The “Sewing is Frugal” Myth

Today I bought a dress, and fabric (and notions) to make two other dresses. Want to guess which was the cheapest?

I recently ordered a stack of patterns, since the Vogue/McCalls/Butterick website  was having a big sale – patterns normally $15-20 for $1.88-$3.88! I ordered five for the price of one, yippee! Five Patterns

I decided to focus on the top three. The middle one I’ve been planning on for a while – the reflective sash I made a while back is intended to go with this dress pattern, and the shoulder piece will also be reflective.  Three Patterns

I had planned on biking out to Seven Corners, in Fairfax, this afternoon to go to the JoAnn Fabrics, but when I saw yesterday’s Living Social deal for G Street Fabrics, I immediately jumped on it. I hadn’t yet been to that fabric store, but a New York friend recommended it, so why not? $25 for $50 worth of fabric and notions? Yes please!

Before I headed into the fabric stores, I stopped in the Ross Dress for Less store, and ended up walking out with a super cute, flattering Calvin Klein maxi dress – originally $128, I paid $41.99 including tax. Calvin Klein Maxi Dress

Then I went into JoAnn’s, and ended up with this print silky polyester. Silky Dress 1

It’s different than I had envisioned initially for this dress, but I really like it, and the plummy background will make it stretch through the fall as well. I didn’t have enough purple reflective fabric left, so yesterday I called B&J Fabrics and bought the last yard! It is on it’s way!  I didn’t buy lining material yet, however, just thread.

Then I spent a long time roaming the bolts of fabric in G Street Fabrics. The place was nothing like I expected – it’s in a basement, and huge! Tons of specialty fabrics, the one thing JoAnn’s lacks – silks, linens, suiting wools, leather, sequined fabrics, and I never even made it into the Home Decorating section.

The color block dress pattern suggested double knit as a fabric option, so I decided to try it. I’ve never really worked with that, so we’ll see what happens. The color choices are pretty limited, so although I didn’t really want to copy the style on the pattern cover, I pretty much did. Mine will be cream on top, teal in the middle, and gray on the hem. Color Block Dress 1

I think this will be a comfy business dress that I can still bike in. I’m not sure if I want to add reflective piping to it, however. It’s got the perfect seams, but I don’t know… Thoughts?

Anyway, neither of these dresses are starting off cheap. Here’s a price rundown so far:

Reflective Shoulder Dress:

  • The yard of reflective fabric from New York is $49, and I have no idea what the FedEx Ground will cost.
  • The 4.5 yards of silky fabric was 40% off, thank goodness, making it only $5.99 a yard. Plus thread, and Iron-Off, and another coupon, the JoAnn’s bill was $34.18.
  • I still need to buy 4 yards of lining fabric. G Street has a great selection, so I’ll go there, but it is still $7.99 a yard, so that will be about $32. I’ll probably get another of those Living Social deals.
  • Including the lining fabric I haven’t bought yet, this is already costing me $114.96.

Color Block Dress:

  • The double knit was $19.98 a yard. I had to buy a total of 4.5 yards, so that’s $69.93 right there.
  • I also bought a bunch of notions and supplies. The total bill, before the Living Social $50, was $97.84.
  • I paid $25 for the Living Social deal, so I actually spent $72.84 at G Street Fabrics.

I haven’t calculated in my time yet:

  • I need to wash, dry, and iron the fabric. With so many yards, the ironing will take a while.
  • I have to cut out and adjust as needed the paper pattern.
  • I have to cut out the fabric.
  • Then I get to sew! No idea how long that will take, although the color block dress should only take a day.
  • If my union rate in New York was about $28 an hour, well, you can do the math…

So basically, its cheaper to NOT sew your own clothes!

This makes me think of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, where a fire in a garment factory has killed over 1,000 workers (although a woman was just discovered alive after 16 days trapped in the rubble. Amazing will to live.) Events like these always make me reevaluate my relationship with the clothes I buy – is this outfit on sale at Macy’s worth the cost of human lives?Macy's Outfit

I am not going to pontificate on the rights and wrongs of where our clothing comes from; there are so many pieces to that puzzle. I am on a budget, and as much as I wish I could shop companies who make socially responsible garments, or buy handmade products from local designers, the fact is, sometimes I can only afford that $10-on-clearance top from Ann Taylor Loft. I like to think that I will only buy what I really need,  or only shop in consignment stores, thus helping to reduce demand, but I’m not that disciplined. In fact, if I really wanted to stick to my budget, I wouldn’t sew at all! Then there is the simple fact that whatever I make at home still doesn’t look as formal or “done” as store-bought clothing.

I can’t wait to start my new projects, while I wear my new bargain maxi dress, and remind myself that “slow fashion” is acceptable, that fewer, better quality pieces are better than many cheap ones. And try to stay out of the stores, because I just blew my budget on handmade dresses-to-be!

I am still obsessed with the collar of this sleeveless top in Macy's...

I am still obsessed with the collar of this sleeveless top in Macy’s…



5 thoughts on “The “Sewing is Frugal” Myth

  1. I’ve made these calculations before, but there are ways to make sewing cheaper. Most large Wal marts have a fabric section, the choices are limited, but they do sell fabric much cheaper than at Jo Anns. I got some fabric there a few weeks ago for $1.50 a yard. It’s a double stretch knit, not good quality and pretty thin, but it will work for what I needed and it would work for a lining.
    I’ve also taken to shopping at second hand stores and buying clothes for the fabric they are composed off, ripping out the seams and making the dress completely again instead of just making slight modifications. And there’s always making dresses out of curtains or sheets, which I also did a few weeks ago. If you want to check it out, I even have a post up about making a dress out of a sheet.

      • Thank you.
        I’ve never been supper fussy about my fabrics, but every now and then I’ll get a fabric home after buying it thinking it was just a steal and notice that it’s thinner than I thought or it has a run through it and wish I had been a little more observant.
        Good luck on your sewing projects, I hope you find a way to make it a little cheaper. It’s a shame for such a creative and traditional hobby to die out in this way.

  2. Once garment manufacturing went overseas the price of clothing plummeted, so there’s no way you could ever compare. But of course, what you’re creating is not only an art form and unique, there’s nothing on the market that offers what your reflective items do. So that makes them priceless.

    • Thanks, it is true, there isn’t much comparable on the market. But even as I gasp over the prices of the stuff I want, I know why it’s so pricey. The same reason my stuff is. That’s okay, it makes me happy to create and wear this stuff. (I do still aspire to a Diane von Furstenburg, though!)

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