How to Sew Faster: Batching Tasks

The other week, I wanted to make a dress but I had such a small amount of time that it barely seemed possible. But rather than give up, I used the pressure to try out a technique that would make my sewing more efficient – batching tasks. I’m never going back!

Batching your sewing tasks is such a time saver – and it doesn’t even involve cutting any corners. (Insert joke about trimming seam allowances here.) You’re not skipping any of the important steps – you’re just rearranging them.

What is Task Batching in Sewing?

The principle of task batching is that you group together as many similar tasks together as you can in one go, and then do them all before moving on to the next type of task.

Heard of mise en place in cooking? It’s a bit like that, but for sewing.

For instance, the pattern instructions may tell you to sew a seam, then finish it and finally press it. This makes clear logical sense, and is a fine way to write instructions, particularly for beginners. But if you follow these steps in this order for every seam, then you’re constantly switching up your workspace to suit different tasks. This might mean physically moving around the room, or moving machines around, or even reconfiguring your machine settings.

For example, these are the different spaces I use:

  1. My sewing machine
  2. My overlocker* (which shares a space with my sewing machine, so I physically swap them around)
  3. My ironing board
  4. My cutting table where I pin seams together, and also where I trim/grade seam allowances

*If you don’t have an overlocker, then you’re probably changing the settings on your sewing machine between straight seams and edge finishing. And you’re trimming seam allowances too!

All considered, that’s a lot of time spent simply moving around or moving machines!

So what to do instead?

Your goal is to do as much of the same kind of task in one go as you can, before moving on to the next kind of task.

For instance, identify a set of seams that can be sewn together. Pin them all, then move all your pinned pieces to the sewing machine and sew them all one after the other. Then overlock them all, and then finally press them all. Then you’re ready to pick up the next set of seams.

Obviously you can’t do all the seams in your project in one batch, because there are dependencies between them (i.e. you probably want to finish your side and shoulder seams before you insert a sleeve). But you can probably batch together more seams than the pattern instructions suggest.

Top Tips for Batching your Sewing Tasks

Take time to save time. Sit down for 5 minutes before you start sewing, and rewrite the pattern instructions. I even reword the instructions into very simple shorthand for myself. There’s no need to stop and read full-length pattern instructions between each step, especially if you’re an experienced sewist who doesn’t need the step-by-step instructions for everything.

Identify independent seams. It’s worth reading through to the end of the pattern and finding as many unrelated seams as possible. For instance, there may be a waist tie, collar, cuff or skirt that you can pin/sew/overlock at the same time as your shoulder seams. (I like to think of this in terms of dependency trees, but then again, I am a software engineer…)

Batch up all kinds of pressing tasks – not just seams. When pressing your first seams, also look ahead for any other pressing tasks that can be brought forward. Waistbands, neckbands or ties can be pressed in half before the time comes to sew them. Also, it can nice to press hems before sewing the pieces – particularly on sleeves, which become more fiddly to press after they’ve been sewn into the garment.

Consider the changes to settings on your machine. You’ll also want to batch up steps that involve changing the settings on your machine. Gathering stitches, bar tacks, topstitching in a contrasting thread colour, and rolled hems – these all involve faffing around with your setup. Plus if you batch them all together, that also minimises the number of times you can forget to put the settings back afterwards!

And that’s it.

I hope you enjoy using this technique. Enjoy your speedier sewing!

Closet Core Pouf – Tips for Sewing

I’ve now made two of these floor poufs by Closet Core Patterns – and I love them both!

A pile of two poufs on top of each other
My two poufs – in ankara (bottom) and quilting cotton (top)

This pattern has been written about a lot in the sewing community, and is very well-loved. I completely understand why: not only do you end up with a fun and practical pouf (useful as a seat, a footrest, or a majestic throne for a cat) but it also scores very nicely in the sustainability department. It can be made from fabric scraps, and it can be stuffed full of whatever bits of fabric you have lying around – scraps, cutoffs, bits of thread or yarn, retired blankets, ancient towels, the ugly curtains that were hanging in your house when you moved in, ratty old faded knickers (clean ones!), etc. Each pouf holds an inconceivable amount of otherwise purposeless fabric.

I’ve always had a guilty conscience about my fabric waste. I’ve struggled to find a reliable way to recycle fabric waste in the UK – I used to donate it to H&M, but I’ve read things that make me very sceptical about what they do with it. One of the reasons I sew my own clothing is to reduce consumption, so I felt uncomfortable about replacing that consumption with waste. But these poufs mean that I make use of literally every scrap of fabric I buy. Even the really tiny useless ones. Shove ’em in a pouf. Boom.

And it’s a free pattern! Blows my mind.

If you’d like to sew your own Closet Core Pouf, the original tutorial is superb and easy to follow. But here are some of my extra tips!

An orange and green pouf made from ankara fabric
Firm ankara pouf stuffed with lots and lots of scraps – and covered in cat hair because my little fuzzbutt Philip adores it.

1. Don’t finish the curved edges of the segment pieces during the initial overlocking phase.

It’s easier to do them all in one go once you’ve sewn the whole circle together – or even once you’ve attached the piping.

2. Don’t sweat the matching in the centre.

You might not get those little points to perfectly sit together. It’s fine. In the original sewalong by Closet Core Patterns themselves, that centre section doesn’t match up perfectly either. So what, who cares – just do your best! You can always sew a cute button on the top to conceal the joins – or even turn it into a design feature with some applique, like @pimp_slapped’s version.

A rainbow coloured pouf, top down view
The centre points don’t match perfectly. It’s totally fine.

3. Use an adjustable zipper foot for the piping.

For my rainbow pouf, I used store-bought piping that had a diameter of about 10mm. Turns out 10mm is ginormous. The standard zipper foot that came with my machine just could not handle it – I couldn’t get my needle close enough to the piping.

After a lot of frustration, I figured out that what I needed was an adjustable zipper foot (not an affiliate link!). This kind of foot lets you move the presser foot portion from side to side, so you can position your needle right at the edge of the foot. It’s magic.

You can, of course, use a piping foot. But I couldn’t find one that would accommodate such large piping. If you’re going to splash out on one or the other type of foot, I’d recommend the adjustable zipper foot – because it is less specialised and can be used in other situations where you need to sew super close to the edge of the foot. (When sewing zippers, for example!)

4. Your piping doesn’t have to have a 3/8″ flange.

Apparently the tape part of piping is called the flange. Heh.

I used readymade piping for my rainbow pouf and it had a 5/8″ flange. I trimmed it down for the top and completely forgot to do that for the bottom. The world didn’t burn down. It was fine.

In fact it was a bit easier to manhandle it with the bigger seam allowance.

A rainbow coloured pouf
Lovely squishy rainbow pouf stuffed with a duvet and curtains

5. Take extra care to hold the sides out of the way when attaching the piping.

This probably goes without saying, but I want to emphasise it because I screwed it up so many times: it’s super easy to accidentally catch the sides and sew enormous tucks while attaching the piping, especially if you’re attaching it pin-free (which I also recommend, by the way). Hold that fabric well out of the way, and keep checking that it hasn’t moved under your sewing needle as you go.

6. The inner bag is definitely optional.

You can still wash your pouf even if you don’t make an inner bag – you just need to find somewhere to stash all those scraps in the meantime!

I made an inner bag (basic drawstring style) the first time round, and I found it made it hard to stuff the pouf into a good shape without the inner bag resisting me. I ended up taking it out, and now I use that bag to store scraps for my next pouf.

Because yes, there will be more poufs.

Two poufs