Making your own clothes: worth the savings?

The value of sewing your clothes at home depends largely on whether or not you enjoy it

Tony Avelar/CSM/File
Holly Hale works with her mother's sewing machine as she make pajamas for Christmas gifts in a sewing class in San Francisco. Sewing can be a rewarding hobby, but it isn't much cheaper than buying clothes at a store.

Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Joanna writes in: I’ve been sewing skirts and purses instead of buying, and so far the cost isn’t any cheaper, it’s actually more expensive than buying on clearance.

This isn’t an unusual frugal tactic. My wife, Sarah, has made her own clothes in the past. We also have a close friend who makes many of the clothes that her family wears.

Their conclusion? It’s a hobby that produces clothes at a fairly inexpensive price, but it takes time and you can find clothes elsewhere at an equal or lesser price. If it were simply a question of purely saving money, neither one of them would do it.

The simplest way to compare the prices of such clothes is to look at some of the buying options, as well as some of the options for making them at home.

Recently, I purchased a dress shirt for my five year old son at a consignment shop for $4. Later, we found a similar shirt on sale at another clothing store for $12. So, let’s use that as a baseline.

My wife visited Jo-Ann Fabrics and purchased a similar type of cloth as to what the shirt was made from for $4.50, which provided her more than enough to make a duplicate of the shirt. She also had to purchase a spool of thread for $1.50, so the cost of material was $6.00.

At home, she used a pattern she found online and made the shirt out of the cloth. This project took her about two hours and required the use of a sewing machine that she’s had for about ten years. With unskilled hands, such as my own, the project would certainly have taken longer.

So, compared to buying the shirt new at a clothing store, making the shirt was somewhat cheaper. However, buying a nearly-identical shirt at a consignment shop was less expensive than making the shirt.

So why would you bother making your own clothes?

Sarah’s reasons are simple. It’s something she enjoys doing. Beyond that, she has the freedom to essentially make anything she can imagine, provided she can find appropriate cloth to begin with. For example, she’s currently hand-sewing a costume for our son for Halloween, as he wants to go as a fairly obscure character that doesn’t have costumes available in the usual stores.

Making your own clothes is a hobby that might turn into a business if you’re skilled, creative, and passionate.

However, it’s not particularly frugal on its own unless you have some incredibly good sources for cloth and don’t mind working at a very low hourly wage.

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