Industrial sewing instructions pt.3

We had quite a few interesting responses to part two so I thought I’d address those in a post as opposed to a comment so we can move productively from there. First out of the chute is:

Ronke: can you do a diagram for a simple dress? I am quite curious to see what order it should be in…

The short answer is no. A picture is required. Having an illustration is the only way the shirt example could have been done. You can submit a sample illustration though.

Quincunx: (Samantha) …if it’s something that requires marks on the fabric, sew that first, before the marks get worn away?

I suppose the broader issue is handling, to do the least of it as is possible which is another reason I showed the operations as they were. Compared to sample instructions I did not show you (but was using as a counter reference while writing), the instructions had one joining the sides seams first, then the sleeve side seam, then inserting the sleeve into the body -after which one was instructed to do the sleeve vent -all of which amounted to entirely too much handling.

With respect to marking itself, another point to keep in mind is that marking may be done during the cutting process itself with drill holes and won’t be worn away. Similarly, many darts are “marked” by removing the extraneous fabric leaving only a sewing allowance which easily marks the sew line.

Carol: 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. 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.

Carol makes an excellent point, what I showed you was a work process but in industry, these are very often combined with machine and stitch types. These guides are often called “service lines”. I collect and post links to them in the forum. These are very useful because they document the type of machine you need and also, the seam allowance.

Her second point of processing fragile (but not necessarily curved) edges is applicable if it’s a lateral process. Meaning, you have two things to do to a given piece, one involves a fragile point and one is straight. If it doesn’t matter which you handle first, you should do the fragile one first so it isn’t beaten up more having done the straight operation first. I don’t agree that a curved edge is as critical to do first because bias edges don’t fray. However, if there is a chance the curved edge is going to be mishandled or misshapen then you should probably do it first as she mentions.

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

That sound like a good alternative if you have a serial list of operations to perform and you don’t want to mess with creating a flow chart.

Emily: 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.

That’s pretty much the summary of how to do it. The problem we frequently run into is that designers (or is that “designers”?) often don’t see seams. If they can’t see seams when sketching the garment, they don’t see them when specifying construction either.

Reader: 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.

This step surely can’t be skipped but it needs to be done well before hand actual construction to ensure that all the machines are prepared for whatever operation they are set up to do.

Lisa: 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.

Pressing is another good point. For us it depends on the operation. With the right equipment (or dare I say, the right process, scroll down), pre-pressing of the front placket isn’t needed. The same can’t be said for collars and cuffs though. The collars and cuffs are a sub-assembly and amount to a favorite topic of genial argument amongst esteemed colleagues.

Oriole: I was taught to … keep the garment as flat as possible to make sewing easier.

This simple observation is more important than realized and for several reasons. Other than the obvious (simpler sewing) it reduces the need for pressing if pieces are kept flat -do recall that pieces are bundled- and this is critical in production. With a bit of care, some items may not need pressing at all or if they do, perhaps only a light steaming when they come off the line in preparation for bagging and tagging.

Dawn: 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.

This is a big factor in operations -I’m sure you do some organization similar to what I showed if only in your head. Once you have the plan set, you make do based on your constraints. The constraints you mention are what make this process fun (or should I say “fun”?).

Sarah: 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?

This question is more controversial than you’d think because of the issue of sub-assemblies (collar and cuff) so I’ll pass on that altogether. Pretending the sub-assemblies were a non-issue,  it would be interesting to see how this chart would change for a lean cell… Someone could think they would group operations by whether the same machine could do several operations (the yellow boxes) and do those all at once before moving onto the next machine but it wouldn’t work so well if there were more than one person in the pod because given machines would create bottlenecks (even with bumping) -it’s a load leveling problem.

So that’s all I have for now. Feel free to kick it around some more. Thanks everybody!

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  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    I’ve started and thrown away four or five comments on this thread over the past two days but someone has always said it better or more succinctly than I could so my thanks for that. It is definitely a subject worth pondering. In defense of home sewing patterns, not all instructions are worthless. I find many of the McCall’s Palmer and Pletsch patterns to be invaluable when it comes to an ordered sewing, pressing and fitting process. It’s just when you are a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know. When you have a bit more experience you can separate the good from the bad.

  2. We’re still working out our lean manufacturing sequence for our big bras, just starting the trial production runs to get cost-of-labor. We’re planning on cutting all of a size first (it’s a waste of energy repeating markers and cutting), bundling, and then sewing modules of all-one-size start to finish. Three of us working, three machines (until we can get more), but each set for a different process. Need to rough out the flow, then see where bottlenecks or actual elbow-jostling occur.

    Far too much handling, still!

    Avidly watching this!

  3. Sarah_H. says:

    I have been thinking about setting up a pod for lean manufacturing of shirts when the thought occured to me….Shirtmaking is the one garment I know of that has totally robotic factories set up in which the shirts are not touched by a human operator from start to finish. It is also the one garment I know of with affordable custom sources. Just random thoughts.

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