Right now I’m working on Captains Gin and Aizen from Bleach, which are very close to duplicates of the same costume (as they won’t diverge until I get to the haori/overcoats). So far, this hasn’t been so much a test of my sewing ability (though we’ll get there–those hakama aren’t going to pleat themselves) as my organizational skills. It’s tempting, and it always has been, to just barrel ahead and leave pieces sorted into piles that you put together and will thus definitely remember later. This is something we’ve all done, and I’m definitely guilty.
This will inevitably go wrong.
I work a full-time job that has nothing to do with sewing. I play video games and run a Pathfinder campaign and try to read and write books and go to the occasional Magic tournament. I do not have the time to correct for the kinds of mistakes that not organizing my stuff will cause. Yes, it takes extra time and effort up front. It introduces the overhead of pinning notes and sorting things on the fly and cleaning up every few hours to what can already be a crowded process.
But it saves so much time, frustration, and (in the worst-case scenario) wasted materials to put in that little bit of extra effort, and if you can work it into your habitual process, it’ll only continue to pay for itself going forward.
That’s all well and good, but how do we go about implementing this?
1. Dedicated containers.
I got this two-pack of plastic bins at Target for maybe three bucks. Each is labeled with a sticky-note (with which I am obsessed) and two pieces of Scotch tape, so that I can reuse them for future projects. This system a) gives me a place to get prepared bits and bobs off of my floor/desk/bed/couch/fiance, and b) keeps the version of the costume that I’m working on at the front of my mind. It also establishes a
2. Color code.
You know how I mentioned I’m obsessed with sticky notes?
I picked out two very distinct colors (the lighting in my workspace is a little bit crappy, but it’s what I have and I work around it as best I can) and have started pinning them to everything. Panels for a kosode? Label ‘em. Pattern pieces? Label ‘em. Strings that are identical to other strings but that I need to remember to include? Label ‘em. Then toss ‘em all in the correct bin (which I don’t have to do any mental gymnastics to remember, because it’s the one that matches).
This may seem really obvious, but see above about full-time job and tons of hobbies. I do a lot of my work late at night, when the lighting in my room is even worse than usual and I’ve already got a full day of Other Stuff kicking around in my brain. Believe me: every little bit helps.
I don’t have a fancy computerized automatic machine. (I do, however, have a Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 that has been an absolute workhorse since I got it lightly used back in 2009. It’s my baby, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.)
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of my process I can (semi-)automate.
Back to Gin and Aizen and duplication: both of those fine gentlemen are wearing exaggerated versions of relatively traditional Japanese items. For the black robes (the term I’ve adopted after seeing it get used repeatedly for this piece is “kosode”, but I am far from a scholar on Japanese garb), I need six rectangular panels each, and since I don’t want to introduce a ton of bulk by flat-felling or doing some other kind of layered finish on the seams, I need to run a kind of serge stitch down each of the long raw edges. Typically, if I’m working on one item, I’ll do things like finish edges as needed–finish two, stitch them together, repeat. But that approach means a lot of fiddling with the machine and changing settings–which can add up to a lot of time lost and introduce inconsistencies in the stitching.
Or I can just stack them up and run through all 44 feet (I counted) of stitching in a single marathon.
Sidebar: If you’re going to do something like this, go ahead and prepare a lot of bobbins. A lot of bobbins. At least n+2, where n is the number you think you need. I was not prepared for how much thread this process was going to take. I’ve used about one full bobbin on each three panels–that’s four full bobbins over the course of a few hours of prep. If you’re doing satin-stitching of any kind, that equation changes to n*3.
Second sidebar: Before even prepping my bobbins and getting my settings right, I ironed every panel. All twelve. This is mandatory. I could have split up the ironing more, but doing it all at once enabled me to develop what I think of as short-term muscle memory: getting in a rhythm that works and being able to continue it without constant thought. Iron however works for you best, but don’t you dare not iron.
“But it’s just flat fabric!” you cry into the darkness. “How can a wrinkle matter?”
It matters because we work along a continuous stream. Maybe a weird wrinkle sneaks through and gets caught in a stitch as I’m running the piece through the machine. This piece of fabric is no longer perfectly flat. The edge is ever so slightly warped, and now it doesn’t match exactly with the edge it’s meant to attach to, or with itself when it’s folded over for a hem. Maybe that tiny stitched fold spawns another weird fold when trying to stitch something else to it, which in turn affects the next three pieces down the line. Things propagate. Iron your shit.
The end result: when I switch my settings back to a straight-stitch at the length and tension that I want, I don’t have to change it ever again (until the next fabric or piece change). I’ve saved the thirty seconds or so it might take me to exactingly fiddle, times six or twelve or however much I ended up going back and forth, as well as the annoyance of having to do it (and your mental state is as much a resource as time or money, but I’ll address that in a later post. And ironing. I could soapbox for three thousand words about ironing) and the worry of getting it wrong or introducing those tiny inconsistencies that can eventually build to reduce the quality of your work.
This kind of organization process work takes planning, and forethought, and dedication to spend time now to save time later. But if you find yourself frustrated with the way your tasks play out–or worse, having to spend way more time correcting for mistakes made while not paying attention–give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
P.S. No, seriously. Iron your shit.