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Rocking My Assembly Line Sewing

My COVID-19 silver lining has been time to sew, and thanks to assembly line sewing, I am cranking out the projects. In fact, if I get asked to a Zoom meeting or something else on the weekends, I get a little peevish because I’d rather be sewing.

Photo of sewing projects ready to be worked on.
Projects ready and waiting

I’ve been using my assembly line method to get projects done for years and years. I don’t even remember when I first started doing it. I think it started with cutting binges. My house is small, I don’t have a lot of room, and when I wanted to cut out a project, it involved taking over the dining room, which meant my family and I would have to find someplace else to eat dinner until I was done. Do that every couple of weeks and it gets old.

On the other hand, if I cut out a bunch of projects at the same time, the disruption was limited to maybe a weekend every six months or so. Since I had a serger (okay, it’s really an overlock machine, but everyone calls it a serger), it made sense to plan my projects so that they were all in the same color family and I wouldn’t have to re-thread the serger every time I started a new project. From there, it only made sense to do all the straight-stitching on all the projects, then all the serging, then all the pressing, and so forth, and so on until the various projects were done.

What is Assembly Line Sewing?

It’s based on the idea that you do as many steps of a project as you can before you press the different pieces out. For example, if I’m making a dress, I stitch the darts, then the back center seam, then the collar pieces, and so on, until every step that can be done without having to stop and press something is done. Extend that out a little, to a dress, a pair of pants, and a top. Stitch the darts on the dress, then the top, then stitch the inside pocket pieces to the front of the pants. Then, after pressing everything that needs pressing, I serge the shoulder seams on the top and the dress, and the pocket pieces on the pant fronts and center back seam on the pants.

It makes for pretty efficient work. Although, I must confess, it takes longer for an individual project to make it to done. On the other hand, I spend less time working on each individual project.

I used to hold all my projects on different hangars, one for simple straight stitching, especially if it didn’t matter what color thread I was using, another for parts that needed a specific color thread for, say, topstitching, and/or a special foot, such as a zipper foot, then one for those pieces that needed serging and one for pressing.

The Attempt to work on one project at a time

The downside of the process is that it does take some room. Plus, using the hangars, I’d get mixed up and couldn’t remember what my next step was, and it was taking more time than I was saving to keep looking up the pattern instructions. I also wanted to focus on improving my construction skills, so I went back to working on one project at a time.

Pattern layout

Until I hit the shirt. I’ve been making shirts for my husband for a very long time, but again, I was trying to improve my skills. This particular shirt may have been an inanimate object, but it sure felt like it was out to get me. No matter what I did, no matter how many times I took out a seam, something went wrong. It got to the point where I’d have a weekend day free to sew and I’d do just about anything else.

Then my friend Hilary was talking about how she has trouble getting projects done because she gets to a certain point where she can see how things are coming out, and then gets bored and doesn’t finish. I thought the same thing could be happening to me. So, I put the assembly line back together and not only finished the shirt promptly – it was still an epic fail, but more on that some other time – I started finishing more projects.

I was keeping the pieces in baskets according to the stage they were in, but now, I keep each project on its own hanger with a number on it, so that I can find it. I group the pattern instructions together according to whichever process is next, so that if I have a pair of shorts that need a center back seam serged and a fly front that needs topstitching, the instructions will be grouped with whatever process I’m working on next. So, if I’ve got a bunch of serging to do next, then the instructions go in with the serging group. If I’m going to be topstitching, then the instructions go into the topstitching group.

Hangar with projects to be pressed.
The pressing hangar

I also cut out a new project as soon as one of my twelve hangars is empty. My biggest problem right now is that I have a lot of projects that are all getting done at the same time, when the whole point of the process is to rotate projects as they go along. Oy.

Advantages of Assembly Line Sewing

This approach won’t work for everyone. But it does keep me from getting bored. If something is particularly making me crazy, I can put it aside for a while and go back to it when I’m back to, say, topstitching again. Also, having an iron that automatically shuts off is no big deal. I wait until I have several pieces to press, and usually do that when I first start a sewing session. Finally, because I have an out if I’m bored or frustrated, I’m actually more willing to take the time on details that I would have blown off, otherwise.

My only problem now is that I don’t have anyplace yet to wear all my nice new clothes. Oh well, this, too, shall pass.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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