Lazy sewist tips: what’s worth the effort – and what isn’t

lazy sewing tips

Reading Janene’s brilliant 40 top tips for sewists today reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while, albeit with a slightly different angle. You see, I’m a lazy sewist – or more accurately, a time-short sewist. While getting great results is definitely important to me and I love the actual sewing process a lot, I do like to cut corners and miss out as many of the boring steps as possible. Sewing time is precious and I don’t want to waste it completing steps that aren’t necessary.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been realising which steps and techniques really are worth spending time on to get a good finish, and which you can quietly skip and not really notice the difference. Plus some of the ‘worth it’ things actually save you time in the long run! Here’s what I came up with – see if you agree…

Worth it

Deer & Doe Centaurée

Lining

I used to think, why on earth would anyone spend their time making a whole other garment just to sit inside the real one? But I’ve definitely seen the error of my ways on this one. Lining a garment means you can enclose all your raw seams so you don’t need to worry about finishing seam allowances too neatly. You can also cleanly finish necklines and sleeves with a simple understitch or topstitch, saving the need to hem or bind edges. I try to burrito dresses and tops wherever possible – it’s incredibly fast and makes a lovely clean finish inside. I also love to line wovens in stretch mesh as you can usually skip darts and pleats and get a nice snug lining in fewer pieces.

Understitching

I always used to skip this, thinking it was a waste of time. But nope, understitching your lining or facings is completely worth it as it really does help them stay tucked inside the garment and often saves the need for extra topstitching.

Changing needles

DO change you needle regularly, and match the right one for your project (jeans, ballpoint, fine etc). I can now immediately tell if my needle is old or not right for the fabric. For the record, I like Schmetz needles the best as they have colour-coded bands so I know what I have in the machine at any time.

Hand-sewing

I love a bit of hand-sewing, not least because it’s secretly lazy: one of the few tasks you can do in an armchair in front of the TV. I’ve started hand-picking all my zips and do a fair bit of invisible slip-stitching for facings and inner waistbands.

Pressing

Yeah, it’s really tedious but massively helps make garments look more polished. I sew the most amount of seams I can without intersecting them and press all at once. Also, tiresome as it is, pressing fabric before cutting and the pieces again after cutting helps with accuracy.

Not worth it

Pinning

I hardly ever pin anything. I guess that’s just down to preference and practice, but I find I get on fine working by hand and eye to match pieces together. At the most I’ll pin at the quarter and centre points when setting something in in the round. For knits I use Wonder Clips and for hems and bindings I secure with Aqua Glue. For cutting out I use weights (I like these grippy ones) and a rotary cutter and mat for maximum speed/accuracy.

Polka dot skinny jeans

Interfacing

Over the course of making lot of pairs of trousers and shorts, I’ve found that the correlation between interfaced waistbands and well-fitting, non-bagging waistbands is close to zero. It also makes it much harder to sew the inner and outer bands together accurately with one of them stiffly interfaced. My preferred method now is to cut the inner band (or interline) with a rigid fabric like twill and skip the interfacing completely – my favourite handmade jeans use this and they are performing best in terms of keeping their shape and not creasing. I still begrudgingly use interfacing where it really is needed like for facings, but don’t really like facings anyway so try to avoid them.

Backtacking

I rarely backtack at the start of a line of stitching, here’s why: nearly every raw edge will be covered by another seam or hem later on, so it really isn’t worth it for secure-ing reasons. Plus on delicate or loose-weave fabrics (and knits) it can leave an ugly bump or chew up the edge of the fabric: a plain stitch is much easier to press open and stitch over. I find that on the stitch length I use (about 2.5mm) unravelling while I work is never a problem. I also don’t backtack at the start of sewing a hem or seam in the round as then you’d have six layers of stitching over the stop-and-start point.

Following instructions

It’s incredibly rare that I follow a pattern’s instructions these days, unless it’s particularly complex or new to me. Instead I have a stock list now of ways I prefer to make things which can usually be adapted to most patterns – pants construction order, zip insertion, attaching linings and so on. Find ones that work for you and see if you can re-use them on new projects.

Do you agree with me on any points? Or have I massively revealed myself as a corner-cutting sewing fraud?! Any other time-saving tips to add?

42 thoughts on “Lazy sewist tips: what’s worth the effort – and what isn’t

  1. Debbie Iles

    I too am a lazy sewist! Hear hear! So I do agree with you on most of those. Definitely understitching is absolutely essential. Like pressing, totally worth the effort in the long run. I seem to need to pin, but what you says makes sense too, because now that you make me think about it, I pin, then take the pins out and line it up again with my eye as I sew… maybe I could further lazify my sewing now that you point this out ;-)
    I have to disagree on the interfacing though as for me, I find I get my best results if I interface all facing and zipper insertions. Waistbands, I’ve always interfaced so I wouldn’t know any different.

    1. Katie Post author

      Phew, glad it’s not just me! I have been meaning to try a higher quality interfacing than i usually use, or even a specialist waistband one, to see if it makes me like it a bit more.

  2. sewlittletime

    i know steph from cake patterns did some experimenting (as is her way) with different waistbands (i think for the hummingbird skirt). she concluded that you didn’t need to interface waistbands. – see here for her autopsy on rtw jeans http://sewingcake.com/designer-jeans-autopsy/

    great tips. i like that you listed what was worth doing as well as what to skip. i really want to learn to sew with fewer pins. i think it just takes practice tho!

    1. Katie Post author

      I’m glad my ‘worth it’ list is longer, shows i’m not completely lazy :)
      Thanks for the link – fascinating. I’m always examining my rtw jeans for construction ideas.

    1. Katie Post author

      Give it a go! Dropping down to a shorter stitch length (ie 1mm for the first cm or so) is another option if you’re worried about unravelling. I also don’t snip the thread tails until I need to stitch over it again.

  3. Jenna

    I’m with you on the back tacking, I very rarely do it on anything. Interesting about the interfacing, I really hate interfacing and try to avoid it where I can but sometimes I feel if the instructions tell me I have to then I should! Oh, and I don’t always read the instructions now but use my own methods. I have never made a pair of trousers though but plan to soon so will have lots of instruction reading to do then!

  4. Sam

    Like you, I’m a recent-ish convert to understitching. For some reason I could never seem to work out what it was supposed to do, but now I find it’s totally worth it.

    I pin intermittently – it depends on how lazy I’m feeling and what fabric I’m sewing with. I rarely use interfacing, although I ALWAYS interface zip insertions.

  5. Suzanne

    Tell me more about this aqua glue and how you use it on the bindings! This is revolutionary to me. Does it gum up your machine?

    1. Katie Post author

      No, it doesn’t! It dries nearly immediately and holds nice and firm. I use it to hold the back of bindings (or waistbands/collars with the seam allowance pressed up) in place when I’m stitching in the ditch from the front. Much easier and more accurate than pins, I think.

  6. Marilla

    Oh god, rarely pin and NEVER follow instructions (although they are useful for beginners), but I do use interfacing a fair bit. I know what you mean about the waistbands, but I use a thick one for that and seem to get on ok! I’ve always been really bad at changing my needles when they’ve had it (always change needle size according to fabric) they seem to go on and on sometimes, but once they start snagging I know I’ve pushed it too far… Good follow up post to the 40 tips. I love how differently everyone does things and am a firm believer that a sewer should follow his or her preferred method rather than go by the (mythical) book.

  7. Sara

    Wow! Some very interesting tips there! I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of not using interfacing. I think I’d be scared not to use it in waistbands, but I kind of want to try it now. How about in shirts? Do you skip it for the collar and buttonband?

    1. Katie Post author

      Perhaps I was a bit harsh! I do always use it behind buttonholes and on facings. But I think for waistbands there are other options to explore, like a rigid fabric or twill tape.

  8. Marilla

    Well, I just use thick Vilene and I face both parts of the waistband, or if it is a straight waistband then I insert some rigid waistband stuff. It’s almost like a boning for waistbands, but I don’t know what it’s called, but no good for shaped bands. I’ll pop a pic on Instagram of this stuff. I’ve not tried the posh stuff, because as well as a ‘cut corners’ kind of girl I’m also a ‘cut cost’ lady, where possible! Doesn’t always work out!!!

  9. Carole

    I also avoid interfacing. I think it’s because I started off using the cheap cardboard like stuff. I usually use something of similar weight and colour like cotton lawn on a chiffon archer I am making at the minute. Seems to have worked so far.
    I would like to make a jacket/coat in the Autumn so think I will have to overcome my interfacing fear for that

  10. mary

    I pretty much agree! On interfacing, here’s what I prefer. For shirts that have cuffs,collars, buttons etc in lightweight fabrics I use silk organza. For tops in heavier weight fabrics I use a sew in med. weight or I have had good success with med. weight fusible from BBlack and sons. I have also used med. weight sew in and the med weight fusible from Off the cuff. Those seem to work well. For waistbands, I prefer a sew in or like you describe, or I have even left it out entirely with no ill effects. For stretch wovens, I like the fusible stuff by Off the Cuff for stretch. One can also use petersham ribbon for waistbands.

    1. Katie Post author

      Thank you for the great tips, I’m going to try a few to find something I like. I think sew-in in the way forwards.

  11. lisa g

    i’m with you!!! love the burrito dress method, i use that all the time. it’s especially great on lined knit dresses– no worries about how to finish the armholes and neckline! i do interface, either good quality fusible or sew in a layer of muslin. great idea to use stretch mesh to line, i’ll have to try that!

  12. Sophie

    Hhaha wow! So insightful, I know a few people who don’t pin and can’t say I am one of them. That’s confidence right there. Have to agree with your under-stitching. That is one of my favourite sewing techniques ever, I even find myself looking for places to under-stitch when the instructions haven’t offered any. Great post Katie!

  13. Sarah

    Great post (and I’ll have to check out janenes). I’m a pinner, but I don’t have a walking foot which can help I believe with fabric creepage (my machine is pretty old and those feed dogs like to dance a slightly uneven tune sometimes!). And also I’ve got to pin when sewing with stripes! I tend not to worry about cutting notches especially if I’ve made the pattern before and know it’s well drafted and everything goes together nicely. I like your idea of doing the waistband lining with a heavier fabric – you’ve made so many trousers that I’m more than happy to be guided by your experience! And I also a knit hem gluer – best way to get a nice twin needle finish as well as saving time!

    1. Sarah

      Oh yeah, I forgot to say that I never clip or notch curves, I only ever just trim very close to the seam line, and I always try to remember to grade seams on collars and waistbands……

    2. Katie Post author

      Oh yes, I’m totally guilty of not transferring notches and markings as well. I do clip curves though: usually pink the seam allowance down then clip into tight curves. A little sharp pair of thread snips makes this really easy and accurate.

  14. Bella

    I like your tips! I am weirdly attached to pinning, I think it’s a safety net. Probably not necessary though as I’ve been sewing long enough to have a good grasp of how things go! One lazy thing I’m keen to try is to stop doing sleeves in the round, but to do them in the flat before sewing up the side seam. I’ve heard it’s much quicker. Probably less swear-inducing, too.

    For interfacing I only use a very lightweight interfacing, of which I have tons. I bought it in bulk from my pattern making teacher. It never bulks up by fabric but provides that extra layer of support. I guess sew-in interfacing is always an option or just a voile or something to stiffen things up? I hat the way interfacing gunks up my ironing board.

    1. Katie Post author

      I nearly always sew sleeves in flat! Yes, I think it’s the fusible part I especially dislike so going to try some alternatives.

  15. Measure Twice Cut Once

    Great list! Yes to understitching! Why do people not do it more? It’s so easy and makes a big big difference to the final garment.
    Only 2 I disagree on are handstitching, I think the last time I did handstitching (apart from sewing on buttons) was many many years ago. I just find I can get a better finish with the machine or by using lining and bagging it out. I’m also a big fan of interfacing, it really helps add shape to a garment and that then helps the garment to last longer.

    1. Katie Post author

      It’s probably the quality of interfacing I’ve been using but I find it actually makes my garments look *worse* after washing – creasing and bubbling etc. Going to try some sew-in alternatives.

  16. Rachael

    Yeah, I totally hear you out on all of those. Especially under-stitching linings – it was a complete revelation to me when I started doing it how much of a difference it makes!

  17. Melanie

    As a new sewist some of this tips scare the bejesus out of me – no pins or backtacking, you’re like a sewing ninja Katie! I need to be more vigilant in changing my needles as I think it’s causing some issues for me. I’m yet to line anything but I’m hoping we can get the stuff you use here in Australia…

  18. Tilly

    Just read Janene’s wonderful post, and this is a great one too! While I advise readers/students to backtack for safety (particularly if you are having a break between stitching or are perhaps liable to missing stitches), I must admit I’m like you, I rarely do it myself, ever since the teacher on the professional sewing techniques course I did a couple of years ago looked at me like I was nuts when I asked about it, for the same reason you cited about stitching lines crossing. Same with pinning – I rarely bother, unless the fabric is slippery or the seams are totally different shapes or there’s gathering involved. Even then, on that same course we learnt to set in gathered sleeves with no pins… although that was a bit hardcore, yikes!

    1. Katie Post author

      I should have added I wouldn’t advocate most of these for beginners either! I’d love to do a course someday and learn even more; I think there is a craftsy course on using pro-tailor techniques to speed up your sewing.

  19. sewamysew

    Following instructions is how I learned to sew basically. I’m only just starting to do my own thing but I still read them just to make sure there isn’t a better way to go about it. I’ve been experimenting with no back tacking since reading this and you’re right, in most cases it’s not necessary. Totally love this post!

  20. Ebi Poweigha

    Ah, interfacing — I also feel it isn’t the best way to get a crisp, stable waistband, but maybe I just haven’t used the right kind. Interfacing everywhere else on a garment, though, gives great effect.

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