Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

We talk about all the many reasons there are for making our own clothing (chief among them being the joy and learning and pride), and “saving money” is rarely cited as one of them — even though historically that was the case. You might have noticed as I’ve been documenting my finished objects this year, I’ve stated the cost for each one,* which I’ve done as a form of research and so we could talk about it here in Slow Fashion October. It seems to me the general consensus is that it’s more expensive these days to make clothes than to buy them (feeding into the frequent refrain that only “privileged” people can make that choice), but that depends on about a million things. First and foremost: more expensive as compared to what? In a world where fast-fashion chains will sell you a “cashmere” sweater or tailored blazer for $19.95, we’ve lost all baselines and benchmarks, and all sense of perspective. There are, of course, costs beyond what’s on a price tag — from the human and environmental cost of fast fashion to the value of the time we put into a homemade garment. And there’s also plain old subjectivity. I used to wander into an Anthropologie once in awhile and marvel at the fact that there are apparently quite a lot of people who’ll pay $200 for a poorly made polyester dress. But if you’re accustomed to shopping at Target or Old Navy, you’ll think Imogene+Willie $195 jeans (made in LA of North Carolina or Japanese denim) or a $160 Lauren Winter top is “expensive,” when in reality those prices reflect the cost of quality materials and construction and workers making at least our minimum wage, etc. And then there are Designer prices, which are obviously much higher, even though quality and materials and transparency often aren’t better. So what do we compare our homemade garments to?

I honestly don’t know, in a broad sense, but what’s amazed me as I’ve tallied up my homemade clothing costs this year is how truly inexpensive it’s been, by and large. Here’s the breakdown:

$15.00 : Wool gauze pullover
30.00 : Blue striped dress
15.00 : Muumuu
7.00 : Black sleeveless top
6.00 : Striped sleeveless top
29.00 : Striped skirt
26.00 : Black sleeveless t-shirt
9.00 : Linen box top
7.50 : Striped box top
18.00 : Indigo camisole top
13.50 : Ikat camisole top
14.00 : Green camisole top
$190 — average price of $15.83 per garment

$27.50 : Black lopi raglan
140.00 : Bulky blue pullover
122.00 : Black vest
75.00 : Black cardigan
$364.50 – average price of $91.25 per sweater

For me personally, the best comparison is J.Crew, since that’s who got 90% of my clothes money in my store-bought wardrobe days. (And also: I could have bought that many garments in a couple of orders from the J.Crew clearance section back in the day. Cost aside, this represents a huge reduction in the number of garments acquired within any 10 months of my life.) Obviously, every one of those sewn garment numbers is substantially lower than even 40%-off-the-clearance-price prices at J.Crew. (Compare my cotton camisoles to this, for example.) The sweaters are a different story. Even with that $27.50 lopi sweater in the mix, the average sweater price might be higher than I would traditionally pay for a J.Crew sweater. It’s hard to say, having never tracked and averaged it, but I would guess between the mostly sale purchases and the occasional splurge, I probably spent an average of more like $65-70. Some of which I’ve worn for ages and still cherish; others of which looked like crap in no time. Regardless, I think ninety bucks is a very fair average price for a well-made, natural-fiber sweater.

So yes, between the reduced cost of these items and the fact of homemade clothes necessarily appearing in my closet at a slower rate (I can’t make things nearly as quickly as I could buy them), I am definitely spending way less money on clothes than I used to. That works out to $55 a month! (Or less, in reality — since Purl Soho gave me the yarn I used for the cardigan.) Even if you factor in the handful of store-bought items I’ve acquired during these 10 months, it’s way less than I used to spend.

I should note that the sweaters currently on my needles will have skewed that average by year’s end. One of them is lopi, so another $30-ish dollar line item. My striped Pebble sweater is probably about a $200 sweater when all is said and done (although Shibui gave me yarn). But I also made a very conscious decision to spend about $300 on my Channel Cardigan in progress, and it will be by far the most expensive garment I’ve ever owned. If I saw that sweater at J.Crew for that price (in 100% undyed baby-camel yarn) I would snatch it up in a heartbeat and consider it a worthy investment piece. But in reality, they’d be charging 2-3 times that much for it, and I wouldn’t be able to have it.

There is also the question of start-up costs to consider. For a new knitter or sewer, tools costs real money. And sewing requires space. I don’t know how to factor for that, but it does have to be said. And again what this doesn’t take into account is my time, but I wouldn’t put a price on that — those are my pleasure hours. If anything, I’d credit the learning and enjoyment I get against the cost! How much are those many hours of enjoyment worth to me? And aren’t those the same hours most Americans spend wandering malls or surfing shopping sites? I think choosing homemade over store-bought is a way of buying the time to do it, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, this is the first time I’ve stopped to add up the year’s costs like this and there’s a huge grin on my face right now. But I also want to say these numbers will go up in the future. I’ve been lucky that almost all of the sewn garments up there are in fabric I bought as remnants from local fashion companies. I feel really good about being able to both save money on the yardage and put those remnants to good use, and those aren’t the only fabrics I own that I feel good about. But during the course of this month’s discussion I’ve decided I only want to buy known-origins fabrics and I’m willing to pay for it. So beyond what’s already in my stash, I’ll be trying to stick to good traceable linens and wools, or fabric from my friend Allison’s mill or that’s been woven from the organic cotton of farmers like Sally Fox who are trying to survive. I want to support these farmers and businesses and to know the fabrics have clean origins, which means the yardage will cost me much more than I’ve spent in the past, which will put the garments back in J.Crew full-price range. That alone with keep my stash in check and my new clothes infrequent, and I’m ok with all of that.


*Except things made as gifts. That seemed gauche.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: How much can we know about where clothes come from?

88 thoughts on “Is it more expensive to make your own clothes?

  1. My feeling, if I sum it up, is that sewing more basic items is more expensive than buying them, while making items like outerwear, or items made of luxurious materials, which are expensive if bought rtw, is “cheaper”. But it’s just a feeling, I haven’t tallied anything as you have.

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful breakdown – I’ve also been of the mind that it isn’t “cheaper” to make it, but when you do it thoughtfully, and compare it to similar quality, it may very well be. There is a lot to be said for re-using patterns too. I’m trying to reduce the quantity of what I wear, so making seems to be more appropriate as well. I’m a long-time knitter, so the tools and space are less of an issue for me than the sewing side of it. But I see the value in getting there.

  3. I often struggle with the cost vs. value when I think about how much time I spend making clothes, and what I could use that time for. For knitting I like to figure out the cost per hour. A $150 sweater is cheaper per hour than a movie, which I would never go to, or a yoga class, which I wouldn’t sign up for, because I would rather be knitting. As a recreational activity knitting never fails.

  4. If I count the hours I spend making, at the hourly rate I earn at my job, the price becomes exorbitant. I could conceivably save a lot of money buying clothes off the rack and spending those hours at my paying job. However, to look at it another way, the hours I spend making are hours that I could be spending on another hobby, such as golf. I am therefore saving a lot by not paying for golf, having a frugal hobby that only requires sticks, hooks, needles and yarn, and getting a finished product out of it. And the enjoyment factor is really priceless!

    • I can’t justify spending huge amounts of money on fabric, well sourced or not. I’d love to but I just can’t bring myself to do it! I tend to buy from local markets and remnant stores where what I’m purchasing would be end of rolls or seconds from factories and such like. It means that whilst the origins what I’m buying may not be clear, I’m at least preventing waste!

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful breakdown of time/money/sustainability/enjoyment– each hard to parse separately, harder when you put them together. I buy quality yarn and textiles. I figure, my time is going into making this garment. My time is valuable, so the goods I choose to use should be too. Even when I was very young and poor I opted for quality when I made things although I choose to buy cheap when I bought ready-mades. Making my own means having less stuff but better stuff.
    I often make gifts, like baby hats, etc., because hand-made is heart made.
    I’ve never felt there was a contest between knitting, etc., and yoga or reading or other hobbies. All these activities enhance my life.

  6. What about the clothes that do not work out because of fit or shape or style or inexperience? That is an issue for me. Not always easy to get the right fit or style before it is constructed. Then what is left is wasted time and materials. Not always willing to take that risk.

    • Are the time and materials really “wasted”? Did you enjoy the experience of making it? Did you learn something new? Does what you learn inform the next project? Can you reuse the materials? You may not say yes to all, but hopefully to some!

    • I understand what you’re saying, but I think Vanessa is right. It’s easy to feel frustrated when things don’t work out, but there’s no way to avoid that part of the learning process—we have to make things in order to learn how to make things! Thinking carefully about what you really want to wear beforehand helps, and making muslins really helps with fitting for sewing. Comparing the measurements or pattern pieces to things you already have and like the fit of before you start a new project is also very helpful.

      • Lol not that committed because there are way more things in my life than fashion and sewing,but not necessarily knitting. Definitely find the time to knit and knit again.

    • What they said! And also, I’ve been able to find homes for the things I’ve made that didn’t work out on me but were wanted and worn by someone else.

  7. I find that what I make lasts longer and has much more value to me than anything I could buy. But I definitely build up to the material investment — I’ll get the best yarn I can because I know my knitting skills are up to making a pretty excellent garment. Since I’m still learning to sew, I buy the best I can without spending say $80/yard on locally grown, spun and woven fabric because my skills aren’t quite worthy of that investment… yet :)

    • I get that when it comes to sewing. Regarding knitting I have to disagree since – in my opinion – that is the great and beautiful thing about it: you can just rib it and nothing is wasted. You can create something new, maybe a present for someone else if you dislike the colour or material, but I hardly feel that it’s been wasted.
      Since I started sewing and haven been knitting for a longer time I also have to say that you shouldn’t underestimate how much you learn with every garment you’re making. I hardly have got any ‘misfits’ with garments I’ve been knitting lately, however, when it comes to sewing I have more ‘fails’ since I need to learn more about fabrics and fits/garments that suit or do not suit me (e.g. stick to garments that are similar to the ones you already own and really like).
      And this is coming from someone who is very critical when it comes to clothes and if I’m not 100% sure I like it I also don’t wear it.

      • Sorry, I’ve just realised that my comment went to the wrong place. I didn’t mean to reply to your post, Sarah, but to Karen’s above. Sorry for causing trouble ;)

  8. I hope you will follow up with this over time, by sharing how long and how often you were able to wear these items as I think that figures greatly into the equation. How long, for example will the undyed baby camel sweater provide as many wearings as the one made with O-wool? What will each of them look like after 100 wearings? Will the baby camel be limited to only certain activities while the Owool one can be worn every day? Cost per wear certainly is relevant to this discussion,

    However, when i justify a yarn purchase, I think more about the hours of pleasure that the knitting gives me than anything else. Like previous posters, I am endulging in my hobby, more so than in my wardrobe. As Kristi says above “knitting never fails”

  9. Thank you for sharing this insight. (Thank you for sharing ALL of your insights for that matter! along with your beautiful life.) In my twenties I sewed nearly all of my clothes, mostly because it was the most affordable way for me to cloth myself. At the age of 31 when shopping for a wedding gown, I could not believe how much could be charged for a shoddy made garment of synthetic fabrics and so decided to make my own of a raw silk, silk lining, and a Swiss cotton batiste interlining. It was a labor of love with a cost of around $300, but would have easily been a $2K dress if purchased. Clearly, that was cost effective. As I entered the child bearing years of my 30’s and 40’s I hardly did any sewing for myself but a few items for my children as well as costumes, and home necessities. A tiny bit of knitting and smocking also somehow miraculously was completed. I too would buy from J Crew, usually well tailored (depending on the garment) but pricey. Now in my early 50’s I’m just starting to get back into this amazing process and Fringe Association has played a major role. I’ve been inspired not only to knit and sew more for myself, but also to find fabrics and yarns that are responsibly made. I would love it if you would do a post on finding more responsibly made fabrics.

  10. I agree with you that the time spent making is pleasure time. If I go more than a week without sewing or knitting, I begin to go crazy and plot ways to make time for it ASAP. When people tell me, “how do you have time to do all this!” I don’t really know what to say. I don’t have kids, I still am up to date on so many tv shows, I make dinner almost every night, I go to bed at 10pm and I play soccer and run 2-3x a week. I don’t know how I have more time than other people. But it seems like these others do not have the time or want to make the time for making, and that is a huge “cost” to some people, not to mention the time and supplies “wasted” while learning and not getting the results you want.

    • I agree. It’s interesting how we all value and use our time differently. I find time for crafting anywhere I can in the spare moments of my day. I think when you’re excited about something you just find that time for it. I have a 45 train commute and often use that time to read or knit. If I drove to work I could posdibly commute in less time, but to me the time spent in the car (unable to read or knit!) feels “wasted”.

  11. I’m so glad you brought up the learning and enjoyment aspect. Hobbies cost money and if I wasn’t buying yarn or cloth, I would be spending my entertainment money somewhere. I only feel bad about cost when the item doesn’t turn out good enough to wear. Yarn can be undone for later use but it’s not as easy with fabric. I am trying very hard to shop from my stash to whittle it down. When my improve sweater is finished, it will use the oldest yarn I own. Back in the day, I use to write down the cost of my RTW clothes and once a year I would review the list to see which items had really been worn. It showed me what kind of clothing I should spend my money on. I think I will start doing this with my me mades.

    • That’s definitely worth doing. I wish I had kept track of the RTW purchases I’ve made this year. There are only a handful so I should be able to put that together if I can find time to dig up the emails, but I would like to know the total spent for the year. And yes, to evaluate what worked out best/worst, I like that.

  12. It depends on what you are comparing your costs with. Would you purchase your clothes at Target, or Walmart, or Macys and Nordstroms. I like to compare my hand made garments with those of name designers such as Eileen Fisher. However, good yarn is expensive and yarn to knit for a sweater is always over $100, nowadays. I guess that if I compare my handknits to those in an upper end store, I am also saving money. However, I am also interested in style, color, and fit. This is only truly obtained with much more expensive clothing or making it myself..
    There is also the pleasure in sewing, weaving, or knitting, that can’t be quantified.

    • Yarn for a sweater does not need to be over 100$, even if you buy good quality and only use responsible sources. One main factor here is the thickness of a yarn. If I knit with fingering weight yarn, I only need 300 – 350 grams for a size L sweater with long arms.
      If I use yarn in Aran thickness, I’ll need ca. 700g for a size L sweater. So by knitting with thin yarn, I can halve the price of a new sweater! Plus, I wear it more often, which brings down the price per wear.
      My fingering weight sweaters have cost me between 35 and 57 € per sweater.

  13. Oh, how funny: before I read this blog post, I was actually browsing clothes in a department store during an unexpected break, but got bored/annoyed after about 20 minutes and went for sushi instead (I will always choose eating over shopping, mind). What had happened? I was looking at knitwear, cashmere turtlenecks and big cardigans. I need/want a couple of cardigans I can layer over dresses – I have my eye on Hanna Fettig’s Boothbay and Georgetown. Looking at the shops, I thought “oh maybe I’ll just buy something, it’s only a black or gray cardi after all, and it would be quicker and easier.” But when I started touching things and realised they were charging around 100€ for a fairly standard cotton/wool blend (to say nothing of fit preferences), I kept thinking “I could make something much nicer on that budget.” So there – no money was spent on RTW today, but there’ll be a trip to the yarn shop in the near future. It means I won’t have my cardigans straightaway, but they will be made from gorgeous materials. So yes, while sometimes knitting your own garments will be more expensive than buying something, it depends very much what you compare it to.

  14. I count the hours if it is an item I wouldn’t take pleasure in making. So I’m unlikely to justify the cost of fabric + time for three long sleeve t-shirts because I would be annoyed making them and then I’m to $50 t shirts. But for a dress or sweater that I love to make I don’t count the time. Suddenly a $60 dollar dress is very affordable compared to the $200 one I would want to buy.

  15. I love the style of your handmade clothing. But I could never make a technical jacket or a pair of jeans that fit-I know as I try on 30 for every one that actually looks halfway decent. So I make what I know will not be a headache to fit and buy the ones that make me “feel good” in a dressing room mirror (provided it is not distorted!) I still find it hard to pay over $100 for a yarn project as I am not that great of a knitter yet and the items that were enjoyable to make sometimes sit in the closet but at least the $ spent was cheaper than therapy:)

  16. I like the cost breakdown, it’s very transparent. Although I wish I could go to elizabeth suzann’s fabric remnant sale!!! For me, it’s all about the ~natural fibers~ which is what I want close to my body. A linen dress would easily be 60$? 70$? but to purchase the fabric and a pattern it would be half that. as far as time put into making it, it’s time I enjoy. I would rather spend 5-6 hours sewing something and becoming a better version of myself than order something online in ten minutes.

    any recs on where to get wool gauze like from your pullover?

    • I also have a hard time finding jeans or button up shirts that fit me properly, but unlike you I think that precisely because of that it would be worth making them. Once you crack a pattern and knows it fits you then you can make as many pair of jeans as you want, and probably cheaper.

      • I went to school in the 60s and 70s and my Calif. school only allowed girls to wear pants by 1971. So I had this amazing culotte pattern and I made pairs and pairs of them. Again they fit loosely so it was easy to make and wear but I won’t tackle jeans with heavyweight denim, french seams, rivets, etc. And I also worked in a fabric store-fabric is just alot harder to source these days and fabrics stores are a dying lot:( I spent alot of fun hours planning with a pattern, zipper, buttons…sigh!

    • I don’t know, and sadly I recently shrunk that top and gave it to a friend’s daughter. It had been washed and dried repeatedly (as yardage and the finished top) so it’s a total mystery why it suddenly shrunk. But I’d love to know where to get more of that fabric!

  17. I haven’t broken it down as you have, but I think you are right – good quality materials make a huge difference in the RTW price. And in sewing, to get a well made garment out of good quality fabric is going to cost more to buy than to make. If you can even really find one. I have yet to find sewn clothing that is well made out of good fabric in any store anywhere around me.

    Knitting is tougher. But if you add in “handmade” to the characteristics when looking at price, I think you will find that your handmade sweaters aren’t as outrageously priced as they might seem. Of course, a sweater doesn’t need to be hand made to be god quality, but I think it helps. :-)

    So I go with the “it saves money in the long run” theory in that well made things don’t need replacing as often. :-) Even if that sweater costs more, it will last forever.

  18. Spending a lot of money on beautiful yarn is, to me, a win/win. If you’re spending time to make a sweater you will love, it deserves wonderful yarn. The big plus is that yarn can be re-used, so there’s no risk of it being wasted if the garment doesn’t suit.

  19. I echo many of the sentiments already expressed here. I don’t sew, but I do knit and crochet, and use luxury yarn. It makes for an expensive product but it makes the process so much more pleasurable. My Woolfolk Grus cowl was marvelous to make, as it is gorgeous to wear. I haven’t worn my recently completed Clever Camel Moko Moko yet but it was interesting to knit (ok, a bit tedious) and will be amazing to wear.

    I make a decent income and don’t lead an extravagant life so I don’t grudge myself the pleasure of buying, using and wearing luxury yarn. Most recently I hesitated a moment before buying a Miss Babs kit to make the Spice Market shawl. Will it be money well-spent to make something beautiful that reflects my personal style and favorite colors? Why, yes! Absolutely.

  20. Great post. The key sentence for is: “more expensive as compared to what?” Exactly! The way to truly assess the value of a garment is to factor in cost per wear. If your 300$ cardigan in pure camel becomes the classic piece you hope it will be, and you wear it regularly for 10, 20 or more years, its cost per wear will decrease over time. Cost pear wear is easy to calculate: price or cost of material / number of times you wear your garment per year / number of years. When you calculate the value of your clothes in this way, high quality, well made items worn a long time end up costing way less than many “cheaper” versions. And the joy of making and wearing what you made is simply priceless.

  21. I feel like the time-to-make can sometimes balance out the time-wasted-on-shopping, especially when I’m looking for something like jeans or a winter coat. Both of those things are really hard to find with the perfect fit, perfect materials, perfect origin story, and acceptable price range, so I’m better off just making them. Even if my first version isn’t perfection, it’ll be worlds better than most RTW I can find (and in better shape than vintage).

  22. Fascinating, thank you for sharing.

    What to compare it to is a very good question. For those of us who shop second hand a lot, handmade can seem pretty expensive. But I also count some of the homemade budget as “hobby” because that’s partially what it is for me.

    I’d also count taking classes in the start up price – but again, there’s a personal pleasure in that. But if we’re looking purely at cost-effective, “ethical” shopping, then second hand and clothing swaps are probably the way to go. But for those of us lucky enough to have choices, making by hand can be a very satisfying one.

    As for this: “costs beyond what’s on a price tag — from the human and environmental cost of fast fashion…” this is something I’m very interested in. Economists call these negative externalities and they talk about internalizing the externalities – if any company was actually charged a (large enough) fee or tax for the amount that they pollute, they would have an incentive to change their manufacturing practices. There’s also the related problem of companies using public goods for private gain.

    If we internalized the negative externalities of clothing manufacturing we’d likely see an increase in prices on the consumer side but also possible increase in innovation on the manufacturing side. Companies have no incentive to pollute less because they don’t absorb the cost for that. If they were forced to, there’s only so high they could push their prices before consumers stopped buying so they’d also need to change their practices in order to keep prices low enough. I’m not an economist and there are all sorts of ways theories go awry in practice, but C-corporations always have profit as the bottom line and will always operate to maximize profit. That’s part of why consumer choices do matter – if their sales go down, they have to respond.

    On a related note, this is one reason that I shop at B-Corps as much as I can. B-corps are a different corporate structure that allow companies to consider more than the bottom line. C-corps are actually legally mandated to maximize profits, so their ability to do things the “right way” is limited unless doing so increases profits. B-Corps are different.

  23. I am really enjoying your blog. I am a weaver and a designer seamstress beader, silk painter patternmaker…all by avocation at this point in life. Once I had my own business when the children were little. Now I am a professional minister! the testile art is really a sacred place for me and I am willing to spend good money on creating. Why? Because it diginifies my labor and, I learne dwhen I had my business, that I could create a fabulous garment , but if the materials were of poor quality, it just didn’t look good. Keep up your slow fashion. the movement is afoot…

  24. Thanks for this thoughtful breakdown. I was just thinking about sewing costs and what to factor in- fabric, obviously, but what about notions on hand or purchasing the pattern? I was thinking about cost-per-wear of patterns as well- ie the more you use a pattern the lower the cost per use.

    Something like a simple knit tshirt made with a free PDF, on-hand thread & supplies, and 1 yd of fabric is easily under $10 for me. Even though that is comparable to buying new or second hand in some places, the value differential is huge- it fits perfectly, I have pride in making it etc.

    I also feel much more happy to spend my money on fabrics from my local indie fabric store or from reputable online retailers with sourcing info than I feel spending money at most RTW retailers. Even if the cost is the same dollar amount.

  25. Very thoughtful once again! I’m intrigued by the idea of “buying the time to do it,” and I love the idea that the time we spend creating also contributes to learning, personal growth, and empowerment—so true! And no time in the mall or online shopping does that. I’m going to point that out next time someone asks me, “but how long did it take you to make that?”

  26. There’s also another way to look at this. What if you calculated a living wage, though, for the time you spent not only sewing, though, and imagining, planning, cutting, fitting, shopping for the fabric? Also a figure for cost of equipment and other supplies? What would the cost of each garment be then?
    What I worry about is that commercial, even if they’re artisanal, makers, need to charge fairly for ethically, well made clothes. And the public mainly does not at all understand how these costs are tallied. If we lived in a different economy, where we all valued each other’s labor as of equal worth, and only paid for raw materials, we wouldn’t have this dilemma. But, we’re not there yet.

  27. To me, sewing my own basic garments is the goal I want to achieve and I feel like if I use repetitive pattern and get better at it, it will save a lot of money (In terms of pattern purchases/time/trial-error). However, the problem for me in particular is the start-up cost. I don’t want to buy a very cheap sewing machine and get rid of it to upgrade to a better one in one year. I would love to invest in one that can be used and kept for life time, and those good sewing machines are expensive. Another cost for me is that I don’t have anyone around me who knows how to sew, and in order to get started, mostly means I have to take classes. Taking classes is so difficult for me in so many layers: cost of tuition, cost of transportation (lack of car). and cost of time (If classes are not offered in my city or during my free time). Those problems are much easier to solve for me to pick up knitting, however, to me, the start-up cost for sewing is so much higher, not to mention the cost of failure( for yarn, you can rip out and restart, rarely the case for fabrics if my understanding is correct). I guess for me, the best I can do is that try to save and buy long-lasting, quality, ethical sewn garments for now, and waiting for the chance when I have all the resources available to start to learn how to sew….

    • If you do find a place that’s convenient enough to you that offers classes, they likely also rent machines by the hour, which is a great way to get started.

      • I bought my super heavy weight Bernina used at a sewing machine store over 20 years ago. My local Portland Craigslist has 264 sewing machines for sale. A sewing machine is the best investment I have made due to the fact I use it more these days for repair and making home decor.

        • Hi dddress! I am actually moving to Portland in the near future…So I am definitely going to check it out once I get there! Thank you so much for sharing! I am on my way saving for one for sure!!!

      • Hi Karen! Thank you so much for your advice! I am looking forward to that after I graduate and move to a bigger city! Thats definitely something I plan to do down the road. I am just not quite ready at this point yet…

    • I’ve found that the start-up expenses for sewing have a very wide range. While you could pay $700 for a decent starter machine, you could also buy a (much better) vintage machine for $100 (or less, mine was free), which will save even more money because the maintenance is minimal and easy enough to do yourself. You could spend hundreds of dollars on classes, or you could use the internet to teach yourself for free (between YouTube and the wonderful community of sewing bloggers, there’s everything from beginning sewing courses, to instructions on practically every technique known to man). You could spend copious amounts of money on ethically sourced fabric, or you could see what your local thrift store has available (while it’s impossible to trace the origin of their fabrics, thrift stores do keep them out of landfills, so you may find it a reasonable trade).

  28. Pingback: Slow Fashion October 2016 (master plan) | Fringe Association

  29. I love this post-
    The tools are definitely a cost…sewing machine!! knitting needles!! work space!! classes!! time!! etc! But, the great thing is, you can make the exact thing you really want, instead of spending hours shopping and many dollars TRYING to come up with a well-loved ‘perfect item in every regard’, only to finally in the end, reject most of them. i do think that those who have the skills are saving lots by making our own clothes. and it’s not too hard and a pleasure, to learn as you go.

    I just want to post a great USA /California local source for both handmade/dyed fabric and yarns: the Fibershed: they also have great classes on these subjects.
    They are planning an entire industry based around locally grown, dyed, spun, woven, and constructed fabrics. I think they are inducing companies like North Face and Patagonia to give local items a try as well.

  30. I can’t help but turn back to Wendell Berry for wisdom on the question posed.

    He says, “We have got to remember that the great destructiveness of the industrial age comes from a division, a sort of divorce, in our economy, and therefore in our consciousness, between production and consumption.”

    Although this doesn’t directly address the expense of making our own clothing, it does get at the root of why we might think that making is more expensive. The industrial economy measures in terms of the almighty dollar. We have been so brainwashed, so that now we believe that we must measure all that we do in those same stone cold terms. As many others have mentioned there are other costs to production of consumer goods which are not usually reflected in the price tag, so I will not reiterate. And, there are other “intangible” benefits inherent in the process of making clothing ourselves.

    I began sewing only a few years ago, after taking my daughter to a sewing class. I was enthralled with the opportunity to be creative in such a practical way. I learned a lot from the internet and also by much trial and error. An awareness of how things were made followed. I began to look at every piece of clothing in a different way. Seams became fascinating to me. As I experienced the skill that it took to make a bag or garment, I wondered how the store bought pieces could be made so cheaply. I honestly didn’t know that people in other countries were sitting at sewing machines for hours, in poor working conditions, being paid very little for their skilled work. I thought maybe they were being sewn on some kind of sophisticated machinery.

    That was the divorce in my own consciousness that William Berry talks about. It took the experience of making my own clothes to open my eyes. I am nowhere near having the skill it would take to sew all of my clothing, but that does not mean that I will not try and will not continue to learn. It also means that any new clothing purchase that I do make will be much more thought out and it will only be out of necessity.

    It has also inspired me to someday teach others to sew.

  31. Thank you so much for officiating this discussion. It is so important as consumers and creators. I live for your posts and all the ensuing comments because knowledge is power. The more that gets said and the more resources that are known, the easier it is to make good choices whether for end goods or materials. I know I am always on the hunt for quality fabric as well as quality garments that I not only feel good about buying (from an ethical/sustainable stance) but will last season to season. Cost has become less of an issue, because buying smarter and better means I buy less and can spend more. And I find if I spend more on “good” fabric, I think through the process more thoroughly as well as sew more carefully. Now, if it was easier to buy ready made kids clothes that I feel good about…..

  32. My summary to sewing, knitting is I want to do this till I die! I admired one of my aunts who sewed till she was 84, up to the end, always kept her interesting, uptodate on fashion and kept her cognitive skills way up there, we all need to be doing something, if someone wants to talk and chat ….so be it their choice; however, I prefer to sew and knit and do not view it as an expense, think of all the learning, using our creativity, ….till the end, keeping ourselves sharp ‘as a needle’ ha-ha! View that human beings ‘always got to be starting something’….you can sing this to Michael Jackson song. I agree with you and really enjoy reading you. Have a great day, snow may be coming, which of course means more thinking up of what to get busy with….us crafters are truly blessed. Cheers to all

  33. I love the comment about your time commitment and that being a bonus rather than a factor to include in the budget, I 100% agree. This was a really delightful post.

  34. I’ve seen/heard laments in the blog/podcast-verse about the demise of home ec as a class offered in schools (full disclosure: home ec was considered totally lame in my middle and high schools and for the dowdy girls only, so I didn’t take it), but this discussion makes me wonder that if people somehow at least had the opportunity to learn how clothes are made as a part of their public school curriculum (whether they pursue it later in life or not) if that knowledge would translate to more informed buying decisions in the future?
    Because what strikes me most about this is that we (I speak for mainstream Americans) are SO far removed from the labor involved in cutting out and sewing a garment that most people don’t come close to appreciating the human cost in making clothes. And unless they come into contact with the maker community or the worldwide labor movement (which most people barely acknowledge), it won’t even occur to them to think about it. So how do we bring this awareness outside of our admittedly rather exclusive circle of hand makers? Despite my personal experience, not everyone who tries sewing and knitting actually likes it and wants to keep doing it. It’s not for everyone. But there are people who aren’t particularly crafty who ARE aware of human rights/labor issues worldwide and want to do the right thing.
    This is where I would like to see the discussion expanded: how do we advocate for greater transparency and enforcement of labor laws beyond our own personal experiences as makers/crafters?
    This applies to things beyond clothes, too. Production of electronic devices and furniture are equally troublesome in this respect.

  35. Its already been said- it depends on what you are making and where you shop. For myself , it is cheaper to make my own. I only use natural fibers. my life is very casual and I tend to make several versions and variations of patterns. I don’t count my time. It’s a hobby I love to do. I see nothing wrong with spending money on a hobby and I refuse to feel bad about it. I wouldn’t buy my clothes at Walmart or old navy. I can make a pair of jeans for under $20. I could make a wonderful silk anything for a fraction of the cost of similar quality in rtw. I think it is part of the learning process to have some failures but I do think some of that can be mitigated by making muslins and taking the time to learn fitting. Its a craft ,it takes some effort to become proficient, mistakes will be made and yes fabric will be wasted.

  36. Ooh! This is a fabulous article. Thank you so much for putting it together for us.

    I’ve always spent a lot more on handmade items than I have on shop bought items because if I am investing the time to make something, I want it to be high quality. Although I have very little spare cash from month to month, so that does mean that I can’t make as much as I would like for myself.

  37. The concept of the cost versus value of handmade clothing is a fascinating one to me. I’m always inclined to factor in the price of my time (based on my hourly rate in another profession), because if I don’t value my time, I have a tendency to get dragged into commitments that aren’t a good fit for my values. A pair of socks, for example, takes me roughly 16 hours to knit. Even at minimum wage, labor alone is more than $100 – not to count the cost of yarn. This kind of thinking has kept me from selling handknits because I feel I could never price them at a rate the market would bear. But it also means I value the clothing I do make (or that is made by hand by someone else) all the much more, since I know the time and effort that went into making it.

  38. I started thinking about this today while I was packing up all y’all’s Fringe Supply orders and it made me think about how I apply the same theories to cooking, which I do most of in my household and about 98% of the time, as opposed to going out to eat. It’s alllllmost always cheaper to cook yourself rather than pay someone to do it, but there are exceptions — every time I cook something Thai, the ingredients list is a thousand items long, I had to go eight places to get them all, and I use every dish in the house…in short, it isn’t worth it, no matter how spot-on I got the final product.

    So when I switch that back and try to apply it to clothes…no, I am not going to make a pair of parachute pants with a million zippers. But I can knit a hat. Hats are the Italian food of knitting.

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  41. When I had my yarn store, customers would often balk at sock yarn for $18 a skein. The most common exclamation was “But I can get 6 pair of socks at Target for that price.” My response? “Has anyone ever walked out of Target having spent only $18?”

    My business partner and I always recommended that our customers buy the best yarn that fit their budget and skill. There’s nothing worse than over-spending on yarn for an ill-fitting garment. I’ve taken that advice to heart as I work on my sewing. My first projects were all cotton; as my skills improved, I’ve started to experiment with different fabrics.

    Lastly, while I know my time is valuable (and precious), I never count the hours spent knitting or sewing as part of the cost equation. That value is mine alone.

  42. First, Thank you Karen for a wonderfully written eye opener. Second, I rarely read all the comments on any blog post I follow, but I did on this one. Well written, thought provoking information.
    Bottom line for me in regards to sewing or knitting- I buy the best materials for the job I can afford and meets my skill level. Enjoying the process is first and foremost what I consider- if I have great fabric, yarn or whatever project calls for and I can’t stand the process, I am most likely Not going to feel good about the end results.
    My skill levels have improved immensely over time as one would expect. My $$ available have increased over time as I no longer have children in the home. I want quality over quantity in everything I bring in my home. It takes time and effort to find the right materials for any job, but I feel it is the right thing to do for me.
    Looking forward to more interesting posts.

  43. Such an awesome article!! Really well written! Now everyone has a hobby – mine happens to be sewing! So I don’t look at the cost – but will not spend crazy amounts of money on fabric – because I create something that I love, and that the next person will not be wearing! So it is unique! and that is how I love it. Other people have got more expensive hobbies, however that is their decision. Happy sewing!!!

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  45. I’m surprised more people haven’t brought up the reason I originally learned how to sew …. FIT! The cost comparison isn’t even possible if you can’t find something off the rack that you like and that fits in the first place.

    I’m 5’11” and back in the day Lane Bryant was one of the only sources for tall sizes. The styles were pathetic! They had some nice things for plus sizes but seemed to think the only clothing tall women wanted to wear was outdated fads. If they had classic styles and well made clothes it wouldn’t have been so bad. I realize there are many more options now for tall sizes but even now most stores don’t carry them in stock. You have to order online which means waiting until the item comes in to see if it’s flattering and fits well.

    Sorry for the rant but for me sewing was the only option. Maybe because I learned to sew, I often look at the poor quality of fabric and construction of lower priced clothing and think it’s not worth it even if it’s inexpensive because it will look like a dishrag after only a few wearing.

  46. I think when most people discuss that it’s more ‘expensive’ they are talking about the time expense vs. just the money expense. Not everyone feels they have the time to learn the skills, by the materials, and then knit/sew a garment that in the end, may not fit just the way they want.

  47. Well for me it’s not about the money . I find it hard to buy clothes that I like , that fit ( I am tall and long bodied ) and that are made out of good fabric . I love good fabric , it gives me joy and the colour an d quality I like makes my sewing ons if the great pleasures in my life . I have clothes which I still wear made 15 years ago so iam not sure about the economics of it all as I probably also have a fortune tied up in my stash but oh the pleasure of looking at it and planning 😍

  48. Making your own clothes makes you realize how much time, and work actually go into them (even if they are being made assembly line style in a factory) and makes them all the more valuable to me. Since I make my own clothes, I look at cheap garments in stores and immediately ask, how can they be selling that for that price? Thanks for this thought provoking post!
    The Artyologist

  49. I’ve always found the term “investment piece” tricky. I’ve heard it from salesladies in high-end stores to justify the cost of expensive items they want to sell me! Clothing isn’t an “investment” in the strict sense any more than a new car is once driven off the lot, since very few of us are going to recoup the cost of it or make money on it. Maybe a more accurate term is a “quality item”–a much loved garment that will work out to be pennies per wear, which is a great thing, and if we love working with luxurious yarns and knitting it ourselves, there’s entertainment value too, as you said. But clothes do go out of style, tastes change, bodies change, things wear out, and that classic Max Mara suit I bought in 2002 today looks oversized and frumpy…so it goes!
    Here’s a good article on the “investment piece” in wardrobes:

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  54. Well, it’s really hard to compare self-made and baught clothes. Even if you have many years of sewing experience!

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