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If I had a dollar for all the times that people ask me how I find time to sew, I’d have a lot of dollars. When you’re a Mom with 4 kids, it’s true that time is short and with a lot of moving parts.

I’ll admit to feeling resentful at times when the comment of “I don’t know how you get anything done…” gets thrown my way. But still, just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that you can’t find time to sew. Let’s bust that myth x15!

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

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Pinterest image reading "15 ways to make time to sew" showing small sewing machine, and kitchen timer

15 ways to make time to sew

1. Time block

What does your day look like? Are you working during certain hours? Do you have kid pick-ups at others? When do you need to do adulting things like cook dinner or fold laundry?

A lot of time management advice has you break down your day into small chunks of time from 30 minutes to an hour. For the more free spirits like me, I know that gets overwhelming fast. Instead, I like to take a piece of paper and draw rectangles on it representing my actual blocks of time. Once I have a general idea of WHERE my time is, I shuffle tasks around all day as I need to.

The order of my typical day goes like this:


Early morning work/make lunches/breakfast/workout

5 am-8

dropoff #1

8:15-8:45

morning work block

9-11:30

lunch

11:30-12pm

dropoff #2

12:15-12:45

naptime block

1-3:15

pickup

3:30-3:50

make dinner

4-4:30

general chores/family time/dinner

4:30-6

teach violin lesson

6-6:30
wrap up the day/family time/
hangout with husband

6:30-10

At first glance, it looks like I have a reasonable of time to work, but I have kids with me all the time except naptime and *maybe* early morning (see #12). You might be the same.

Your time will probably change on any given day, so be okay with being flexible. I know during soccer and baseball season, my day looks the Family Circus paths.

The big thing though: If you can i.d. what your day looks like, you will absolutely find a consistent chunk of time to sew.

2. Turn off distractions

For real, put down the Facebook and Instagram. I often put my phone in a totally different room when it’s time to sew. Sewing is for so many of us how we unwind a day, how we exercise our creativity, and how we can add some beauty to our world. You know what stops that flow–endless notifications.

If you’re the type to watch entertainment or listen to music or podcasts (me!) while you sew, fine. But bury your phone during sewing time!

3. Organize your space

Okay, this one is in the unsexy realm, but organizing your sewing space will really make you want to make time to sew.

Organize your fabric stash so you can see it all like I do in this video.

Make a place for all the different things you need for your craft. If you don’t have a dedicated space, or you share your space with family (all my dining room sew sisters!), having all of your supplies at arm’s length will take a lot of mental energy out of making time to sew.

4. Time hack your margins

You know the white space on old school notebook paper. You totally have that in your life too. It’s that’s area where you can squeeze in extra bits of time to work (or notes in the paper analogy) you didn’t think you had. It might be while dinner is in the oven, or that morning before everyone gets up.

to do list on a notepad with pen

One of my funniest margin times for sewing is the 5-20 minutes before my violin students come for a lesson. If I have everything ready for them, I will very often pop down to the sewing room to sew a couple seams, trace a pattern, or prep a hem for stitching. It’s almost become a game for me to see how much I can do in that time!

5. Pair low-focus tasks with low-focus times

There’s always sewing tasks that are simple but don’t require a lot of focus. Sometimes those things can become hated tasks simply because they’re boring.

And when you have little time to sew to begin with, what are the chances you’ll procrastinate on those things? Pretty good, right?

Instead, pair those tasks with the time of day when you’re not at your best.

person holding glasses focusing through lenses

Hate to cut interfacing? Grab a couple minutes to fuse your pieces and trim them for a project before you go to bed. You’re probably sleepy, and sitting down to sew now is probably going to lead to a whole lot of seam ripping.

The next day or whenever your next sewing block is going to be, that less fun task will be done. You’ll be able to sit down and sew away without that hanging over your head.

next page graphic with spool of thread

Sewing efficiently is a sport to me. Every Black Friday, my kids and I wake up at the crack of way too early and truck it over to JoAnn. They’re in it for the donuts afterwards. I’m in it for the bargain basement prices on flannel. It’s a little crazy, but afterwards, I spend some time cutting all that flannel into new pajamas. My sewing room overflows with pajama parts! But amazingly, every year, once everything is cut, 4 new pajama sets are just a few hours in the making.

It always shocks me a little how the systems I’m sharing here make the actual sewing process so quick. If you’re a Mom or just short on time, I crammed in all my best ideas to help you make the most of your sewing time!

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

The Ultimate Guide to Sewing Efficiently

Why do you want to sew efficiently?

I know for a lot of us, sewing is unwinding time. So why in the world would you want to add a snore-inducing word like “efficient” in there and muck up that happy escapist time?

  1. Many of these things will uncomplicate your sewing life. Less complication = more sewing. More complication = less sewing.
  2. Organization is a huge part of sewing efficiently. When you know where your stuff is, you unsurprisingly save time. Also, as you put some of these systems in place, you’ll find it’s actually easier to unwind in the sewing room.

All these tips for sewing efficiently are broken into 4 categories:

  • Workspace
  • Cutting
  • Pressing
  • Construction

There’s ideas here for every level of sewist. Use the table of contents to navigate around. Scan on through, find the ones that are hitting home and start saving time in your sewing right now.

Sewing efficiently doesn’t mean cutting corners

Big disclaimer here. You might think that saving time means that the quality of your work will suffer. It could, but it doesn’t have to.

You can sew faster AND sew neatly. Once you find your sewing style in how you work, you’ll be able to find the right balance between maximizing your sewing time with whatever time you have and making beautiful things you want to use and wear.

Enough with the blah blah–on to the sewing tips!

Set up your workspace for sewing efficiently

Your own little corner or room set aside for sewing is always going to be more efficient than a shared space. But even if you do sew in a shared space, shoot, especially if you do, organization in your space is going to free up so much time. So what can you do?

1. Have your sewing machines out and ready to go:

Plug your machine in and have it set up where you use it. Simple! If your living situation doesn’t allow this, store your machine where you’re going to use it. From there it’ll be a quick lift of a cover and a plug in before you’ll be sewing. Even this will beat rifling through a linen closet for your machine every time you want to sew.

2. Machines in a straight line (or not)

When your sewing machine family expands to include a serger or maybe a coverstitch too, it’s time to think about how you set them up. Set up all your machines in a straight line on a table. I like to roll on my chair between my serger and sewing machine. Since they’re next door to each other, it’s quick to shift between them.

L-shaped or U-shaped desks work really well for multiple machines. You can rotate yourself between machines really easily on your chair. Think about what’s comfortable to you and fits your sewing space.

3. Sort your thread

Keep your thread close to your machine and sorted by color. My thread is in a clear tackle box in paper boxes. The thread racks that you see in fabric stores are another great option. Mounted on the wall, you can easily grab the color you need or see which one you’re low on.

4. Keep machine needles behind your machine

Sewing efficiently starts with stocking up on things you use every single time you sew. Like machine needles. Buy them in bulk. I keep mine in a jar in their little plastic covers. You can have a more detailed system where you catalog all the numbers, but I find the jar is low fuss. I can quick grab the type I need and leave the rest in the jar for another time.

5. Have a list of your sewing machine feet

Some machine feet are weird looking. Make yourself a cheat sheet.

Have you ever forgot what a blind hem foot looks like? Make an index card to fit in the box where you store your sewing machine feet. I have a Janome machine, so all of the feet are coded with a letter. On the card, there’s the letter, the name of the foot, what it does, and any features it might have. You can draw or print out pictures of the really weird ones. I’m looking at you, pintucking foot.

This simple trick will help you find those feet faster later or keep you from using a zipper foot to zigzag. Don’t do that. You’ll totally bust a needle.

6. Use organizers for your tools

Have a place for all of the marking tools, loop turners, and other pens. I store mine in these fun zipper cans. Pens are migratory critters, so when they’re all in their approved location, you can always reach for one quickly.

7. The power of the pegboard

pegboard with sewing tools
So I covered it with paper to make it more girly.

Pegboards are organizing wonders. Have hook, hang just about anything. On my pegboard, you’ll find all my rulers and measuring tapes. There’s also weird things like a lint roller, and my blockprinting brayers and a circle rotary cutter. Without the pegboard, I constantly misplace them. Now when I need to sew fast, I know exactly where my tools are.

8. Buttons in jars

buttons in jars
Button storage also doubling as low cost maracas

You’ve probably seeing a theme now. If you want to sew efficiently, and maximize your sewing time, sort all of your stuff and keep it handy. The same goes for buttons. For a really long time, I struggled with all those fiddly button cards. They take up a lot of space, and it’s hard to see exactly what kinds of buttons you have on them. And a big button tin is a long slow hunt for the perfect button.

Instead, store your buttons in smaller jars. You can sort them by color (my solution!) or by type or by color and type. Whatever makes sense to you, do that and stick with it. Since I went to the jar system, finding buttons is so quick, and it helps me keep tabs on the buttons I’m running low on.

next page graphic with spool of thread

I’m telling you to sew without pins, and you’re already freaking out. There you are on the other side of the screen with all the dagger eyes.

I get it–pins make us feel safe as sewists. But pins are slowing you down and making your sewing not super accurate.

I’m going to show you what to do instead.

I’ve been practicing these techniques for years and taut sewing instead of pinning alone has saved more garments than I can count. Let’s do this.

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

Pinterest image of how to sew without pins

Why you need to sew without pins

When you start sewing, you pin everything. As a beginner, I used to put something like 18 pins in any given seam. But I quickly got frustrated with pins. Here’s some of the reasons why sewing with pins is something you need to give up.

More pins=[so much] more time

Don’t believe sewing with pins is slowing you down?

Let’s break it down:

For every pin you use, you have to:

  • Put the pin in the fabric
  • Stop sewing when you get close to the pin
  • Take the pin out
  • Put the pin in/on a pincushion

Each one of these steps is pretty quick, but multiply that out for every pin, in every pattern piece, for every seam, and we’re talking major time. Major.

Those 18 pins a seam once translated into a good 6 hours to make a simple pair of pajama pants. Even if you sewed with half the number of pins you use, you’d be saving massive time.

More pins = more blood

Pins are sharp. The more pins you use, the more chance you have of unintentionally stabbing yourself.

Did I mention that I used to use honking quilting pins when I was a beginner? Their jumbo points inflicted a whole lotta damage on my hands.

I don’t get it, but my hands are seriously pin magnets.

I later learned about finer glass head pins. They are definitely a lot better. They’re points are smaller and you can even iron over them. Still, whether through clumsiness or something else, my hands always find the doggone pins.

More pins = potential danger to you or your machine

Sewing over pins is a risky operation. A lot of people [myself included] will do it sometimes to help cut down on the time factor when sewing with pins.

Maybe you get away with it a few times. Maybe a lot of times. And then…

You hit a pin when you sew over it. Your needle gets broken. Tiny shards of needle go down somewhere in the nether regions of your machine. If you’re lucky, you can fish it out with a magnet. If you’re not lucky, you might mess up your machine’s timing. A pricey fix.

Worse–if you SERGE over a pin. You might think you can stop and take out every single pin. But some heavy fabrics it’s hard to see where your pins are. Combine that with the race car speeds that sergers move and you’re one step from:

via GIPHY

More pins = [possibly] Less accurate

If you’ve ever sewn a seam and ended up with one side mysteriously 1″ longer than the other, you know this problem.

When you use pins you can create little bubbles in the seam. Pins aren’t flat, and fabric may not be taut between pins. So when you put one in and take it out, the fabric can shift ever so slightly.

Those little shifts can travel right on down the seam. The same seam that was matching up at the top is now way off at the bottom. You can use even MORE pins (think about every inch) to help fix this.

chevron curtain made by sewing without pins
Not the best pic of my curtain, but I sure fought for that purty seam!

This made me about lose my mind one day matching chevrons for the curtains in my laundry area. Over the massive 7′ length of each seam, the pinned chevrons got further and further off from each other. After a couple of tries, I finally nailed each match with a combo of taut sewing and basting.

You can also fight against this by flipping the way you’re sewing the seam halfway through. In other words, halfway through a seam, turn over the seam so your bottom fabric is now the top. This will even out the pinning problem and the uneven sewing of the feed dogs.

Flipping and extra pinning does work really well, but keep reading, and I’ll show you how to get it right without either.

How to sew without pins

So how do you go about sewing without pins? What do you do instead of using pins. Here are the things that I’ve found to be most useful.

Taut sewing

one hand in front, one hand in back of sewing machine while sewing
Hand in front + hand behind =taut sewing

Taut sewing is my favorite strategy for going pinless. Taut sewing means that you’re holding the fabric taut with your hands as it goes through the machine.

To sew taut, you hold one hand at the back of your machine and one at the front. As the fabric goes under the presser foot, move your hands at the same rate towards the back.

Your goal is NOT to pull but to move your hands evenly.

This works great for long seams, especially straighter seams. For curved seams and more delicate fabrics, I like this next one:

Pinch hand, piano hand

Pinch hand/piano hand is similar to taut sewing. For this pinless sewing variation, you still have both hands on the fabric. You will still move both hands towards the back, but it’s a little different.

Pinch the fabric in your right hand and turn the pinched bit towards the presser foot.

curved hand on fabric to sew efficiently without pins
Just like chopping veg

Curve your fingertips and spread them wide on your left hand. Lightly place them on the left side of the fabric. If you’ve ever played piano, that’s what your left hand should look and feel like.

Confident but delicate touch.

As the fabric moves under the presser foot, use your right hand fingers to keep the edges even. Use your left hand fingers to press very gently towards the back.

The goal is still to move both hands at the same rate towards the back. This version is awesome for curved seams and more delicate fabrics. Your left hand fingers really can turn the fabric like a steering wheel. For any fabric that needs a little more finesse, this is your go-to.

Curved edges on the bottom

Sometimes you have to ease longer edges into shorter ones. If you measure a sleeve cap, it’s actually longer than the armhole. Why–because that longer bit makes room for the curve of your arm.

The same thing is true of a princess seam. Instead of using 18,000 pins to ease that curvy side front into the center front, sew with the curved edge on the bottom.

Match up the notches, put the curvy side against the feed dogs. Use pinch/piano hands and the feed dogs will do the work. No pins.

Longer edge + unintentional pleat = sad + unpicking

I sewed both of these princess seams with the curved side front on the bottom. Looking at it, the right side eased in nice and smooth.

Just so you could see the difference, I pinned the left side. There’s an unintentional pleat mid-seam and the bottom of the side front is almost 3/8″ longer than the center front piece. Not so hot.

1″ matched seams

basted seam intersection for sewing efficiently
Sewing a clean intersection never gets old

This is one of my favorite ways to sew without pins. You always have a little cross wherever 2 or more seams come together. Matching these intersections can sometimes be tricky. Cross pinning the intersection precisely can help, but in a lot of fabrics (especially bulky ones), pins can shift the fabric and your seam might not match.

I like to baste about 1″ instead. Here’s how to do it.

Line up the seams so that they match right at the seam line. I’m assuming that you’ve pressed the seams. Sometimes if you press one seam one way and the second seam the other way the intersection will sit a little better.

Pinch the layers together and carefully bring it under the presser foot. Sew 1/2″ before the intersection and 1/2″ after. You can use a longer basting stitch or not. Double check to see if the seam is right on.

basted seam intersection for quick sewing

If you miss it, just pull out the threads. Since you only sewed 1″, there’s no seam ripper required. Just try again.

This works great for matching seams but also when you need to match style lines across a zipper. There’s nothing worse than sewing a skirt and one side of a yoke ends up 1/2″ higher on a zipper!

Glue it

This one seems like cheating and it kind of is. But it works. There are some fabrics (leather and it’s faux cousin) that you really can’t pin because it will damage the fabric. Yes you can use wonder clips, but glue works really well. For leather there’s special glues that can hold projects together before you sew.

Other places to use glue: waistbands and shirt collars. Waistbands and collars with all their curviness are really tough to put enough pins in when you stitch in the ditch to finish off the inside of your project. But a good old glue stick will hold the pressed edge in place while you’re stitching it down.

I’ve never had a problem with glue sticks gumming up machine needles. Best of all, the glue washes right out after the fact.

Steam a Seam/Wonder Tape: like glue but better

Steam a seam 2 fusible tape for sewing without pins

Steam a Seam (*affiliate link*)is the one sewing notion you can pry out of my cold dead hands. It’s a double-sided fusible tape. There was a couple of years where The Warm Company stopped making it because they couldn’t get the right paper for the tape. I went generic then and it was rough.

Some things just work better as the real deal. Velveeta. Helmann’s Mayonnaise. Steam a Seam.

Fuse Steam a Seam wherever you want something to stay put or match it perfectly. I use it for patch pockets, welt pockets, zippers, sometimes tiny hems, collars, so many things. A zipper + Steam a Seam is about the easiest zipper to sew ever. I used it to perfectly position the stripes on the second side of this separating zip.

One thing to note: Steam a Seam is permanently a part of your project. It’s not a bad thing, but it can feel crunchy on some fabrics. Test it if you think you want to use it on a fabric.

If you need to keep something put without the crunch, Wonder Tape (*affiliate link*)will do the same thing. It washes out after you’ve used it for your sewing. I know Sandra Betzina loves it for matching plaids.

Pinless Sewist Society

So how about you? Are you a pinner or a pinless person?
What pinless technique catches your eye today?