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Quick Tips for Sewing Under the Gun

Use a timer to monitor your breaks. I love this handy Klockis timer/clock/thermometer/alarm, $4.99 at Ikea.com. 

It happens to every sewer. Suddenly you realize there are X days before Y project is due, and you won’t get any Z’s if you want to finish on time.

I still have nightmares about the time I promised to finish seven pairs of pajama pants for a little girl’s slumber party – with two sets of hemmed ruffles on each pant leg – in one night. I got one hour of sleep!

Then there was the day I desperately hand-beaded a prom gown for a photo shoot, while riding the train from Connecticut to New York. As I frantically grappled with beads and thread on a rocking, jam-packed commuter train, I thought “Never again!” 

Whether it’s a promised project, a work deadline, or a looming event, sometimes you have to sew fast and under pressure. I’ve found that if I prepare before I start sewing under the gun, I can conserve time and effort, minimize mistakes, keep myself motivated, and alleviate the stress of sewing fast.

Six tips for deadline sewing

Wind extra bobbins in every color thread you’ll need to use. It’s a common practice to wind a few bobbins in preparation for sewing a project when you don’t want to pause later to do so. I try to consider whether I need additional colors. Sometimes I know I’ll be using one thread color for construction seams and another color for topstitching and edgestitching.

Schedule breaks. Decide ahead of time how frequently you’ll take a break and how long your breaks will be. I’ve found that a 20-minute break every hour and a half means that I make progress, and I have a chance to rest my eyes.

Prepare a reward. This can be a yummy snack, a chilled glass of wine, or a marathon of Real Housewives of (anywhere). Just designate your reward, and save it for when you have finished (not almost finished).

Invest in a headset. This is so helpful if you need to make or accept phone calls while you are sewing. I bought a Motorola Bluetooth headset so I could keep on pressing, sewing, or cutting patterns while talking.

Set a soundtrack, but don’t watch a movie. I used to have the TV on in the background while I sewed, with a movie or a Netflix show. However, I found I would pause to watch scenes every now and then. You can’t waste time on a deadline. Now, I pick some energetic albums to listen to while I keep sewing away.

Get set at every sewing “station.” I finally got hip to having must-have notions at three key locations in my sewing room. I used to keep pins and sharp embroidery scissors only near my sewing machine. Then I realized that I frequently removed pins and clipped threads at the ironing board, so I added the notions there as well. Lastly, it occurred to me that I also needed pins and sharp scissors at the cutting table.

Now, with tools at each location, I really feel prepared. The pins rotate through the three pinholders, and I’m not always running back and forth for sharp scissors – although it took a little self-training to learn to put the scissors down where I picked them up and not carry them to the next location.

How do you sew under the gun? 

These are just my go-to tips for sewing fast, and I’m sure many of you have great pointers on this topic. How do you cope with sewing deadlines? Share your time- and stress-saving tips with us and your fellow Threads readers. 


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  1. Novah | | #1

    Nice, Good entry ;)

  2. User avater
    Preka | | #2

    Interesting advice :)

  3. SuperiorLiz | | #3

    I once sat and hand stitched beads and additional narrow gathered-as-I-sewed Ribbon onto the front of a Blouse/top to go under a special suit that I was to wear at a College Re-Union in England; I had a dental floss lid as a 'cutter, no scissors allowed. No sleep on that Red Eye across the Atlantic! The skirt was the original chain stitch embroidered Linen, the Jacket had the chain stitching removed to make it into plain fabric, then the top had the front covered with narrow ribbon gathered and frilled and ruffled to outline the Chain Stitchery with Beads. Altogether it was quite effective, especially as the fabric had been Bargain Basement Special; a remnant, and the 'ribbon' came from a yard of highly ornate Upholstery Trim unravelled; actually two yards; as I used 5 out of the 6 shades from two one yard pieces. Sometimes you have to look at what is out there and see possibilities. My College, btw, was "celebrating" being closed down after 50 years of training teachers in many aspects of Art from Drama to Music, Needlecrafts to Pottery, and being a Needlecraft Major I had to go back in something out of the ordinary. Bretton Hall College; an amazing place.

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