Mise en Place: a Project

Both my husband and I work at home, and pretty much make up our own schedule–which in the beginning was a beautiful and freeing thing. Little did I know how crucial it was to learn about myself and time management. We are both the sort who often come out on personality tests as extravagant starters, collectors and visionaries–i.e., classically inefficient people.

This past year I wanted to make some radical changes in my schedule, and as a writer I wanted to include more blogging (which I never really did in earnest before), both at this blog and others that I’ve started. I quizzed some of my business-owner or otherwise brilliant managerial friends to give me some clues on how they manage their days. Several of these people also work from home. I was very overwhelmed by the both the diversity and number of varying tasks they did daily, including communications (email and phone).

I like to work for very long, concentrated periods of time on one particular thing and am a horrible multi-tasker. I also like to work on things until I “feel” like I am done, not when the clock or other instructions say I’m done. (One case in point is that I even like to write longer blog entries, rather than lots of short ones, but I’m still learning my own best practices here.) I’ve often struggled with this hyper-intuitive and rather tunnel-vision way of working, especially when I was in professional environments. And so lately I’ve been thinking about how to make peace with this aspect of myself and create my own “efficiency model”!

In a recent post at Frabjous Couture, Marina mentioned the importance of “mise en place”, a chef term that means proper prep of both ingredients and tools, having them all ready and “in place” before cooking. I learned that skill well as a former restaurant cook way back in the day–it’s all about time management.

A little bell went off in my head about trying this approach in my sewing–and not just for an individual project, but doing it on a larger scale. What if I had multiple projects ready to go?

Instead of cutting one pattern, fitting, cutting fabric, and sewing, I could work on multiple patterns, get them all prepared and fitted, then move on to fabric cutting of all these patterns, etc. There is some geek in me that would like to sit down at my machine with five (or six or eight) very ready-to-go, neat piles of cut fabric and required notions.

Is that ambitious? Maybe. I’m not on a deadline, thank goodness.

I’d get to concentrate on one particular task for an extended period to time, then move on to the next. I learn much, much better this way. The problem with working on small little tidbits is that one never gets on a roll before moving on to a different type of task or way of thinking.

Clearly I won’t be able to show a finished garment for quite some time (I’m on a holiday in August), but there will be some test garments, and little stories about the projects in between. I’ve divided my work into seven different stages and will return here to post about them. So let the Project Mise en Place begin!


  1. Tanit-Isis says:

    Ooo, good luck with this! I think I’m the same way, I can’t multitask to save my life. Although, I don’t know if I could handle having that many projects on the go at the same time. I would lose bits.

    Good luck!

    • Amy says:

      Yeah, that might be an issue! I was trying to figure out how not to lose things, as I inevitably do… and had to clear off some bookshelf space for a stack o fabric.

  2. Amy says:

    You sound like my darling husband. He’ll work straight on only one project until it’s “finished”, which can be through several days without sleeping sometimes. He also piles projects onto his plate that he’s excited about. Everything gets roughly two weeks and then cycles to the next. I’m more of a 15-minutes here, 15-minutes there sort of person. I think of myself as focused, but compared to my husband (and now you!), I have a problem with my attention. He’s rubbing off on me a bit since I am currently working on several projects. But, I seem to work a little on one, a little on another. Having so many unfinished projects is driving me crazy though!

  3. Yoshi says:

    This is a good idea, although I’m scared that if I tried it, I’d just end up with 5x my usual amount of unfinished projects… but I like the idea of concentrating on one task for a while.

    • Amy says:

      Ha, I have a gazillion unfinished projects! I’m hoping this helps me stay interested by giving myself permission to do multiple projects–we’ll see if I get to the finish line!

  4. Stephanie says:

    You and I sound like we have similar temperaments. I do exactly what you’re talking about. I lay the groundwork, then work on several patterns at a time. Then I cut several garments. Then I sew them.

    If I want to sew one thing at a stretch, not put it down until I finish, then I set all my tools, notions, everything, right out in order like a surgeon or a cook. It allows me to settle into my task without the distraction of searching for thread or buttons halfway through. Works well for me.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, I really feel this way is working for me–I feel much less distracted. I’m still sewing all these patterns but it has really been extremely pleasurable! After my experience with the Smooth Sailing trousers, a frustration which was less about the pattern and more about the fact that I didn’t have everything in order, I knew I needed another tactic. I’m already at work on my next grouping.

  5. Lavender says:

    Today marks my first week working from home, and I’ve been thinking all day about how I will craft my efficiency. In the kitchen, I am very efficient, and always keep my mise in mind. Guess that was ingrained years ago working in a fine dining establishment. So maybe this will be an intuitive way to forge ahead? I really like the thought of it.

    I found you from Amy at Sew Well, and am so glad I did! I’m a former (and hopefully future) Austinite, and I’ve really enjoyed the posts I’ve read so far.

    • Amy says:

      Hey there! Believe it or not I stumbled across your blog awhile back and wondered if you were from Austin ;).

      I loved this way of working–it felt less hectic–and like you I also learned the mise from restaurants. It makes so much sense but when you are making things in fits and starts it can be hard not to just jump in whenever and wherever! I work at home, too–it definitely forces me to think about time management a lot. Glad to have found you!

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