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The Value of Sewing and Tailoring

When I was 12, I found the perfect dress to wear to my cousin’s wedding. Unfortunately, it was a size too small and we were in a thrift store, where you can’t just try the next size up. Determined to have the dress I wanted, I taught myself how to sew and created it in time for the wedding.

Since then, I’ve been a seamstress of sorts.

I don’t sew most of my clothes, but I often use my skills to do little things like hem pants or do other sorts of alterations. A basic knowledge of sewing, especially how to do alterations, has saved me a lot of money and frustration.

For example, it’s almost impossible for me to find pants that fit perfectly in the store. But I can often find ones which are built for a slightly taller woman and just need a hem. Or this past weekend, I bought a lovely sundress which doesn’t fit at the top. But a cursory look at the stitching told me I could easily take it in. It was only $4.50 at a thrift store. Frugal win.

A friend of mine was recently lamenting the lack of tailors in this country. She grew up in the Philippines, where she would go shopping and simply head to a tailor’s shop afterward to have them fitted. The clothes were the same sort of ready-to-wear factory stuff that you get here in the States, only people didn’t assume that they’d actually be ready to wear.

If sewing is not your thing, that’s ok. But keep tailoring in mind if you’re always finding clothes that almost fit. You can find tailors at many dry cleaning operations, or in your phone book under Tailors (ours lists both independent tailors and dry cleaners with on-site tailors. You’d be surprised at how little it’ll cost you to do a number of simple alterations which can make an outfit fit just right.

Special bonus of being able to sew? I was able to sew my own wedding dress for nothing but the cost of the materials. (Grazie, Connie & Peter for the lace.)

my wedding dress


Kelly from Almost Frugal May 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

That’s a beautiful picture!

I love to sew too, although I usually have to content myself with sewing bags or blankets, and other small projects. Not only do I not have a lot of space to work in, but sewing clothes takes time and patience that are both in short supply!

But I agree, learning how to hem a hem or make basic alterations is a big money saver- I’ve saved many an outfit that way.

Kelly from Almost Frugal’s last blog post: Turning a Hobby into a Job

Small Steps to Health May 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

The only thing I figured out how to do is hem my pants with my sewing machine. I real wish I could make more things with my sewing machine, but lacking the knowledge, it just sits in the closet until I have a pile of pants to hem. Where would you be able to find a beginner sewing class in your area? I know craft stores like Michaels often put on workshops, but they often assume that you know basic sewing techniques.

Small Steps to Health’s last blog post: Adult Eczema Skin Treatment

Frugal Urbanite May 18, 2009 at 10:06 am

I just bought my new serger and even with the hefty pricetag ($300 and that was for a cheap one) I’ll still save money on the long one not just one tailoring but on clothing repair.

I can buy cheapo clothes from H&M, Forever XXI and Target because when a crappy hem or seam invariably dies, I just spend 5 minutes on the machine and it’s better sewn than when I bought it.

@SStH Look online to see if there’s a quilting or fabric store in the area. Most places that sell machines will hold classes. You can also try the local library or adult/continuing education classes from a community college.

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dogatemyfinances May 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm

ANY woman who needs to wear suit or suit-like clothing, and who doesn’t have an off-the-rack body (pretty much everyone) needs to have a good tailor!!!!

I wish someone had told me this before I wore ill-fitting suits and dresses. If you’re a little top or bottom-heavy, a tailor will be your best friend. You can just buy a size up and have your leaner bits taken in.

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Dawn May 18, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Sewing is one skill I wish I had. I work with some seamstresses at times and always try to pick things up from them. Classes are a great idea!

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Amanda May 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm

A lady from church gave me her “extra” sewing machine for free late last year. I finally figured out how to use it and made Haleigh a pillow. I’d love to learn how to do minor alterations and even how to make some clothes. 😀

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mrsmicah May 18, 2009 at 9:16 pm

@Kelly Thanks! 🙂

@Small Steps As others have recommended, I’d look at stores that sell sewing machines if they have classes on using the machines, or beginner’s classes. Kids’ classes can also work, if you’re not intimidated by the company. Sometimes libraries also have handy books in the 646 section (Dewey Decimal #).

@Frugal Urbanite I bought a used serger from my SIL’s mom and it was a great purchase! As you say, it’s not just for alterations–it can really extend the life of clothes.

@Dog Ate My Finances amen and amen! When Micah bought his suits, they had an in-store tailor who measured him up and worked a couple wonders. I don’t have any real suits right now, but when I acquire them I plan to visit a tailor because I do not have an off-the-rack body and I’m a bit intimidated by sewing expensive clothes.

@Dawn It’s quite possible one of your coworkers will be willing to teach you too. I’ve helped a few people get started–it’s fun to share the creativity.

@Amanda That’s a great gift! Baby clothes can be hard to tackle because they’re so small, but you might be able to make a few cotton sundresses when Haleigh is a toddler. Sleeveless stuff is normally easier (at least when it’s small). 🙂

SavingDiva May 19, 2009 at 12:33 am

I wish I could sew! I knit…so I should be content…but if I come across an inexpensive sewing machine….

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Penelope @ Pecuniarities May 19, 2009 at 1:57 am

My sister and I have been sewing our own clothes since college. We went to a university where sleeveless clothing wasn’t allowed, and when I was shopping for a gown for the spring formal in my senior year, I couldn’t find a single gown that would be allowed, so we finally gave up and went to Walmart where we picked out a pattern and some material and proceeded to sew a gown by hand.

This was our first time sewing something so big and we didn’t yet have a sewing machine. It took all week and I was up till 3AM the night before just hemming the it, but it turned out so good and we’d had so much fun that we soon got a sewing machine and started making all sorts of stuff for ourselves – bags, book covers, tops, skirts, dresses, pillows, curtains, etc. (A few years later, we started a pet and horse costuming business because my sister had gotten really good at drafting patterns and sewing.)

Sewing really is a valuable and frugal hobby that can save you a lot of money. You can make a top or skirt for as little as $1 if you know where to get fabric, and you can also mend and patch things like bed linens and curtains instead of having to replace them when they get a torn or worn.

We wrote a post last year where we posted pictures of a few items of clothing we designed and made for just $1 – $2 a piece. I hope you don’t mind my sharing: Sewing: A Frugal and Fulfilling Hobby

@SavingDiva It isn’t very hard to learn to sew and you can easily find a good sewing machine for around $100 these days. You don’t need one with 117 stitch functions to be able to sew your own clothes. Just a good machine with a few basic stitches and functions will do.

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Carol May 21, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Yes, knowing how to sew would be a great asset and I’ve often wished I could do more than a button. My burning question is whether that is you in your dress in the photo…:)

Carol’s last blog post: Mindfulness Saves Money

Small Budget Big Style May 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I am determined to earn how to sew in the near future. Items like coats, jackets and pants will always need to be tailored to fit me correctly, I’d save so much money if I could do it myself!

Christine May 26, 2009 at 10:36 am

Carol — I was at Mrs Micah’s wedding, and that’s definitely her (and her dress) in the photo!

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Carol May 26, 2009 at 11:31 am

Now I can put at least a profile view of her face to her name! Beautiful photo.

Carol’s last blog post: Mindfulness Saves Money

mrsmicah June 5, 2009 at 3:24 pm

@SavingDiva Keep your eyes open for deals! I use an old old sewing machine from the 70s and it works pretty well (every machine has its issues).

@Penelope sounds like you’re set! I would really like to improve my tailoring skills–the better they are, the more I can do.

@Carol & Christine Yep, 100% me. Cut Micah out of it because he’s much more recognizable than my sun-washed-out profile. 🙂

@SBBS It looks like you’ve found a good tailor at least! I was impressed with the way your clothes fit. I once talked to a store tailor and he said that if you look hard enough, you can find tailoring lessons.

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