22 August 2009

TUTORIAL: The art of assembly line sewing

I meant to post an item about this when I was working on the newest coffee sleeves, but I forgot.

When making several similar items all at the same time, use some simple strategies to maximize your time and effort.

Even though I'm not a cottage industry seamstress, I have experience in constructing multiples of many things. My granddaughter (Caille, aka "C2"), my mom and I make new Christmas stockings for everyone in the family each year on an assembly line system. I have been making cloth shopping bags by the dozen to give away to my friends and use myself. I make matching shirts for my grandsons.

When my Mom is visiting we have more than one machine out at a time. But assembly line sewing can be done by an individual, too.

Your system should start in the fabric store (or your personal stash). Buy/choose enough materials to make several copies of your project. The more complimentary/similar hues, the faster the assembly process with be in the end.

Wash and dry all fabrics (don't mix light/dark colors, of course). If you skip the wash/dry, you'll end up with a finished item (whatever you're making) that looks amateurish. New fabrics have sizing on them. Most of what I use is cotton and it shrinks. Always wash/dry the fabric first.

Now, cut all the fabrics at once. If you are using a pattern, make some tracing copies of the pieces if necessary. If using a rotary cutter and mat, cutting everything at once helps me keep my thoughts organized. I make fewer silly mistakes. (We all make silly mistakes!)

After I cut all of the fabrics, I cut any required notches and make all of the markings I need for darts, trims, etc. Again, doing all the marking at once keeps my head in the game and I make fewer mistakes.

Figure out what thread color you'll use on each. It sounds trivial, but the fewer times you have to change the thread on your machine, the more efficient you're going to be. Arrange your fabric in order -- a stack that will allow you to go from one item to the next with the fewest thread changes.

While sewing, I do a set of actions on each set of materials, then move on to the next set. For instance, sew the side seams on all of them, then take them all to the ironing board to press at once, then sew all the shoulder seams, then take them all to the ironing board at once. Sew all the straps at the same time, do all the embroidery at the same time, etc. Take the time to give it some up-front thought. You want to maximize the assembly line actions, while minimizing thread changes and minimizing the number of times you have to change any machine attachments (like an embroidery bed) or feet.

Sometimes my mind tells me "it's taking so long to get a bag done." If I make things one at a time, I get more immediate satisfaction with *a* finished item. But really, I'm doing it so much faster. And when it's done, there are *lots* of them done.

Happy sewing!


  1. This is an awesome thread. I have been trying to get my daughter's diapers done and this has helped. I had the fabric all cut, but pinning all at once and the sewing the edges all at once then doing the elastic will make this project much more efficient. Thanks for the motivation!

  2. Thank you for that note! Happy sewing!