13 Tips to Making the Most of Limited Craft Time

A common comment people make to me these days is: “I wish I had the time to sew like you do.” This is both frustrating and exciting, since I love sharing my passion for crafting, but I think people tend to forget that they have to make time for recreation. Like a lot cosplayers and home sewists, I work a full-time job, have family/relationship/friend obligations, and other personal activities like exercise.

Many (see: most) days, I only have 1-2 hours tops to work on a project. On a good week, that translates to about 12 hours of sewing time a week, assuming I also sew 3-4 hours a day on weekends. But “good” weeks are rarities. They really only happen when I have back to back deadlines or a convention coming up. Most weeks, it’s really closer to 6-10 hours of crafting, since there are nights when I have to do adult stuff (bleh, laundry). Some nights I have obligations with friends or simply don’t want to sew.

As my skills have improved, my projects have gone faster, but I still have to find ways to make the most of otherwise limited craft time. Here are a few tips and tricks I use to speed up the process:

sewing quotes164-11. Figure out a committed, uninterrupted time. 

I’ve changed time frames when I sew several times over the last few years. When I had a 30-45 minute commute, I got up around 5am and sewed for about an hour or 2 before I left for work. It was the easiest time since my boyfriend got up around the same time to leave for his workout.

My commute now is closer to 10 minutes, and the best time for me to sew is in the evenings once I’ve had dinner (see: hanger abated) and the dog has been walked and distracted by a toy. Keep an open mind with your craft time, but make sure you carve out a set time and make it yours!

2. Work on similar tasks at the same time.

Need to cut patterns? Do that on one day. Need to finish hems? Do that another day. Working on similar tasks at the same time cuts down on dead time between steps. With my sewing, for example, I’ll sew all of the hems/darts/etc. I can before it’s absolutely necessary to finish and press seams.

cutting table
My cutting table is still one of my favorite storage pieces in my craft room!

3. Keep your stuff organized. And preferably in an area where it’s easily accessible. Corner off a section of the dining room or your bedroom. Label your stuff. Keep it handy. I have a whole craft room at my disposal now, but my last apartment was a 500sq foot loft. I relied heavily on my collapsible sewing desk and all the storage space it provided. I also have some cheap plastic rolling storage units for fabric and other items. Underbed storage is also great for limited space.

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Some of my most frequently used sewing tools from left to right: Rotary cutter, Gingher scissors, pattern weights, and stretchy needles!

4. Invest in quality tools and supplies.

Nothing is worse than taking the time to assemble all your pieces only for a faulty set of scissors to mangle your fabric. Or carefully cutting and planning a costume with cheap fabric only to make a mistake and have the fabric *literally* unravel. A few tools that can change your life: rotary cutter, pinking shears, pattern weights (really prefer these to pins when cutting), and a waist-level table stationed next to your sewing machine for quick pressing.

sewing-meme5. Craft in the right frame of mind.

Hobbies should be enjoyable. I really like sewing most days, but if I’m tired, sick, or just don’t want to sew, I’m going to make a mistake. When I make that mistake, I then wind up trashing a project or having to correct it. Just don’t do it. Take a break, have a drink, play a game, or work on something else. Come back when your head is clear and you’ll be much more productive.

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Image credit: Cosplaytutorial.com

6. Plan in advance. 

This is one of your biggest allies with time management. Allow yourself plenty of time to create and fix mistakes (because they happen). Nothing like botching a piece and finding out the fabric store is out of the fabric you need! Remember the golden rule of crafting: good, fast, and cheap. You can have 2 of the three.

There are a lot of people who get a creative rush on waiting until the week (or the night) before a con to get started on a costume. If that’s your thing, power to you. I can’t do that because it stresses me out sooooo much. The only time I’ll really do that is if I’m working on a simple project like a basic leotard or bodysuit. Otherwise, I make lots of weekly and monthly check-lists to keep me on track with personal projects, costume builds, and commissions. Apps like Trello and Google Docs are fantastic for check-lists!

7. Know your skills. 

And cater to them. Are you great with fabric? Awesome, make costumes that rely on fabric. Can you build armor like no one’s business? Cool, go make Iron Man (and e-mail me, because I need your skills). Building on skills is one of the greatest parts of costuming, but remember to keep a reality check. If you only have 3-5 hours a week to craft, it’s going to take a while to learn a new skill. If you’ve got an intricate costume and limited time, be prepared to cut other costumes from your roster. And while we’re on the topic…

Photo by Gone Catawampus.
Callula Cosplay made this beautiful mirror for me since I fail at props. I made her Huntress bodysuit in return! Photo by Gone Catawampus.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Whether it’s someone you follow or a friend. I’m not great with props, but I have friends who are. We often swap skills to cut down on wasted time and materials, and we also help each other learn new skills. Obviously, don’t be a jerk and ask, “Hey, give me a step-by-step breakdown of how to make X costume.” You’re being inconsiderate of that person’s time and also robbing yourself of the learning process. But if you have a specific question, by all means, ask away!

9. Research on your lunch break.

There are so many tutorials out there. If you’re hitting a snag with a project, check out the interwebs. More than likely, someone has had the same question and there’s already a solution. I stalk search cosplay.com regularly for suggestions.

Skater dresses: great instant gratification practice projects!
Skater dresses: great instant gratification practice projects!

10.  Use it or lose it.

One of my favorite sewing blogs mentioned that you should sew *something* every week just to keep in the practice. I agree with that. Even if you’re not working on a specific project, keep your skills up. Been meaning to make yourself a cute skirt or dress? Need to repair a pair of pants? How about making some cool jewelry from a resin cast? Heck, even just working on mock-ups for future ideas  can keep you in the habit. Maybe not every week, but often enough to keep you fresh. Also, the more you practice, the faster you’ll get!

It begins...
Mock-ups are also great to figure out crazy designs like my Captain Marvel dress!

11. Use mock-ups when possible. Especially if you’re new to a project and trying to test the waters. Destroying $30+/yd fabric  is traumatizing and can be a major time setback.

And while it seems counter-intuitive, doing a mock-up can make the final product go faster. You get to work out all the kinks in the mock-up stage, and you’re already familiar with the end process, so you can proceed with confidence. Or at least, that’s what I try to tell myself 😛

12. Micro-craft! Ever have one of those mornings where you wake up 20-30 minutes before your alarm goes off and you just can’t fall back asleep? Or you’ve got half an hour before you have to leave for something? I often use those moments to check off small to-dos on my normal crafting list like pinning zippers, stay-stitching, or even just setting out all the items I’ll need to complete a project. Every little bit helps!rogue13. Build on what you already have. Alternate versions of characters or characters with similar costumes can be a great way to save time and money. For example, my Marvel Now! Rogue took less than 10 hours to make since I only had to make the spandex pieces. It was also super cheap since I had all the materials on hand from previous projects.

Got other tips on time management? Sound off in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “13 Tips to Making the Most of Limited Craft Time

  1. I also have limited sewing time (being a PostDoc and all) so I sew in the morning and/or in the evening and on weekends. I follow many of your tips here already, but I would add one which helps me a lot – I meet sewing friends for cutting fabric or sewing together! This way I spend some time being social (yay!) and get some sewing done (double yay!). And you have someone to help you with hems and style decisions…

    1. Oh, that’s a good idea! I tend to have mixed results when I craft with friends. Half the time we’ll get everything on our to-do lists done, and half the time we wind up just chatting the entire time. Either way, it’s still fun!

  2. It’s funny how people don’t look at crafting like they do other hobbies, say sports or running. If you want to find the time to do it, you will! I think this list is super helpful! Thanks for putting it together!

    1. For sure! I completely agree that if you truly want to do something (sports, crafting, reading a book), you find ways to make it work! It’s hard to make time for ALL the things, but the most important ones definitely make their way to the top of the list.

  3. Excellent thoughts! It’s true that every little bit eventually adds up to finished projects. In some sense, I think it’s better to do things in smaller chunks where you can be ultra focused vs. sewing for hours and hours and having your work suffer as your energy starts to go down. My favorite thing to do to save time is to cut everything in weird times (like between loads of laundry or insert your other similar task) and get everything stacked in construction order and ready to go. Then, the next time I’m in my sewing room, I can get started sewing straight away.

    1. Oh, I like that approach! Especially stacking stuff in order of construction. Cutting is something I absolutely dread, and that’s partly because I take forever to do it. So most of the time, I’ll save that for my big weekend to-do and knock out cutting several projects at once.

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