Dec 28 2007

To sew or to buy

I’m curious: How many of you sew?

Do you start from scratch and find a pattern and fabric and sit down and make something to wear?

Do you scour thrift stores to find something with potential, and alter it to make it even better?

Is it cheaper to make some things yourself?

I ask this because I’m contemplating searching for a second-hand sewing machine, and I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile.

In middle school, I used a sewing machine to make a locker organizer. That’s about the extent of my sewing machine experience.

I’m not sure if I’d enjoy sewing, or really benefit from it, so I’m curious to hear about your experiences.



21 Responses to “To sew or to buy”

  1. If you are into DIY punk and/or want to gain alteration experience, then the machine will be worth it for thrift store stuff. I sew my husband’s shirts from reclaimed bedsheets from the thrift store. Right now I have a great paisley waiting to be sewn.

    I’m plus size, so thrifting is usually out. I have to start with new fabric and a pattern. It is cheaper to buy new clothes off the rack than sew them if you are within average size range, and it’s getting to be that way with plus size clothes as well unless you are into high fashion.

  2. I’ve used my sewing machine to make curtains and Halloween costumes and to fix things I already owned, but from what I can tell, it’s not at all cost-effective to buy new fabrics and patterns and make clothes that way.

  3. I do quite a bit of sewing and it really helps me save money. I have to admit that I am kind of a hack though. I really don’t know what I am doing most of the time, but with some thought and determination seem to pull it off.

    I usually start from scratch. I make my own patterns out of recycled paper bags and use either discounted material, sheets, tablecloths or whatever item I can find on the cheap to make my items.

    I make curtains, gifts, clothes, housewares, costumes, and all kinds of items. I have hemmed pants for friends, fixed rips for them and such.

    I also have found many patterns for free online. I think a sewing machine is a great investment!

  4. I got a sewing machine for Christmas several years ago…and sadly it’s been collecting dust! One of my New Year’s resolutions should be to start using it. One of the things I love about sewing it that you can personalize so many things. For instance, I’ve made several throw pillows for family members, where I’ve used an iron-on photo image that they will likely love. One of the things I’ve wanted to do (but haven’t) is make seasonal crafts using all the great fabrics that are available at Christmas, Halloween, etc. Thanks for the post…I think you’ve just inspired me to dust of my sewing machine :)

  5. If you get the sewing maching on the cheap, it is not a bad item to have around for the occasional project, but unless you get highly discounted material it is not cheaper to maker your clothes than to buy off the rack. Down the road if you have children they are great for making costumes and perhaps little girl simple smock dresses. But clothes that require sleeves, zippers, buttons etc. just make it expensive to make. Now for home decor –window treatments, pillows, etc, you can usually make it cheaper yourself.

    Hope this helps!

  6. I have a machine (got it for Christmas last year), and I love it, and I love to use it… but I never do! There are so many other things calling for my time (DS being the biggest!) I have plans to finish a quilt and to do other sewing, but I find that I never make the time to do clothes sewing. My mom always did when we were growing up, but she assured me last week (while she was here) that she never sewed when we were really little like DS is. That made me feel better.

    If you have the time and want to put it in… it may work great for you! :) Regardless, it may be nice to have one for mending and such.

  7. Hard to say. Thrifting is almost always cheaper than sewing. But good alternation skills open more possibilities in thrifting. Also, sometimes you just can’t find things used and may want to sew them.

    Or if you’re into alternative/funky looks.

  8. I agree with the consensus–it’s much cheaper to bargain hunt for clothes. But I use my sewing machine to tailor what I buy: beautiful pants that need to be hemmed, shirts that fit in the bust but are loose at the waist, etc. I’m curvy, so buying work clothes that fit perfectly and don’t cost a fortune is challenging. For the cost of the initial invetsment of the sewing machine ($25 at a yard sale) and a little thread the clothes (even high-end ones) that I find at discount stores look even better. I also make all my own curtains and table cloths, because it’s easier and cheaper to get what I want that way.

  9. Cool! Be sure to post pics on your blog of your next project!

  10. Thanks, everyone! You’ve all shared really helpful advice. I think if I get a machine, it will be super-discounted, and I’ll use it for fun and to try to alter things. We’ll see how it goes.

  11. I used to sew all of my clothes when I was in high school but I don’t have the time anymore. I still sew costumes & fancy dresses for my daughters and save a great deal of money. You just need to get the patterns when they are on sale for 99 cents.

    The one place where you can save a lot of money is on home decor items. Curtains, drapes, tablecloths, placemats all use pretty much straight seams and are quite a bit easier to sew than clothing [which has to be fitted to you individually]. I get a lot of my home decor material from the remnant or end bolt sections of Calico Corners. I have also been able to get pure silk at extremely cheap prices per yard from eBay and have used it to make drapery panels like those at Pottery Barn for much less money.

    Sewing does take patience though. The most frustrating thing is when the machine does not work. So, don’t just buy any cheap machine – make sure that all the functions work. I bought my current Singer at Walmart for about $80.

  12. I’m with you, Kacie. I would LOVE to learn to sew, and have seriously considered it, but don’t have a sewing machine and my experience in the matter consists of a very lumpy pillow and a pair of ill-fitting pajama shorts from 7th grade home ec.

    I decided that I’ll stick with knitting for the time being (which I learned how to do last year) and pick up sewing as a hobby at a later time, when I feel I have more applications for it.

  13. I’m going to disagree with those who think thrifting or buying retail is cheaper than sewing.

    My taste in clothes runs to things that are well tailored and impeccably made, things I could never afford to buy. My sewing skills allow me to have clothes that are beautiful.

    If you want badly made and poorly fitting clothes that make you look like a slob then it is certainly cheaper to buy something at wal-mart or the thrift shop.

    Thrifting and altering is a good initial step to having better clothes than you can really afford (most of my husband’s trousers and suit coats are altered thrift finds, I make his shirts), but if you are serious about quality clothing for yourself and your family you need to invest the time to learn how to sew well.

  14. Hi Melody-

    You make a great point. Some cheap clothes are just that–cheap. Certainly not worth buying.

    You make an excellent case for making your own clothing. After all, even if it costs $20 in materials to make a beautiful dress, you’re still likely to save money in what it would cost at a department store or having something altered.

    Do you have any tips for someone who’d like to get started in sewing?

  15. I’ll be looking forward to more comments as I’ve wondered the same about sewing too.

  16. Kacie, when you choose your machine be careful to research the brand and model – I wasted a good bit of money once on a discounted machine that did not work – sold it at a yard sale for $3. Lost $97!! Anyway, its funny you posted about this – I was just about to do a post on my own sewing adventures!

  17. Another thing to keep in mind… my husband hates the look of homemade clothes. I don’t know how he knows they are homemade, but he would rather take me to a store and spend big money on something nice than have me (or my experience seamstress mother) make something for me. I keep hoping we are going to slip something past him, but not so far. Check with your husband. If he likes the look (or better yet can’t tell the difference) go for it! :)

  18. I enjoy sewing and I’ve been doing it for about year. It’s okay if you can find discount fabrics. I like making skirts the most, as they seem the easiest. It does get expensive, especially if you want to do anything neat. If you can bargain hunt yard sales, auctions, and the like you can get supplies for a decent price it might be worth it. I believe that it is cheaper to buy brand new stuff on sale. Fashion Bug is having a great sale right now! I just got 7 shirts, a dress, a nightgown thing, and a coat for 130 bucks! I also like to shop at places like Ditto and Plato’s Closet. You get really good deals because it’s resale, but it’s all up to date fashion.

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  19. I would love to learn how to sew. Actually I purchased 3 machines over the last five years. All were purchased from thrift stores or yard sale deals. One machine is a Necchi machine and was used for mostly alterations(which was my intension). Another one is inside a nice wooden case that serves at a TV stand in guest bedroom. The final one was given to my grandmother so that she can do our alterations. She does a great job and very pleased with the machine. She forgot that I gave it to her, so now she has this listed as a give away item when she moves on to glory…. No rush for grandma…. I woudl love to find a class out there.

  20. Whoa, thanks for the coupon codes, Kimberly! Looks like you had a good shopping trip.

  21. One major reason handmade clothes look handmade is that sewers don’t press between every step. I recently read an article in Threads magazine (Aug/Sept ’06) where they showed the difference between a blouse that had been pressed during sewing and one that hadn’t–it was staggering. If you try to slip a pair of pants past your husband before they’ve been pressed or washed and pressed he’ll definitely notice. Afterwards? Maybe not.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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