When is it worth it to sew your own?

Let’s talk economics for a moment… how do you tell when it is more economical to sew clothing rather than purchase it?

  • Can you find what you are looking for? (Size, color, type, fabric, and FIT)
  • What quality are the materials and workmanship?
  • How big is it – aka how much fabric does it eat?
  • How much time for sewing do you have on your hands?
  • What is your skill level?

I do not have a RTW friendly body.  I can and do go shopping, get disgusted, and head to the fabric store.  Let’s take those Rita Shorts that I posted earlier today… yes, I’ve been in love with that pattern for a while, but there’s a reason I needed to sew it up post haste.  That’s because I’ve *gone* shopping for shorts, and for some reason a high-rise short (not as high as Rita, just something that covers my belly-button) isn’t something that’s in the stores – even in the Mom Section.  I needed shorts!    So I made them.

Quality of materials and workmanship – on those?  Meh.  It was a quick job, and I need to tweak the fit.  But they’re at least as good as what I’d get in the store, 100% cotton and sewn down properly.   I bought the fabric online, I think I used about 2 yards… call it $15 for all materials, including zipper and buttons.  (I am rounding up).

The shorts were small (2 yards).  Small jobs are more cost-effective!  So, if you live in fitted straight skirts above the knee (aka office wear 101) and little sleeveless blouses, you can make many of your pieces for less than 1  yard of fabric.  Even nice fabric, lined, becomes ridiculously cheaper like that.  (The contrary goes when  I cut into four yards of fabric for a flowing skirt to my ankles – I have to pay very close attention to the price/yard!)  We get unused to thinking about garments in “how much fabric is this using” – and RTW encourages us to ignore this on the face of it (most things aren’t more expensive because they’re bigger) while cutting corners on details (when was the last time you saw pleats in the store on anything but a schoolgirl skirt?  How about an elaborate sleeve?  And have you looked at all the see-through fabric?)

I’m a SAHM.  I’m going to be home all day anyway.  I can spend this time making sure that dust doesn’t spend more than a few hours settling in, or I can create something.  I get weird fast if I don’t create – I bake, I make scratch-soup, I garden… and I sew.  I *need* to create.  So there’s the time thing for me.  YMMV.

Skill – well, we all start somewhere.  Make what you can make.  At this point, I have the skills to turn basic fabrics into nice basic garments with a minimum of fuss.  More elaborate makes push me – and I need pushing – but they don’t save me money, they intellectually stimulate me.

Bottom line?  If you shop like a mad woman – then shop.  I have a tall, thin, friend with a nose for sales who comes home loaded down with Free People clothes for 90% off.  She doesn’t need to spend much time sewing.  I have friends who fit virtually perfectly into RTW and don’t have time to mess around.  So they take the odd special garment to the drycleaner for a bit of adjustment.  Great!

But I *do* see economic benefit to my sewing – I get garments that, at comparable quality, would be about twice what I spend on them, on average.

This isn’t 1945.  RTW is much cheaper (in all senses of the word) than it used to be, and sewing your own isn’t an automatic penny pincher.  But don’t turn up your nose – you might find that you are fostering a skill that will one day repay you in spades.

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2 thoughts on “When is it worth it to sew your own?

  1. Elspeth

    Good post. I have found so far that sewingcan get a little expensive, but I still plan to keep doing it. It’s a valuable skill and I enjoy seeing the final product.

    I have found however that at this point it isn’t particularly hard to find ready to wear stuff that fits well with just a nip in here or there.

    Quality can be home problem with RTW, I agree.

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    1. hearthie Post author

      It definitely can get expensive when you’re just learning and making “big” things like jammie pants. Soon you’ll find that you can keep your eyes open for lengths of fabric on sale, just like you keep your eyes open for clothing on sale – and then you’ll start saving money. I am crazy for a good sale, and my fav fabric store online keeps me that way – I just wait until whatever it is rotates around to “sale” again unless it’s a must-have item for some reason.

      The “Big box” Fabric stores are NOT cheap places to get fabrics. NOT. Great places for patterns, because they rotate those sales. But not for fabric.

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      Reply

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