Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How to Plan a Personal Sewing Retreat Weekend

Or otherwise titled:  How to Get a Lot of Sewing Done in One Weekend!

I have a personal sewing retreat weekend scheduled for myself this coming weekend.  I try to do these at least every few months.  I've done this a few times now, and have honed my technique on how to get a lot of sewing done in one weekend.  Here are a few tips, in no particular order.

1.  Start with a plan.  

This is a big one.  When I'm looking forward to a sewing retreat weekend, I always plan what items I want to sew, and make a list!  I am a list maker at heart, but writing it down is SO important.  I have so many ideas floating around in my brain that I can get sidetracked or even overwhelmed with "analysis paralysis."  If I make a list, I can ensure that I have a well coordinated wardrobe that works together with the most effective use of my sewing time.  I use for to make my list.

There are many, many ways to come up with a cohesive wardrobe plan, so I won't go too in depth with it here, but a capsule or Suduko wardrobe concept works best for a sewing retreat weekend plan.  You can make Pinterest inspiration boards for a visual inspiration and narrow down your choices from there.  You could also flip through the magazines to see what trends are coming, and which ones you want to incorporate.  Honestly though, my plans are usually based on what is easily accessible in my stash that will work for the next season.

2.  Be realistic with what you want to accomplish during your retreat.  

While you may want to sew your entire fall wardrobe in one sitting, that is not likely do-able.  I aim to finish one labour-intensive garment, like a pair of jeans or a jacket, and then a few quick and easy ones, like simple skirts, tee shirts or knit dresses, in a weekend.

3. Read your pattern envelopes in advance.

This ties in with #1, but is something that is easy to overlook.  Sometimes patterns call for obscure notions that you don't stock in your stash.  Or you might even need six buttons instead of the five you thought you needed.  Don't forget about the correct sewing machine needles, thread, buttons and zippers.  Nothing is more annoying than having to disrupt your sew-jo when you realize you don't have any 3/8" twill tape, or you've run out of the exact shade of thread you need at 10 pm when the store isn't open.  Visit your local sewing store beforehand and make sure you have these on hand before  you retreat time begins.

4.  Make sure your machines are in good working order.

Give them a tidy (clean out the bobbin case!) and some oil (if they need it) before the retreat starts.  Put in a new needle - I usually do this for each project, but at the very least they should be changed every 8 hours of sewing time.  Have some sewing machine oil on hand - you may need to give them some through your retreat too, depending on how much sewing you're doing.  Make sure your iron has been cleaned in advance too, both the steam reservoir and the sole plate.  Have a fresh pressing cloth on hand, and make sure your scissors have been sharpened and your rotary cutter has a fresh blade.

5.  Use Tried and True (TNT) patterns.

TNT patterns mean you've already worked out all the kinks with fitting and order of construction.  In other words, you know what's going on and you're comfortable with sewing the garment together quickly.  A word of caution though, you'll still need to stop once and a while for a quick fit check, but it shouldn't need any major adjustments.

6.  Pull/buy all of your fabrics in advance of your retreat.

I review my list of planned garments and pull the fabrics, patterns and notions I'll need.  I do this usually a week or two before the retreat.  Again, because of the way my stash is organized, it makes it easy for me to pull fabrics for my plan.  This leaves me with enough time to re-vamp my plans if I have to based on yardage or what I find in my stash.  

If you're pulling yardage from your stash, go so far as to double check how much yardage you have and make sure you have enough for your planned garment!  I ran into this recently when I thought I had enough yardage for a pair of trousers that were a focal point of my wardrobe, and when I went to cut into it, I had much less yardage than I thought!  In a retreat situation, this would cause trouble - I would look for another pattern and then try to figure out if it would still works in my wardrobe, all of which leads to "analysis paralysis" and over-thinking the situation, which in turn causes a decrease in my production.  

7.  Plan your meals ahead of time.

Sustenance is important on a retreat.  You are (hopefully) working hard, and proper nutrition is important for brain function.  I try to plan all my meals in advance anyways, so this is one that is pretty easy for me to incorporate, however, for retreats I specifically plan meals that are quick and easy to prepare.  I also make a trip to the grocery store in advance of my sewing retreat so I have all the necessary food on hand as well.  I will often use my slow cookers as much as possible for meals during retreat weekends.  I can then devote as much time to sewing as possible and still enjoy a nourishing quick meal!  

8.  Ignore the housework.

On my retreat weekends, I ignore the real world as much as possible.  I will try to push myself through my household chores either before or after the retreat (usually before, then I can use sewing as my reward).  During the retreat, don't get distracted by laundry, sweeping or mowing the lawn.  This is a retreat, use it as a treat for yourself.

Depending on how productive I want to be, I may even put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and only take the most important phone calls.  Rely on technology and screen your calls if you can!  Or schedule phone calls for morning or night, or when you need to take a break, and give yourself a time limit as to how long you can talk!

I will plan my retreat weekends for times I know I don't have any other commitments.  Sounds simple, but if you have many family or work commitments or people are used to you generally being available, this may take some planning.  I block off the time in my calendar and make it very clear to both myself and others that this is a special time for me.

9. Use less pins.  

Use techniques that speed up your sewing and decrease your production time.  I use pattern weights and my rotary cutter for cutting out.   And when I'm at the sewing machines, I use less pins to pin pieces  together.  I learned this technique when doing production sewing in a former life - the faster I did things, the more I got done in a shorter time period, and the more I got paid.  I'll still use pins (or even basting) when I need to match seams, patterns, plaids, or hold finicky parts together (i.e. collar bands) but for the most part I use very few pins.

10.  Block your projects.

Plan to sew similar projects in phases.  For example, I am currently working on a wardrobe based on mustard yellow, brown and burgundy.  I plan to sew all my mustard yellow knit items, followed by the mustard yellow woven items (one needle change, no thread changes) before switching to my brown knit items and brown woven items, and then the same for the burgundy garments.  

11.  Do as much as possible by machine.

Machines were designed to make our lives easier.  I will often not focus on couture techniques during a retreat (unless you specifically want to work on a couture garment that is!), and use the machines in place of hand-stitching where I can.  I use the machine to stitch in the ditch instead of slip stitching waistbands, collars and facings in place, to hem (with the blind hemmer) and even to sew buttons on (a small drop of Fray-Chek or clear nail polish on the back holds them in place).

12.  Take regular breaks and stay hydrated.

Our bodies are not made to sit all day (or night).  I know I work more productively if I take regular breaks to move to another position.  Make sure you drink enough water.  I don't like any food or drinks in my studio, but I always have a water bottle next to my sewing machine to sip as often as possible.

13.  And finally, remember why you are doing this.

This is supposed to be a treat for yourself.  Try to be as productive as possible, but if you run into a slow-down or set-back, step away from the machine.  Go for a walk, do some yoga, make a cup of tea, flip through a magazine, play with the fabrics you've pulled.  Take a deep breath and then get back to it!  No matter how much you get done in one weekend, it will be more than what you started with.

I will sometimes invite a friend to my retreat.  We've done this a couple of times as well - we have dinner together, enjoy some wine, watch some Project Runway and then get up early, go for a hike/walk and then start into our sewing.  I love sewing with others, I learned this when I was working on my fashion/tailoring degree and really miss that camaraderie.  Sewing retreats with friends make me feel like I'm back with my tribe.

I hope this helps, both to encourage you to try out your own "sewing retreat," or to be more productive with your sewing.  If you have any tips to share about how you increase your own sewing productivity, I'd love to hear them!


  1. These are all good rules and many I employ myself! Have a good time on your sewing retreat...and maybe share a few pics when you're done!

  2. I love your plan and am anxious to see the results!