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 shirt 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 shirt 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.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Jess H. says:

    Well, I don’t have much input other than to say that I sneak around home sewing blogs all day leaving linkbacks to F-I posts and tutorials… devious, I know!

  2. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, I read your and Eric’s posts on training a green sewer. Very Interesting comments, especially on the problems with linings and other slippery stuff. Thanks for the comment, “Home sewers expect more of themselves than we’d ever expect of a new machinist.” Not that I need an out, but home sewing can be frustrating. I just wish there were more of the home sewing royalty willing and able to articulate the best processes the way you do rather than the “whatever works for you” mindset.

  3. Linnet says:

    Kathleen, you are so right so often.

    I remember in patternmaking class, I was told that if you put too many uneccessary notches into the pattern, the cutter will just ignore them all—so then you lose the necessary ones too. This piece of advice I only truly understood after I’d done a fair bit of cutting myself. You really only want to have to deal with the notches that are essential. And I agree, it’s better to learn these things from the beginning than have to unlearn them.

    Incidentally, a sample machinist is more like a home sewer in the sense that they (ideally) have to understand how to contruct the whole garment, as well as have an understanding of patternmaking and process management.

  4. ~sherry~ says:

    I actually haven’t used commercial patterns for about 20 years so maybe I’m not really qualified to comment on their notches, but what caused me to was that recently I traced some Burdastyle patterns and was surprised to see no back armhole notch, and no notch aligning the bodice darts to the skirt. As a patternmaker I would have included these, but then I have been working on my own for years now and maybe I have developed into a notch-a-holic!
    I thought it would definitely make it easier for most home sewers if they were included. (It would have made it easier for me too – I had to unpick and reset in the sleeve!)

  5. Theresa In Tucson said, “… but home sewing can be frustrating. I just wish there were more of the home sewing royalty willing and able to articulate the best processes the way you do rather than the “whatever works for you” mindset. ”

    Hi Theresa :)

    I am certainly *not* calling myself “sewing royalty”, but some consider me somewhat of an “expert” (whatever that means) about Shirt-Making. I sometimes end a tutorial with, “this is the way I do it every day in my shirtmaking studio, if your way works better go for it.”…or something similar.

    Why? To avoid the countless emails I would get, that I have no time to answer saying, “But I do it this other way.”…”why can’t I do it this other way?”…”Mr Sew and Sew doesn’t do it that way, what’s wrong with you!”…”Your way is wrong, my mother said so!”

    That said, I welcome answering actual questions about a process or technique as time in my schedule allows.

    ~ Pam

  6. Kathleen,
    I have been a huge fan of yours for at least 10 years, I bought your book when I was thinking of starting a kids line after my daughter was born. I called you once back then to ask a question and ended up talking to you for about an hour. You are generous with your information and your time. I’ve just written a (home)sewing book that will be out in October, and have wrestled with this very issue a lot during the writing of the book, which leads me to my first ever comment on this site. There is a palpable rift between home sewers and industry sewers, each defending their methods as being superior, when in fact we are talking apples & oranges in most cases.

    The one Big difference here is very important: Fittings. In industrial pattern making and sewing, you are working toward a marketable ideal in size and body type. You are able to pattern, cut and sew to a very specific ideal, therefore (insert genius method you outline daily here). But for home sewers and those of us who make one of a kind garments with multiple fittings available (my experience is in film and television costume construction) we must factor in additional seam allowance in most seams and are then able to custom fit each garment exactly to the wearer. We baste and tweak and fit and re-tweak and finally finish, usually by hand. It is a completely different process. I have sung your praises and directed every newbie who has come to me for advice on any production sewing to you, this site, and your book. I do, know however, that when it comes to one-of-a-kind sewing, there is just a different way of going about it. Not better, not worse, or less informed, just different. Thanks again, for your generous service to the sewing world, I for one have learned a lot from you, I just wanted to chime in on this as it hits a bit of a nerve for me and I think it bears mentioning.

  7. Doris W. in TN says:

    Kathleen, what do you mean by a “fused neckline”? I’m a home sewer, and have no clue, and most likely need to know this.

    I understand fused collars & facings. I read your ten tips of interfacing and still missed something. You can email the answer to me if you like. Thank you.

  8. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    I think “fused neckline” is you cut a piece of interfacing to match the neckline but maybe only the width of the seam allowance plus 1/4″. It’s like when she recommends fusing the hem of a lined jacket, with the interfacing being the hem allowance plus a little so it covers where you fold it. I did that on a jacket I recently made and it helped. I didn’t know about the neckline before, though.

    I think if a home sewing books, or all the ones from now on, have instructions for Reece (aka welt) pockets like Kathleen’s instructions, it would make so many people’s lives easier. Hers are the only ones I’ve been able to use that make sense and don’t have you use weird extra or complex steps. I never used them before, we weren’t taught in school, and all the instructions seemed too complicated for me to try. Now that I have used Kathleen’s instructions, I can make beautiful ones!

  9. Patricia K. says:

    Hi … this question is for Theresa.
    Could you elalaborate on what you mean by “home sewing royalty?”
    I think that there are plenty of people who are trying to articulate their processes and are using either the internet or magazines such as Threads to show others how they are doing things. There are a variety of skill levels amongst the internet crowd and you’d have to figure out who is showing methods that are explained clearly and produce good results, better than what you’ll find in most sewing books.
    I’d love to hear more about the type of thing you are hoping for and understand what you mean by “royalty” … is it the few whose names are recognized already of the ones who do a consistently beautiful job and go way beyond what the sewing books teach? If my email is available please feel free to write to me. Thanks.

  10. Doris W. in TN says:

    Lisa – I can see this on opaque fabrics, but is the fused neckline used on blouses & dresses also? It seems to me that the 1/4″ interfacing, beyond the seam, would show on the body of the garment.

  11. deserie says:


    I just need some advise. i am planning to start my own business (small business – wedding gowns) and wanted to know what is the best software that i can buy to do tech specs and use them for pattern.

    Thanks in advance.

  12. Donna says:

    I know I am a little late in posting here and hope you still read it. I sew and design my own bags and quilts but have wanted to get back to my roots of clothing. I have been reading your tutorials for quite some time now and way back in 2005 you mentioned doing a book on sewing, the right way and more. My question is are you ever going to do that book? It would for sure be a best seller. It is so needed. You touch on things that most don’t even consider writing about. Most do simple zippers, hems, pockets, blah blah. I think the book on your site is for the industry and not really for the home sewer I could most definitely be wrong but reading the index led me to believe that. Not that I wouldn’t get the book anyway as reading so much from this site is so informative I am sure there is a lot in the book that would be useful, it just is not geared to the home sewer, right? Hope you are still thinking of writing that book!
    Donna Rae

  13. Gisele says:

    I am a home sewer that just got a home serger and discovered knits. Hence, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I also hauled all my knits out of the closet and rag bag to see what finishes were used where and which I liked best. On some of the t-shirts, the ones with a fairly open neck, there is an extra feature I never noticed before, even on cheap t-shirts. At first I thought there was an encased elastic along the back of the neck line. It goes almost to the shoulder seams. I started deconstructing it to see what kind of elastic was inside, but there wasn’t any. It is just ribbing folded like bias tape on each edge but not in the center. The ribbing is sewn with a coverstitch before it is applied. It is then sewn down, it appears with a straight stitch along the same sewing lines, over the serger hem.

    Somewhere on this site you said, in reference to deconstructing garments, that manufacturers never do any steps they don’t have to. I have never seen this step in home sewing and none of the blogs on knits mention this feature. I was guessing that maybe it was to stop the weight of the front from pulling it forward, but that makes no sense. My sister said maybe its to stop the shoulders from spreading apart but that doesn’t seem to explain it. It also seems as though it is on scoop neck but not V neck although that might be coincidence.

    So can you solve my mystery? Why is it there and should I use the technique?

  14. Avatar photo

    It is a common enough feature in tees, it stabilizes the neckline and shoulders.

    That I said manufacturers never do any steps they don’t have to, requires context. If it is a higher end item, they do stuff they wouldn’t invest in a lower cost product. This is not the same thing as saying that they waste efforts or materials.

    I think that my comment was made in the context that if manufacturers were doing X, it needs it. The uppermost example in my mind is making welt pockets -the top and under welts have a rather large allowance, 1″ or more off to each side. I’ve seen enthusiasts use really small ones and it doesn’t look as nice -the pockets collapse. So, if manufacturers are “wasting” materials with huge allowances, the process really requires it for a superior finish. Anyway, this is the only context I can think of offhand in which I made that statement.

  15. Zanele Ncube says:

    How do we compare the industrial and traditional clothing construction techniques used at o’level in terms of preparing students for career opportunities/further education

  16. Paul Villforth says:

    Surprised nobody has yet noticed the misspelling in the second and subsequent paragraphs–SKIRT cuffs should be SHIRT cuffs. Maybe nobody is reading very closely.

    • Avatar photo

      Well, you have a point and I’m glad you mention it. The “skirt” spelling appeared in the quote and usually, I don’t correct spelling or grammar when I’m quoting someone. In this case, I decided to correct it as Sherry’s intent is obvious and frankly, I should have corrected it before. Thanks for bringing this up. Happy new year, Paul!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.