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Finding Time to Sew

JanO | Posted in General Discussion on

Dear Sewing Sisters,

This is a simple and complex problem at the same time.  I work 40 hrs. a week.  Before I had this job, I worked as a theatrical seamstress.  I miss sewing and when I’m in my sewing room, I call it the “Sancutary”.  I feel my life is too full now of obligations, and my opportunities to sew are fewer and fewer.  Sewing really re-charges my batteries.  Are there any out there like me?  Do you “plan”  time to sew?  Do you keep working on projects?  I just keep buying cloth with the intention of making something, but it just keeps piling up.  Any suggestions?




  1. kai230 | | #1

    Jan, one thing I've tried w/success is to use the unused cloth as table coverings. Sorry, it's not a way to find more time to sew, but it is a way to use beautiful cloth. It's worked for me from time to time as my taste in fabric changes. Another thought is to hang them on walls or use as a backdrop for a painting. Lastly, use to wrap gifts. I know, this is not the info either of us hoped for! Best wishes!

    1. JanO | | #8


      Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.



  2. rjf | | #2

    I don't sew so much anymore but I remember when I did lots of sewing around a parttime job, graduate courses, 3 kids, 1 cat, 1 husband.  From this perspective, it seemed to work pretty much without trouble and I realize now that I was very lucky that I could do that.  What I remember is planning projects at odd times, driving to the grocery store, during commercials, etc. and eventually the whole thing seemed to be planned.  The actual doing didn't take that long once I knew what I wanted to do and the time involved for each.  I think a major part was that I felt confident that I could do exactly what I planned.  The projects I didn't like so much withered in the sewing basket until I moved them permanently to the attic. 

    These days I weave and it seems harder to get started because I'm not so confident about weaving but when I get a project firmly in mind, I get very single-minded about doing it.  I don't think this helps much but short of broken legs, don't let anyone get in your way.  Everyone deserves time for themselves.        rjf 

    1. JanO | | #9


      Your response made me smile!  Sewing is one of the few things that just rejuvenates my soul - I shouldn't have to "find" time to do it, I should just do it.

      Thanks for your kind reply,


  3. marijke | | #3


    I work fulltime also. Right now most of my projects are clothes for my two 3-year-old daughters. I don't have a separate sewing room, but most of the time the dining room is not usable for eating because my sewing stuff is all over. (I clean it up only when we have company, we eat in the kitchen.) I try to cut out and do the more complicated things on a weekend or after the kids are in bed, but I often sew while the kids play house underneath the dining room table. They occasionally pull up a chair to watch me sew. I also try to get them involved in choices about fabric and buttons for their clothes. (They love getting new clothes and are willing to let me sew as long as it's for them!)

    My husband does a lot of the cooking, so I often use that time to sew a few seams. Mostly, it's getting a few minutes here and there for the simple seams and doing the work that requires more attention (and no kids tugging at my arms) after my daughters are in bed or during nap-time on weekends. Most of my sewing right now is fairly simple, i.e. I haven't attempted a tailored jacket in some time. By doing things that aren't at the top end of my skills, I keep the sewing low-stress.

    There's a book by Nancy Zieman (Nancy's Notions) called "5-10-15 minutes to sew." It has ideas for breaking sewing projects into segments you can do in little bits of time here and there. (I don't own the book, but the concept is similar to my strategy.)

    Hope you can find a little sewing time!


    1. JanO | | #10

      Thank you so much, Marijke!  I will have to try that.

      I remember how much fun it was sewing for my kids!  They are now 33 and 26!  They loved what I made for them, too!


  4. JulieP25 | | #4

    Jan, I get up an hour before anyone else. The hour is spent sewing, it recharges my batteries and gives me a great outlook for the day. Also choosing simpler projects and breaking things down to a few minutes at a time helps. I also use my lunch time (1/2 hour) to cut out fabrics. I often use the conference room, it's never booked at my lunch time and my boss said o.k. I do not always get to sew everyday but most of the time I do. I get a surprizing amount of projects completed this way. If you are lucky enough to have a separate room to sew, you can leave things and go back. I also organize each project and do not start another until I'm finished. I try not to look at my fabric stash as I find it overwhelmes me. I use a plastic container to keep my project together. I can the just put on the lid and stop. I know lots of sewers who cut out several things at the same time and work on them all. I cannot seem to motivate myself that way. Also my sewing area is much too small for production work. It then looks and gets messy which in turn makes me clean instead of sewing. I guess what I've been trying to say is maybe one project at a time and find a small bit of time for yourself. I also use a timer set for the one hour. I have had to train myself to stop at the beep. Jules

    1. JanO | | #11

      Oh wow, Jules!  I couldn't stop at the beep, either!

      I have a sewing room, but with shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry, it leaves me little time on the weekends to sew.  Perhaps I should look at how better to schedule these things.

      Thanks for the advice!


  5. SisterT | | #5


    I found something that has helped me a lot.  It is a book by Julia Cameron, "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity."  It is not geared toward any particular religious tradition.  The premise of the book is that we are busy, but we also need to give that creative self some time and expression.  Her artistic expression is writing, but I think there is plenty of cross-over to sewing.  I would suggest that you find it in a bookstore and leaf through the intro and first chapter.  It got me beyond  "find a simple project and just do that" to actually finding time to explore andplay during the week.  I am only a couple of weeks into the program, but I am liking it a alot.

    Sr. Tracey

    1. JanO | | #12

      Sr. Tracey,

      What a marvelous suggestion!  That is just about what I need at this point - learning to make time for things that matter most.  I will definitely look up that book.

      The guilt of "having" to do things and "wanting" to do things always leaves me in limbo, and then nothing gets done!  I'm slowly beginning to realize that it's the quality of my experiences that counts, and not how many things I can do in a weekend.

      Thanks so much!


  6. carolfresia | | #6

    Jan, I sympathize completely. I used to sew at least an hour a day, sometimes more, before I was a Threads editor. At the time I also had just one child and a shorter commute and more flexible work hours, so it was easier to build in time to sew every day. I'm now lucky to manage a couple of hours a week, and have worked hard to get to a place where I can consider that "sufficient." And working here at the Threads office is definitely a double-edged sword. I'm around inspiring people and materials all day long, and have now got enough future projects planned to keep me busy for the rest of my earthly existence. And yet I confess that I often feel frustrated because I'm not able to spend more time in my own sewing space actually realizing each project.

    Although I haven't come up with any real solution, I have rethought my approach to sewing. Sometimes, I just plan a bunch of quick, utilitarian projects that get me into the sewing room and handling fabric and running my machines. They don't take a lot of thought or creativity, but do provide opportunities to try new techniques or, at the very least, to enjoy the feel of the fabric and the gratification of completing a usable project. Other times, I launch into something more complex that will stretch me a bit more, and requires more attention and time. But you have to remember that with these projects, you're just going to have to live with the fact there you'll be interrupted, not get to work on them when you're at your freshest, maybe not meet your sewing deadline, etc. etc.

    One of my friends has a motto: "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing halfway," which I've realized is not bad advice. (Subject to debate, of course, and perfectionists won't be able to accept it at all!). But it works for those of us with a lot on our plates: if you care enough to want to do something, just do it, and don't require yourself to be perfect every time at everything. Just enjoy the process, enjoy learning something new that matters to you. Otherwise, you'll just sit there and do nothing--and that's worse! Everyone has her own "required perfection level," of course, and you have to find your own: how low can you go and still like what you make? How high can you go before you start stressing out about every stitch and not having any fun? Finding that middle ground is important.  

    One thing that helps jump-start me: to have a few patterns that are tried and true, that I can just cut out and sew up quickly in some new, invigorating fabric. It's like a warm-up exercise, and you end up with a wearable garment too.


    1. JanO | | #13


      I thought when I posted this that everyone would think I was nuts, and would get no reply.  Thanks so much for sharing with me!

      Oddly enough, I work in the Education Department at a major art museum, and I have inspiration all around me. I daily see the work of great colorists, artists who struggled to perfect their technique, artists who re-invented themselves over the years, artists who died without recognition in their lifetime.  My problems look puny next to their greatness.  Yet I see color, design, materials used in creative ways, and I know I could go there, too, given the chance.

      I need to re-think all of this; you've all made me feel so much better!

      Many thanks, Jan

    2. JulieP25 | | #22

      Thanks Carol for the great advice. I love the use of a tired and true pattern too.

      Jan, I also have a footnote to add, my other vice- Internet. It also takes away valuable sewing time. I do need a balance of both. I also sympathyize finding time is hard and we don't always get to sew. I also changed careers, found I'm twice as busy now than I ever was before. I don't get to sew everyday but I do aim for once a week and I'm flexible about the day.   Jules

  7. stitchmd | | #7

    I also used Nancy's 5-10-15 minutes method to get back to sewing with two small kids and a job. The way she suggests organizing projects really does use time more efficiently. I could also only sew when the kids were asleep, which my kids never liked doing. They could never hang around and play with scraps or anything. They just had to handle my materials and use the machine. So all my materials had to be fully unpacked and repacked out of sight for each session. Still, with only 15-20 minutes a few times a week I made progress and finished things eventually and fed my habit!

    If you analyze your day you can find little scraps of time to sew, especially if you can leave things set up. If dinner is cooking you can run off a couple of seams between stirring. Choose a project, toss the fabric in your next wash load and go from there. I just know you'll feel better.

    1. JanO | | #14


      You are so resourceful; I'm not dealing with kids anymore, just the man-child I married 30 years ago and an underactive thyroid!  All the responses here have set me to thinking, and I am so grateful that you took the time to write!

      Thank you so much!


      1. Jean | | #15

        If the man-child  you married is retired  I can sympathize with your problem! :) They're worse than the kids. Your doctor can fix the thyroid problem, but the man-child--??--probably too late.

  8. enidshapiro | | #16

    I have the same problem.  Sometimes I get up an hour early before I go to work and sew for about an hour.  It's a "sweet time."  I feel fresh, the day and its pressures haven't begun yet. 

  9. User avater
    paddyscar | | #17

    Hi Jan:

    When my children were young, I 'gave' myself sewing-time as a reward whenever I had to do something I was particularly dreading and avoiding (and I excel at avoidance).  It's the same principle as taking the kids for a swim after they've picked up all the stuff in their rooms.

    Once I completed the washing, tidying up or whatever, I'd then take the equal time to sew. 

    I now have my sewing machine next to my washer & dryer and use the time between loading, unloading and folding to do a lot of the quick steps.  The first load gives you about 30 minutes cutting time (longer, if it's a reallllllly dirty load, of if you need to pre-soak).

    If I delay putting the clean laundry away until the end instead of in-between loads, I find it quicker to distribute by location, which is even better if the kids are still at home. 


  10. anneelsberry | | #18

    Don't know if this will help, but. . .

    I started law school when my DD was 6 months old and had my DS during my second year. I treat my sewing time now like I did study time then. My kids have always had a definite bedtime (7:30 then, 8:30 now). I try to make sure the dishes are done by the time they go to bed. Then I can sew or knit or work on art projects between 8:30 and the end of the evening news. I don't have a sewing room so I end up sewing on a table in the family room and can watch TV at the same time. I try not to watch TV unless I am also working on a handwork project. I also try to make sure I clean up whatever I'm working on at the end of the evening (if only to put all the materials into a tupperware box and cover the sewing machine), so the table is clear for breakfast.

    I'm a single mom, so when my kids are at their Dad's every other week I use those longer times to work. When they go away for a week or so in the summer I pull out all the UFOs and try to finish as much as possible.

    I also organize my projects like I do my cases at work -- I keep post-it notes with the names of the projects and any deadlines (i.e. must be made by a certain date) and all the steps that need to be done. Then I can cross them out as they get done. I also keep post-its of the materials that need to be purchased so that I can get them during my lunch breaks. I also usually have a handwork project in a bag in the car, so I can work on it while I wait to pick the kids up from ballet or soccer.

    1. rjf | | #19

      You are very organized!  I remember those days and they were very productive.  Now that I have time to squander, I certainly do and then wonder why I haven't gotten anything done.  You've given me a wake-up call.  Hope it works.     rjf

      1. anneelsberry | | #20

        Well, that's the ideal -- some weeks it works, some it doesn't. I do find, though, that I tend to get things done if I give myself a deadline. Usually its a date something needs to be wearable by or a gift given. Sometimes I give myself a deadline so I can move on to another project that has to be done.

        1. Susannah | | #21

          Wow!  How organised!  In a way, I also tackle sewing projects the way I tackled major papers when I was at Law School.  My approach is also deadline driven - but a bit less systematic.  Both then and now I have a tendency to start something close to a deadline, perhaps the night before, and just keep going until it is done!!!  (Not being a morning person, this accounts for most of my experiences of magnificent sunrises!!)

          On a more serious note, I also find breaking up projects (both sewing and at work) into smaller components helps.  Big projects are more manageable, and there is a sense of achieving some progress as each interim step is completed.  Small tasks can be accommodated in a busy schedule, so instead of  "Do more work on garment", which doesn't have much in the way of boundaries, a task like "make buttonholes" or "complete side seams" can be done in a smaller time period, between washing, dinner or whatever.

          I also regard sewing time as a reward - as time for me.

          best wishes from Tasmania


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