How to sew faster pt.1

I’ve been pondering the question of how to sew faster for a few weeks now. I approached the task with gusto and started to develop a long list of things to do. As I developed my list -which included many things I’ve mentioned before- I began to hesitate. If the vast body of my previous advice was met with resistance, how would a new entry improve things? It was then I realized that the issue isn’t “how to sew faster”. The question should be re-framed according to what people really mean -let’s be honest. Here are some possible subtexts to the question of “how to sew faster” along with the short list of answers with 1, 2 and 5 bearing further discussion:

  1. How can I bypass or reduce the tasks I dislike to get to the stuff I do like?
  • Several things: hire it out, re-prioritize, analyze your ROI on unpleasant tasks to determine their value.
  1. How can I do less work but get the same result as if I had done the long way?
  • There are options here that will require reorganization and dedication -no short cut there!
  1. How can I do things the way I’ve always done things but get a better result?
  • If you can’t make your way work for you, I can’t either.
  1. How can I get better results without having to learn something new?
  • It can be psychically exhausting having to learn continuously. Take a break or don’t be so demanding of yourself. Until then, hire it out.
  1. Just give me the short cuts dammit. We all know industry has them.
  • It’s a fallacy that industry uses short cuts. If anything, they do things the long way. Surprised?

I think what everybody really wants is number 5 so let’s deal with that one today. For the purposes of our discussion, we won’t discuss tacky RTW sewing shortcuts because those are not worth emulating. Besides, tacky methods are transparent; a casual examination reveals how it was done. If it’s not obvious, it’s usually not tacky either. True or true?

The fallacy of industry sewing shortcuts
Urban or common myth holds that industry uses short cuts to great advantage but it’s not really true. If anything, it’s usually enthusiasts who take short cuts. Using a rotary cutter is a good example. If you’re sewing from home, laying the pattern down and using a rotary cutter means you’ve done a mental cost benefit analysis and determined that the benefits of a fast job on a one time use pattern is the best expenditure of your time. I won’t argue with you either. However, no one who intends to remain in business will do this -or should do this. No, they will have to take the long way of creating the pattern, cutting it on oaktag, tracing it out with wax pencil -after which they may cut it out with a rotary cutter or not. Higher quality companies do not. They take the long way and use scissors which are more precise. And yes, a quality manufacturer will even go to the trouble of doing this for a prototype, “wasting” the time and materials to cut the tag board pattern at the outset, before the appeal of the style is demonstrated in a first mock up.

Another example is also in marking which started in the pattern process. We make guides, separate pattern pieces to mark the placement of design details like pockets. If these can’t be marked with drill holes, it’s done manually, piece by piece, a very labor intensive process. Speaking of making guides, another long cut used in industry is to make separate pattern piece for each fusible. At home, most people will cut an exact duplicate of a facing (or whatever) in fusible and call it good. Making separate fusible pieces is more time and money up and down the process stream. Adding more pieces to a pattern means increasing the cost of grading and marking. Another way industry takes the long road is allowing the fabric to rest. It’s spread in advance and allowed to rest for 24 hours. One last recent example that cropped up recently was the use of tissue paper. Manufacturers will go to the extra work of laying plies of tissue paper between fabric layers to control shading and make it easier to cut. If manufacturers are notorious cheap skates, why would they go to the bother of spending money on labor and materials?

I think what people want is the easy part of both worlds. They want to skip doing the up front labor intensive work which is what creates direct uniform quality and consistency and they want fast sewing. The point I’ve tried to make continually is that you can’t get consistency in sewing if you’ve taken short cuts before then. If you haven’t walked your pattern (purchased or made) or cut it out precisely or any of the things I listed above, your sewing is going to be more laborious and time consuming.

What it really boils down to is a cost benefit analysis and return on investment (ROI). If you’re only making one item and your investment in it is minimal (a casual summer top), then feel free to take short cuts. I certainly would and do. However, if the piece is an investment item and you intend to make use of it for years, I think you know the answer. You’ll have to go through the bother of cutting a muslin, fitting it, correcting the pattern etc. It’s no fun. The point is, assuming manufacturers are professionals and you aren’t, you can’t expect to take home sewing short cuts in the process prior to sewing and expect a good result. The only way it’s “fair” is if you do all the work we do, the results speak for themselves. Each extra added step to the process is not a panacea or magic wand that is the one thing making the dramatic difference. Rather, it is the aggregate of sound consistent practices that add panache to the final product.

Now that I’ve answered the last question, I open the floor for consideration of the remaining items. Essentially, these boil down to processes and people which leads me back to the TWI post pt.2. If I haven’t bored you silly yet, I’ll write about those next.

How to sew faster pt.1
How to sew faster pt.2
How to sew faster pt.2b
How to sew faster pt.3
How to sew faster pt.4

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