So what is batch sewing and why would you need it?
Well, batch sewing is exactly what it sounds like - breaking your sewing projects down by similar tasks to maximize time and minimize effort. It’s a way of life for many small shop owners who are wearing all the hats all the time and it’s (not at all coincidentally) the way big manufacturing outfits run their operations as well.
As you can imagine, there’s a bit of an art to batch sewing and it takes some time to find your groove. But whether you're sewing 3 items or 30, the fundamentals of batching are a great skill to add to your sewing toolbox.
Let’s start with the basics.
Organization is key
Let’s be honest, some people have it and some people don’t. So, if you do, you can probably skip this part. If you don’t, take a deep cleansing breath and repeat after me, “I can do this”.
I’m a big fan of these clips (#ad). I use them for sewing and I use them in place of paperclips. Heck, I also use them, on occasion, to close up the potato chips I’m hiding in the far reaches of the pantry so my hungry little munchkins won’t get to them before I do.
I love to use my clips to help me organize my batch sews. Usually I separate by size but I’ll give you a few ideas on how to separate out different scenarios.
The first step is to create a key. I grab a piece of paper and write down all the different things I need to keep track of. So, if I’m separating by size I write down each size I’ll be working with on a separate line near the left margin of the paper then designate a colored clip to that size. To do that I simply clip a red clip next to 0-3M, an orange clip next to 3-6M, yellow next to 6-12M and so on.
Now our organization is starting to take shape! Below are a few batch sewing scenarios that I come across regularly and the basics of how I sort them.
30 x Same Items - Different Sizes: This is a perfect scenario to use a size key. Because the items are all the same I’ll just need to keep track of sizes. So, I’ll create my key and maybe start with closing my neckband. Before I sew the first one, I’ll place a clip on the tail of my serger thread, let’s say red for 0-3M. Then I’ll start sewing one neckband after the other in a long chain with several stitches between, all in size 0-3M. When I’ve done the last of that size I'll place my next clip on the tail coming off my machine. Orange for 3-6M. Then, I’ll continue to sew all my 3-6M neckbands. I’ll continue in this manner until all my neckbands are closed.
30 x Same Items - Same Size: This scenario is probably the most straightforward. No need to use your clips UNLESS there are two pieces that are similar but not the same. For instance raglan sleeves that have a right and left. If this is the case, find what you need to differentiate between and mark it. For example, with raglan sleeves I clip the front shoulder on every sleeve. Then it’s easy to match all the left sleeves to the left side of the front bodices.
30 x Different Items - Same Size: This one is a bit tricky and only works if your different items have a number of similarities. For instance, hoodies that all have waist and sleeve cuffs. If this is what you’re working with I highly recommend only batching the “low hanging fruit” (more about what I mean by that later). And you’ll definitely want to make a key that indicates which item is associated with which color clip. Like XYZ Hoodie is red, ABC Hoodie is blue and JKL Hoodie is purple. Then work one item at a time placing your clips on your chain between each different style.
3 Similar Items - All Different Sizes: in this case, create an item key and clip every piece of that item with the associated clip color. This works great when outfitting for a family photoshoot and in this case I would again start by working one item at a time so, yellow for Joggers then move to green for a Tee, orange for a Hoodie and so on.
Grab that “low hanging fruit"
So what is the “low hanging fruit”? What I’m talking about is the easy stuff, the mindless tasks that you can sew on a long chain without too much adjustment and maneuvering. Usually, these are stand alone tasks like closing neckbands and cuffs, joining elastic, sewing over the ends of your drawstrings. I like to do these things first as it gives me some sense of accomplishment early on.
Plus, I’m a big fan of checklists so if I do these first I can mark off like 6 of 9 things before even breaking a sweat.
Going rogue and creating a game plan
You may not know this or you may just be a rule follower like I am, but it took me a long time to realize that the way the pattern instructions are written is not the only way (and not always even the best way!) to create the garment (mind blown, right?).
You’ll need to find what works best for you. Do you like to hem your tee sleeves flat or in the round? Will you be adding details like topstitched inseams that aren’t called for on the pattern of those joggers? Are you figuring out placement of a custom applique before or after you sew up that hoodie?
Will you be switching thread colors? Which machines will you be using? Will you need to reset them by dropping a blade or rethreading?
You’ll need to have a clear picture before you can create an intelligent game plan because let me tell you, the worst thing you can do when batch sewing is to skip a step and have to unpick ALL. THIRTY. PIECES.
Now get to it
Now you have all your pieces ready to sew together and a game plan as to how to go about it. There’s not much more for me to tell you about other than to share a few basic examples of batch sew scenarios that work for me and to let you know that many of our patterns include batch sew scenarios like the ones below to help you plan out your process.
Basic Tee - Hemmed Sleeves & Bodice - Bound Neckline:
There’s no “low hanging fruit” here so I just dive in.
- Press all sleeve hems
- Hem all sleeves
- Serge right shoulders
- Clip in tags
- Bind necklines
- Cut apart necklines and sleeves
- Serge left shoulders
- Cut apart shoulders
- Attach right sleeves
- Continue with attaching left sleeves
- Cut tees apart
- Serge right side seams
- Continue serging left side seams
- Cut tees apart
- Press hems
- Tack seams on neckline and sleeves
- Trim loose threads
Basic Joggers - Gusset - Coverstitched Inseams - Elastic Waistband
- Set up coverstitch with narrow needles for topstitching
- Close elastic
- Close and flip cuffs
- Sew gussets onto pants back
- Topstitch gussets
- Sew fronts to backs
- Topstitch crotches
- Close side seams - all lefts then all rights
- Sew cuffs - all lefts then all rights
- Drop blade and install elastic
- Install tags
- Topstitch elastics
- Attach drawstrings
- Finish serger tails/clip loose strings
That depends on you! Admittedly, batch sewing probably takes some of the fun and creativity you love out of sewing but it’s likely a necessary evil if you’d like to make your small shop into a success (or you need to crank out insta-worthy outfits for your family of four). Because of this, I like to infuse some fun into my batches by seeing how efficient I can get! Sometimes, I time myself and I’m always looking for ways to improve techniques and results.
Plus, batch sewing is a great time to multitask by listening to a podcast on business or sewing or even just zone out on your new favorite binge-worthy show.
I hope some of these tips and tricks help you to find your batch sewing groove but remember there are endless ways to approach your batches, so it really will boil down to experimentation and practice. We’d love to hear your tips and tricks too. Please share in the comments below or join the discussion in our Facebook group!
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.