The following time management/organizational hints document was created by members of Gail Dennis' Sew Big and Beautiful and Wearable Arts lists. Cheryle is responsible for all of the editing and we owe our gratitude to her for assembling and organizing our thoughts so we could see them all together. Creators of these ideas are: Liz, Karen, Janie, Emmy, Kelley, Karen, Avery, Jane, Sue, Barbara, Cheryle, Marcia, Rosie, Marilyn, Bonnie and Brenda. If you see your ideas here without attribution please let me know as soon as you can so I can include your name in the list of Creators. Please attribute this group as a source if you quote from this document in any way.

Timely Tips

I have about 2-dozen tape measures in my sewing room and cutting table. I always carry at least 2 tape measures with me in my purse at all times. They come out regularly every time I enter a clothes shop - quick measure across every garment I like at underarm - if it is 25-26" try it on, it might fit. 27" or more will probably be too big. But 99% of all clothes are generally 24" or less - know they will be too small for my 49"-50" bust. Saves a lot of fruitless trips to the dressing room.

I always bring home a couple of the 'paper' tape measures from IKEA. One is rolled up and stashed in the glove compartment of the car, another in each First Aid Kit, one is in the kitchen drawer with all the other odds and bods.

THEN I have one stuck along the front of my machine table and covered over with wide tape, one cut into bits and stuck on the front of my spare machine, and ones staple-gunned to the vertical posts of my sewing room's bookcases/storage shelves; so handy to measure bits and pieces.

My real live tape measures live in a $1 plastic 'food storage container'; labeled. It really does help, I find, to have specific boxes to put things into rather than just having a muddle, and I have multiples of everything from pinking shears to needle cases to sets of knitting needles.

  1. Get everything together before starting.
  2. Use a rotary cutter and weights. Scissors and pins take longer.
  3. Read directions and plan the steps in your mind or on paper.
  4. Have a small container or basket for your tools and put them in there after each use. No more hunting amid the fabric and clutter.
  5. Go to a school supply and get a wand magnet for lost needles and pins. The magnets are a lot less cost there and you just have to run it over the carpet or floor to pick up spills.
  6. Keep a small cutting mat on the table by your sewing machine. It comes in handy for trimming and if you use your dining table, it saves the finish.
  7. Leave the iron on while you work. You can press as you go without waiting for it to heat.
  8. Spend a day cutting out several things then sew non-stop.
  9. Each time you have to stop sewing, leave everything ready for the next step. Write down what you need to do next and you will know without having to take the time to think about what you have previously done.

  1. Read the pattern and highlight with yellow anything that is unusual.
  2. Pin all the large pieces over one hanger and pin the little pieces in a zip lock bag over the same hanger. Double check to make sure you have every single piece.
  3. Pin all the large pattern pieces on to your Duct Tape Dummy to see if they fit.
  4. Use weights to hold the fabric to the paper and cut out the pattern with a rotary cutter. I fill muslin bags with bb's for weights. The muslin bags I make about 2" by 6" and turn them inside out to fill them up part way. Then they are long and you can curve them.
  5. Give up when tired and return later. That saves ripping out stitches and making wrong cuts.
  6. Listen to the radio or TV. That makes the time go faster.
  7. When in doubt use a basting stitch with a contrasting color. Easier to test and rip out.
  8. Peruse sewing books or patterns before going to sleep. Some times I learn something new and surely have sweet dreams.
  9. Never, never, never let anyone put your sewing things out of the way! That means your projects will get all mixed up and you cannot ever find them again.
  10. Have some of your sewing things in each room. That way you can sew where ever you are.
  11. Keep hand sewing or ripping projects or a planning notebook to work on while you watch TV at night. That will keep you from snacking and make your tomorrow even more productive.

One of my favorite storage items is a piece of "Sono Tube", available in assorted diameters, so buy your choice of size (made of very heavy cardboard, available at most building supply's... the stuff used for making concrete pillars). Cut to about 2' tall. Add a plywood bottom to it using either nails or screws to secure it, and decorate, if desired, with fabric, wall paper, or paint. Wonderful for storing all those tall rolls of "Do Sew", yardsticks, spare curtain rods, rolls of paper, rolls of fabric, etc. I made one for my Christmas wrapping paper... decorated it like a package, using fabric and ribbon, and now my Christmas paper looks like a decoration sitting in the corner, instead of a pile of paper. To store, I just put a plastic bag over the top and put it in the attic.

My favorite storage for sewing notions is a pegboard. Cut the shape of the tool for each peg out of contact paper, place the cut out where each tool hangs, and at a glance, you can tell where something is supposed to hang, or what is missing. (Unfortunately, I don't have wall space anymore. {sigh})

Better yet, I saw a really neat "garage storage" at a yard sale recently that would make a WONDERFUL one for sewing. It was a framed piece of pegboard (for hanging rotary cutters, rulers, scissors, etc) with shallow shelves surrounding the pegboard part, which could be above, below, or to the side of the pegboard. Size? Depends on the wall space you have available. One could put a fancy board across the top... maybe just a curve and cut out hearts or some such thing to dress it up a bit. The shallow shelves need to be as deep and as tall as a small jar, which can be saved from your favorite jam, honey, (your choice) until you have enough to fill the shelves. The jars are used for storing buttons, snaps, hooks, etc. It was a very handsome idea! The one I saw had the shelves across the top, and the pegboard at the bottom, which would make high hanging an option. One would not want to reach the jars as often as the tools, I would think. I even thought of making a few of these to use for gifts for my sewing friends. Hey, design your own and have the local high school wood shop make it for you. Usually, all you pay for is the supplies.

I have hung upper kitchen cabinets on the main wall of my sewing room. I left spaces between them on purpose, and added shelves between the cabinets in two places. These hold my sewing books. Excellent storage. Not so deep that I can't find what I am looking for, yet they hold bunches and bunches of stuff. I use the inside of the doors to hang paper charts that I use often. Up on top, I have my favorite stuff... hat boxes (with hats, but which could be storage), carousel horses, teddy bears, dolls, etc., but it could be square boxes that hold lesser used sewing notions, fabrics, etc.

Hang partial envelopes various sizes to hold things like your color wheel, thread charts, sale coupons, and that handy pamphlet called "Math for Sewers". Cut the front side of the envelope so you can partially see what is inside it and finding what is inside is quicker than just labeling the envelope. (Mine are on the inside of my upper cabinet doors.)

Pattern storage system: I tried sorting patterns by the style of the pattern. It worked at first, but I soon found I had too many patterns with multiple items of clothing in them and it was hard to find what I was looking for. I have decided to change my method of storage to this. Make a notebook of your patterns, much like the ones in the stores, putting in tabs for "blouse", "skirt", "pants", etc. Putting one pattern to each sheet of paper, trace or copy pictures from your patterns. I also copied the yardage chart for that size pattern onto the page with the picture. If the pattern has more than one type of clothing, make a copy for each type. Sort your pages into your notebook by whether a skirt, blouse, pants. Next step, I purchased large flip top storage boxes for the actual patterns, but a file cabinet would work well too. I then sorted my patterns by maker, putting cardboard sorting dividers between the brands. Each brand is also sorted by numerical order. With this system, I can find each and every pattern easily, just using the brand and number of the pattern. If I find a "lost" pattern piece, it is easy to find the pattern to return it to its rightful place. I am finding this a far superior method, though it is taking a bit more time to organize. It is going to save me more time than the organization in the end. My problem is getting distracted for long periods of time and UFO's. This often results in parts of patterns in different places, or pieces of mixed patterns being used for one garment, and returning pieces to the original envelopes gets put off, due to the difficulty of finding the original envelope. This has been solved! {Whew}

There is a well-known plastic storage tub/bin manufacturer, who makes a FOLDING plastic step stool with two steps. I bought one, and it is one of my very favorite items. It makes all those high spots easy to reach, and is very light to boot. It stores easily in about 6" x 24" x 24" of space (under my table), but best of all, stands on its own when folded, not falling all over the place like many others. Also, I am just narrow enough in the hiney endie to use it as a spare chair, though it is not as comfy as a padded chair. A wider based friend mounts it like a horse and sits on it that way, the top step being about 8" wide.

Use beeswax on your thread when hand sewing. It lessens the tangles and makes the job quicker and easier. Thread Heaven works too, but not quite as well as the beeswax in my opinion.

When cutting patterns, use clips instead of notches. By this, I mean cut off the notches, then clip into the fabric where the notch is. It will speed up your cutting and the fabric will still be marked. Be careful with easy to ravel fabric, and also be sure you don't cut across the seam line. Mark hemlines, pleats, etc with clips. This will speed up your sewing, as you will not have to look up the size/measurements needed for these items.

Learn which notches are not really essential for you, and eliminate them. The only ones I use are armscye, collar, and any that pertain to specialty designs on patterns. The ones on the crotch, legs, side seams, are often unnecessary.

One hint I have started doing is to write the color of the thread on my bobbins with a Sharpie pen... for the staple colors like navy and black. I have found once the bobbin is wound, I can hardly tell which color it is ... and seem to 'discover' the color is wrong after sewing a seam or 10! Since doing this, my life has been easier!

Sew a piece of fuzzy lingerie elastic to the shoulder seam of every blouse and dress. Then you can swap the shoulder pads with the Velcro from one garment to another easily. The fuzzy elastic is cheap, much softer, less bulky and more comfortable to wear than the fuzzy Velcro, and yet fuzzy enough to grip the Velcro hooks to hold a shoulder pad in place. Just remember to remove the shoulder pad before the garment goes through the wash.

I keep an emery board in my sewing supplies. There are times a needle gets a tiny rough spot on it from hitting as pin or something else. I lightly rub the needle with the emery board and the needle is as good as new. It does save time changing needles.

Well I just got myself a "NEW" Iron at 'Vinnie's, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. It cost me a whopping $2.00, and is a plain-soled non-steam 'oldie'. I scrubbed the plate with a Brillo Pad and it works great. I do not like steam Irons for sewing work; those steam vents make nasty little marks when you press or iron, I find, so I just buy any plain old-fashioned ones I see so I always have a spare handy. Plus steam irons are useless if you want to use the "Iron-On" T-Shirt transfer paper for your computer, a plain sole works far better, even pressure and not spotty.

I also noticed today that my good old 'Muslin' diapers, dating back to my daughter's infancy not quite 30 years ago, are developing holes. I use them as press cloths; just a nice size, two layers thick, hemmed, well washed, hold a nice amount of water; I guess I'll have to buy a pack of new ones from England since they are not common over here in Canada.

More office supply tools for sewing: I use a rotary cutter & mat for pattern cutting. Weights are necessary for some fabrics, but when the material will recover from pin/needle holes, I prefer some push-pins I found with very large heads. The pins were meant to allow more pressure, or for people with arthritis or any other condition that causes pain for that sort of motion. I use them also in the corners & edges to hold slippery fabrics still.

A timesaving tip is a large bulletin board over the sewing machine to pin the pattern envelope and directions on and to pin on the pattern pieces as you finish sewing them or the tiny pieces that seem to meander from hither to yon on their own!

A magnetic pincushion is worth every penny. I just have to throw them in the cushion's general direction and "wham" they're in!

When cutting, use pins only to keep grain line with weights to hold edges, and use the largest pair of scissors you can handle.

Use a rotary cutter to cut netting. Tape the front toes of your machine foot together when sewing nettings to keep from catching the net and ripping it.

Elastic in packages is false economy if you regularly use that type of elastic. 1-1/4 yard package is only useful if you can use all of the 45 inches! The leftover inches just get pitched. If you don't buy in bulk, at least buy in increments of the lengths you use, i.e. don't get a few yards, think and add up the no. of inches you usually use....30+30=60 or 1 yard 25 inches.

Never stack something on top of your folded stash of creases and it's real hard to iron out wrinkles on a fusible interfacing.

Always have extra white, black, red and beige thread on hand. Fill as many bobbins of these as you have patience for. Always have extra bobbins on hand.

If you are cutting out knit tops that are basically the same piece for front and back except for the neckline, double and cut the back twice and trim the front piece's neckline at the machine.

Try to remember that even though you know where everything goes, anyone who helps you doesn't.... DO NOT LET ANYONE CLEAN UP YOUR SEWING SPACE!

Have a pincushion just for hand needles and lightly used sewing machine needles.

Use sewing machine needles that are past their prime as light picture hooks. Hammer them and they leave only a little mark in wallpapered walls.

Make your scissors unattractive to the household by tying bright pink ribbon to the handles. Men and boys think that's dumb looking and you can easily catch someone who has "your" scissors!

Time isn't your friend and gravity isn't either!

I snip notches too, and also like to fold my fabric right sides together. Saves time when sewing center back seams, and I can also chalk F or B for front and back too, if the pieces are very similar, without having to flip to the wrong side.

I keep not only a stapler and tape handy, but also a glue stick, which is great for adding tissue paper when expanding a pattern. I also keep lots of elastics handy for sorting and bundling stuff, and for keeping overstuffed plastic boxes from spilling open. Highlighters are very handy for circling the view you are cutting out, and anything you need to note on the pattern or construction pages can also be highlighted so you don't miss it when cutting. I have a bulletin board for posting the instructions. Seldom have to use them, as I use faster construction methods than are usually printed on the patterns, but it's handy to have them up there just in case.

I have all the basic office supplies handy in my sewing area, plus have my old computer down there too. A radio is handy, a TV and VCR would be great, maybe someday.

I work in a U shape, two desks form an L shape and the ironing board forms the other side of the U. I use a swivel office chair on casters, to save me having to get up and move. I can set up my Featherweight on the ironing board if I want to use the special attachments or ruffler, or I can use it for assembling, pinning and of course, ironing.

I use a kitchen turntable for storing mugs and jars with tools in them, at the back of one of my sewing desks. Makes it easier to find what I need. I store buttons in parts cabinets, sold at hardware stores. They have little plastic drawers and are just small enough to fit on my shelves. The drawers are all labeled and I also store my sewing machine needles in them.

I bought two used desks at a flea market, and gained lots of drawers, which really help me keep organized. I have shelves over my desks, and would like to add more on the other wall. I never seem to have enough shelf space for organizing my stuff. Cupboards with doors on them would be great, to keep dust out and hide the clutter. That's been on my wish list for years.

  1. Always fold fabric with right sides together. This eliminates having to handle fabric twice when you need to sew a seam like the center on something.

  2. Snip at the notches and dots instead of cutting around them. Goes much faster.

  3. Set up sewing room with a stapler and tape dispenser of its own. When you are altering a pattern you won't have to search for the tape or any thing like that. Doesn't cost much and yet it has saved me a lot in the long run.

I scanned in my pictures that my daughter did in my black swimsuit. I then went into the photo editor (tried the paint program but didn't work) and then selected special effects and then the coloring book. Made the picture just an outline of everything and then I deleted all the background and zoomed in on the outline to put in the horizontal lines like waist, hip and bust underlines.

  1. Priorities can also refer to what you sew, as well as making sure to have time to sew. For those of us who've been collecting fabric, and maybe patterns, for a while, there is always a stash. If you carry around a sample collection, you're much more likely to end up with a stack of fabrics that can be wardrobe-builders, with the same shades of navy blue, gray, taupe, brown, camel, red, teal, green...well, I was taught years ago in an anatomy class that we have no real color memory. Even though I have consistently bought the same shade of navy blue since I was in high school some time ago, I certainly can't say that about gray! So I find the sample system useful; I include snippets of cloth from the garments I buy, as well, as it is helpful when buying hosiery and other accessories. The very organized may have a wonderful, attractive notebook of some sort, but I can testify that an envelope with loose scraps works in a pinch.
  2. It may seem self-evident, but there are a lot of people just learning to sew now, according to the owner of our local (Portland, OR) high-quality fabric store, so here it is: get ALL the things needed before even pre-washing the main garment fabric.

My time management/organization tip is so simple that it's probably not a tip to anyone but myself! After I cut out the pattern and interfacing, I stack the pieces in the order with which I will sew them together. The largest pieces are usually the last to be used, but however they are to be sewn, I put the last on the bottom and the first on the top. I have spent too much time sorting through fabric and pattern pieces trying to find the "next" piece I need. Now I put the pattern directions and envelope on bottom and stack the stuff. I put the zipper, trim and or buttons into the pattern envelope.

Now that we are going to be managed!!!!!! Download your free software for making hats, and bags etc. Have just downloaded so haven't used it yet. It took 21 minutes at!/

Time Management
I work best when I am under INTENSE PRESSURE; i.e. the 'customer' is pounding on the door as I take out the last few threads of tacking! I also work best late at night/early in the morning, so I pull 'all nighters' like a college kid and sleep the next day during the heat.

Sewing Room;
I'm in the process of moving and my new sewing room has a wooden block (Parquet) floor; no more hunting for needles in the haystack or pins in the carpet pile and a swift mop with one of those modern mop heads covered with a piece of fleece fabric soon picks up stray threads, and a Patio door onto the deck/yard/garden, facing due west, so I'll get lots of lovely light in there. My current room is in the basement with a tiny window onto the 3 feet between my house and the hedge between the neighbors and me. I've put up one wall of shelves, and stowed away about 1/2 my boxes, I'm taking an old "IKEA" bookcase; 6' tall, 10" deep, 36" wide that I sawed in half vertically to make two 5" deep sets of shelves; using one in there for jars of buttons. I use the other in the laundry/utility room for nuts, bolts, screws, nails and all those things in jam jars.

I'm going to put my Bernina up on my ex-government computer desk; works great, as it is a 'cantilevered' design rather than 4 legs so my knees do not crash into the tables legs when I swivel on my old office chair. AND I have found a second one just the same to put my 'spare' Singer on. At the end of my run of shelves there was an 18" gap so we stabilized the shelves by putting a shelf top and bottom across it. Now I have space to store the vertical odds and ends; roll of oak tag, card folding cutting boards, and spare ironing board. I set the cutting boards up on two ironing boards, works great for me. Rulers, a couple of hangers to store works-in progress and lengths of fabric such as velvet that are best hung by safety pins from a coat hanger. My shelves tend to be verticals of MDF board 16" wide, 8' long (3 pieces from a 4' X 8' board) with holes drilled 2" in from the edges every whenever I need one; it pays to work this out carefully in advance. Then I stick 2" dowels through so 3/4" is on both sides as a shelf support, or 1 1/4" pieces if the shelf is only on one side at that point. Then my shelves are simply more 16" pieces of MDF (that's Medium Density Fiberboard, which is sort of fine wood chips mixed with epoxy glue and laminated into a very strong and cheap sheet). I cut them to the same length, usually 24", which gives me 3 shelves from a strip plus a piece left over. I use the left over piece to make the odd length shelf that goes at the end of a run. That way the whole lot is stabilized between two walls and needs only a little fixing in place.

I have some metal "Canning Shelves" that I can use. I have a couple of old chests of drawers, but personally I prefer stuff in boxes to drawers. I also use:

  1. mandarin orange crates saved from Christmas time
  2. Rubber-Maid type plastic boxes
  3. kitty litter that comes in wonderfully strong boxes just the right size for magazines.

The litter is packed in a polythene bag inside so the boxes are beautifully clean. I tape the boxes shut with packing tape or duct tape, then cut across both 'ends' 1/3rd of the way "up" and 2/3rds of the way "up", then join those cuts across the ends with diagonal cuts across the sides. This gives me beautiful magazine files/boxes at very little cost. Plus you get two from each box.

My spools of cotton have been on the old pegboard base from a cot, with 3" X 3/16th stove bolts threaded through from the WS and the nut put on to hold them secure. If you mount this slightly leaning out from the wall it works great and holds 100's of reels, plus you can put pegboard holders on it too.

Does anyone else use a croquis? You "people" have moved me to think I should include the croquis in my garment planning. Always fresh new ideas coming this way and I love it!

Since I have moved and until Christmas won't have a sewing room this is a time saver borrowed from Kenneth King. When I have to cut out in one room and sew in another, I use an ornamental towel rail that used to belong to my husband's granny. I can drape pattern pieces over it (I put a pin through them to stop my cats pulling them off) and transport them freshly ironed to my sewing area or cutting area all together instead of dropping them all over the place.

I've been lurking lately and feeling very guilty for not being a more productive list member, so I am very glad the topic of time management came up. As an almost pathological procrastinator, it is a topic I have studied a great deal. (As an example, I became a criminal lawyer rather than the civil litigator I aspired to be in law school, primarily because criminal law has way fewer deadlines and way less paperwork. I was a negligence lawsuit looking for a place to happen in civil practice!)

On the topic of sewing time management, I have to recommend a series of books by Kate Mathews: The Weekend Sewers Guide to Dresses, The Weekend Sewers Guide to Blouses, The Weekend Sewers Guide to Pants and Skirts, and Quick and Easy Vests and Jackets (I guess she couldn't promise them in one weekend!). At the beginning of each book, she includes a section in which she discusses building efficiency in your sewing area, how to fit sewing into your schedule and get more accomplished. Each of the four books has essentially the same introductory section, so you only have to look to one book to get gist of her theories.

The main principle I have adopted from Kate's recommendations has been to prioritize sewing, just like a meeting at work or a doctor's appointment. While I agree that sometimes you have to get the least pleasant tasks out of the way in order to make room for the fun, if I was to say "No sewing until the house is clean!" I'd never get to sew. It works much better to say "I am planning to sew on Friday from 1:00 pm until 11:00 pm. Dad can you order pizza and do bedtime?" Then just ignore the dust bunnies - they will still be there Saturday morning.

Being creative is essential to my mental health, and it needs to be given that recognition. I recently discovered the credo "Art Saves Lives" and it is my new motto.

Happy sewing!