A Sewing Mise en Place. So Haute Couture, Non?

by Ramona on May 11, 2012

For me, personally, the term “organize” is so 2011. In 2012 and onward, I’m using “mise en place”, a French term traditionally used by highly organized gourmet chefs.

Not to throw around a non-existent knowledge of the French language or anything, but the concept of mise en place (pronounced meez ahn plahs) strikes a chord when applied to sewing.  It means nothing more than organizing your fabrics & tools before starting on a project & re-organize during the project.

The serious foodies know that it literally means “set in place”, referring to having all your pre-prepared, pre-chopped ingredients in bowls on a tray next to the stove. Well, we sewing enthusiasts can apply the same concept when preparing a sewing project. Maybe most of you already do that?

With small quick projects, the mise en place can be just a one-time deal. With extensive sewing projects, the mise goes multi-level! Here’s a general synopsis but the levels will change with the nature of the project. Lets say we’re making an unlined shift dress with a back zipper:

Level 1: Pattern, measuring tape, paper scissors. If pattern alteration is needed, we’ll need scotch tape, ruler, pencil and extra paper.

Level 2: Fabric (muslin if testing the pattern), interfacing, cut out & adjusted pattern tissue, fabric cutting instruments (scissor or rotary cutter & mat), marking instruments, pins or pattern weights.

Level 3: Iron, fabric & interfacing pieces for the fusing process, press cloth.

Level 4: Cut out & interfaced fabric pieces, zipper, zipper foot, matching thread for zipper installation.

Level 5:  Hand needles, pins, basting thread. I’m a basting enthusiast — so what.

Level 6: Next to the sewing machine: basted together project, matching thread, machine needles, regular presser foot, buttonhole foot if needed, receptacle for thread & fabric scraps, thread snips (come on people, indulge my “orderly” gene). And ….. plugged-in iron & press cloth.

Level 7: Repeat levels 5 & 6 for sewing in neck facing and sleeves.

Level 8: Sewn together project, notions & tools for finishing touches (such as hems), hand sewing needles, beeswax (for the couturiere). Iron plugged in with press cloth nearby for the pressing up hem & the final press.

A sewing mise en place is more instinctive than I’ve made it sound. For example, the order of the above levels changes with a particular projects. Embellished projects would need the tools & embellishment items above the construction level . Fun, huh?

Feel free to comment — if only to tell me that this post is not your cup of tea and you prefer the happy, creative chaos of digging for tools & other items as you go. I’ll love you anyway :). Or you can tell me if I’ve forgotten to mention a crucial item in any level.

Samina, American Sewing Guild. Follow us on Twitter @SewingGuild


Elizabeth Boerger May 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I love anything French! What a great idea.

Janith Bergeron May 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I think you have hit on something great. A new word/phrase is a super way to start. We know that before you can ‘set in place’ you need to clear the place and a clear surface is a great start. I do start new projects with a clean press cloth…my favorite is a piece of silk organza which allows me to see through to what I am pressing. I also check to make sure there is no lint or residue on my ironing surface.

Anne Marie Soto May 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm

To keep the French theme going, I’ve often thought my sewing would go faster if I had a sous-chef to help. In cooking, sous chefs do the menial tasks, like chopping, peeling, etc. I could delegate the mundande tasks and concentrate on the creative aspects. Or maybe what I really need is a House Elf, a la Harry Potter!

deb-of-pixeladies May 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I like to “tidy up” before starting a new project. But let’s use the word tidy with a grain of salt. What I really need to do is put things away so I can find the work table, in order to start a new project.

Melody Hofmann May 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I have a french sewing room, so it fits nicely!

Heather May 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

This inspires me to get more organized, thanks! I think my husband would appreciate this too, as I have sewing projects all over the house. 🙂

Ivalyn May 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Hi Samina. I love that term. It makes organizing sound soooo sophisticated. With my recent renovation of my basement into my “Sewing Center” I plan to put this new term into immediate use! Very, very useful post. Thanks

Gloria Allender May 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I love this post because of the idea, the tie-in with cooking, and the French angle.

Jeanne May 12, 2012 at 5:19 am

That’s pretty much how I currently work on any of my crafts … But then I’ve been cooking since I was 5 or 6 and only sewing/quilting since I was about 45!

Carolyn Harris May 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

Isn’t it funny how we know a term but only think to apply it in a single area. What a lovely post, Samantha, to urge us to re-apply such a useful concept as mise en place to our sewing. Thank you.

Leslie May 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm

ROFL! Sometimes I think I’d like to delegate some of the menial tasks myself, but I’m such a control freak I don’t think I could stand it!

Leslie May 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I am slightly OCD, so I my thought process is very similar to what you’ve posted. I find one way to help keep organized through-out the creative process is to store everything near it’s place of use – so it’s easy to retrieve AND put away.

Samina May 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Thank you ALL for the insightful and fun comments!
As soon as I heard about the mise en place concept several years ago, the sewing connection just stuck around in my mind. In practice, let’s just say I try very hard to follow it. Sometimes, my penchant for just cutting into cloth takes over……….. sometimes I scare myself.

Sue Slottke May 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Oh my goodness, I guess I never realized that they could all be listed as separate processes… I like to work on multiple projects, for example cutting out more than one thing, then placing the pieces in a bin or gallon sized zip bag to wait for production sewing day. I do try to keep pressing tools near my ever-open ironging board, and small tools near the sewing machine table. But I like the classy French term! Like shopping at Tar-zhay, it makes the everyday stuff sound tres chic!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: