Sewing in snippets


Before my son was born there was a lot more time to sew. Mr Wardrobe would go out to play club cricket on summer Saturdays, and I’d have a lovely long sew-in all afternoon and half the evening, immersing myself in fabric and fitting for the day, half-listening to TMS. And one evening a week I used to go to a sewing class at my local FE college for a full three hours of sewing with like-minded ladies. Bliss.

These days, as I scurry between work, childcare and chores (to a soundtrack of ‘Mumh-maaaaay’ rather than cricket commentary) I now have what’s described as ‘time confetti‘: unpredictable snippets of five minutes here and ten minutes there in between conference calls and pre-school pickups.

And my dedicated sewing space that used to be in what’s now my son’s room has upped sticks to the home office, so I have to pack my machine and fabric away after each session.

If your sewing time is similarly fragmented, here are some things I find I can still do even when time is short.

If I’ve only got five minutes

  • Start a project bag or box to collect all the things to make my next project
  • Go through my notions and choose the buttons and thread
  • Neatly cut out one pattern piece*
  • Load a bobbin
  • Stitch or finish a seam, or two or three if they’re short
  • Sew on a button
  • Descale the iron

*Once I’ve laid out and pinned my pattern pieces to my fabric, I cut around each one roughly with my shears so I can stack them on top of each other and pack it all away quickly if I need to. I then come back to the stack and cut each one out neatly, adding the markings for that piece before I move on to the next one.

If I’ve only got ten minutes

  • Go through a sewing book or magazine to look for a pattern
  • Cut out interfacing or lining pieces
  • Fire up the iron and press as many seams as I can
  • Try out different stitches on some scrap fabric and perfect the tension – then write the settings down in case I forget later
  • Try on a toile and snap some quick mirror selfies so I can assess the fit later
  • Clean the lint out of my machine and cuddle oil it

I can’t say I’m managing a garment a week (I can still dream!) but I am spending more time sewing and less time just wishing I was sewing.

Interested in speeding up the sewing itself? There are some great posts out there by other sewists with tips for sewing faster.

Advice from Colette on what we can all learn from industrial sewing

Tips from Craftsy, Melly Sews, Tilly and the Buttons and Lladybird on sewing more quickly.

What sorts of sewing tasks do you tackle if you only have five or ten minutes? And am I the only person left in the entire sewing community who still uses pins?




Overlocker tips

My Husqvarna Viking Huskylock s15 definitely rules the roost in my sewing space

If you own an overlocker (also known as a serger), then you probably love how quickly it sews and finishes your seams. You probably also find yourself swearing at it at other times. Here are some tips I use to help you get your overlocker purring along rather than juddering to a halt.

Thread the loopers first

When you have no option but to start threading from scratch, I always begin with the upper looper, then the lower looper, then the right and left needles. I find this works more often than doing it any other way. It does says this in the manual for my machine, but it took me over a year to notice that and heed the advice.

Pass each thread between the presser foot and the blade

After you’ve threaded it up, pass each thread between the presser foot and the blade (as you take the thread to the back of the stitch plate before you make your stitch chain). Layla, the tutor on the overlocker workshop I took at Guthrie & Ghani, gave the class this tip – and I’ve no idea why it works but it does!

Don’t bother lifting the presser foot when you sew

To put the fabric under the machine, I usually just lift the toe of the presser foot with my finger, rather than groping for the lever all the time. And because you stitch off the end of the fabric most of the time, you won’t need to lift it to take the fabric out either. In fact, the only time I do lift the presser foot with the lever is to get the threads in between the tension discs.

Sadly you do need to clean and oil it sometimes

Because overlockers work so quickly, and get covered in fibres all the time you will need to clean it out regularly (a vacuum cleaner will do the job), change the needles now and then (no, they’re not supposed to be level) and potentially even replace the stationary cutter blade if the fabric isn’t cutting cleanly any more.

So you might as well keep your manual handy and set a reminder to show it some love after every three projects. I’ve discovered mine makes a hideous shuddering noise that shakes the whole house if I forget to oil it…

The hilariously cheesy cover photo on the manual for my overlocker. This lady looks so pleased to be cuddling this machine…

When the sewing gets tough

If all your efforts fail, you can always take it for a service at your local repair centre (or even better, track down a repairer who’ll come and visit you). I’m booking mine in for a service next month – after three years of hard use I think it’s time for a check-up.

Have you got a great tip for bending your overlocker to your will?


A space to sew, and everything in that space


Fabric stacked on open shelves
The built-in shelving in the office is great for fabric, patterns and notions

Sewing room envy. Which of us hasn’t spent a Tuesday night gradually turning green looking at pictures of perfectly stacked fabric and beautifully arranged ribbons on Pinterest?

No? Then this post isn’t for you.

Unless Mr Wardrobe and I win the lottery, we’re not about to gain an extra room in our house any time soon, so my sewing space will always have to share with another function. For the past three years or so that’s been the dining room. It seemed like time for a change.

We’ve moved my sewing space into our home office and replaced our old seated desks with a standing desk that’s also the ideal height for a cutting table.

It’s an IKEA workbench made from the Finnvard base and a Klimpen top (so I don’t have to worry too much about scratching it with pins). This does mean that Mr Wardrobe and I (we both work from home, together1!) will have to using our computers and my sewing machine standing up, so we’ll see how that goes.

The existing built-in shelving in the office is ideal for fabric and notions and we’ve moved the shelves around to make room to stash my sewing machine and overlocker.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, do you have any tips on storage containers for thread or patterns? And have you ever used your machine standing up?


How do you find time to sew?

Are you a super-productive sewist who turns out a garment (or several) every week?

I’ll let you into a secret: I’m not.

A second pair of these was very quick – definitely the speediest thing I’ve made this year

Since the start of 2015, I think I’ve completed:

  • One duffel coat for my little boy
  • A pair of pyjama bottoms (the same as these) for my husband
  • A skirt and a dress for me
  • I’ve re-worked a dress I made a few years ago (pictures coming soon…)
  • I’ve repaired two skirts, darned a jumper and sewed on a few buttons
  • I did a spot of embroidery on holiday and I’ve run up three cushion covers for our living room.

Not exactly a huge body of work, is it?

I get little pangs of envy when I read about bloggers who can put together a beautifully finished garment in one evening. So I’ve read Tilly’s series of posts on sewing productivity, and Tasia’s tips, and Lauren’s. I can’t swear I’m following all their advice, but I’m trying!

I reckon I get roughly seven hours a week to spend on sewing, and sewing-related things. I spend some of that writing this blog, and some browsing and enjoying other blogs, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. As for the rest? I reckon I might just be a slow sewer – it took me over two hours to cut out a new version of Vogue 8379 on Friday!

How much time do you get to sew in an average week, and do you have any tips for a slow sewer like me?