Why Do We Sew Our Own Clothes?


Why do we sew clothes for ourselves in 2016? Ready made clothes are easy to find, affordable, sometimes cheap and the marketing is so sophisticated how can we resist? Sewing your own clothes is the opposite. Apparel fabric is hard to find in person unless you live in a large city, the cost of fabric, notions, patterns, sewing machines, etc is much more than most ready made clothing and is there marketing outside the online sewing world? I never see ads in Oprah or Real Simple for any item related to sewing clothes.

Before the industrial revolution you sewed, or hired a seamstress, in order to have clothes. As clothing became easier to obtain people sewed to stretch their clothing budget and they didn’t own many clothes; a few dresses, a couple sweaters, underthings.

It was always more economical to sew some of your clothing than to buy it ready made. The general rule was not to sew items you could buy cheaply such as underwear and t-shirts. Sewing was for better dresses, blazers, evening wear, children’s wear (because they grow out of them so fast) and, for the ambitious, men’s wear.

Then it changed. All types of clothing started to be made cheaply overseas. Labor is the biggest cost a manufacture has and with cheap labor the price of ready made clothes came way down. Sewing became a dinosaur until recently when a younger generation, who, I guess, didn’t stick with or want to join the knitting come back craze, started to sew.

But why? It’s not because of the marketing, it’s certainly work to hunt down good fabric, and the cost… well, let’s add that up

(Warning: You can skip this part and go down to the reason we still sew if the cost of sewing is going to give you sticker shock. This actually is a positive post about sewing)

The cost of sewing clothing:

  • First there is the sewing machine. Even if you get a $300 machine (which is on the low end) the first garment you sew just cost you $300. The second garment sewn the price went down to $150 for each, as you sew more the cost of the machine becomes justified. You may, like me, have already gotten your money’s worth from your machine but now, also like me, thinking of upgrading to a nicer model with all those new features. The machine I want is $$$. Will I really sew enough to justify that cost? And I’m not even talking Bernina.
  • Then you purchase a pattern. Patterns can be $4 or $20 plus. Sometimes you run across a great sale and sometimes you will use the pattern more than once bringing down the cost. However, once in awhile you get ripped off because the pattern wasn’t drafted well or the instructions were so poor that you couldn’t figure it out.
  • After the pattern is chosen THEN you get fabric. If you, like many of us, buy the fabric first then find something to make with it you will end up with a lot of unused fabric. Usually because you can never make a final decision of what to make with that fabric but also because you didn’t buy enough of that fabric to make the garment you now want.

Yardage isn’t cheap and if it is – don’t make clothing with it. There are sales but expect to pay about $10 a yard for cottons. The price of silks and woolens is at least double and Liberty of London cotton lawn is $50 a yard. Fabrics, especially laces can be over $100 a yard.

  • The notions start to add up. You’ll need thread, a fresh needle, maybe a zipper or buttons and some interfacing. Cha-ching
  • Muslin, oh yeah, you need to make a muslin of the garment you’re about to sew to work out the fit. It feels like a step backward but if you take the time to do this you see how the pattern fits you and you have a chance to correct any issues before cutting into your good fabric. When a garment fits you’ll wear it which saves money and tears. So buy a couple yards of muslin fabric too.
  • Wash the fabric for your garment before doing anything to it (not the muslin fabric though). I don’t know how much you pay for water but this also adds to the expense
  • Now the cutting and the sewing and the pressing and the fixing and squeezing in a little more sewing time. How much time did it take you and what is your time worth? That’s a cost.

Recently I made a shirt. The cotton fabric cost $28. The independent pattern plus shipping $15. A card of buttons was $3. I used about a yard of nice interfacing for cuffs, collar, front facing so $9. A small spool of matching thread is $2. Muslin is $4 a yard, 2 yards so $8. I’m not adding in electricity, water or a convenience food dinner one night because I couldn’t stop sewing in time to make dinner. What cost do I put on my time?If I made minimum wage at $7.25 and it took me about 10 hours (probably more from sourcing the materials) let’s say $70 for the labor.  A $135 shirt. On Boden I can buy a similar shirt for $58; at Target $22

But here’s the thing; it doesn’t really matter. I could buy all my clothes and never sew a thing and I would NOT save money. I would simply take up a different hobby (or distraction or addiction) which would cost money and time and I would need to buy clothes as well.

We sew our clothing for the joy of being creative.

Sure, we want the garment we sew. Possession of the sewn garment is a nice bonus in the end but our drive to sew is to make something that expresses us, just a little bit or a lot, with our own hands. It’s something every human needs  – to create. I sew, my neighbor gardens, my friend blows glass, another friend raises her kids, some of us write, dance, cook, sing, organize, decorate….

Like the MasterCard tag line goes; fabric – $50, pattern – $10, time spent sewing – priceless.


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