Do you save money sewing your own clothes?

People are forever asking me this question, and today I’m taking time to give a proper answer.

We grew up with mothers who sewed… well, at least some of us did.  We understood “making your own” to be the budget alternative to buying ready-to-wear (RTW).   That’s why our moms made stuff – it was cheaper than buying it in the store!*

Is that still the case?  What exactly is the deal with making your own things and the budget?  Can you save money, sewing your own?

  1.  If you are buying your clothes at Target or Walmart, NO.
    • Hourly wages in Bangladesh aren’t very high, you know.
    • Their fabrics are nearly all low-quality.  Thin to save money on fibers, short-fibers rather than long, etc.
    • Industrial tools and methods speed up production/reduce costs.
  2.  If you are buying your clothes for full-price at a department store or small chain (Talbots, LOFT, Banana Republic), MAYBE.  Probably about the same.
    • Your quality will almost certainly be higher, and your fit better.
  3.  If you are buying high-end clothes at the over $200 price range, YES.
    • At least if you’ve spent the time to develop the skills necessary.  Skilled work vs. inexperienced shows.

Just for fun, I looked up the cost of a Chanel cardigan jacket… they’re over $4000, new.  And that’s RTW.  High-end RTW, but RTW, not custom.

But that’s the materials, right?

No.  It’s not.  Chanel famously uses Linton Tweed for their jackets.  2 yards of Linton tweed runs to about 75 pounds, or (today) about $90.  Add $25 in silk lining … well, I’m sure their trims and buttons cost more than mine would.  Let’s see… $60 for trim $30 for buttons… we’re up to what, maybe $200?  Add the goldish chain ($15) and other notions ($35, rounding up) and we’re … $250?  (No, I didn’t spend that much on my stuff for the silk jacket).

What you are paying for is #1 the time it takes and #2 the name.  I can forgo the name, but if I were to sell a jacket from those materials, we’d add the 100 hours of sewing time (based on patternreview’s contributors – I haven’t been keeping track, and I also didn’t embroider the buttonholes myself this time ’round).  100 x $15 = $1500.  Now, you have a base cost of $1750… which, as with most retailers, you double for marketing etc.

So.  If I were to sell such a jacket on Etsy, fair market value and compare that to the jacket I make for myself, counting my time as pleasure.. well.  Yeah, I’m saving a ton.  Also, I’m NOT using Linton tweed, and I’m NOT going to spend $60 on trim or $30 on buttons.  My fabric ran about $85 total (lining/outer/interfacing).  So.  Yeah.  I save a ton!

But would I ever buy myself a real Chanel cardigan-jacket?  No.  I might buy a knockoff… but I’ve tried the knockoffs and the quality doesn’t even approach from a binocular-using distance.

How does one compare?  How do you work this out?  You compare things you do buy.  And that gets hard.  Because the things I sew very often aren’t available in stores.  If they were, I’d buy them, it’s a lot less work.   People stop me all the time to compliment my casual tiered skirts.   Those don’t take a lot of skill, but they do take a fair bit of fabric.  I tell them all the time that they could copy them easily enough.  “Oh I don’t sew that well”.  Rectangles.  You can sew rectangles and gather and hem and put in elastic.  You can.  YOU can.

But how much do I spend on an elastic-waisted skirt?  Eh.  About $40.  (I use 4.5 yds of fabric for an unlined skirt).  If you bought the same thing at Ross, it would be $20.  So, I’m not saving money.  I’m getting exactly what I want – but I’m not saving money.  (I can save crazy money on blouses – they don’t use much fabric.  This is so confusing to the in-store shopper, used to seeing approximately the same  prices for a skirt and blouse).

My every-day clothes are more expensive.  They wear very well.  They suit me exactly.  They’re comfortable.  But they *are* more expensive than the Wal-Mart special.

So.  Am I saving money or not?  Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I’m not.  What I’m getting is .. what I really want to get.

You have to decide for yourself where value lies, and how much you’re willing to work to get there.


Hope that helped.  🙂



*I remember my mom going to a seamstress to have things made because it was cheaper than buying – or similar in price – and she had some very special fabrics.    This hasn’t been true for the standard office-dweller for a LONG time.  Of course the prices on the tags haven’t changed since my mom was my age… which means that clothing is much, much cheaper proportionally than it was 30 years ago.  MUCH cheaper.   I think I spent more on clothes in HS than I do at the mall now.  It’s weird.  But that’s the standard against which we judge clothing costs – and at-home just can’t compete.



8 thoughts on “Do you save money sewing your own clothes?

  1. fiberaddict

    Well….if you find a GREAT deal ($1.00/yard, anyone?), then it’s still cheaper than Wally-World prices, and it’s better made. If you can score wool at $15/yard or less, again – you come out ahead.

    But. I don’t sew/knit/spin/weave to save money. I do it because I have a deep need to Make Stuff. It’s entertainment and creativity and frugality all rolled into one neat little package. And…..I do a lot if it while waiting. At the end of the wait, I have half a sock to show for it. Most people….have shorter tempers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hearthie Post author

      I have never seen any fabric for $1/yd, excepting perhaps fluorescent polyhorror IN the garment district. Not even good poly. PolyHorror.


      1. fiberaddict

        Every 6 months or so, the local Thrallmart tosses the fabric collection; last year was quilting cotton and clothing-weight, last month was mostly flannel. I scored 6 bolts of cotton this time – almost the entire cotton selection; half is home decor/heavy-ish, the rest quilting. Dresses at $1/yard come to about $5 in fabric – cheaper than their clearance dresses, and more modest and fitted to boot.

        The manager knows me, and loves to see what I make with my scores. She also gives me a heads-up, so I can show up early to get the cream of the crop. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan

    I have started sewing more things for myself because the quality at Walmart and target has gone down so much. Also, I can find shirts that fit my comfort level and fit me well. I may not save money but am much happier with my wardrobe.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. elspeth

    I don’t sew well enough to sub out my Target/Kohl’s/Dress Barn wardrobe for wearing clothes I make. The few pieces I have sewn for myself I wasn’t thrilled with and while I do fine with things like tablecloths, pillow shams, headbands, and simple skirts, if I’m going to look good, I’m going to have to buy my clothes. The good news is that I can usually find things that fit fairly well.


    1. hearthie Post author

      Having seen what you sewed, I think your problem was the fabric used.

      Fitting is its own skill-set, I think that doesn’t get emphasized enough.



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