Industrial sewing instructions pt.2

Apologies if this is too elementary but circumstances suggest this entry could be useful. Previously I’d showed you what typical sewing instructions look like but I wonder if a flow chart might be more descriptive of the process in a commercial environment.

The problem with written sewing instructions is that they are linear, sewing directions necessarily start with one, two, three etc which could lead people to think one must do it in precisely that order. Sometimes you do but not always. Or maybe even hardly ever. In the typical sewing set up, depending on headcount, there can be a variety of operations related to a shirt (for example) going on, all at the same time.

Consider the illustration below. With a flow chart, I can show you that step one (yellow) is a variety of activities. All of these operations can be performed at the same time, none having any bearing on anything else.


Step two is pink -now things have narrowed down quite a bit but still, the two separate pink operations can be done at the same time, independent of each other.

The subsequent steps (green, purple etc) are pretty scripted, there isn’t much variation from this point -unless of course, you’re making a shirt with different features than this one.

This illustration is a far cry from

  1. sew front dart
  2. sew back dart
  3. sew collar
  4. sew collar band…

…because it leads you to think it must be done in that order when it’s not necessarily so if all of those activities can be going on at once. This is similar to illustration 4.16 on pg.127 in the industrial sewing section of my book.

Mr F-I asked me how you know what the sewing order is and I didn’t know how to answer him. With a shirt like this, you do whatever has to be done to the front (sew placket, darts, pocket if applicable), repeat whatever with the back (maybe a yoke), then you sew the shoulder seams and add the collar (really, you don’t want to sew the side seams before you add the collar if you can help it), sew on the sleeves -having first made the placket on the sleeve ends because it’s harder to fiddle with it once it’s joined to the shirt- then sew the side seams of the shirt and sleeves in one pass, before you add the cuff. The last step is just clean up work of top stitching, making button holes, hemming and what not.

Anyway, if you have any visionary insight on rules one could use to determine sewing order, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to know. Thanks.

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  1. Ronke says:

    can you do a diagram for a simple dress? I am quite curious to see what order it should be in – I make mine in the order that will get the dress done fastest! whatever that is! I have nothing written in concrete!

  2. Quincunx says:

    Hm. . .if it’s something that requires marks on the fabric, sew that first, before the marks get worn away? That’s all I have. I don’t even know if a tuck that becomes a dart (or a dart with tuck-like parallel legs for part of its length? it looks like a sharpened pencil in unsewn outline, anyhow) would be allowed to be used in a production ready pattern, but figuring out how to mark it was easy enough, and once the marks were done the notches were barely necessary*–but without those little dots, phew!

    *Which, upon reflection, doesn’t seem entirely right either, but on a regular dart they line up the angle of approach to the sewing line, and here there is NO angle at the top of the dart/tuck/(dearest clf, commentator to “Tucks vs. pleats pt. 2”, thank you many times for your excerpts from your texts)/’dart tuck’. I lost the end of that sentence. Notches! yes. The marks did all the work of marking the perpendicular ‘angle’. The extra wedge of fabric outside of the seam allowance reflected the angle of the darted portion of the ‘dart tuck’. The notches, as a guide to the sewing line, were redundant. Better to be redundant than contradictory, I suppose.

  3. If you are not yet at the point of a dedicated industrial machine for each step, you also cluster assemblies using the same foot and needle/stitch setting. A decade or three ago I used a home machine for shirt construction that involved single needle, double needle, straight stitch and zigzag (to overcast edges – this was pre-serger).

    The other consideration is that if you’re still learning to handle pieces without distortion, complete the ones with fragile/curved edges sooner than more stable, straight ones.

    I did the collar first and then sleeve vents, but that’s only shuffling the yellow boxes.

    The optimal flow chart I evolved was identical to Kathleen’s, above.

  4. Liz says:

    I’ve always hated that lock-step order in patterns.

    Even with home sewing patterns, I’d renumber the steps, using the same number several times in the same way you use colors in your flow chart.

    Steps that can be done with only one cut piece I numbered 0. These were darts, pleats, tucks, patch pocket prep, etc. 1 was for adding pieces to major sections: welt pockets, pants pockets, … And so on.

    The order of sewing seemed pretty obvious to me, but I did have those crappy home-sewing pattern instructions as a starting point. Not that I ever followed them exactly.

  5. I love your flowchart! I might go start making them for my own stuff! (even for items I’ve made over and over, I sometimes forget and do stuff in the wrong order if I don’t write myself instructions) A flowchart like that seems like it would be much more useful/flexible than serial instructions, because it’s equally useful for one person making one item from start to finish, for one person making several of the same thing and batching some parts of it, and for multiple people doing different parts of it at the same time.

    Three rules: Anything that’s stuck onto the outside through only the outside layer gets done first. Anything that would make some other operation either impossible or a pain in the posterior gets done after said other operation. Of things that could theoretically be attached to the main body of something in any order, start with the parts that are small and/or have straight seams, and end with parts that are large or curved, so that anything that makes the piece more awkward to maneuver gets done later rather than earlier.

    I’ve definitely found that sometimes it’s a bit of a logic puzzle to figure out which order to do things in, especially for designs with multiple compartments, bells and whistles, stuff sewn into seams in more than one place, etc. I bet making a flowchart would help with that, too.

  6. Reader says:

    For a tested pattern, these instructions look fine to me. I was taught that on a shirt anything sewn at the flat stage could be sewn in any order. Once you sew the yokes to the shirt back, an order imposes itself.

    I was also taught that with a new fabric and thread it’s a good idea to start with a cuff to see how the machine sews.

    If you stay stitch, it’s easier to do it after the pieces have been cut out, although I’ve seen it done before the collar was attached.

  7. Lisa Blank says:

    I recently sewed two shirts for DH, and this is exactly how I approached it with the addition of back yoke and front pocket. It seems so logical to sit at the machine and sew as much as you can before getting up to press things that need it or whatever.

    As a hobbyist, I have an operation that comes before the line of yellow boxes, and that’s pressing. I press the front plackets into place. I press the sleeve plackets using my template. I press anything that needs a pressed fold before it can be sewn, but maybe that need not be mentioned here, since this entry is about sewing operations.

    I agree with Carol that steps should be grouped based on machine foot, etc. to minimize change-outs. Fortunately, for a shirt the only foot change I need is for flat-felling the sleeve/side seam.

  8. Grace says:

    I’m only a hobby sewer and a software prototyper. Research means never having to do actual production. ;-)

    Nevertheless, there are similarities.

    Why operate on a bigger unit than you have to? Sew (or code) in modules. Think about what has to connect to what, and how you can isolate them for your convenience.

    When should you connect them to check the fit? Unlike software, you’d do that only on the prototype garment, and then sew the production units in isolated modules as long as you can.

  9. oriole says:

    I was taught to sew the smallest pieces first, and keep the garment as flat as possible to make sewing easier. So the chart above does that, and that is way I sew a shirt together. The shirt stays flat until the side seams are joined.

  10. Dawn says:

    For our production, the order of steps is determined by the machines that are threaded up and how many people are working the pod. The idea is to do all the operations possible before changing stitch functions, adjusting tensions, or re-threading to change colors. Our products are made of multiple types of fabric though – we’re not making shirts.

  11. Tina says:

    This flowchart is really helpful and is now going into my FI file for future reference. I’m much more of a visual person and flowcharts often are much more helpful than plain text.

  12. Sarah_H. says:

    I can look at the flow chart and visualize how this would go through a traditional factory, where garments go through with everything of one size/color in a bundle. How would the flow chart work in a lean manufacturing setting, with one or only a few garments going through at once? I am not questioning if it would work, but how the chart might be applied to one setting and then to the other.

  13. Kelly says:

    I really like the idea of having a visual flow of steps. I like to have an overview of a process before i begin the details, and the flow chart “kills two birds with one stone” – overview, and detailed steps.

  14. PamSD says:

    I love this flow chart.

    I can’t believe with all the years of sewing I never thought of it. It’s a nice simple way to translate my pattern construction to others. I am sooooooooooo going to be doing this in the future as I detest writing instructions.

  15. patsijean says:

    The flow chart describes the way I make a shirt. After all the futzy stuff is done the sewing goes quite quickly.

  16. Jim Nelson says:

    “sew the side seams of the shirt and sleeves in one pass”

    That’s what I was after, thanks. Never watched Mom through the whole process, but now starting to design fabrics to be made into clothes by seamstresses, thought I ought to know how they’re put together.

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