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Episode 82

Is it Cheaper to Sew Your Own Clothes?

Is it really cheaper to sew your clothes? Before fast fashion lowered the cost of ready-to-wear clothing, sewing was an economical solution to expensive clothing. Now cheap clothing is just a click away, so that isn't necessarily the case.

In this episode of Seamwork Radio, Sarai and Haley attempted to answer the question, is it really cheaper to sew your own clothing?

Before fast fashion lowered the cost of ready-to-wear clothing, sewing was an economical solution to expensive clothing. But in a time where cheap clothing is just a click away, that isn’t necessarily the case. In this episode, Sarai and Haley talk about the types of sewists that really do save the most money, plus give a ton of tips that anyone can use to cut your sewing costs.



Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. So today we’re talking about whether it’s cheaper to sew your own clothes clothing. So this was inspired by an article that we have in Seamwork this month, which you can check out, and we’ll link to that in the Show Notes. But in this episode, we’re going to cover the types of sewers who really save the most money when they’re sewing and some tips that everyone can use to curb their spending. So, Haley, let’s start with our icebreaker for today, which is: what’s the most expensive fabric that you’ve ever bought?

Haley
Gosh, I usually don’t buy very expensive fabric for myself, to be honest. The most expensive fabric I bought, it was for a dress that I made someone. A 4-ply silk, which is one of my favorite luxury fabrics to work with. And it usually ranges anywhere from like $$80 to $120 a yard. It’s very expensive, but it has this beautiful balance between drape, but it’s also very heavy on the body, so luxurious. It’s the bomb. And no regrets. Actually, my only regret is that I don’t have to pay anything for myself with it.

Sarai
That’s really funny because mine is also a 4-ply silk, which is just a very expensive fabric. Yeah. Well, it was for my wedding dress. I bought it at Brightex in San Francisco, and it was a gold 4-ply silk charmeuse. So it was really just this, oh, it’s so beautiful, so beautiful. I still have scraps of it laying around that I think someday I’ll do something with. But I bought it. I made my wedding dress with it. And then Kenn had his suit custom made. And the tailor took a bit of my dress fabric and made a pocket square for him, embroidered with our wedding date and names on it. So, yeah, it was pretty special, but that was the most I’d ever spent per yard on fabric, for sure. I don’t remember how much it costs, but I just remember it being quite expensive.

Haley
Oh, my gosh. We knew what the ice breaker was going to be.

Sarai
But we didn’t know that’s what our fabrics were. Yeah, I know it’s funny that they’re the same, but it is an expensive fabric. It is definitely the most I’ve ever spent. If you have an ice breaker that you want to share with us for a future episode, you can post it on the community. We’ll put a link in the show notes where you can do that, and we pick out ice breakers right from there. So we’d love to hear what questions you guys want answered for a future episode.

And today our topic is about whether it’s cheaper to sell your own clothing or not. Great debate, and I think there’s a lot of ways we can go with it. So it used to be the case that sewing definitely was a way to save money on clothing. That’s what it was kind of known for today. That’s not necessarily true. And I don’t know that a lot of people see it that way. Some people probably do, especially people who don’t sew, I think might see it that way. But as we know, as sewers, if you’re buying that 4-ply silk, that might not be the case. So I think today the clothing landscape has changed so much from what it was in the past, and fast fashion has really changed our perception of how much clothing should cost and the way that we value our clothing.

That’s a big difference between what it was maybe 50 years ago and what it is today. It’s much cheaper in a lot of cases to just buy something off the rack that’s imported and was produced very inexpensively compared to taking the time and the expense of making your own clothing. So today we want to talk about that and whether it can be cheaper to sell your own clothing and whether sewing can be used as more of a way to repair your relationship with clothing and the way you value your clothing rather than simply as a kind of way to monetarily save money. So I think, as we know, there are a lot of upfront investments with sewing. And I know, Haley, that you as a sewing teacher, probably encountered that when people are first getting into sewing, they have to make all these financial investments in order to even get started, right?

Haley
Yeah, I think that was like a big barrier for a lot of people. There’s the machine, of course, and then all of the tools and materials for your first handful of projects. And it just can be this huge investment, especially if you are I think now sewing isn’t something that we necessarily learn at home or learn in school. So a lot of people are also investing in the education to learn how to sew. So buying classes, whether that’s online or in-person, and it’s a really huge investment.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s true of so many hobbies, but especially with a hobby like sewing, where you really need certain equipment just to get started. And that equipment is not necessarily the cheapest thing in the world, a sewing machine. It can be very inexpensive. You can get something fairly inexpensive, but you can also spend a lot of money on it. And it’s something that is going to cost you, not just money, but it’s going to take up some space in your house. You’re going to have to make room for it and all the other tools that go with it. So there all are those kind of investments that aren’t just financial investments, but also sort of emotional investments, almost like you have to really want to do it.

Haley
Yeah, it’s a real commitment. It’s a high commitment hobby.

Sarai
Yes. Which is maybe one of the reasons that people who are into sewing are so into sewing because it’s something they really want to do. You can dabble in it. But I think there’s certain, like you’re saying, a certain level of commitment that you have to have just to kind of get started.

Haley
Yeah, definitely.

Sarai
And so I think a lot of sewers have reasons in their mind, reasons that they want to do it, apart from maybe back in the day when it was more a matter of maybe necessity or if not necessity than just economy, just a reason to save money. And especially if you have a large family, it could be definitely a way to save money in your household. So I think another thing that often gets overlooked when we talk about the financials of sewing or the long term versus the short term and that you do have to make some of these investments. It can cost money, but there may be long term savings because you have a different relationship with your clothing. Have you found that to be true, Haley, for yourself?

Haley
Yeah, definitely. I mean, it has changed my shopping habits for sure. My shopping habits kind of like if I’m being completely honest, ebb and flow. There are times where I spend more and ready to wear than others in my life. But I think that my relationship with clothing has changed so much that I’m more likely to spend less frequently and invest that money a little bit more. Also, there’s a certain point in time where your skill level is high enough that you can create things that would otherwise be more expensive. Sure. It might cost me more money to sew a T shirt than it would for me to go to Target and buy one for $5. However, I could make like a really rad lined coat for myself for a fraction of the cost that I would spend if I was buying it from a high quality retailer.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And I think it speaks to what we were talking about in the introduction is there are certain types of sewing or certain types of sewers who can save more money by sewing than by buying ready to wear. And I think if you have expensive tastes and you really appreciate high quality, that’s something that when you’re buying ready to wear, you have to pay for that is quite expensive compared to something that’s very simple or just a basic like a T shirt, like you’re saying, in that case, you can definitely save money. I think, for example, that wedding dress that I made, if I had purchased a wedding dress that was fit to my body and was made out of such a luxurious material, it was fully lined. It had this really intricate beaded hem that had to be partially hand stitched, and there’s a lot of detail to it that probably would have cost thousands of dollars compared to a few hundred dollars that I spent on the fabric in order to make it. So things like that, I think, are easy to overlook, and it just depends on what kinds of things you’re buying when it comes to the actual price comparison between ready to wear and sewing.

Haley
Definitely. Do you feel like sewing has saved you money?

Sarai
I definitely think it has. I have gone through periods where I did a lot less sewing. I think I’ve mentioned this maybe on the podcast before and because I was really busy and had a lot going on, or maybe I was stressed out. And during those times, I definitely shopped more. I think it was a combination of things. I think it was not having this hobby that to relieve stress and to take that kind of creative energy and put it to use in some way. And so I think for a lot of people, shopping can be kind of a substitute for using your creativity, especially if you’re somebody who loves clothes and loves fashion and loves expressing yourself that way, then I think shopping can become a way to fulfill that need without actually it can be creative, like putting together outfits and designing the way you want to look. That can be creative. But the actual shopping part, I don’t think, has nearly the same creative fulfillment as actually designing and constructing your own clothing. So I think during those periods of my life, I definitely spent more money on clothing than I did when I was sewing a lot.

So there’s that. And then when it comes to things that are the special pieces of high end pieces, which I feel like these days I’m more drawn to just because I feel like I have a lot of clothes in my closet and the things I add to it are going to be the things that are a little bit more special, except for the occasional T shirt that gets worn out. So I do feel like when I make those things, I’m probably saving money as opposed to buying them. What about you?

Haley
Yeah, definitely. I’m more about investing when I do shop. And I agree that when I’ve gone through more, like, shopping chapters in my life, I definitely spend more money. But I think that everybody, kind of, regardless of where they are and their level of sewing, can have the opportunity to save money in some way through sewing. I think repairing your clothing, having that ability to just repair things around your house. I feel like I use my sewing machine for little odd jobs all the time. And my husband has even remarked before, like, oh, man, I would have just thrown that T shirt away before, but now you can repair the hole for me.

Sarai
He’s loyal.

Haley
I really ought to teach him.

Sarai
Yeah. Repairing clothing is definitely another way that I think you can save when you’re repairing instead of just replacing all the time.

Haley
Yeah, definitely. So we’ve kind of talked about our relationship with how sewing has saved us money. Who do you think are the type of people who are most likely to save money by sewing?

Sarai
Well, I think there are a few types of people who would save money. I think people who are interested in curbing the amount of clothing they want to buy is one group of people. So if you’re really interested in buying less but making it higher quality, I think sewing can definitely save you money there. I think people who are also conscientious about what they buy and really want to have clothing that is ethical and that is sustainable. That can be expensive to buy, but it is something that you can make. And there are a lot of great choices out there for people who want to make sustainable clothing and make sure that it’s produced ethically. And if you’re producing it yourself, then you have fewer factors to worry about, not zero factors to worry about, but fewer. So I think those are two groups of people. What do you think?

Haley
Yeah. I mean, we’ve touched on the expensive taste crew. I kind of, like hate the idea of some people have expensive taste and some people don’t. I think that everybody has a little bit of champagne taste, but definitely those people. And I think a category of those types of people are people who really love natural fibers. I think linen is a really good example. Linen lovers, because linen garments are very expensive to buy. If you want to buy, like even like a linen button up for yourself, oftentimes that can be like a real investment piece. And fabric usually is not that expensive. So if you’re a person who loves natural fibers, I definitely mostly so with natural fibers. And I just don’t like wearing synthetics that much. So it’s nice to eliminate that fiber from my closet where it makes sense, too.

Sarai
Yeah, I think linen is a great example. You can buy linen for ten to $15 a yard in a lot of places. So you can make a garment between 20, 30 $40. And a lot of those linen garments would cost hundreds of dollars or at least over 100 if you were to buy them ready to wear. So I think it’s a great example.

Haley
Totally. And I think kind of regardless of where you fall, whether you fall into one of these categories or not, we have, like, a bunch of money saving tips so that you can save money while you sow and Sarai is going to get into some of those for us.

Sarai
Well, before we talk about more concrete tips, I think there are some mindset things to talk about. And I think the first one is something we’ve sort of touched on, which is the idea of kind of using shopping as a little bit of an emotional crutch or placement for something else or for actually using your creativity. And I think it’s very easy to replace that clothing shopping habit with a fabric buying habit instead, because there are so many fun fabrics out there, and it’s just so easy to get sucked into. And I think it’s okay to some extent. Of course it’s okay. And if you love buying fabric, no judgment there. But I think it’s just something to be mindful of, whether it’s becoming a replacement for shopping in another domain, because that’s easy and to have happen. And I think a lot of sewers have experienced that from time to time. And I definitely have from time to time just accumulating more and more stuff because it’s pretty and it’s fun and it’s fun to think about what you would do with it, but you’re not actually using it to the extent that you could.

So that’s one thing. Just be mindful of that and then kind of take an approach like maybe your grandma would have. When it comes to sewing, I think there’s a lot of wisdom there in the way sewing was approached back generations past, not just sewing, but also just attitude towards clothing and how much you actually need and how much you want and what you already have.

So I think it’s always good to think about what have I gotten? Is it really enough? Am I adding this? Because it’s something that I’m actually going to get use out of? And I think that’s a really good way to save money. Just upfront is thinking about those things before you even start and maybe thinking about those issues of quality versus quantity for you personally. And the answer is different for everybody. But this just some questions for yourself. But as far as actually saving money and you know, some really concrete things you can do, the first one, I would say is looking for second-hand fabric, I think is a really good way to save a lot of money when it comes to sewing. I know some people even use sheets like go to the Goodwill and find sheets that you can use.

If you don’t want to use those for actual clothing, you can use them for muslins and you can save a lot of money there just using them for test garments. I even have in my fabric stash right now. I have a big fitted and twin sheet that’s linen, and it’s tons and tons of fabric that was not very expensive and that will end up saving me tons of money as opposed to if I’d bought all that fabric. So that’s one way you can save money. You can look at places like Ebay or Etsy also and find some really cool vintage fabrics and second-hand fabric there as well. A lot of people sell their stash when they’re trying to get rid of some of the stuff that they’ve accumulated. So check those resources out if you’re looking for some second hand fabric and you don’t have a place nearby to look. So that’s one tip you can also I think a good thing to do when you’re kind of starting a project is to identify your inspiration garment and then tally up how much you’re going to spend to make it. So before you even get started with sewing, think about how much that’s going to cost before you even get started and think about what’s the total cost between the pattern, the fabric, all the notions I need, everything else that I need, and I think that can help you just to budget a little bit more for your sewing.

If that’s something that you need to do, that’s more of a budgeting tip. But I think it can be really helpful just to kind of I want to say, like visualize, but it’s not visualized, but just kind of picture in your mind how much something is going to be. I think if you plan multiple garments at one time, that’s also really helpful because you can kind of see what it’s going to cost you and maybe how you can space it out to make it more affordable for yourself.

Haley
I think that the cost can kind of get convoluted in our minds when we’re thinking about sewing because you’re not spending all of the money at once necessarily. You like buy the pattern, and then you maybe buy the fabric, and then you run out to the Joanne two weeks later to get the notions. And before you know it, maybe you’ve spent $100 on a garment that maybe you’re not even really like that excited about. And it can help you to kind of see the monetary value. And you can place that kind of side by side with how much you actually value the piece and are willing to put into it.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s definitely true. You could end up spending way more money on something that you’re really not going to wear that often or that you’re just kind of semi excited about versus something you can make for less money that you might wear all the time and really get a lot of enjoyment out of. I think another thing that you can do that can help save you money in the long run is just making muslins so that you’re not wasting a lot of money on fabric later on. If you’re making a practice garment or a muslin, then you have a chance to make changes and you have a chance to see what the final thing is going to look like. It can help you to make better fabric decisions, too. If you make your muslin first, it will really help you to visualize what that is going to look like in whatever fabric you’re choosing, which I think can end up saving you money, too, because you’ll just end up with a garment that you like better and will actually use. So Muslims are sometimes people see them as they take so much time and it’s this added thing.

Sarai
But if you’re really serious about making things that add to your wardrobe and add to your life, then it’s worth taking the time, a lot of the time to make a muslin. I don’t make a muslin every time I sew, but for certain garments, it’s definitely worth it, don’t you think?

Haley
Oh, yeah, absolutely. The number of times that I have regretted not making a muslin is far greater than the number of times that I’ve made a muslin and found it to be a useless practice.

Sarai
Yeah. You always learn something from it always.

Haley
Like even if there isn’t anything with the fit, there might be like a detail that like, oh, gosh, I really would prefer that neckline if it was even just a half inch higher or whatever.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s definitely the case. And also, I think another thing about it that gets overlooked is when you make a muslin, the next time you sew it, it goes a lot faster because you already know all the steps, you know the order. You don’t have to refer to the instructions quite as much. You’ve mastered whatever techniques you’re going to have to use or most of the techniques, maybe. But I think that’s another thing that gets overlooked when people think about making muslins.

The next tip that I wanted to share is just learning what you can skimp on and what not to skimp on. I think one of the things, for example, that I never skimp on is thread. Do not buy cheap thread, like that is a false economy. If you’re saving a few cents on thread and your garment is going to fall apart the second time you wear it or you’re going to bust a seam because you use the wrong thread, that is the definition of a false economy. So I do not skimp on thread. Is there anything that you don’t skimp on, Haley?

Haley
Yeah, I thought of one immediately. Interfacing. I always buy good interfacing, either woven or knit. If it’s going to be in a garment and I’m going to be washing it and wearing it a bunch because I don’t know if you have ever shown anything where, like, you wash it the first time or wear it and the interfacing starts pulling apart from the garment and usually it’s like trapped somewhere where you can’t get to it and you’re like, well, that’s just weird wadded up cotton balls in my collar now. Cool.

Sarai
Yes, I’ve had that happen with ready to wear, too, where you can see it on the inside of collars and things like that. It’s all bubbly and starting to come apart. Yeah, it’s a bummer. So just learning what are the things that are going to make your garment last longer and they might not be that much more expensive to spend on those things like thread and interfacing and those just real basics that kind of underlie your garment. Those are the things that you might want to invest in. So the next one is a way to save a little bit on fabric by buying a little bit less of it, which is to lay out your pattern pieces before you buy fabric. So you can save on the length of fabric by doing this, because there are a lot of reasons. But one of the reasons is that you can actually see exactly how much fabric you’re going to use. And fabric comes in pretty standard widths, but they’re not exactly standard widths. So sometimes the fabric will be 60 inches wide, sometimes it’ll be 56 inches wide, sometimes it’ll be 54 inches wide. And so those few inches might not seem like a lot, but when you can put two pattern pieces more side by side than they would have been otherwise, you can actually end up saving quite a bit on the length of the fabric.

So that’s one reason. Another reason is that when the pattern layouts are created, they’re created for a whole range of sizes. So they might be for sizes zero to eight, might have one layout, and sizes ten to 16, might have another layout, for example, and on and on. But each of those individual sizes might have a slightly, slightly different layout that can actually save a little bit more fabric, if that makes sense. So because the pattern doesn’t have layouts for every single size, you can kind of come up with the best layout for your particular fabric with and your particular size. So by doing that, you can actually sometimes you can save like half a yard or even more. So that’s one way that you could save a little bit. And then the next tip, we’ve already sort of touched on this, but just learning how to mend and repair your clothing, I think, can be huge. Just knowing some real basics about mending. And I don’t even think it’s a matter of just learning how to do it, because that’s pretty easy. I think most of us can learn the basics of mending and repairing clothing pretty easily.

And if you know how to sew, you pretty much know how to do that. I think it’s more the mindset around it or anything it’s worth doing versus I’ll just throw this away and get something new, don’t you think?

Haley
Yeah, totally. A little like, mind trick that I’ve been doing with myself lately is I still sew in a fairly small space. So I have a little basket of my project that I’m currently working on. And when I find something in my closet that needs to be repaired, I put it at the top of my basket so that when I go to grab my sewing project, I have to physically move that item in need of repair to the side. I mean, I don’t always get to it first thing, but it makes it more front and center in my life. Instead of going into some separate mending pile that I probably will never touch again.

Sarai
That’s a great idea. I’m definitely guilty of putting my mending in a place where I will not see it. Just the other day, I pulled out this really cute vintage jumpsuit that I have, and I was going to wear it, and I’d forgotten that. I don’t know. For some reason, our new washing machine just, like, eats clothing. I don’t know what it is, but it had, like, a tie on it that broke off. And so I just kind of put the tie with it and hung it back up in my closet. And then I took it out to wear it, and it was I was like, oh, I can’t wear this until I actually mend it. So I put it in a specific place in my closet, and I’m like, I’m just going to put everything that needs to get mended right here on the end so I can see it. And when I have a chance, I’ll know it’s there. I think it’s so easy to forget about the stuff that needs repair.

Haley
You have to put it somewhere annoying. Yeah, annoying in your day to day life.

Sarai
Between this washing machine and having two kittens in my life, every garment that has ties on it is just completely destroyed. Every single one has been chewed.

Haley
I got to experience their destruction firsthand. I brought a backpack over, and they were just like, this is a really cool scratching post.

Sarai
They destroy everything they can get their little paws or teeth on. Yeah, that’s my life.

The next tip we have is to shop your stash and design with fabrics that you already have. I think that’s something we all endeavor to do, but it can be hard when there’s so much great fabric out there. Like we were saying earlier, it’s so fun to buy new fabric, but if you actually use the fabric you have, you can save a lot. And I think there are some really cool ways to do this. Like, maybe you could alternate between buying new fabric for a project and then the next one has to come from your stash. Things like that.

Those are little tricks I’ve used before to help me. And I think Design Your Wardrobe can also really help you with this because it’s a process by which you actually sit down and design, and you kind of look at your stash and see what you have and use that to create a palette for yourself for your wardrobe. And I find that extremely helpful. And if you don’t know what Design Your Wardrobe is, it’s a program that we have through Seamwork for our members. It’s free for our members, so you can check it out. We’ll put a link in the show notes for that as well. So we have just a couple more quick tips.

One is to look for local fabric swaps or even just sales local to you. That can be a great way to save on fabric. We’ve organized a couple of fabric swaps ourselves. That was really fun. I remember the first time I did a reading for my book that I published years and years ago at Powell’s. We did a fabric swap to go with it because I thought it’d be really fun. Just people bring their fabric and do a little swap, and that was really fun. If you can get together with other sewers and shop each other’s stashes, that can be a way to kind of fulfill that shopping itch without actually spending money. I love fabric swaps. And clothing swaps.

And then lastly, just to plug Steamwork, you can also become a Seamwork member. And that will save you some money because we have very affordable patterns. And we also offer discounts at a lot of fabric stores online. That’s something maybe not everybody knows about before they become a member.

But we have discounts from dozens of online fabric stores, and they’re probably ones that you’ve heard of, so you can check those out on our website, too. So that’s another way you can save a little bit of money. I’ve heard a lot from people who say that that actually just pays for their membership because you can save between ten and 20% every time you shop for fabric. And if you buy a significant amount of fabric, that’s quite a bit of money every year. So that’s just a little plug for ourselves.

Haley
We got to do it. All right. We covered a lot of ground today. I’m going to go over our tips just really quickly.

* Our first tip was to kind of get in the right mindset and make sure that you’re not replacing your clothing shopping habit with a fabric buying habit instead.
* And start thinking more economically, like a really good mindset shift to make sure that your sewing doesn’t take on the same mindlessness that I think shopping can.
* And then we got into some more nitty gritty tips we recommended looking for second-hand fabric. You can even use sheets, whether that’s for your fashion garment or for your muslin.
* Identify your inspiration garment and tally up how much you’re going to spend on it to kind of like weigh the value of that for yourself and to just spend more consciously.
*Make muslins so you don’t waste any money on fabric later. Learn where you can and cannot skimp.
*Laying out your pattern pieces in advance in the most economical way possible so you can buy less fabric.
* Learning to mend and repair, or rather actually mending and repairing
* And shopping your stash more often instead of just buying fabric every time you start a new project
* Design your wardrobe can be super helpful!

Haley
With this, going to local fabric shop swaps in sales is a great way to save money and also meet new sewing friends and also shameless plug become a Seamwork member for the cheap patterns and for the shopping discount.

Sarai
Yes, some good tips.

Haley
Yeah, we just gave you all the tips. This is everything we know about saving money.

Sarai
Everything I know about saving money.

Haley
But if you guys know more, just send us an email. Let us know in the review. We want to know we want more tips too. But if you want to learn even more about this subject, we have an article this month in Seamwork talking about whether it’s cheaper to sell your own clothes. And we also have a freebie on how to set up your sewing budget and we will link that in the show notes for you. If you liked this episode, please leave us a review. It lets us know that we’re doing stuff that you actually like and helps other people to find us and we really appreciate them. We read all of them and they mean a lot to us.

Sarai
Yeah. All right, well, we’ll see you guys next week!

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