Should You Learn To Sew?

iStock_000001162006XSmallLearning to sew takes time and equipment. Is it a skill that is worthwhile to learn these days? Will it end up saving you money or costing you money in the end?

A super short history of sewing.

Back in the 19th century, the occupation of seamstress was one of the few open to women.

The Women in World History website reported the following as Evidence Taken by Children’s Employment Commission February 1841:

“Miss — has been for several years in the dress-making business…The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters; in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night”

The pay was low to boot! Many seamstresses lived on the charity of family and friends in addition to their pay. In spite of that, history indicates that sweat shop seamstress positions had a ratio of 20 applicants per position.

In many parts of the US, people learned to sew as part of their life skills – from parents or family or schools. Although Mom didn’t sew much (she did mend), she made sure I took Home Ec in high school.

Sewing today has dropped out of main stream life. Clothing is cheap, sewing is not. We tend to throw away clothing instead of mending it and we count on cheap overseas labor to keep manufactured clothing easily affordable.

If you can’t save money, need extra tools and have to learn how, why would anyone learn to sew?

Why learn to sew?

As a hobby.

Type in ‘sewing’ into your search engine and you will get a tremendous number of results, all the way from companies selling sewing machines, patterns, and material, to blogs, class offerings, books, magazines, videos and events! I got 160,000,000 results today using Google Chrome.

There are many crafters, clothing designers and beginning savers who sew.

If you enjoy sewing, or designing and making patterns learning to sew is worth the time, money and effort (if you can afford it).

To mend.

I your true intent is to save money, then focus on mending. Being able to sew on a button, hem a pair of pants or a dress or fix a hole or tear is easily learned and cost & time efficient. Time saved alone is worth the small effort you expend in learning how to make these repairs.

The Frugal Girl blog does a great job of discussing this point!

To custom design and hand tailor.

Sewing is an art. For those with the desire and aptitude to design clothing or home decorations or craft items and then make them, sewing is  an avocation and a delight, and sometimes even a business. Learning how to do alterations could land you a job in a bridal salon or formal wear store. For those with aspirations to greatness in dress-making, I think that learning to sew is a must.

To decorate.

Home decorating is another area where it may be possible to sew your own cheaper than buying. Some of these kinds of projects also require minimal skills. I made a set of short drapes for my son’s room by simply putting a hem all around the fabric and attaching a tape at the top that let me insert hooks that made the pleats form. Easy deal and much cheaper than buying drapes at the time.

Simple throw pillows are another easy item.

As a business marketing scheme.

If you own a material store, you want someone on staff that understands the customers – someone who knows how to sew! If you sell sewing machines, you want to be able to demonstrate how they work to your potential customer and probably offer some classes on how to sew to gain added revenue.

Why you don’t want to learn to sew.

You won’t save money.

When I was young, it seemed possible to save money by making my own clothes and I did make some of them and save. For instance, in college, I was invited to a formal dance occasion. Instead of spending $100 or more on a formal gown, I made a simple empire floor length dress from fancy new material. When I married, I made a very simple velvet wedding gown and also saved a few hundred dollars.

When interviewing for my first job, I tried making a suit (which I did make and wear) for the purpose. It wasn’t stellar, but it did the job.  After I landed the position, I decided that my opportunity cost of sewing was too great.  I could work and make many times more than I could ever save by sewing.  I believe that your opportunity cost would be too great as well.  I’d rather see you be a CEO or business owner!

Today it is much less expensive to buy your clothes, even if you buy brand new and certainly if you shop some of the chic re-sale shops or even the thrift stores.

If you pursue the make your own clothing route, you have the upfront sunk costs of buying a machine and the other sewing tools you need and then there is repair and maintenance of your sewing machine after you have it. This isn’t a huge item, but my husband just spent several hours on my machine to get it working again. Of course you will also have ongoing costs such as thread, patterns and material as well.

The Yes I Like That blog has a two part series on the question of Can you save money sewing? Her answer, nope you can’t really.

Your opportunity cost is too great.

Sewing takes time. You have to find a pattern you like, get the machine out, buy the fabric, cut it out and all of the other steps involved. You had to have taken classes or learned to sew somehow, which also took time. You had to earn the money to buy the machine and other equipment needed, more time taken.

What class could you have taken in high school instead of “Fashion and Apparel”? Perhaps something that gave you a marketable skill instead of a hobby skill?  What income producing activity could you have pursued while making that new shirt?

It isn’t that easy to learn and advance your skill level.

Basic sewing isn’t too hard, but when you get into more advanced areas it takes time, effort, materials and practice to achieve satisfactory results. Even something as simple as sewing a flat seam in a pair of denim blue jeans takes practice – and denim isn’t cheap!

More advance techniques and some of the fancier fabrics require special tools and expertise as well – tools you probably don’t have and will need to buy. Pinking shears, are one example (although they really aren’t that advanced).

It’s not cool.

The running joke in high school and college dating circles to indicate a real loser was …. “and she makes all her own clothes”.

How to save money if you like and want to sew.

Of course, if you do enjoy the art and craft of making things with material and thread, you may want to try to save money on equipment and supplies and lessons.

Money Saving Mom and Handmade Adelaide Baby both have tips on how to do that.

If anyone needs a box full of 20 year old poly of different colors and patterns, I can help you out (cheap)! I bought out a lady at a garage sale long ago, made several dresses, shirts, shorts and cover ups out of some of the material and still have a gob left over. Poly lasts forever!

Do you think people should learn to sew?  Why do you sew?


Should You Learn To Sew? — 26 Comments

  1. I think everyne needs to learn to sew. I repair a lot of things, and some of them last minute. If you repair a 60.00 pair of pants instead of go and buy some more, it’s a great money saver. Besides, I’ve done a lot of emergency repairs where my last pair of whatever needed to be repaired that minute else I was in trouble!

  2. Hmm, depends by what degree of competency you mean when you say ‘sew’! I can sew on a button or patch/stitch up a hem where the threads have come loose, which isn’t really hard and doesn’t require learning, just common sense – reckon everyone should know how to do that. I sometimes sew up holes in my BF’s pants, badly.

    My mother in law is awesome at this stuff and is making my wedding dress.

  3. I would love to learn to sew. I always have clothing needing repair and it would be helpful to be able to do it myself!

  4. I am a guy and many can’t believe that I know how to sew. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I need to be able to sustain myself and it only takes a few minutes to sew on a button. I don’t go around sewing all of the time, but I know how to do it.

  5. I would love to know how to sew, mostly for decorating purposes. I often think I’m going to get a sewing machine and just do it, but I never do. It would be a great skill to have though.

  6. Why not,if you want to learn how to sew as a hobby and really has the time for it, but if you have a very buy schedule, better not pursue it because it can be time consuming and you must give not just your time, but effort as well.

  7. I learned to sew at age 13 and have sewn off and on my entire life. I love the creativity. I just repainted a chair and sewed a cover for the back. A totally new look for a few bucks. Beats spending $200 or more for a new dining room chair!

    • Very true. You reminded me that I re-did a chair as well. I found one of those mission style chairs in an antique mall and recovered it. Later I found a mission style foot rest that was missing it’s top so I cut out a piece of plywood and made a pillow top for it out of matching fabric.

  8. I learned to sew when I was in high school 45 years ago. Shopping for good and well made clothes today is very expensive. Therefore sewing can be cheaper. If you want clothes to last, then learn how to sew. I have made clothes that have lasted 10-15 years and have never come apart at the seams. Can store bought clothes last that long and wear as well. Sewing your own clothes guarantees yourself that you will not see your dress or blouse on anyone else. All your clothes will be one of a kind.

  9. I always sew up my clothes, although really badly! I can’t travel with a machine so it’s needle and thread for me. I love people who make all their own clothes! For me although it does save buying new clothes I think it’s an environmental thing. Why throw away something that can be fixed? It’s just a waste!

    I’d love to learn to sow properly. One day when I am settled I will.

  10. I taught myself to sew right after college. I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas and my mom thought I was nuts, “you’ll never use it”. I proved her wrong and my second full-size quilt was a gift to her.

  11. I am happy with just sewing buttons back on. That’s how you save on sewing 🙂

    This is a good article in all seriousness. I think the opportunity cost is very large to make your own clothes. Just think of all the time you spend on making something and use your current hourly rate or even half your hourly rate and I bet it still costs a lot more. You could easily use that time more wisely doing something else.

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