How to sew faster pt.2

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Mar 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm / Sewing / Trackback

Based on comments to yesterday’s entry, people agree that any short cuts in the front end of the process are what add time to the fun part, presumably sewing (but some don’t like that either). That’s worth thinking about, what don’t you like? Why? You think about that while I continue to ramble.

People dislike impediments, whatever those are. If you dislike cutting, it’s probably because you don’t have the space to cut or you don’t have the best tools (small table, no mat, chink in your rotary blade etc). Another example, I don’t like making buttonholes because I don’t have a buttonhole machine. All my jackets have zippers, snaps or conchos. If you think about it some more, the problem isn’t that work arounds take time, it’s that you dislike the barriers so much you delay doing it. How many of you haven’t started new projects or completed old ones because you have to clear a space or suspect you won’t be able to find whatever tools or notions you need? If you are the singular paragon of virtue out there, can it. None of the rest of us want to eat lunch at your table.

This is a good time to return to the TWI pt.2 post and the training manuals (pdf) used in factories across the US during WW2. According to the manual:

The problem is either MECHANICAL or PEOPLE or BOTH. All problems involve people directly or indirectly. Mechanical problems relat[e] to:

  • Methods
  • Layout
  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Materials
  • Machines

I’ll leave the people part of the citation for next time, mechanical problems are enough to deal with today. Let’s deal with each singularly.

Methods: This one is tricky. There are several kinds of methods barriers (none of what I’m writing is in the manual, at least not as far as I’ve read). These can be sorted by:

  1. established work protocols dictated by the design or limitations of a machine
  2. limitations of your working area (too small table etc)
  3. internal barriers, meaning one is locked into thinking something has to be done a certain way.

Layout: Layout seems related to obvious organization problems but not always. Often, the organization of your working area is related to the manner in which you’ve organized the work process. A good example is how many plants organize the flow of material coming in. There’s a shipping dock, from there fabric traipses to an inventory holding area where goods are entered and yardage inspected and cut for testing. The traffic in the shipping area can be a mess with product also leaving for retail stores. Fabric is often kept in the middle of things where pilferage can be controlled (remember, it’s not only business owners who are evil). The fabric then has to go back out to the cutting area, after which it travels back through the inventory area to get to the sewing lines. Fabric doesn’t travel nearly so far as when it enters the factory doors. Layout can be a pill which is why you should think a lot about a location to build, buy or lease.

The other way in which you can impose unnecessary impediments is according to the process of work completion as you’ve defined it. This is also related to methods. All of these concepts are connected.

Tools, Equipment and Machines: We can put these in one category. Most everyone has a wish list of toys to make their life easier. The biggest problem with this category is knowing what exists, where and how to acquire it, how to learn to operate it, and how to maintain and repair it. For small businesses, this isn’t so easy but it’s easier if you’re located in a garment industry area. Often, the problem isn’t so much that you can’t afford sexy new machines, it’s that you can’t repair or maintain them. I tend to limit my purchases to machines that are fairly easy to operate and repair (I’m the mechanic). I also select machines for which parts are readily purchased. I do live near a garment center but it is hassle and a lost day’s work to take a machine in for repair were it needed. It is in part for this reason I’m slowly buying newer equipment.

Lastly is Materials. If your enterprise is just starting, you probably haven’t had enough experience yet to know the limitations materials can impose. This is yet another reason you should be designing with continuity in mind. Ideally, your materials will be similar enough in weight and handling that you can use the same machines to sew without having to switch threads or adjust thread tensioning. Adjusting thread tension on an industrial can be a whole other ball game. If you’re using a broad range of materials, you will need more machines than if you just used one kind. If you’re using contractors, you may need more than one.

Not least of all is muscle memory and handling experience. My suggestion to learning to sew different materials is to batch your learning experience. If you want to work with bias, don’t make one bias dress, do a whole series of them. It’s only after the tenth one that the motions become second nature. In sum, speed relies on agility that is developed through practice.

Related:
How to sew faster pt.1
How to sew faster pt.2
How to sew faster pt.2b
How to sew faster pt.3
How to sew faster pt.4

15 Responses to “How to sew faster pt.2”

Comments RSS feed

KatyRenee
March 24th, 2009
2:18 PM

Thanks for more insights!

“People dislike impediments, whatever those are. If you dislike cutting, it’s probably because you don’t have the space to cut or you don’t have the best tools (small table, no mat, chink in your rotary blade etc).”

I totally agree. I used to think silks and slinky fabrics weren’t worth my time. Then I tried again with silk pins, fresh needles, a nice cutting area, etc. And it was easy peasy, just took a bit more preparation time. In the end it saved a ton on frustration, though!!

Bryan Lund
March 24th, 2009
7:31 PM

Dang Kathleen! You nailed it again!

When dealing with Methods, you end up talking about people. The TWI Problem Solving Manual used in Japan was a high level synthesis of the three J skills for leaders to use in choosing which problem solving path to go down. With methods you state that three problems can occur:

1) established work protocols dictated by the design or limitations of a machine,
2) limitations of your working area (too small table etc),
3) internal barriers, meaning one is locked into thinking something has to be done a certain way.

Regarding #1, “work protocols” – TWI Job Instruction is highly appropriate here.
Regarding #2, “limitations of your work area”, more on that in a minute,
Regarding #3, “internal barriers”, i.e. thinking and behavior patterns, this can be addressed via Job Relations.

Back to #2. Think about the phrase “limitations of your work area”. What does this include? Layout, materials, machines, tools, etc. Job Methods is a basic skill that gets individuals to first focus on methods. However, it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to know that the other improvements MUST follow. Methods improvements are highly dependent on layout, materials, materials presentation, incoming quality, fixture quality, maintenance, machine performance, etc., etc.

This is arguably the weak spot of of Job Methods Training – TWI’s version of Kaizen. However, it’s strongest characteristic is the “questioning attitude” and “observation skills” built into the program – characteristics that are present in EVERY Lean tool. Even Taiichi Ohno said that five why’s were continued as an extension of JM training in post war Toyota.

Great post. Hopefully this clears up a little bit of questions regarding the Problem Solving Manual.

Pam ~Off The Cuff~
March 25th, 2009
3:40 AM

“…speed relies on agility that is developed through practice.”

AMEN!

I am often asked how long it takes me to make a shirt. When I answer…few believe me.
I try to explain that after cutting and sewing 100’s of shirts, I’ve developed a lot of agility :)

However, I still hate sewing buttons…….and put it off often until the last moments before the shirt is to be shipped, LOL!

J C Sprowls
March 25th, 2009
9:38 AM

@Pam.
I have occasional agita over my buttonholer (e.g. is the knife sharp enough, is the cutting depth right, etc.) and that will cause me to batch up a number of shirts before making buttonholes, too. The machine doesn’t lose its tune easily. But, everytime you turn it on, it’s prudent to sew a dozen or so test buttonholes before trying to do them on a finished garment.

I also need a buttonsew. I dread doing buttons by hand unless I’m making a custom shirt (read: paid for the additional time involved). It’s yet another point where I will let the work bottleneck until I’ve accumulated enough to warrant sitting down for a couple hours to finish.

99% of everything else, I like doing, so getting work into play isn’t a problem. It’s know that I have these few bottlenecks which eventually prevent me from reaching for something new.

Mia Arenas
March 25th, 2009
12:58 PM

Pam said, “I am often asked how long it takes me to make a shirt. When I answer…few believe me.”

I have to ask, how long does it take you to make a shirt?

Terri Dans
March 25th, 2009
3:35 PM

Thanks Kathleen for continuing to post interesting entries.
I found that I spent some time yesterday linking to previous posts and reading older entries that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to access.

Pam ~Off The Cuff~
March 26th, 2009
7:06 AM

To answer Mia… it depends, LOL….all my shirts are custom. The black shirt most recently pictured on my site took me about an hour to actually sew, after cutting and fusing. Yes, the seams are flat-felled.

Most Home-sewers/enthusiasts think that is amazingly fast.
Professionals may think it rather slow ;)

Kathleen
March 26th, 2009
8:14 AM

When dealing with Methods, you end up talking about people. The TWI Problem Solving Manual used in Japan was a high level synthesis of the three J skills for leaders to use in choosing which problem solving path to go down.

Re-reading my content, I realize I need to reword it a bit. When I said this …

none of what I’m writing is in the manual, at least not as far as I’ve read

…one could be left with the impression that I was implying the manual was lacking. What I meant to say is that I didn’t read beyond this section as I was carried away with ideas and examples I knew of personally and that any omissions or errors were mine, not the manual’s.

Most Home-sewers/enthusiasts think that is amazingly fast. Professionals may think it rather slow

This is an interesting point Pam. I plan to write about the real costs of handling, a concept that is not measured or included in total production time in the typical factory.

In other words, your sewing “time” may not be as inefficient as you may suspect as compared to a typical shirt manufacturer because they are not using the same ruler you are to measure total time spent. The failure to include the time and cost of handling is the summary argument for employing lean manufacturing of which the tenet (in apparel) is one person sewing one item start to finish -like you do.

Malissa
March 26th, 2009
2:00 PM

Sewing is my favorite part of the job but through journaling my time I’ve learned that’s only about 20% of the process. 80 % is pattern, drafting, and my least favorite of all cutting.

Lisa B. in Portland
March 26th, 2009
2:27 PM

I don’t like cutting because I don’t have a cutting table (I have mats and good scissors but use my dining room table), but even when I was in school and had access to the cutting tables, I still didn’t like it that much. I would rather sew first or make patterns second and I don’t think I’m that good of a designer.

Marguerite Swope
March 27th, 2009
6:21 AM

Pam,

That black shirt is gorgeous! Wow! And as a home sewer I think 1 hour is very fast! But I do understand factories are different (after watching the jeans being made in 13 minutes I think it was).

Anyway, all your shirts are incredibly gorgeous and look just perfect.

Marguerite

The 7 minute cutting test pt.2
November 19th, 2009
5:57 PM

[…] to learn how to analyze problems. They are usually sorted into rough categories according to Man, Method or Machine. Materials also plays a part but we’ll stick with these three for now. The problem here was […]

vee
April 28th, 2010
7:21 PM

Since we are talking about methods. I want to purchase a new machine. I want to be able to embroider also. Should I purchase 3 machine, for regular sewing, embroidery and serger. Or should I purchase a regular machine that embroiders and a serger. Any one have any selections. I want to manufacturer my own products and sell them in my business.

[…] sew so fast after all. Pam gives me the opening I was looking for with her comment from Tuesday: The black shirt most recently pictured on my site took me about an hour to actually sew, after […]

[…] it, fix that thing and then they stop having to correct for an upstream problem. As I’ve explained before, the way you troubleshoot in an organized way is according to the 4 M’s -Man, Method, Machine […]

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Archives

Categories

The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing

Often described as the garment industry “blue book”, the most highly rated book in the business is guaranteed to get you off to a solid start or your money back. Many service providers require you read this before they’ll work with you. Learn more »

Subscription Options

RSS Feed Google Reader My Yahoo My MSN Technorati

Subscribe by email: