More Rules = More Fun!

I’ve been burned by sewing plans in the past. And I can tell you three reasons why:

  1. Bad Choices.  Creating sewing plans based on the patterns and fabric that you’ve already bought sounds good, but when you buy fabric and patterns willy-nilly, you may not be purchasing quality items that you’ll actually want to use. I used to have a tendency to make things that I think I ought to want to wear rather than things I know I’ll love. And that’s what got me into the “I have nothing to wear” mess that I was in.
  2. Ambitious Plans. When you plan out thirty different makes that you’d like to accomplish in three weeks, you may find yourself becoming a bit overwhelmed. Especially if you decide not to sew anything that’s not on the plan until you’ve accomplished all your goals.
  3. Crazy Life. Guys, it happens. Life gets in the way of all the things you want to do. There’s no getting around it. You just have to be flexible.

So, in order to make plans that are actually useful, that I will actually stick to, I had to rethink my planning process. I’ve already written about the steps in depth in all my Sewing a Wardrobe series (I’m so sorry–I feel like I link to this ALL THE TIME. It comes up a lot when that’s all I talk about, I guess. . . ) but in short, I had to figure out what things I actually like to wear, plan to make things that fall in line with my style that work with other items in my closet, and keep it simple (for Pete’s sake).

My first round of wardrobe sewing, though I was able to make it through the whole list, may have been a bit too ambitious. It took me a little longer than I’d like. But, the good news is that a lot of it gets worn pretty regularly. So, I know that I’m learning to make wise choices when deciding what to sew.

For subsequent plans, I intend to keep things even more simple and balanced. My thinking is that I should plan for about two months at a time. I am a very moody person. Sometimes I’m all about dresses, and at other times I just want separates. Not planning for longer than two months ensures that I can more easily cater to my changing whims–and, for that matter, changing weather.

If I figure about a week per project, that equals eight simple projects per plan. So, if I decide on something more ambitious that will require muslins and extra-finicky fitting (like a jacket or a first attempt at pants), I figure out how many weeks it should take. A jacket would take maybe three or four slots while a t-shirt would only take one. See my logic? This is all just estimation, but it really does help me stay sane. And choosing makes that I’m really excited to wear helps me stay focused.

However, sometimes it’s hard to decide, even when working with a plan, what I should be working on next. Or, maybe I get tired of a particular project, and I really just want something fresh to work on for a while. I know lots of people have multiple UFO’s lurking around their sewing rooms. Others will only work on one project at a time. Me? I like to have options. Sometimes I’m in the mood to sew, but I am not in the mood to cut anything out (I’m never in the mood to cut. I always have to force myself). Or, perhaps, I’d like to sew a little something brainless, but on my current project, I’m getting ready to attach a collar or sew on patch pockets that need to be flawless. It helps to have another type of project ready to go where I can just go to town on some side seams or pleats.

So, I had to come up with a system that would allow me to stay focused on my plan, be able to have multiple projects in the works at once, and also provide me somewhere to keep track of everything.


My system is nothing new. I simply bought some file boxes from an office supply store. Inside each box there is room for the pattern, fabric, notions and anything else I need for each project. I’ve had them for months, but it wasn’t until recently that I really found the best way to use them.

These are the Rules of the Boxes:

  1. I may only work on a project that I pull from one of the boxes. (There are five. There used to be six, but a cat threw up on one. I don’t use that one anymore. For obvious reasons.)
  2. Two or more projects based on the same pattern may be stored in the same box. For instance, I put all of my Archer fabrics and supplies together in one box. For my sanity. This way, I could cut them all out at the same time (which I mostly sort of did) but not spend my whole life sewing Archers.
  3. Before a project has been started, I can switch it out for a different one. Once the fabric has been cut, there’s no turning back until the project is completed. For instance, I had a Simplicity 2451 in a box, but since I hadn’t started it yet, I switched it with a McCall’s 6706 because the M was from a phase one plan while the S was from phase 2. However, I have a little purple knit nightgown in a box that has been in there for ages because it’s already been cut, but it needs significant work to be completed (because the pattern designers had a series of idiotic moments when designing it. But, we’ll get to that someday. . . ).
  4. The one exception to the rule: If I can start and finish a project in one day, I can throw it in whenever I please. Just this afternoon, I whipped up a knit top that didn’t come from a box.
  5. Chill out. It’s just sewing. I can follow or break any rules I please.

I really like this system. It works for me better than sewing one thing at a time (which is too constricting) and far better than having bits and pieces of different projects floating around. It allows me to work on multiple makes but keeps me from the chaos of too many UFOs. And it helps me stay motivated.


This also really helps with my goal to sew 20 minutes a day. What I typically do is place pattern and fabric and any notions I already have for a particular project in a box once it’s emptied. I set aside a weekend afternoon (or now that I’m working a rather sporadic schedule substitute teaching, I can do it any day I’m at home) to cut out several patterns at once. Then, the pattern pieces get stored back in their boxes until I’m ready to work on them. I also use Post-It notes to keep track of box contents and any notes about what I may need to purchase. See? Simple. Organized. Efficient.

I feel the need to pause here and make it clear that this is a system that works for me. And that I make all these crazy rules for myself because I enjoy following (and breaking, of course!) my own rules. Weird, right? I read this post from Couture Academic about making sewing more enjoyable. I absolutely agree with her suggestions #2-5, and I agree with the spirit of #1–you should sew whatever you want. But the idea of sewing something impractical stresses me out, seriously! I think this goes to show that we all have our own version of “fun,” and when you find what makes you happy, go with it! For me, happy is sewing things that I really want to wear every day. But please don’t assume that I think everyone needs to do the same. You want to sew an enormous ante-bellum ball gown that you may never get to wear in public? By all means, do it–I shall live vicariously through you as you sew 🙂

(If you’ve been at all interested in my Sewing a Wardrobe stuff, you need to go read up on Kat’s Wardrobe Basics. I especially loved how she did her planning with Polyvore–so cool!

So, friends, how do you like to organize your sewing? Are you a conscientious planner? Or more of the sew-on-a-whim type?


18 thoughts on “More Rules = More Fun!

  1. I like your idea of using boxes. I’ve stored everything in plastic bags and to be honest it looks messy. I’m trying to get rid of them by finishing all the UFOs that they contain but perhaps it would be good to get some clear containers to store current projects in. That way I would also be able to see which projects I am working on and am less likely to forget about one (I’ve been surprised more than once after finding another one of those bags stored in an odd location with a long forgotten project).

    • The clear containers is a good idea. The only drawback to my boxes is that I have to label them to keep track of what’s what. I think that having one place where current projects are kept will definitely help cut down on the surprise UFOs.

  2. That’s a great post! I wish I could be so organised, with boxes and everything. I like sewing what I see, so haven’t specific clothes in my mind, sometimes I go through a magazine and I see something crazy and I want it, before I have finished making something else. Reading a lot of sewing blogs where people make gorgeous garments doesn’t help either. But you made me think about all the key pieces that one can sew around and have a more unified (?) wardrobe. xx

    • I don’t know–outrageous and spontaneous sewing seems to suit you 🙂 But maybe, like you were saying, develop those classic pieces to sort of anchor your wardrobe and then build on top of that. I believe in balance!

  3. Great Post! Had me laughing along 🙂 I’m working on planning out my sewing and trying to stay more organized. When I don’t plan I tend to end up with clothes that just sit in my closet unworn. The boxes are a great idea! Polyvore is awesome for planning out looks, I’m a little addicted. I’ll definitely be checking out the links you mentioned!

  4. Ooo I love the box idea! I’m not able to stick to one project at a time too often and so my sewing space becomes a complete mess with in a few hours. I’m still in awe with your 20 minute a day sewing thing, too.
    AND yes, you need to venture in to pants soon – I know it will be mind-blowing 🙂

    • I’ll be honest. The 20 minutes a day is HARD. I’ve been feeling particularly tired when I get home from work lately (the weather, I think) and the last thing I want to do is use my brain! So, I’m not as faithful as I’d like. And I definitely count any sewing related busy work (cutting, tracing, etc.) as part of my 20.
      I think I’m going to make September “Pants Month.” That will give me time to fit and make at least one pair before the weather turns cool.

      • Great idea for making September pants month – you should start a group and I’ll join you 🙂

        Also, I know what you mean about not wanting to use your brain after work. Sometimes even reading pattern instructions is too much for me after a long day 😛

  5. You had me at the first point! This is exactly my problem. Your ideas for getting some order established are really helpful so I’ll be taking them on, thanks! And, I love Rules for Boxes No. 5. That rocks!

  6. Yep being organised is so much better than chaos! There is so much more satisfaction from getting to wear clothes I’ve made than unfinished ones hanging about my sewing room. I’m definately a keep going till I finish it sort of person as I find it makes me push through those parts I usually shy away from. I’ve found that being organised helps me in other areas of my life too – be organised with the basics allows me more freedom for fun stuff.
    BTW… really liking the new look of your blog 🙂

    • My blog has a new look??? I had no idea! I wonder what changed. . .
      For me, organization is essential; I absolutely cannot function without knowing where things are and where they go when I’m finished. It’s especially important since my sewing space is tucked in a corner of my bedroom.

  7. Fantastic post and thanks for the ping! I LOVE LOVE LOVE you box system! Right now I have all my ‘projects pending’ stuffed into a wicker basket in various states of *dis*repair. I may have to steal this idea from you 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying the series and I love your blog! 🙂

    • Thanks 🙂 I hope you find a system that works for you! All my bits of fabric and patterns used to be smashed in a cabinet in the guest room. I’m so glad that’s all sorted out now!

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