Is sewing cheaper than buying?
The general consensus on the Internet seems to be "no", not at all. They'll tell you to buy clothes instead at WalMart, JCPenny, Target, or the thrift stores. They'll tell you patterns and fabric cost too much, not to mention the notions. They say they buy a shirt on clearance, only to go to JoAnn and find the same fabric going for the full price of the shirt!
I disagree. I believe these people have only slightly looked into sewing, or not at all.
My answer to "is sewing cheaper than buying?" is: IT DEPENDS.
Many of those in the "no" camp seem to be frugality and money bloggers as opposed to sewing and craft bloggers. And they're definitely taking the wrong approach to sewing.
Here's what I mean by the wrong approach to sewing: it seems those who say "buying is always cheaper than sewing, no matter what" are picking out a pattern, and then picking out full-priced fabric. Many times this pattern/fabric combo is based on a shirt or dress they've already seen that they're trying to duplicate. Instead, those interested in sewing to save money should be stocking up on patterns while they're on sale, and matching fabric as they come across it.
Of course, my sewing machine was a gift, but I've seen them pretty cheap at garage sales and thrift stores, and even free on Craigslist. The following lists assume one already either has a sewing machine or access to one.
SEWING CLOTHING IS CHEAPER WHEN:
You're into runway and high fashion.
Couture is expensive. Sewing can be, too, but rarely will you drop hundreds or thousands on an outfit. Hands down, the most inexpensive way to get a custom, made-for-you outfit is to sew it yourself.
You're into more expensive clothes in general.
Even if you're not into one-of-a-kind, custom clothing as above, but are into pricier items such as vintage clothing or clothing from places like Anthropologie, sewing can be cheaper.
You want quality clothing.
This assumes you're a talented sewer or the potential to become one. I LOVE Target, but one my $5 clearance maternity tops started coming apart after one wash. I'd like to think I could sew a top that will hold together much better for about the same price in fabric.
You're a unique size or shape.
I recently took my back waist measurement, and it was a good two inches longer than even the largest pattern size. I guess I should add that I'm pushing 6-feet-tall. That means that anything I buy off the rack runs the risk of showing my midriff or having the waist part fall way above where it should be. That's just the start of my problems; my figure is also rather manly. If you have shorter legs, a deep crotch, or a tiny waist and big bust, sewing may be for you. Especially if you buy clothing only to run to the tailor to have it altered.
You like to be "different".
Unless you're copying a look or using an inspiration piece, sewing guarantees you have a one-of-a-kind dress that no one else will have-- without having to, again, spend the custom price.
You purchase fabric on clearance, from thrift stores, or garage sales.
Or you buy sheets, tablecloths, or curtains on sale at the thrift store or from garage sales to use as fabric. This requires patience and an open mind. You can save bundles on material by waiting for the right material to come along, instead of seeking out a specific fabric based on print and color.
You live in an area like mine, where thrift stores are scarce and overpriced.
I've addressed this before: often, buying clothing from a number of Bay Area thrift stores will be just as expensive as purchasing it from Target or Ross. And nine times out of ten, the dated thrift store clothing won't fit me properly anyway. Our thrift stores are paying higher rent, and, thanks to our proximity to Silicon Valley, those working there are very Internet savvy and can quickly find the value of things (that's why I saw a tiny Pyrex dish for seven bucks yesterday). Depending on what part of the country you live in, thrifting your clothes may indeed be a better buy. For me, I'll stick to thrifting for just home goods and furniture.
You buy patterns on sale.
Most of the time it is easy to buy them for 99 cents. I read one account by a person who said she saved by making her own patterns from paper grocery bags; if only she'd known how cheap an actual pattern can be! You can't even buy the paper for 99 cents sometimes. If your pattern isn't on sale, find a similar one that is. Keep in mind a pattern is usable more than once.
You enjoy dresses, skirts, and slacks more than jeans and T-shirts.
If you work in a dirty environment where your clothes get thrashed, it's probably not a good idea to invest a lot of time into making them.
You want to be green.
I'm not saying all sewing in greener. That new fabric at the craft shop has to manufactured in some factory, and shipped in on big boats or trucks. But if you're using thrifted fabric, old sheets or curtains laying around, or up-cycling thrift store buys, then yes, you're giving new life to an old item. This is the slow clothing movement, and it can be much cheaper than buying bamboo T-shirts (which are very expensive even wholesale, as I recall from when hubby worked as a screenprinter) or hemp dresses. Of course, buying clothes from the thrift store is pretty green too. But, even if you're buying new fabric, you can rest assured that your garment isn't being made in a sweatshop, like most ready-made clothing items.
You are a creative type, or you have "the eye".
It doesn't matter how straight you can sew, how cheaply you buy the material, or how talented a seamstress you become. If you can't match co-ordinating fabric or pick out the correct color bias tape for your garment, you're not going to end up with something pretty, and it may be better to just buy off the rack. This is subjective, of course, and as long as your happy with your finished product, that's all that matters. But you're not going to save any money by sewing if you don't like what you've sewn and always leave it hanging in the closet.
You view sewing as a hobby.
How much money are you plunking down on new Apple gadgets, only to find them obsolete next month? Do you get to wear that photography hobby out to dinner? Will that vacation to Costa Rica provide you years of wear? Didn't think so. Sewing is a hobby, for many, a rewarding one. If you look at the money you're spending as hobby money, it shouldn't bother you so much. Especially when you realize that with this hobby, you're given something tangible and useful.
BUYING CLOTHES IS CHEAPER WHEN:
You're buying clothes for children...
who will outgrow the clothing quickly, and you don't have to worry as much about quality. You saw my story about my Target maternity buys above. My son grows out of clothes so quickly, the seams don't even have time to come apart. Plus, I can buy most of his stuff on clearance at Target for under $3. There's no way I can match that. I, on the other hand, stay close to the same size, so I can wear my sewn garments for some time.
You're a jeans and t-shirt kinda guy or gal.
Or sweatshirts and overalls. You get the idea. Sewing clothing should be for those who work in an environment where they're expected to wear nicer clothing, or for those who prefer to wear skirts, dresses, etc.
You're sewing for a man.
Let's face it, I'm not going to be able to, nor do I want to, duplicate my husband's cutoff cargo shorts and Danzig shirt. When he does need button downs and slacks, he'll get a much better buy at Ross or TJ Maxx.
You need maternity or other temporary wear.
Sewing can save you money when you can wear the garment for a long time, and get a lot of use out of it. For the same reason I advise not to bother sewing for children because they'll outgrow it quickly, it's probably best to save money by not sewing adult clothing that won't be used more than once or twice, or will be used for just a few months. The exceptions would of course be costumes and formal wear.
You're in the market for sturdy handbags and other accessories.
Some of the complaints I read about sewing not being all that frugal said that the individual started off by sewing purses and found that buying them would be cheaper. So stop sewing purses.
You don't like to sew!
No amount of money saved is worth frustration and tears if you're not going to enjoy yourself. It's a hobby. But it may not be for you, especially if you see it as a chore. If that's the case, save yourself the headache and stick with off-the-rack!
My answer on the economics of sewing bedding, curtains, and other home decor is the same: it depends. If you need a duvet cover, or your tastes run more expensive, I recommend sewing, especially if you have unused materials laying around such as flat sheets. I, however, will never sew a fitted sheet. It of course can be done, but I won't be bothering with that for the price I can find nice, high thread count fitted sheets for at stores like Marshall's. But I plan to sew most of our curtains (I can do these Anthro ones for much cheaper and with much cuter fabric), so our home linens will be a mix of purchased and sewn.
Still not sold? Just check out some of the garments Mena from The Sew Weekly whips up. I use her as an example because she provides the total price of each garment,
Bottom line: if you're a "clothes make the man" kinda guy or gal, a good shopper, and think you have the ability to sew well, sewing clothes may be cheaper for you. If you're a jeans, sweats, tees and basic tops kinda person who has a fit-model type of body that is easy to find clothes for, off-the-rack is for you. On home items, a pretty, high-quality duvet cover and curtains will almost always be cheaper to sew, while fitted sheets and pillow cases may be better to purchase.
Do you agree with me?