the economics of sewing, part 2

When I started this thread, I was thinking about how when I was young my mother sewed to save money, but how most people I know today don’t list that as their primary reason for sewing.

I gave a few reasons why I still sew–even though cute children’s fashions are available inexpensively–and I opened the floor for comments. I somehow knew all of you would have more interesting reasons for sewing than I do! Thank you all for your comments and emails. Your responses were so well-thought and well-written, I thought I would assemble them for part 2 of this post about why we sew. So let’s continue, then:

4. Customized fit. Sarah C said, “There is no better way to get that perfect fitting garment you are looking for.” She’s absolutely correct, and I can’t believe I forgot this on my list! We’re built long and slim in my family, so when I sew for S, I make her a size 3 with a size 4 length. It’s easy to make adjustments like this when you sew, and it saves a trip to the tailor, too.

5. Tangible results. Karen made the excellent point that it’s nice to feel like you’ve actually accomplished something at the end of the day. When you’re rearing children, that feeling can be a little elusive. Sewing something, however, gives immediate results. Perhaps we’re better parents when we can balance the long-term goals with the shorter-term end products?

6. Selection of fabrics. Sarah C also made the excellent point that you can choose your own fabrics when you sew, which also means that you can select from the very best qualities. Designers are often limited by price, but a seamstress can splurge whenever she wants and production won’t complain a bit (although the family bookkeeper might have something to say about that topic). In other words, it’s nice to have a choice when it comes to fabrics.

7. March to your own drum beat. I’ve been on a hunt for the perfect apple-green skirt for months now; I should probably just make it myself, since it’s not a color that’s currently available in stores. After all, who says we all want to follow the latest color trends? Make your own trends, or just sew what you like best.

8. Working together. Sallyavena said it well, “It’s for the details and the ability to take one pattern and adjust it or add to it whatever my daughter wants. It’s also fun to ‘design’ a dress/outfit with her. She gets to add her opinions, pick out the fabric, or something along those lines and it’s a little bonding time for us.” One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the fabric store with my Mom to pick out a pattern, select the fabrics and trims, and “help” (or at least watch) her sew it. This is the primary reason I became a designer (did you know that, Mom?); the process inspires me, and I adored that quality time with my Mom. Plus, I had a great dress to wear when it was done.

Bear gets to help too

9. Ability to make something more beautiful than you can afford to purchase. Sarah-Jo makes another good point. When you sew, you can make garments with details that you might not be able to afford in a shop. Very high-end clothing lines often include details that a seamstress can achieve at home, if she’s willing to spend a little time on them. (Maybe this one does fall into the category of sewing to save money, but I think this is really more about the quality of the results that someone can achieve by putting passion, love, and sweat equity into a project.) This is one of the aspects of my job that I like best. I love the little achievable details, and I like to include them in our patterns too.

10. The “you made that?!?” jaw-drop effect. OK, maybe it’s vanity. But don’t you love it when people are stunned at your awe-inspiring needle skills? Come on, it’s true.

11. Matching (or co-ordinating) outfits for children, families, and dolls. But before you go too crazy with all that matching, please take heed of this family photo from the 1970s. (Sorry, Mom.)

Don't attempt this at home. Please don't.

12. Keeping the art alive. Mirjam emailed to say, “And then there is also the aspect to take care that the wide variety of different techniques don’t die out. It really doesn’t take many generations. Soon the old experts are gone to tell us their little trade secrets. And show us their pride and joy in doing a good job. Machines can’t do that.” Very true. As we purchase more factory-made goods, are we losing the ability to make those things ourselves? Are we also losing that connection to our history and to self-sufficiency?

13. Age-appropriate dressing. Karen also made mention of this issue, which I hear frequently from our customers. While I don’t insist, personally, that children should be dressed “modestly,” I really don’t see why anyone would want to dress a three-year-old to look like a hoochie mama. That applies to eight-year-olds, too.

14. Creating heirlooms and memories. I don’t mean this in the traditional sense of heirloom sewing, like elaborate Christening gowns and the like. Hollie said, “I tend to want to keep the clothes I’ve made because of the time (and money) I spent on them…. Perhaps it’s because creating something is so personal that it’s difficult to let go. I tend to think it’s because those items have such great memories attached to them. We get to revisit those memories each time we clean out the closet.” It’s true; I adore the dresses my Mom made and kept for me, and it’s wonderful to let my S wear them now that they’re starting to fit her (like my butterfly dress, below). I’ll save the dresses I’ve made for her so someday she’ll have her own memories to pass along and share. Emily added, “When my mom is gone someday, we will still have this link to her creativity, love, practicality, and skill.”

Dr. S wearing a dress my mom sewed for me when I was her age

15. We’re spending less elsewhere. “I probably spend more on fabric than I would on a garment, but I’m driving less, getting fuel less, wear-n-tear on my car less (the closest decent mall is 30 minutes away), getting mochas less, spending elsewhere less… it might even out,” says April. Very true. As a hobby, sewing might mean we’re actually spending less on other past times than we would if we weren’t sewing. On a side note, I’ve heard other seamstresses say (perhaps only partially in jest?) that sewing is cheaper than therapy. Hmmm.

16. Love. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue myself, and Keri said it well: “I love the act of giving that’s involved [in sewing]. In an entirely tangible, practical way I can lavish the recipient of my handmade work with love, attention, and time, whether it is my daughter, husband, self, friend, or famil
y.” When we sew for the people around us, we’re telling them that we value them enough to spend our time making something for them. And we’re giving them something that has love sewn right into it. Indywriter said, “if I have taken the time to create something handmade for you, it’s because you are special to me or to my family. I am not only giving you a dress, I am giving you the precious gift of my time and my thoughts during the process of making it.”

So there are sixteen excellent reasons why we sew. Most of them have little to do with saving money, do they? I think sewing today is much more about these reasons than it is about being thrifty. We might be spending more or less, depending on our choices, but we get so many other benefits from our craft.

When you sit down at your sewing machine tonight, what are you going to make?


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  1. Oh wow that family pic is priceless
    I think I have one like that stashed away some where as theres three girls in my family too so we had the matching dresses!

    tonight when I sit at my sewing machine Im going to start making my kids some autumn/winter clothes as its still summer here in Australia
    I cant wait as Ive bought some very beautiful winter fabrics

  2. I love that photo of all of you in the red dresses! Too funny! My mom made my brother and me coats out of my aunt’s draperies when we were little (she was going to throw them in the trash). When we showed up at my aunt’s house for Christmas, my mom said my aunt kept saying she loved our coats and that they really looked familiar for some reason… lol!

  3. That’s such a beautiful post and I sew for many of the reasons listed. Miss Friday and I spend quite a bit of time choosing fabrics and styles. She likes to ‘help’ me sew, too.

    Everything I make is an expression of my infinite love for her. When she needs something new, she automatically wants to go look at fabric and not go to the store to buy something ready-made.

    How precious is that?

  4. Not sewing tonight but tracing off your wonderful 2+2 blouse and cutting it out in some gorgeous Joel Dewberry fabric!

  5. That is a beautiful post! Enjoyed every thought… especially the last one about ‘love’. How true that is. I often pray for the person I am sewing something for… it is entirely impossible to not sweetly dwell on the individual who will receive the gift of love I have made.

    With regard to sewing tonight? I actually need to assemble a western shirt for my son. It’s been cut out for quite some time.

  6. great thoughts. Just realized some reasons why I sew that I hadn’t ever put into words. And oh how I love that “you made that” jaw-drop. 🙂

    Tonight I’m finishing a dress for a lucky three year old

  7. Your “love” reason is so true. When I begin a project for one certain person, I intend for it to be given to THAT person. If I do not finish in time for the birthday, wedding, or baby shower, I still give it to the intended recipient when it is finished even if it is late b/c I made it FOR THEM. It is like cheating if you give it to someone else!

  8. i havent heard the phrase “hoochie mama” in years. love it!

  9. For me it’s a win-win. I enjoy buying the fabrics and my daughter gets something out of it.

  10. Gorgeous post and so very true.

    Tonight I’m going to cut out a handbag pattern that I’ve been drooling over for months.
    I’m making it for my sister. I think that goes under the “Sewing for Love” heading.

  11. I started sewing for my son because like my husband, he is tall and thin and finding pants long enough mean that they are waaaay too big. Now that he is 8, the problem remains, but he is not interested in having me sew his clothes. As for my daughter, I desperately needed a dress for a special occasion, and went to the standard places where you find inexpensive clothing. I was appalled at what they had 2 year olds wearing. Why would I want my daughter to wear clothing much more revealing than what I wore when I was at my sexiest? I finally broke down and went to the cute, expensive store in town and bought a lovely, age-appropriate cute corduroy (how do you spell that word?) dress in pink with alphabet blocks on it. I had taken sewing in high school (hated it) and returned to it between college and grad school because I was home and had nothing better to do. I took some tailoring classes. Well, I looked at that dress and thought, I could do that for a lot less than $40. So, that started it. I have to admit, the first few dresses I made were not so beautiful. The seams were crooked, the button holes not so neat, but I kept at it. Now three years later, my daughter loves to go shopping for her new “wardrobe” at the fabric store. She gets to pick out the fabrics, and ribbons, and cute buttons. No one can tell the difference between my clothes and the high end store clothing because after three years, my sewing skills really improved. Meanwhile, I started sewing for myself. I got tired of wanted skirts that cost $300-400 but settling for things that cost much less, but had little style or worse, never finding things that fit, too tight in the hips, too loose in the waist, too short, too young, too old,…. Now I am often stopped in the grocery store by women asking about my cool skirts, or my stylish dress. They ogle my daughters cute dresses and jackets (she refuses to wear pants).

    It is fun! Now, I often try interesting things with my daughters clothes that I would like to try for myself. It is faster and cheaper to try them on her. IF they work out, then I can make them for myself. If you haven’t seen these books, check these out Nakamichi Tomoko’s Pattern Magic books. Sooo Cooool! These are Japanese pattern books that I found in a Japanese bookstore in SFO. Written in Japanese, I can’t read the directions, but the graphics and photos are pretty self explanatory.

    I am making a really cool dress for my daughter from this book, if it works out, then I will try it on myself.

    Often, I have fabric left from my sewing projects, and then I use the leftovers to sew something for her. She still remembers the grey lace dress I sewed from leftovers that I had for a fitted short laceover silk dress for me!

    I love the Sunday brunch pattern, making the jacket was a breeze. I hate setting in sleeves, somehow it was easy with your pattern, and it was one of my most professional outcomes. Thanks. Susan

  12. Let’s see, right now I have:

    a purse that seems to curse me (don’t we all have a project every now and then that we love, but hate!)

    spring/summer dresses for my girls and a couple as gifts for a friend.

    and a couple thrifty upcycled projects from old sweaters.

    Sewing can be thrifty with or without used fabrics. Even if I spend more on a dress, for example, by the time I buy fabric and notions, in the end I have a bargain. That handmade, quality dress will last through all four of my girls unlike a less expensive store alternative.

  13. good advice…and a lovely product

  14. I enjoyed looking at your picture with all of you wearing the same red dress.

  15. I love the yellow butterfly dress, it is adorable. Thanks for the post and all the great information!!

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