Every time I go clothes shopping for something specific like a simple white blouse, by the end of the day I realize that if I had sewn it myself I would have saved time, money and temper as well. I enjoy the creativity in putting together fabrics and patterns, the feel and colors of nice fabrics, and the satisfaction of being able to say, "I did it myself!" After years of my imagination being bigger than my wallet, I've learned to stretch my sewing dollars.
Here are a few suggestions to make your sewing budget go a little further:
Have a budget! If you make clothing for yourself and your family, include what you buy in your monthly clothing budget. If you make gifts, take the money you spend from your gift allowance. Even though you are saving money by sewing, you're spending money, too. It's easy to go overboard if you don't make yourself accountable for what you spend.
Keep a little notebook on your sewing table. Jot down a list of basic supplies as you run low (white thread, pins, sewing machine needles, etc). Don't wait until you run out. Take your notebook with you every time you go to the fabric store. Then you won't have to safety pin that new skirt until you make an extra trip to the store to get skirt hooks. Start a wish list, too. Write down a short description of that fabric you want to buy as soon as it goes on sale and that new gadget you're getting by without but sure would like to have.
Get on the mailing list of your local fabric stores. Compare your need list to the sale flyers and stock up then. Is anything on your wish list on sale? If you still want it and it's in your budget, now is the time to buy.
Never pay full price for a pattern. Many fabric stores sell patterns at half price all the time and have regular sales for $1.99 or less. If I see something I like but don't need it immediately, I make a list in my notebook and wait.
When buying multi-sized patterns for children, trace the larger sizes on white tissue paper before cutting. Children grow fast. So let your patterns grow with them. This works especially well for basic patterns like pants and T-shirts.
Buy patterns with multiple styles and/or items. I feel like I've hit the jackpot if I find a pattern with pants, skirt, top, jacket and sometimes a dress and I like everything! You can get a seasonal wardrobe from one inexpensive pattern. Or from a basic pattern with several styles of one item, you can make a wardrobe of lovely blouses or dresses by changing fabrics and collar styles.
A must have is a good, basic pattern for wardrobe staples that you can use over and over. For me, a work-at-home mom, that's pants, shorts, T-shirt and camp shirt. I've used these patterns often enough to know that the T-shirt uses a quarter yard less than called for, and the pants need to be cut an inch longer. What do you wear the most? You may need to add a basic skirt pattern in two lengths and a dress pattern with multiple options.
Know what you have, what you need, and what you realistically can do. Ever get home and realize you already have that pattern or something similar? Do you find your pattern stash has dozens of out of style patterns you never used? Don't let a sale tempt you into buying something you don't need or won't have time to make. Just because there is a five-pattern limit doesn't mean you have to buy five patterns. Have fun looking at all the styles then buy what is reasonable for you. If you find a pattern you like but aren't sure if you'd really have the time to make it, put the number on your wish list and get it later when you have time to sew it.
Always check the care label when purchasing new fabric. If it is anything other than machine wash warm and tumble dry, write the care instructions on an index card and affix a fabric sample. Keep all your washing instructions in a box near the washing machine. There is nothing more frustrating than shrinking a newly made garment.
Along those same lines, if a fabric is washable, wash it before cutting out. Some knits I wash and dry twice to be sure my T's won't shrink. You've wasted time as well as money if you can't wear what you've made.
Hit those sales, but be wise. Only stock up on fabric you know you will use. I love making and wearing pretty T-shirts, and at a yard a pop they are much cheaper than store bought. On the other hand, I love beautiful dress but I only wear them occasionally. I have a stash of knits I know I'll use, but no matter how much I like it, I resist buying dress fabric unless it's on my need list and I plan on making it up immediately. Okay, I admit I bought a great piece of dress fabric last fall that I didn't need for two dollars a yard. I couldn't resist the print and I had a pattern that would work. And I stayed in my budget!
Organize your leftover fabric. Do you keep every scrap of fabric left over from a project? Do you have to dig forever to find that certain little piece you know you saved? Before you stuff those leftovers in your scrap box, think about what you plan to use it for and store it accordingly. I have a chest of drawers that I use for this purpose. The top drawer is for lightweight wovens, the middle for knits and fancy lightweights, and the bottom has woolens and heavy weight fabrics. You could organize by purpose also (quilts, doll clothes, crafts) or by size. Decide what will work best for you.
Look for ways to save time. If you are making a memory quilt out of cotton scraps or using the leftovers to sew a matching doll dress, go ahead and cut it out when you cut out your garment. This is a real time saver for me since I have to clear a space and drag out my cutting board each time I need it.
Find discounts on the Internet. There are many Internet sites now such as Fabric.com that offer fabrics and notions at a discount. You can pick up some great buys, just remember to stay in your budget and only buy what you really need and will use. If you have a friend who sews, ordering together may save on shipping.
Luckily, I had mom to teach me how to sew at a young age. It's a skill I've enjoyed over the years for many reasons. Making quality garments at a bargain price is definitely one of them! What sewing practices can you change to sew cheap?
Michelle Howard is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Danville, VA.
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