Of course, there are many great reasons for sewing your own. The argument for handmade is quite public right now and I'm definitely not going to reiterate points to people who are looking for tutorials; I'm obviously preaching to the choir here. Stuff is cheap, yes. But we sew because we have values that say that there are things more important than getting the most stuff for the lowest price.
The other side, though, is that sewing it yourself can still be really pricey. Walk into any fabric store to buy a pattern, fabric and notions, by the time you are done it is a sizeable enough chunk of change to make you wonder if it is really the best use of your creativity and time. Sewing is no longer a necessity and now considered a hobby. Many people justify the cost as something they do it for kicks: hobbies aren't supposed to be cheap or save money, just be satisfying. Another unhelpful aspect is the recent popularity of crafting, which has encouraged the proliferation of overpriced, mega-craft supply stores whose eye-candy displays induce almost trace-like spending sprees in even the most thrifty of us. (Here, I am a repeat offender.) Much of the new crafting, including sewing, encourages the use of specialized, high-tech products, a high contrast to the days of yore, where handicrafts was using what you had on hand.
When I began sewing a couple years ago I initally borrowed a sewing machine, bought myself a few yards of fabric, and took my first shakey steps. It was all done with great reluctance since I really had no plans to sew anything beyond the couple of projects I had in mind, still believing I was going to hate sewing as much now as I did in grade seven. Turns out sewing can be addictive and I was to be no casual user. I liked it. And with this exciting discovery I began to stock up on supplies. I did some serious shopping for fabrics, notions, and anything else sewing that took my fancy. I got giddy in fabric stores and went completely wild on sale days.
Beyond my shameless fabric hoarding, common to almost everyone who sews (and even some that do not), I've become painfully aware how much my enthusiasm cost me my first year sewing. And before this becomes a deep, dark confession, I'm just going to sum up by saying that I've spent the last year trying to figure out what is the least expensive way I could feed my addiction without going bankrupt.
(If I had any illustrations for you, right now I would feature a cartoon of me holding up a sign on the street saying, "Will work for fabric".)
So, in the spirit of this blog, I shall now share some strategies that help reduce the cost of making your own. Presenting:
Frugal Strategies for Sewers
- organizing your stash is one way of avoiding buying too much of a certain type or style of fabric. Until I was forced to clean out my sewing room, I had no idea how many yards small flower prints I had. Apparently I will buy a small flower print whenever I see one, with complete amnesia to the 20 yards I already have at home and still do not use.
- search thrift shops and yard sales for unused fabric. Most sell for quite a bit less than the fabric store, particularly yard sales, and sometimes great vintage fabric can be had for almost a steal. (Be careful, though - some national thrift stores are onto the craft craze and sell fabric that ends up being more expensive than the discount or sale wall at your local fabric shop).
- Search your local freecycle network and put the word out among your neighbors that you will take away the extras from other sewer's stashes. I know I've had to downsize even with my 2 short years of sewing, and some older ladies who have been sewing for decades have so much fabric that they really don't want anymore but equally don't want it to go someplace where it will be junked. Most people looking to downsize their stash will be happy to give it to someone who will appreciate the fabric and use it well.
- save your remanents for patchwork and embellishments. It's amazing, but entire garments can be created in patchwork from scraps that normally get chucked.
- keep track of your fabric store's discount days and shop them with a list (or small children because nothing will convince you to just get what you need and get out fast quite like trying to control a 3 year old in a fabric store).
- that being said, keep your eyes on the prices of fabric that you love or use often and stock up when there is a sale. For instance, I know I will always use corduroy and linen in my favorite colours and buy extra even when I do not have a specific project for it.
- also check back in the store the week after a big sale. My local store advertises 50% days, which are crazy busy with every sewer in town, but doesn't take down their sale signs for a few days afterwards. Some going out of season or discountinued fabric is actually further marked down after the big sale.
- when buying new, cheap fabric doesn't always mean a deal. Some cotton prints and flannels are always priced cheap because their quality is poor. You do not save money (or feel good about) if your hand-made garment looks faded and tears after just a few washes - if you are spending good money, make sure it is on quality material.
- second hand sheets and pillowcases make great garments. I use them most often in patchwork (most of my patchwork dresses are made of second use fabric) and witness the popularity of pillowcase dresses. Watch you don't buy worn sheets though. Still, in thrift stores I often see children's sheets and curtains with character prints that are worn in the center or have sun damage in particular areas but with the edges looking like new. If you can get them for free or very little, the printed characters on the edges make great appliques (and may save you the cost of buying new character prints for kid's clothes).
- again, thrift stores and yard sales are the best resources. You can often pick up large grab bags of notions for a dollar or two. Also a great source of vintage closures (though stay away from vintage thread - it dries out and snaps). If buying buttons, make sure that there is enough matching buttons to finish a garment.
- nothing wrong with used patterns, as long as they are complete. Most serious sewers trace their patterns so the original is uncut. Patterns for children can be a particular deal here, as the styles do not change drastically over the years (a pinafore is a pinafore is a pinafore) and can be updated with contemporary fabrics and embellishments (and maybe leave off the peter pan collar). Modifying patterns is also a great way to increase your skill set.
- reconstructed garments are the ultimate in thrift (and creativity), especially if you revamp your own wardrobe using only what you've already got. Check out Wardrobe Refashion for some inspiring ideas.
- old clothes can also be made into quilts with sentimental value (in addition to being inexpensive). I've seen many great quilts made with old jeans (with interesting pockets and loops still attached), baby clothes (for those of us incapable of getting rid of the tiny sleepers and blankies), and inherited clothes from great auntie so and so, who's taste's ran to eclectic in the later years but make great quilting patches (which is also a nice way to remember loved ones).
- use 3 strands of thread in your serger instead of 4 by taking out one of the needles. This is also handy if you sew kid's clothes as it creates a smaller stitch if you remove the left needle, which means less bulky seams on tiny garments. And speaking of sergers, do not bother to serge the edges of knits and other fabrics that do not fray - it just adds bulk and is unnecessary. If you can serger, still ask yourself if you need to.
- check out sewing books at your local library. Most libraries will stock several older books full of general knowledge (which will cost you a mint to buy new) as well as some of the new hip books on reconning that sell for 20 smackers or more in the bookstore. Also, and this is too obvious, the internet is an amazing source of free tutorials and patterns. But you know this :) The more techniques you know of, the better you will get and ultimately save money buy not having as many botched projects.
- be selective about using special products sold as sewer's aids. Buy what is helpful (I simply love clear elastic) and then use what you already have at home (making do is a creative skill too that can be quite satisfying.) For example, a great stabilizer for embellishments is used dryer sheets (and smell nice too). A seamstresses' ham is just a bag of sawdust. As far as appliques go, most can be held with pins while you stitch on and avoid the use of bonding papers. Often older sewing books have great, inexpensive techniques from an era that has never heard of liquid anti-fray agents.
- buy your machines from a local dealer and not a big box store. They often offer free or low cost classes to accompany your machines (my serger came with a low fee class, which was subsequently reimbursed in product once the class was completed). It is also a time/money saver to develop a relationship with someone who knows what they are talking about. The big boxes may have lower costs, but no service departments - bit of a problem when the machine gets a glitch. Also, the local guy can cut you a deal or negotiate with you. When buying my newest machine, my husband got the seller to throw in a 36" cutting mat for free because the box was damaged (after, of course, they had opened the box and made sure the machine was working perfectly).
- speaking of machines, make sure you keep yours in good shape by cleaning and oiling frequently. Don't bother to use canned air to blow out the lint from your machine - a set of inexpensive make up brushes work just as well, can be use for years and are the fraction of the cost. Better maintenence means less service bills.
- sew gifts for holidays and birthdays. I've discovered that kid's love crayon rolls, which can be made with scraps for next to nothing. There is a ton of great ideas out there for inexpensive handmade gifts (hey, ever hear of a scoodie?)
- use your sewing to motiviate you to reduce costs in other areas of your life. Bags are one thing that are relatively inexpensive to sew and can save you money. Sew yourself a lovely lunch bag to take with you to work rather than buy lunch. Use your own totes instead of paying for plastic at the grocery store. Make a lip balm cozy and be able to find your lip balm instead of buying a new one every week to replace last week's lost one.
- and remember: sewing skills were, once upon a time, used to save money. Darning socks, patching holes, mending rips, etc. My favorite, as I have small children, is the creative placement of appliques on stained tees and pants.
This is only a short list (though a long post). I would love to hear from everyone how they've saved money on sewing supplies or with sewing.