please read the subtext (follow the links) of the entry before posting an objection or linking to material off site if it is not as comprehensive and educational as material linked to in the entry in question. Thanks.

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