How To Sew Faster (The #2HourChallenge)

I set myself a challenge on Saturday: How much could I cut and sew in 2 hours? The answer was, quite a lot! I managed to finish leggings, two t-shirts, a scarf, and cut out two more projects. I posted about my progress on IG as I sewed, and a few people asked if I could give some tips on sewing faster… so here are my top tips!

#2hourchallenge

Concord tee in adorable cactus fabric from L’Oiseau Fabrics!

1. Use a rotary blade I’m sure many of you already use a rotary blade and cutting mat, right? It’s so much faster than cutting with scissors! I don’t really use pattern weights, and I definitely don’t pin the pattern to the fabric. Just hold down the pattern and get cutting! (Bonus: Rotary blades are also better than scissors for those of us with repetitive stress injuries in our wrists!)

#2hourchallenge

Also from L’Oiseau: this beautiful peacock fabric, sewn into a Comino Cap tee!

2. Use TNT patterns

For my #2hourchallenge, I used simple knit patterns like Espresso leggings and the Comino Cap that I’ve sewn at least 10 times before. That means I’ve got a good idea how much elastic to use, or how tight to make the neckbands… and I don’t have to worry about fitting along the way. Using TNTs also means you don’t have to worry about instructions, or checking the cutting layout.

3. Stop fussing with the fabric Aim to do things once, but don’t keep fussing. It’s easy to spend more time that you need to in folding and refolding the yardage, aligning seams, or unrolling curled edges. Likewise, why pin meticulously just to remove the pins seconds later as you sew? I use a single pin at the shoulder sleeve when attaching knit sleeves, and I use three pins on a neckband. That’s it!

#2hourchallenge

Sweaterknit Espresso leggings, made with a drapey knit from the ends section at Fabricland. 

4. Pedal to the metal Most of the sewing process is actually about prep – cutting, aligning, trimming, pressing – but when it’s time to sew, go fast!

5. Don’t overthink it!

This is the big one for me. I can dither over decisions about what to make, how to adjust it, and how best to construct it for far too long, and sometimes it stops me from sewing. Are you the same? What loved about the #2hourchallenge was that I cut into “precious” fabric without overthinking it, and because I sewed TNTs, I could count on the finished garment working out.

#2hourchallenge

Infinity scarf, also made from sweaterknit from the Fabricland ends section. I love searching for hidden gems!

That said, sewing fast or being prolific is only worth pursuing if you enjoy it. I LOVE the feeling of whizzing through a seam, and being precise doesn’t bring me that same joy. Sewing is NOT a competition, and time spent sewing is worthwhile even if you only accomplish a few steps!

If you want to try out speed sewing, how about giving the #2hourchallenge a try? Johanna from @yellowdoormakes in Ottawa gave it a try yesterday, and whipped up a turtleneck, cardigan, leggings, and some kiddie underwear, plus cut out another project!

What tips do you have for sewing fast? Some people swear by chain piecing or batch sewing, but I’ve never found either saved me much time…How about you?


32 thoughts on “How To Sew Faster (The #2HourChallenge)

    1. Tried N True – a pattern you’ve made many time before! I have a section linked in my blog header of my TNT patterns. 🙂

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  1. Wow that’s good going for 2 hours! I’ve recently stopped pinning when I’m cutting out jersey with my rotary cutter as I realized it wasn’t necessary. With jersey fabric I like to have quite a few things cut out at once as then I feel like I get loads sewn up in a short space of time – it also means less changing of needles between woven & knits!

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    1. Good point about needles! I can definitely save time because I’ve got three machines (sewing machine, serger, and coverstitch), so there is no faffing around trying to set up a double needle etc!

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  2. I would definitely fight someone over my rotary cutter! Batch sewing has only worked for me when I’m making multiples of the exact same thing, like 3 shirts with the same kind of seams, or repetitive quilt blocks. Or when I’m just serging edges, rather than using it to piece things! Otherwise it gets a bit to confusing to manage everything…

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    1. When you batch sew 3 shirts, for example, do you do all the shoulders, then all the neckbands, then all the sleeves etc? Or do you find yourself rushing head a few steps before switching to the next shirt?

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      1. I try to do it seam by seam, but sometimes when I hit a snag, or the fabric isn’t cooperating well, I’ll do all the seams of one that don’t impact the ironing order before switching over to the next!

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    1. YOU DON’T HAVE A ROTARY CUTTER??? Seriously? You should really really consider getting one at the next big Fabricland sale! So. Much. Faster!

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        1. Same as me – no rotary cutter because I have nowhere to put the mat. Plus, if you’re making something with huge pieces – like a maxi-dress, say – what do you when the pieces won’t fit on the mat?!.. I’m a chronically slow sewer partly because if I speed-sew I end up unpicking, but also because sewing is the one and only area of my life where I do get to take my time over something.

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  3. Two tips:

    1. Get familiar with your equipment, especially your sewing machine(s). I read a lot of blogs where people get everything done and then can’t get the buttonholer to work on their machine. Or, they avoid all zippers like the plague. Sit down, use fabric scraps, and get the stuff to work that gives you problems. It really is worth the time and effort. While it won’t result in a cool garment to wear, eventually it will open up your style options as your skills improve.

    BTW, would you put up with a radio in your new car that didn’t work or would you go to the dealer for help? Same for that buttonholer on your new machine that you can’t get to work. Go back to the dealer and ask for help. A machine is an investment and everything should work.

    2. If cutting is your nemesis, plan on doing a bunch of cutting when you have the time and patience. Then, when you only have a few minutes or hours to sew, you just sit down and sew.

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    1. Lynn, that is excellent advice! That play time to get to know your machine is something that would’t have occurred to me (It’s been a while since I got a new machine) but it’s a great suggestion. I feel like lots of new sewists would benefit from watching some intro classes from Craftsy or Youtube, and learning just what their machine can do!

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  4. Great thread!
    I am very much an over-thinker. I am also a precision addict. I’ve also grown up quoting “haste makes waste” and that idea is reinforced every time a shortcut leads to a mistake (and seam ripping.) I want to stop dragging my feet when starting new projects. I mean, 3 years to make a pair of jeans…come on! But I also want to avoid rushing through my sewing because if time saved results in a lower quality product, am I just making my own version of “fast fashion”?

    You also emphasize TNT patterns, which is important because you don’t have to keep checking the instructions. And I haven’t sewn enough to get around to having TNT patterns yet. Soon though. 🙂 I think I am getting closer to finding a happy medium for myself. I’ve gotten faster now that I understand my machine better. Maybe as I keep sewing, some of those minor mistakes will disappear with experience. I can already eyeball 3/8″ 1/2″ and 5/8″ seam allowances.

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    1. When you talk about loving precision, I think it matters a lot what kind of project you are doing. I don’t feel like precision matter with knits, which is why I gravitate toward them… but every 6 months or so, I take delight in sewing a woven project that needs good technique, just to prove to myself that I still have the skills! Like you say, what matters is that the end result is loved (and not a waste of time and material), so however slowly or quickly we get there, that is always the goal!

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    2. I think my biggest increase in “speed” or productivity came once I understood construction enough to not need to scrutinize every little detail of the instruction booklet and just trust myself. Your lil’ mistakes will disappear eventually! Although there’s no accounting for distracted sewing or tired sewing :/
      I like being proficient but I don’t care to rush because I enjoy the act of sewing. Sorry if I should have just left this as a stand-alone comment and not a reply to your comment. Your philosophy with accuracy and not becoming your own fast-fashion factory stuck a chord with me 🙂

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      1. You are so right that things get faster when you don’t have to read the instructions carefully! I appreciate pattern companies that do two sets of instructions: one detailed, and one just a quick summary for more experienced sewists! 😉

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  5. I’m definitely faster when I do batch cutting/marking in another session. Especially now that I’ve had to condense my setup, and I don’t really have anywhere to cut at home anymore other than my kitchen table (which means cleaning before I can do anything, with the sticky fingered toddler factor.) I did also have some success in batch sewing recently, but it only worked because I could get away with sewing both black and charcoal without rethreading my serger/coverstitch. That, and it was the one color I actually had enough cones for both machines.

    You picked some great fabrics! Of course I love the funky prints, but the sweater knit Espressos are also rather inspiring, especially since I’m pretty firmly in the camp of leggings as tights.

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    1. I’ve got two pairs of sweaterknit leggings now, and they work quite well! Tis new pair is on the sheer side – I guess I should have cut them wider so they didn’t have to stretch much on the leg. I like being able to add some texture into an outfit though!

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  6. I love all the things you made! Those fabrics are all gorgeous! I like to do both, sometimes I’m about speed and sometimes I like to slow down and enjoy the process. I guess it depends on what kind of project I’m working on. 😉 I loved watching your challenge on Instagram.

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    1. I feel like you are so speedy – one minute you IG’d a button up shirt or jeans all cut out, then you are done! I guess everyone has the kind of projects we love sewing and can bang out relatively fast! I do wish I had your enjoyment of detail though – then my bra and jean drawers would be full!

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    1. That’s a good point! I can never fathom being one of those sewists who presses every seam, but I know it’s good practice…

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  7. You are the perfect candidate for this challenge – so I’m not surprised you manage to sew so many lovely and practical things in such a short span of time. Admittedly, I’m very out of practice at the moment but I will say that, even at my fastest, and using rotary cutter / not bothering with weights / not fussing, somehow I am still very slow by comparison 🙂

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    1. To each their own! (And I keep realising I haven’t responded to you email, but trust me, I read and was horrified/astonished/annoyed for you!)

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  8. I’m so slow at everything! Thanks for sharing these tips. I find it hard to go around curves with my rotary cutter, so I only use it for straight pattern pieces. What kind do you use?

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  9. I’ve tried batch sewing and just don’t enjoy it. I feel like I’m on an assembly line and now my fun project is a mundane “to do”. I love the sense of seeing my project coming together as the sides are sewn, collar and sleeves placed…etc. Not that I don’t sew the same item again, directly after finishing the first! Can’t tell you how many little “Just like Pop Pop” dresses I’ve made for our granddaughter out of her grandpas shirts, one after the other. Just love to see the finished project and then start the next. Scissors? What are scissors?! I only use them every once in a blue moon. Couldn’t live without my rotary cutter!

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  10. Sometimes I have a “stuff I don’t care about” sewing day. I put white thread in my serger and machine and sew EVERYTHING in white thread. I’m still not swift at rethreading my serger so this saves a ton of time with not having to re-thread for every project.

    And it’s all stuff where I wouldn’t care if the white thread showed through – pajamas that only my family will see me in, re-fashioned T-shirts that I’ll only wear to flop around the house in, craft projects, stuff like that. Sometimes I do a black thread only day if I’m sewing on all darker fabrics.

    There’s a time to be mindful and really focus and use sewing as meditation or as a learning experience – – and there’s a time to just get ‘er done!

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