Once upon a time, sewing was a widespread skill common to the poorest and richest of women as well as men of many professions. The reason for the former popularity of sewing is that it is a skill both basic and necessary. Nowadays, because of manufactured clothing and looser fashions, we are more inclined to search for clothes that we fit into rather than have clothes made to fit us.
Compared to the apparent convenience of purchasing ready-made clothes, a great number of people wrongly believe that the sewing of clothes is either an antiquated custom, a hobby for “creative” people, unreasonably difficult, or simply a waste of time.
Logically the process of manufacturing products en masse seems the cheapest way to get things. This is true: manufacturing in large quantities is the cheapest way for large companies to get their products. But all the savings from using cheap labor and bulk supplies do not become your savings but someone else’s profit. Manufacturing is not always the cheapest way for you to get things, especially clothing.
Below are some of the first items of clothing we made when first learning to sew. Each item cost no more than $1.00 to make.
A wide variety of fabrics appropriate for clothing are available in a range of $1-$10 per yard. I have seen simple sleeveless tops in stores priced at $40 or more and consisting of less than ½ yard of fabric. One half yard of satin can be had for $2.50, stretch velvet for $3.15, and cotton for $1.50. A long-sleeved shirt with approximately 1½ yards of fabric, can cost as little as $1.50 (plus buttons and thread) with sale or bargain fabric.
Hats, which cost $20+ in the days when I used to buy clothing, require even less fabric and can be sewn from what is left over from larger projects. By purchasing fabrics on sale you can save even more money and compensate for the time it takes to sew an outfit.
The time spent sewing is actually equivalent to time spent earning. For example, that little satin top I mentioned above can be made in about 1 hour. The difference between $40 and $2.50 is $37.50—so you would be $37.50 richer for 1 hour of work. Plus, you would have paid less sales tax for $2.50 than for $40.00 (you would pay 93.75% less sales tax).
These days, the cost of a domestic sewing machine is very reasonable, and while models with many fancy stitches are available, you don’t need more than what the most basic models are capable of. The cost of the machine will soon pay for itself by the money it will save you, and it has other uses such as mending clothing which might otherwise be unused or thrown away, and making other things such as curtains, pillows, blankets, Halloween and play costumes (for children), etc.
We find that a lot of purchased clothing and bedding tend to fall apart sooner because the buttons are machine stitched without the threads being fixed or knotted, and seams are often serged, a loose stitch that tends to disintegrate. So, the lives of items you have already purchased can be prolonged with the help of a sewing machine.
As for the cost of sewing patterns, patterns for everyday clothes come very reasonably priced. A simple pattern can be had for as little as $2.00 from sewing and craft stores. Designer patterns are a little more costly, but still much more cost-effective than purchasing designer clothing, as several outfits can be made from one pattern. You can also find pre-owned patterns in good or unused condition at thrift shops and on the Internet.
The number of articles you can fashion from one pattern is without limit. Some ways to achieve new looks with the same pattern are: changing color, changing fabric type, adding trims, using different fabrics for parts of a garment (e.g. velvet dress with sheer sleeves), lengthening or shortening, gathering, altering the shape of neckline or hem, shortening the skirt and adding a ruffle, etc.
You can also figure out how to make your own patterns by using basic store-bought patterns as a starting point. Notions (buttons, threads, etc.) will not cost you much if you are truly frugal, but you may splurge a little on fancy buttons or embellishments and still spend less than buying a garment.
And unless humans have significantly genetically altered within the past century, most everyone is capable of learning to sew. After all, poor uneducated persons once learned to sew salable clothes without the help of the standardized patterns and illustrated instructions available to us.
You do not need a professional skill level to sew for yourself or your children. Slight imperfections in your finished projects are evidence that you made them yourself as handcrafted items are valued and admired in this age of manufacture. And an additional benefit to saving money is escaping the danger of showing up in the same dress as someone else.