The Modern Home Economist - Sewing In the Home
However, for the sake of argument, let's just say that you are a novice, have rarely done more than sew on a button or repair a hem by hand. There are bare basic machines on the market these days for under $100 that are sturdy little work horse machines that will allow you to sew with nothing more than an instruction manual and a piece of plain inexpensive cloth to practice upon. Sewing, for all that it can be quite an art form all it's own, is like any other skill: the basics are not that difficult to learn. How do I know? Because I learned to sew at age 12. That was one skill Mama made sure I learned.
Back in the 1960's and '70's you did not just waltz into a store and buy clothing for a plump child right off the rack. And lest you think I was very heavy back then, I wore the same size the other girls did with just a couple of inches added in the width of any item. Boy oh boy did you pay extra for that little bit of extra fabric. Mama, as it happened, was a great seamstress and had been taught to alter patterns to fit by her aunt who didn't even so much as bother with bought patterns but made up her own! Yes, Great Aunt Chris was a dressmaker who could eye a dress, and would then go home and cut out a muslin pattern to fit. And just as a side, she was also a talented hair stylist who could copy a haircut and often did for her girls benefit.
So at age 12 I took one sewing lesson a week for 6 weeks. In 6 weeks time, in a class that took less than 2 hours, we moved from learning the basics of the machines (threading, winding bobbins and basic care) to t-shirts, pants, skirts, pajamas or nightgowns and underwear. Seriously, ladies, in just 12 hours time! Of course, we took our pieces home to work on but it was amazing how quickly those skills grew. The one class I missed was the one where we cut fabric by patterns, learning to alter so that we had a perfect fit when sewn.
Because fabric cost something (a lot less then than now), Mama never allowed me to cut out any piece of clothing. I think now, knowing basic math and what I understand about fit, that if I had a simple pattern I could easily alter it to fit now...I mean to challenge myself to try that one day. Following that summer of sewing lessons it was my task from that point onward to sew my own clothes for the school year and church. Mind you I did have my handful of lessons and Mama was at hand at some point in most days to help me with anything really tricky, but I soon was capably sewing even difficult patterns. I became quite good, too. So good that I could not tell a denim jacket made by myself from one bought in a store, except that the store bought one had a label.
These days, it's hardly necessary to make all our own clothing. We have access to stores and sales and sizing is far more user friendly than it was back in the yesterdays of my life. We can buy clothing rather cheaply, too. The cost of patterns and fabric and finishing pieces are a good bit higher than they were long ago when sewing clothing was more popular but it IS possible to still make clothes inexpensively and have far better quality than anything available in the stores. Patterns go on sale often enough for just $1 each and if you're blessed to be average size you might well pick them up in thrift stores if you look for classic items. That pattern for girls bathing suits above could do just as well today as it did years ago. You can also check thrift and flea markets for buttons, zippers, thread and other finish items for pennies on the dollar of their counterparts in fabric stores. You can buy inexpensive fabric at thrift stores as well, often already cut to the perfect yardage for most patterns. It's been my experience that those who sew often have a love of fabrics that leads them to buy every pretty piece that catches their eye...and even those who sew only occasionally might find the fabric bug has bitten them often enough (clearing my throat here, lol).
What are the pluses of making your own clothes? You will learn in sewing how clothing is constructed and will soon understand what is needed to alter store bought clothing that doesn't fit well. Your clothes will be unique and not look like any other person on the street, because these pieces will be clearly one of a kind. You can easily copy higher end pieces without paying anywhere near the same costs. Your clothing will be custom fit to you, and we all know that clothing that fits perfectly looks more expensive even if it was dirt cheap. And at some point you might well be inspired to transform pieces of clothing that no longer fit well to something far more useful. I love this example from Rebecca
You can move from making clothing to making soft coverings for your home such as curtains, pillows, slipcovers, bedspreads, even awnings and umbrella covers for your outdoor furnishings. And let us not forget quilts, which can be utilitarian or art pieces.
Over the next few posts I'll share with you websites, YouTube videos and scanned articles from my vintage magazines related to sewing machines, sewing, altering or transforming wearables, soft furnishings and more. While the vintage items I share might show their age in style the methods used can be employed in the modern day. The real beauty of this particular series is that you might well find a budget stretcher within these pages that will save you money and time.