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Tips and tricks on how to make NHS scrubs.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

It’s been over a month and a half since the UK was on ‘lockdown’ due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the shortage of supplies for frontline NHS staff was identified by nurse, Ashleigh Linsdell who created a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ForTheLoveOfScrubsUK/) as a platform to enable those who are able to, and would like to contribute towards supplying hospitals local to themselves. There are over 50,000 members in this group as I write this and growing every day. People have been posting photos of their ‘makes’ and I’ve even seen some printing companies offering to print off pattern pieces for free, which would save so much time for sewers having to print off page by page using their domestic printer, taping it all up, and cutting them out. It’s really amazing to see so many people wanting to help, even those that have no experience in sewing at all.

Soon after, I saw a local call out looking for sewers. The organiser had the patterns already pre-cut, she just needed a group of sewers to make them up. Now that I have finished my first ‘batch’, the scrubs definitely took longer than I anticipated due to forgetting how to finish things or just the best order to do it in, so I wanted to share some tips to help.

My main piece of advice is to treat scrub-making like a production line. Do all similar things together. Do all the overlocking together, stitching, pressing, topstitching, etc. If you follow this method, you will make less mistakes and you will become much faster. This Bruce Lee quote springs to mind:

 “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

I hope you can see the relevance of this quote to scrub-making!?

So, here is the order that I found the most efficient way to make the scrubs with notes. We all do things differently so you may find that some things don’t work as well. Also, just to note, I was working on XL scrubs, hence why I’ve put pockets on last but usually, they should go on before you attach the front and back pieces together.

Also, the pattern I am working to is a v-neck top with two front patch pockets and short sleeves. Trousers have one patch pocket on the right back side, with button holes at the centre front to hold a drawstring. 

FIRST STAGE: OVERLOCKING/SERGING

  • Overlock the sides and shoulders of front and back bodice.
  • Overlock the seams for the sleeves.
  • Optional - you can overlock the sleeve head/armhole but I choose not too as it looks messy and can be tricky overlocking a single layer curve.
  • Overlock the facing edges (only the edges you will see, there is no point overlocking the ‘shoulder seams’ as these will be hidden and will only create bulk.
  • Optional - you can overlock the sleeve opening and bodice hem edge but my pattern pieces required them to be folded twice and then topstitched.

SECOND STAGE: POCKETS

  • Press the sides in.
  • Press the top edge in twice. The pattern piece I had required a 1cm fold, then a 2cm fold.
  • Don’t press the bottom up yet as you will have this opportunity later on closer to when you attach the pockets to the top.
  • Optional - You can overlock the edges first but since there will be keys and other sharp things put into the pocket, there is higher risk of them getting all tangled up with the stitching.

THIRD STAGE: SEWING

  • Sew the front and back facings together so it is a ‘shell’.
  • Sew the sleeve seams.
  • Sew the front and back bodice seams together.
  • Sew the shoulder seams.
  • Press all of these seams out so they sit flat.

FOURTH STAGE: INSERTING THE SLEEVES

  • Place the made up sleeve (right side out), next to the bodice (inside out) as if you were going to magically connect them together.
  • Flip the sleeve over towards the bodice (as if you were creating a mirror image).
  • Keeping this position, insert the sleeve inside the bodice.
  • Pin as much or as little as you like. Just make sure the bodice side seams match with the sleeve seams and the bodice shoulder seams match with the shoulder notch of the sleeve. 
  • The more you pin the better, as sewing the sleeve head can be tricky since it is curved.
  • I’m a bit lazy with pinning so I had to really concentrate with ‘easing’ it in. This creates a slight ripple effect hence why I prefer to overlock both pieces together as it neatens it up and the stitch line gives me a guide when overlocking.
  • Overlock the edge while sleeve is still tucked inside the bodice. I pulled it out to photograph to show you what it looks like once sewn up.

FIFTH STAGE: STITCHING

  • Turn the top so it is now the right way round.
  • Topstitch the pocket opening from when you previously pressed it.
  • Topstitch the side splits. Completely up to you if you want to do a thin or wide or angled stitch. Don’t worry about any extra fabric flapping around as it will be sandwiched into the hem.
  • Pin the facing to neck edge. Feel free to use chalk or a pin to show the centre front so you know where the point is to stitch. Ensure you keep the needle in, lift the foot and pivot the top when you reach the point so you have a really clean finish.
  • Stitch facing to neck edge, snip into the point and trim seam allowance to approx 5mm.
  • Then, this part is magical, stitch the facing to the seam allowance. This sorts out any ‘dragging’ and makes it sit nice and flat later on.
  • Fold and edge stitch 1cm of the hem, you can press this first if you like.
  • Fold and edge stitch 1cm of the sleeve opening/hem. Again, you can press this first if you prefer. Pressing does make it more accurate but due to the time sensitivity, I skipped this.
  • Press everything you’ve just done including a 2cm press on the hem and sleeve opening.

SIXTH STAGE: FINISHING

  • Topstitch sleeve opening.
  • Topstitch hem.
  • Topstitch bodice to facing.
  • Topstitch pockets to bodice and backstitching the side corners to reinforce them, just like with jeans.
  • Optional - Topstitch armhole edge (this can keep the seam allowance flat)
  • Optional - Press everything!! This makes everything look better.

TROUSERS: 

There are only 4 pattern pieces so this doesn’t need breaking down. Do note that the pattern with a longer crotch is the back (for the bottom).

  • Pockets were already pressed and stitched from doing the Tops. 
  • Sew pockets to the back of each right leg.
  • Overlock top edge of each piece. Photos don’t show this as it is something I decided would have been better for me to do first.
  • Overlock leg openings.
  • Make up each leg by 4-thread overlocking (stitches at the same time as overlocking edge) the longer side first. Then the inside leg.
  • Sew up the crotch by using the sleeve insertion method. 
  • One side is right side out, the other is inside out. Insert the right side out leg into the wrong side out. (Looking at the photos will help here!!)
  • Pin along the crotch ensuring the top edges are level and the inside leg seams match.
  • 4-thread overlock along this edge.
  • Turn right side out.
  • Press 2cm down at waistband and press 3cm up of leg opening.
  • Before stitching, add button holes and cut them open.
  • Topstitch waistband down. (Some other pattern pieces require you to add elastic).
  • Topstitch leg opening hem.
  • Insert drawstring cord.

I don't actually have any photos of the finished pieces as I was out the door to deliver them back to the organiser, but I was pretty pleased with them!!

I hope you have found this helpful, do let me know if you have any further tips to add or if you found another way was better!

5 comments

  • Hi!
    Thanks for your lovely messages!

    Janice – Thank you so much, I know exactly what you mean which is why I try to explain the reasons of why you should/shouldn’t do things :)

    Alison – So a grown on sleeve pattern would definitely be quicker and less fiddly! I would sew neckline facings always towards the end, treat it like the cherry on top :)

    Susanne – You could use a french seam (where the raw edge is sandwiched in between seams) but it would be really time consuming and tricky to do. I think maybe I will do a post on seam finishes :)

    Thank you for leaving comments, glad it has helped!
    Clara

    Six Acre Meadow
  • Thank you for this, it is really helpful, especially the bit about not overlocking the edges of the pockets and the reason why. For me, if I know why to do or not to do something it really helps. Stay safe.

    Janice Barry
  • Love your work. Would a pattern with the sleeve already in be quicker? Also. Do you sew the interface before joining side seams?

    Alison Round
  • lost all zig zag functions on my machine mid project – three sets of trousers using the australian pattern with a gusset. in this situation what would you advise?

    susanne myall
  • Thanks so much for this! Very helpful!

    Sandy Perrin

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