How do I make time to sew?
If I had a dollar for every time finding time to sew came up in a sewing forum, Facebook Group, or other sewcial media, I’d have quite the fat stack of Washingtons.
Making time to sew doesn’t involve practicing witchcraft, bending the space-time continuum, or even employing a live-in nanny (although on-call child care would go a loooong way toward sewing productivity).
Here’s the secret: Sewists who make time to sew have found systems of prioritization and organization that work for them. They know when they’re going to sew and they’re ready to act when the time comes.
If finding time to sew is one of your chief sewing challenges, here are time-creating steps and free productivity tools to get your own sewing system up and running. You don’t need money to make time to sew!
1.) Make a Plan
Plan your work and work your plan, fellow sewists! Once you decide on a project, review the pattern instructions and write down every step — every thing you will spend time on, from selecting fabric to tidying your sewing space after you’re finished. Every. Last. Thing.
Here’s a (mostly) chronological list of steps for almost any sewing project. I grouped steps into three stages: Pre-Game, Game Time, and Post-Game. Modify to your heart’s content.
Cut out paper pattern pieces.
Cut out fabric pattern pieces.
Adjust muslin – paper pattern adjustments.
Make second muslin.
Sew shoulder seams.
Sew side seams.
Set in sleeves.
Sew skirt side seams.
Attach skirt to bodice.
Sew front pants unit.
Sew back pants unit.
Sew pants side seam.
Sew pants inseam.
Put away paper pattern and pattern pieces.
Pick up sewing room.
Glow with pride.
A free tool I sometimes use to organize a sewing project is Trello. The thing I like about Trello is that it’s somewhat visual in that you can drag to-do’s and steps around. The Android app for Trello is nice, too.
If you’re more of a spreadsheet soul, there’s always freebie Google Sheets. Gotta love rows and columns, and you can get freaky with sorting, should that be your thing.
There’s also a number of free sewing planners floating around the internets and Pinterest. Check out Seamwork’s planner, or this planner from The Homes I Have Made, or this guy by Positively Splendid. Or take inspiration from any planner you like to create a doc that works hard for you. Heck, you even could use Sie Macht’s holiday gift sewing planner, if you please.
Regardless of your sewing planning tool, it’s important to capture all steps of your project. That’s because you need to estimate how long each step will take.
Be honest and generous when estimating time. Trust me, it feels worse to miss these arbitrary “deadlines” than to pad the time allotment and make your deadline.
To summarize: Write down all your steps, and then next to each step, write down how long you think it will take.
2.) Schedule Sewing Time
My favorite free scheduling tool is Google Calendar. I live and die by my Google Cal, and I am so much more productive and on task when I have work time and deadlines documented — even if they have to flex.
Now that you know how long each step of your sewing project will take, begin blocking time on your calendar to crush these tasks. If you have a drop-dead date for your project, work backward from that day. If there’s no deadline, set aside time for each step until there are no more steps.
If you live with a significant other, family, or roommates, invite them to your scheduled work time so it’s blocked on their calendar, too. Obviously they’re not welcome to chill in your sewing zone while you work. But, now they will know when you’re unavailable.
Scheduling sewing time and blocking it on someone else’s calendar as a reminder may seem a little formal. I argue this level of formality is a signal to yourself (and the people with whom you share a space) that your sewing practice is a priority.
When you’re stupid busy and forced to examine how you spend every hour of your day, you get protective of and strategic about your time. What gets scheduled, gets done.
It’s no surprise, considering what a hot topic making time to sew is, that there are many books on the subject. Here are some of the best-loved books on sewing with greater efficiency. Some of these publications are on the old side, so keep your eyes peeled for them at thrift stores and rummage sales. That’s where I’ve found TONS of great sewing books. I can’t stay away from the sewing book section at a second-hand store.
No Time to Sew: Fast & Fabulous Patterns & Techniques for Sewing a Figure-Flattering Wardrobe Sewlebrity Sandra Betzina guides you through fool-proof, fast-sewing patterns and techniques.
Power Sewing Step-by-Step I have this book, and it teaches many streamlined sewing techniques.
Sew Fast, Faster, Fastest: Timesaving Techniques and Shortcuts for Busy Sewers This reference book promises “expert advice that shows readers how to get professional results in less time.”
The Complete Book of Sewing Shortcuts This book by couture sewing educator Claire B. Shaeffer features more than 800 step-by-step drawings.
Sewing Secrets from the Fashion Industry: Proven Methods To Help You Sew Like the Pros I also own this book; it’s an illuminating peek into techniques from the garment-sewing industry where time is money.
10-20-30 Minutes to Sew OG sewist Nancy Zieman shares how much sewing you can accomplish in 10, 20, or 30 minutes. I’ve never seen a Zieman book I haven’t loved.
3.) Protect Your Sewing Time
Here are some tips and tools to help you make the most of your sewing time.
- Organize projects with re-purposed (i.e., free!) containers. Bust out Ziploc bags, totes, boxes, bins, baskets, etc. There’s SOMETHING at your house to wrangle the fabric, notions, and tools necessary for your sewing project. Do not waste time on a roundup; have everything you need in one place so you can start sewing ASAP.
- Ban distractions. Particularly, don’t get sucked into social media. If that means putting your phone out of reach, do it! When I want to work but it’s too quiet (and the quiet is a distraction), I go to YouTube (free!) for white noise — fireplace, water — or lyric-free music — lo-fi hip-hop, binaural beats.
- Set a timer. Are you familiar with the Pomodoro technique? You set a timer for 25 (or however many) minutes, work until the timer goes off, and take a brief (five minute) break. Then you do another work sesh (and break and work and so forth). I give myself one task to complete in a work sesh and race the timer to finish it. My favorite free timer is Online Clock because it’s dead simple to use and when the alarm goes off, there’s a really sophomoric meme or comic that never fails to crack me up.
- Work ahead. If you want to free up time for sewing, do your future self a favor and get your chores done early. Batch make freezer meals. Turn over dinner to Chef Slow Cooker. Run a bunch of errands at once. Streamline crappy (not-sewing) stuff so you can apply “found” time to awesome (sewing) stuff!
What to Do About Kids
Here’s the big question: How does one protect her sewing time if she’s responsible for children? It’s the mother’s eternal question.
As I see it, you’ve got two options:
1.) Get rid of them.
Not like murder them get rid of them! Get rid of them in the sense that they’re out of sight and out of your hands.
The most popular option is sewing after your littles are in bed. Children sleep every day, leaving you some time to sew. (If you have a baby or challenging sleepers, it may not be very much time, but it’s something.)
You can call on your partner or other family members to supervise your progeny. Grandparents often are especially happy to hang with kiddos.
You also can barter for sewing time with friends or neighbors. They watch your kids, and you do something for them — watch their children, perform housework, sew them something, etc. To be negotiated.
These three options for offloading your kids require zero dollars!
2.) Sew with them.
Your sewing success and sanity while sewing with children around depend on your unique kids.
I suggest stocking up on entertainment from the library — movies, books, magazines, activity kits, games, audio books, etc. All free at your local library!
Work in VERY small chunks; I’m talking one seam at a time. And be prepared to stop. Sewing with children requires a shift in expectations and rolling with the punches.
Finally, wear headphones, but don’t turn on the sound. (Everyone has a random pair of earbuds stuffed in a drawer, right?) You’ll still hear what’s going on, but your crew will leave you alone. This is a life hack for the ages.
4.) Accept Your Limitations
Don’t get down on yourself for falling behind in your sewing practice. It’s YOUR practice, and it will take exactly as long as YOU need it to take. You don’t sew in a sweatshop.
Free time in your life ebbs and flows. When I think about all the free time I had before kiddos… sigh. (For those of you who aren’t parents, y’all have NO IDEA how much time you actually have on your hands.)
If sewing is important to you (and if you’ve made it this far, I’m sure it is!), you’ll learn how to make time to sew by maximizing the precious minutes you do have. Stay organized and on task, and you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish.
Over to you: How do YOU make time to sew? What’s your MVP productivity tool for your sewing practice? Please leave a comment for other sewists!
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