How to sew faster pt.4

In response to How to sew faster pt. 1, Debby posted an interesting comment I can use to explain why a given tool (aka “machine”) is not going to solve your sewing problems. She says:

I am curious that you say that scissors, or shears, are more accurate than a rotary cutter. I always considered a rotary cutter more accurate because they don’t lift the fabric up off the table and don’t leave a jagged edge like shears can. And you can usually go around curves better with a rotary cutter.

She’s not wrong.

Upgrade your equipment and it will let you do whatever you’re doing faster but there is a gap between what you expect to happen and what actually can:

  • Better Machine = better result (what people expect)
  • Better Machine = faster result (what really happens)

In part two of how to sew faster, I explain that sewing faster relies on a combination of Method, Man, Machine and Materials. In this case, rotary cutters are “machines” that will cut faster. However, relying on machine as the singular strategy to cutting faster amounts to a trade off; sacrificing results to get greater speed. It’s not necessary to make this trade off. Change your method -the machine is secondary- and you can have greater speed and better results.

At this level (for sampling, protos and one-offs), the tool you use to cut doesn’t matter as much as method does -unless you care more about speed than results. It doesn’t matter if you cut one or a million, method always takes precedence over machine. In fact, that is how you can test the effectiveness of a given method. You want to trace the items first (see this) before cutting whether you use a rotary cutter, scissors or a straight knife. The tool is a secondary consideration to solve a speed problem. We can’t expect a tool to solve a methods (quality) problem.

If machine cannot solve the method problem, it also cannot solve the Man portion of the problem either. “Man” means we are relying on the skill of an individual to use the tool properly. However, method (tracing out before hand) can reduce the impact of one person’s errors. If you use the pattern edge with a rotary cutter, you’re shaving off tiny slivers each time. It amounts to allowing the rotary cutting user to remake the pattern every time you cut it out. If you shouldn’t give that much power to the person who made the pattern, why would you give that power to anyone who uses it?

A lot of people cannot grow because they can’t find reliable help, meaning, they can’t find anyone who works as well as they do with the same tools. This amounts to expecting man+machine to solve the problem when method is what can save you. If you focus more on upgrading your method, then machine and man aren’t as critical.

PS. No doubt I’m probably to blame for some of the confusion but if I’d written a post called Trace it out before you cut whether you use scissors or a rotary cutter, the message would not have gotten nearly as much traction as Rotary cutters: a guaranteed argument.

How to sew faster pt.1
How to sew faster pt.2
How to sew faster pt.2b
How to sew faster pt.3
Rotary cutters: a guaranteed argument
Poka Yoke pattern making

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  1. lorraine says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I used to work for an old fashioned manufacturer and still use some of the techniques I learned there. When I have a pattern that I intend to use multiple times, I make what used to be called a “lay pattern”. Once I have perfected the fit, I measure out oak tag or other pattern paper as if I were measuring fabric. If the pattern requires 2 1/2 yds of fabric, I use 2 1/2 yds of oak tag. I carefully lay out the pattern pieces onto the oak tag in the correct direction making sure the grainline markings are square with the edges of the oak tag. I weight them down and trace around them. I use an awl to tranfer marks down into the oak tag. I don’t cut the oak tag. Next, I lay the oak tag onto a sheet of plywood and perforate it on the traced lines using a small hole punch or awl. About 4 holes per inch will do it. This is time consuming, but is very worth the effort. Now I have a large peice of oak tag with a perforated pattern that I lay on top of my fabric, square with the grainline. Once it is positioned correctly, I weight it down and tranfer the pattern to the fabric by rubbing the perforations with a blackboard eraser loaded with powdered chalk. The chalk goes through the perforations onto the fabric and when I lift the oak tag off the fabric, my pattern lines are clearly visible. I roll the oak tag up and keep it to use over and over. I never have to trace the pattern again. You can get powdered chalk online or at the hardware store.
    I hope someone finds this useful.

  2. Nancy parr says:

    I READ with interest the importance of tracing then cutting. What is your suggestion for the home sewer to use for tracing on the fabric? My products seem to create drag on the fabric and i fear that i will not get a true cut…

    • kathleen says:

      You probably need another kind of marking tool. We have the same problems. China markers won’t work on everything. Some fabrics, we use chalk (something like a chalkoner), others we use ball point men. Experiment.

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