7 April 2012

The Real Cost of Sewing

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked by non-stitchers is whether sewing your own clothes saves you money. The cost of sewing can vary greatly depending on your choice of fabric, but let's consider the costs involved in an example dressmaking project:

Fashion fabric x 2 metres - £20
Lining fabric - £6
Thread x 2 spools - £3
Buttons x 6 - £4.50
Binding - £2.50
Calico for bodice toile - £3
Belt and buckle kit - £6
Pattern - £6
TOTAL: £51.00

On top of that, consider the odd supply you may need, such as a change of sewing machine needles or spare bobbins, plus depreciation of your machine and other existing tools. At a modest guess, let's say these things cost £300 over 5 years, so if you make one project a month that works out as an extra £5 per project. And don't forget electricity for both your machine and the iron!

Historically, making garments for yourself and your family was viewed as an austerity measure, wearing feedsack frocks and home knits being an indicator of a modest background. These days, however, when you can buy a dress on the high street for £15, sewing your own could be considered the expensive option. In fact, I recently heard a prominent intellectual warn of the danger of craft becoming the preserve of the middle classes. Not so much 'make do and mend' as 'make do and spend'.

There are, of course, ways to bring the cost of a sewing project down:

  • Source fabric from markets and local shops for around £2 per metre
  • Look out for second hand notions or buy them in bulk from wholesalers
  • Set up a "pattern swap" between friends to minimise your ebay splurges
  • Reuse patterns multiple times to get the most use out of them
  • Choose projects which require less fabric - for example, a full dress can use 4m but a pencil skirt only 1m
  • Thrifted curtains can be upcycled into surprisingly nice clothing.

Moreover, sewing can save you a lot of money in the long term. The average person in the UK spends £735 on clothing per year*, and this figure is growing, even since the recession. Now, I'm no average person. Before I started sewing I was a self-confessed shopaholic. I don't have expensive taste - more Miss Selfridge than Missoni - but working near Oxford Street means that temptation is everywhere. Let's say I used to spend £75 per month on clothing, or £900 per year. From the moment I learnt how to make my own stuff, shopping suddenly lost all its appeal and my consumption dropped drastically. Instead of drooling over pretty things in Anthropologie, I now think, "Meh... I could make that". I've been through my wardrobe and can tell you that in the last twelve months I only spent £135 on clothing. That's a mere 15% of my previous spend, saving £765. Let's say I make five expensive projects at £50 each and five cheapo ones at £15 each, that works out at £325 per year on sewing. A pretty big saving.

So sewing may not be the cheapest hobby in the world if you look at how much it costs in itself, but if it turns you off shopping - and this attitude shift happens to a lot of people - it can save you a lot of dosh in the long term.

What about you? Do you think you spend more or less on sewing than you would spend on buying clothes if you couldn't make them yourself? Do you have any tips of your own on how to keep costs down?

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