Sewing advice

Sewing Efficiently: Your ultimate guide

25. Press all bindings and pockets before construction

Doing as much prep work before you start sewing is a smart way to get you sewing efficiently. On this line, press all your bindings and pockets first. A pocket that’s finished and waiting to be stitched on will be a pocket that doesn’t put a kink in sewing your fronts/back.

Likewise, bindings can be somewhat time-consuming to deal with when they’re not pressed first. Save yourself another trip across to the ironing board and press that binding beforehand.

26. Have an ironing notions organizer

ironing tools and notions in hanging organizer
Notice all the press cloths in the lower left pocket. So many press cloths.

There’s lots of doodads and tools that are useful for pressing. From iron cleaner to interfacing tapes to hemming aids, and your press cloth, there’s a lot of things to keep track of. Install a shelf or some kind of a hanging organizer to keep track of all of these things.

I made my own organizer, but a hanging shoe organizer would be another option. The next time you need to press hems or seams, you won’t waste time looking around for your gizmos. Here’s what I keep in my organizer:

  • Interfacing strips
  • Steam-a-Seam (always. Not having it is the same as not having tea)
  • Hem strips (see tip #28)
  • Press cloths
  • Scraps of velvet and corduroy (see tip #27)
  • Iron cleaner (because I’m the worst)
  • Glue stick (sometimes to hold things in place when I don’t want to use Steam-a-Seam)
  • Chopstick and broken wooden spatula (for poking out corners and to press hard to access areas)

27. Use specialty fabric press cloths

If you’re working with a napped fabric like velvet or corduroy, save a big scrap of it and use it as a press cloth. Napped fabrics can get crushed by an iron. It’s often recommended to use a needle board, but they are pricey. I’m guessing you don’t sew velvet everyday anyhow.

A piece of the same fabric will protect the nap of the fabric from getting crushed and prevent shine. If you crush a velvet or shiny it up with your Hulk smashing ironing habits, it’s not easy to recover. One of these free press cloths will save you some sewing time by not messing it up in the first place.

If you’re working with a napped fabric like velvet or corduroy, save a big scrap of it and use it as a press cloth. Napped fabrics can get crushed by an iron. It’s often recommended to use a needle board, but they are pricey. I’m guessing you don’t sew velvet everyday anyhow. A piece of the same fabric will protect the nap of the fabric from getting crushed and prevent shine. If you crush a velvet or shiny it up with your Hulk smashing ironing habits, it’s not easy to recover. One of these free press cloths will save you some sewing time by not messing it up in the first place.


28. Make hemming guides from file folders

strips of file folders for pressing hems

This is one of my favorite ideas for sewing efficiently. Take a regular file folder and mark any width of hem allowance you need with a mechanical pencil and ruler. I say use a mechanical pencil because they have crisp, fine lines that keep the wonky away.

Use a ruler and a rotary cutter to cut the strips. Cut several different widths. I have 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 1/2″, 1 5/8″…and so on. You get the idea. There’s a lot and file folders are cheap, so make as many as you think you need. Mark the specific width on each strip with a fine sharpie.

Now any time you need to press up a hem, grab a strip and use the edge as a guide. You can press right over them. They prevent fabric shine too!

If they get a little too steamy, just lay them out on your ironing board and let them dry out before you use them again. They will easily last for a couple years of regular use.

29. Have water close by your iron

Keep water nearby your iron. Most of us don’t have gravity feed irons with big giant water tanks. Save yourself some time and hassle and keep a gallon jug of water near your iron at all times.

You won’t run out of steam (literally!) and they don’t take up much space.

Ditto with a spray bottle. Keep a filled spray bottle for all those moments you need a little extra steam.

30. Keep a basket of pressing tools under your iron

tailoring tools in a basket by iron
The Tailoring Trio: Sleeve roll, Tailor’s Ham, and Point presser/clapper

If you’ve never used a tailor’s ham, stop reading this and buy one now. You’ll press curves much better. Okay, now that you have a ham, maybe think about a clapper (trap that steam, shape that lapel, whack out your frustrations), a sleeve board, or some other tailoring gadget. There might be a hanging strip of curved molding that I paid way too much for at a sewing expo for pressing open pants seams…

Keep all of these pressing widgets in a little basket under your ironing board. You may have to stop your 3 year old from using the ham as a step stool (true), but you will have nice neatly pressed details on all your garments.

31. Use interfacing tape

Remember how I told you not to throw away your scraps of interfacing from when you were block interfacing way back in tip #18? Now you’re putting it to use. Rolls of interfacing tape are a huge time saver. Interfacing that’s cut the right width of a hem and fused in place means a nicely pressed and lightly structured hem every time.

I love SewKeysE tape from Emma Seabrooke. But there are days when I’m running low on my various interfacing tapes. For these times, cut your own from interfacing scraps you have. These are great for stabilizing shoulder seams or smaller hems like sleeves.

next page graphic with spool of thread
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8 Comments

  1. Wow! So much great info packed into this post! I’m happy to say that I use most of these ideas. But I definitely need to get my scissors off of my pegboard onto a magnetic strip.
    I store my presser feet in a compartmentalized clear container – I used my label maker to identify each compartment.

  2. Caroline Booth Reply

    You have some great tips in this post! I don’t have enough wall space to hang a magnetic strip so my sewing scissors are in the top drawer of my sewing desk where they are very handy and, just as important, hidden from unwanted users!

  3. I used an old coffee mug tree for my scissors. I had to make the knobs smaller by cutting and sanding them so that the handles of the scissors would fit.
    I have tape measures on my cutting table and my sewing tables, which I covered with packing tape
    You’ve offered some very valuable tips to help increase efficiency and reduce stress

    • Mary, I LOVE the coffee mug tree idea! Totally genius! I’m with you too–when everything is right there and has a spot, it actually does make the process less stressful!

  4. Great tips! I just don’t have the wall space for the storage tips, given that I sew in the closet and my clothes take up a whole wall. But I think I’m going to do the thread scissors on the lanyard tonight, since I’m always misplacing those.

    Just for clarification on the block fusing: are you fusing the entire piece of fabric and then just cutting the pattern pieces and interfacing as one layer? I’ve heard of that technique before, otherwise I’m wondering how you’d avoid gunking up the iron or fusing it to the press cloth.

    • Thanks Becky. The lanyard definitely helps with the wandering scissors! I usually fuse my cut pieces to the interfacing–I keep the interfacing goo off my iron with a press cloth. I usually use silk organza as my press cloth, and interfacing really just peels right off it. Your idea to fuse a block of fabric and cut from that is also a way to do it–and that’s probably more efficient since you’re cutting the pieces AND interfacing at once.

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