Here is a new hat I have knitted, modelled by my charming assistant.
And here is a vintage tea cosy pattern.
Notice any family resemblance? Here’s the hat again, to jog your memory.
I didn’t put any holes in my hat for a tea-pot handle, otherwise it could be a useful multi-purpose knitted object (it would be nice and warm when you put it on your head.).
Luckily I don’t mind my head looking like a tea-pot, as this hat has been permanently attached to it due to extreme coldness.
The pattern is called ‘Starving Artist’, and you can find it on Ravelry here. I only did two thirds of the increases. No idea what the wool is but I’m incredibly smug at using up the whole ball, by means of adding a ridiculous pom-pom.
(Sorry for the dreadful photos – natural light is hard to come by at the moment. My hat isn’t quite such a hideous shade of plaster pink in real life)
Well, if you can contain your excitement, I have even MORE to say about the costs of sewing your own clothes, whether you can save money doing it, and why we should even bother in the first place (except for the opportunity to write long, pointless blog posts about it).
Okay, so in my last post, I tried to examine whether in terms of cold hard cash, sewing is a money-saving activity. And in the most basic economic terms, it’s not. As Lizzy said in the comments, if you want to save money, don’t sew yourself a cushion, just… don’t have a new cushion. The same with sewing – it would be much cheaper to clothe yourself entirely from Primark/charity shops/hand-me-downs.
But what fun would that be? If you like clothes, as you surely must do to enjoy sewing them, it sounds like a kind of polyester purgatory.
What I left out of my first post, as Nicole commented, was the issue of:
Quality vs Quantity
There’s no point comparing apples to oranges, and I doing that when I said that you can buy clothes for cheaper than you can make them. Of course it’s true in most cases, but it’s also a bit of a fudge. Say you do buy that 20 pound suit from Asda – it won’t fit properly, it will be badly made from cheap materials, and it will probably give you static shocks whenever you sit down.
The blog Kitchen Counter Economics put this better than I can, but if you sew, you can add quality and longevity into garments, making clothes you will never find in a shop. Even super-posh and expensive wool coats from somewhere like Hobbs will have a cheap man-made lining which will shred in a couple of years. Manufacturers are always going to cut corners somewhere, mostly on the bits you can’t see but that contribute to the long life of the garment.
Sewing teaches you what well-made clothing actually looks like, which is pretty important in a society where quality and price are thought to be exactly the same thing (news flash – they are not)
Home-sewing enables you to prioritise quality over quantity.
And, when you sew your own clothes, you’re not paying for somebody else’s marketing budget.
Of course, it’s hard to sew well-made clothes. I hardly ever do (i’m a chronic corner-cutter myself). And in some cases, its impossible to achieve the same finish as professional manufacturers, because they have resources that are beyond the reach of the home-sewer.
But I think we need to be cool with this, to find our own path, not to obsess about neat machine-made finishes at the one extreme, or deeply tedious couture perfection on the other.
This week I watched a money-saving programme on Channel 4 called The SuperScrimpers. It’s full of dubious tips like coating your lashes with baby powder in lieu of mascara, putting foil behind your radiators, and freezing lime wedges to put in your G&T (a good tip, but money saving? A lime costs about 20p!)
Anyway, this episode had a group of girls learning to sew. It’s about 35 mins in, if you want to watch it. They were all complete beginners who were scared of the whole idea, and it was lovely to watch them learn how to create something from nothing (in this case, cushion covers from old scraps of fabrics and unwanted clothes).
But is sewing really a money-saving activity? I don’t think so, and here’s why:
Firstly, the fixed costs. You’re going to need a sewing machine, which will cost at least £100. Yes, you can get them cheaper, or second-hand and refurbished, but it depends how much time you have to hunt around.
Secondly, the equipment. You won’t get far without an iron and an ironing board. You need tools – at the very minimum scissors, a seam ripper, a tape measure.
And the more you sew, the more stuff you will accumulate. That’s because sewing is an activity where new tools make a big difference.
This is in sharp contrast to other crafts like knitting or embroidery, where start-up costs are minimal. Yes, you can spend hundreds of pounds on cashmere yarn or silk thread, but the basic skill is in your hands, and is free to learn. With art, it’s the same – it’s your ideas that matter, whether you have a full Lanvin-designed Caran D’Ache set, or a single pencil.
But in dressmaking, there are things that you just can’t do without the right machine or tool. And the more professional the sewing, the more specialised the machine. Clothing companies can afford to spend thousands on, for example, a piece of equipment that only makes buttonholes. In home sewing, we have to use a mixture of work-arounds, substitutes, and make-dos.
That’s before you even get into the costs of fabric and notions to make garments, which can add up. (If you’re interested in this aspect, check out Zoe’s blog – she only sews with second-hand or repurposed fabric)
Where sewing can start to make financial sense is in comparing like for like. Karen did an interesting cost break-down of the beautiful coat she made, comparing it to what she could have paid for something shop-bought. For me, making my own clothes only becomes worth it when sewing something that I literally cannot buy in the shops.
For instance, I can’t buy dresses that hit me at my natural waistline. I can’t buy shirts and blouses in non-polyester fabric, that fit my long torso. In financial terms, the sewing machines and equipment I’ve already bought are Sunk Costs – irrelevant to future decision making. And on that basis, I do save money by sewing. I recently made myself another Sorbetto top out of fabric scraps from my birthday dress, embellished with lace and pearl buttons from my stash (another sunk cost). I love it and you could say it was entirely free.
But that doesn’t change the fact that that sewing is a privileged activity. You need time and money to devote to it. It has a sharp learning curve, and you won’t be able to knock off that Prada silk dress after an hour’s workshop, maybe not even after 5 years of practise.
Because sewing is intimidating. It’s difficult! It involves expensive machines with very sharp moving parts. People don’t know how to do it any more, so you can’t just ask your mum or gran to show you how to put a button back on a coat (why do you think all those new London sewing cafes are springing up? They make money from running super-basic ‘sew a hem!’ style courses)
If I was a millionaire, with enough money to buy whatever I wanted, to have my own amazing fabric printed, to commission tailors to custom-make me perfect dresses….would I still sew? I think so, but that’s a whole other discussion, and this is long enough already.
I think that sewing does still have a cultural echo of thriftiness, a ‘Make Do and Mend’ nostalgia. That’s probably why it was included in the Channel 4 programme, which was appropriately a bit of a rag-bag all round.
I’d be interested to know what others think. Do you save money through sewing? Is quality more important to you than cost? And would you put foil behind your radiators or is that a money-saving step too far? (personally it just reminds me of this 90s plot-line on Eastenders)
More window display news! These Fortnum & Mason ‘Follies’ themed displays are left over from Christmas, but I’m glad they haven’t taken them down yet. They’re perfect for cheering up January, when all you see in shop windows are huge and tatty SALE SALE SALE banners.
There’s nothing like some good, old-fashioned, high camp glamour. You know, just riding a sparkly deer, chatting backstage in a foot-high wig, sharing some champagne and a joke with a mustachioed man in tights. No big deal.
Dressing up as a giant peacock.
The visual merchandisers must have had so much fun researching and decorating these windows. There are lots of cute vintage details.
If these photos don’t make you want to wear something pink with feathers, you haven’t looked at them long enough yet.
I’ve been slowing down my vintage pattern buying lately. When I do buy it’s exclusively online – old patterns in London vintage shops are usually hideously marked up, and when you’re used to Etsy prices, forking out a tenner for an 70s dungarees pattern stings a bit.
(reminds me of a late 60s/early 70s shift dress I saw at a fair in East London.Extremely ‘distressed’, unlined, and made from polyester. The price? £75, because, as the woman solemnly said to me “This is a very, very rare piece. It’s actually from the 1960s. It’s old!”. Er, thanks love. I’ll stick to online vintage shopping then)
Anyway, I had to break both of my self-imposed rules to buy Blackmore So-Easy 9422, because I’ve never seen a British-made sewing pattern for sale before.
It’s a very simple shift dress, but I love the slim overskirt which buckles up at the front, or can be held casually over the arm if you… I don’t know, get too hot? Where would you wear an overskirt, anyway? I guess it would be handy for the Railway Children/runaway train situation recently discussed on this blog.
Some super chic accessorising going on as well. A flicky bouffant, long white gloves, pointy stilettoes, AND chunky jewellery? Nice.
I did a bit of online sleuthing on Blackmore, which was set up in 1845 by 8 siblings, who sound extremely interesting to say the least. 4 of them were deaf, one was a chemist, one managed a dress-shop, one was a ‘Professor of Shorthand’, and one was a mannequin for a fashion house (anticipating the work of Tom Cruise by over 100 years)
The tissue is marked with holes rather than printed on, and the instruction sheet is rather short and sweet. I assume that the phrase ‘Turnings are allowed on this pattern’ means that the hem allowance is included?
It’s a shame that there isn’t a home-grown British pattern industry operating at the moment. Even all the awesome new start-ups seem to be across the pond (Colette patterns, Sewaholic, etc).
I did find a few more Blackmore patterns on Etsy – click on the picture to see the listing.
Demonic Pippi Longstocking in a tweed cape, anyone? No?
This voluminous nightgown is actually rather sweet (and suitable for newspaper reading, apparently)
Shirtdress patterns are two a penny, but I really like the inverted pleat on this one (more redheads as well – are they related to the evil cape-wearing child, perhaps?)
That’s about it really, there’s doesn’t seem to be that many of these patterns out there.
Have you heard of Blackmore before? Do you know of any British sewing companies? And most importantly, would you wear a buckled-on overskirt, and if so, in what situation would you remove it?
I love the current set of windows at Selfridges, curated by It’s Nice That magazine. The concept is based around words, not the most visual of ideas you might think, but they’ve done a beautiful job.
The best bit is the Word-A-Coaster, a lovely little miniature rollercoaster that carries around 50,000 individual fortunes:
I particularly enjoyed this as it brought back happy student memories of riding the Crazy Mouse, the exceedingly rickety wooden coaster on Brighton Pier, which threatens to dump you into the sea at any moment.
Each fortune is contained inside a colourful plastic orb, a bigger version of the ones that dispense plastic necklaces and bubblegum to small excited children everywhere. You have to go inside the shop and pull a lever to get one – mine said that my future would be ‘Pop-up’, which seemed quite apt for the whole experience.
The Ultralounge has been transformed into a shop, selling typewriters, pens, notebooks, prints, and other wordy paraphernalia. There’s some amazing typewriter art by Keira Rathbone.
She creates pictures by typing them onto the page. It’s incredible huh?
They also had a nice selection of prints and gifts. I was very tempted to buy one of these letter keyrings, but managed to resist.
I was really taken with this mini exhibition, as combining words and visuals is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
I’d always describe myself as the sort of person who would read the curator’s label next to a painting before even looking at the artwork, but I’ve really focused on developing my visual side over the last few years, and there’s something very rewarding about using both parts of the brain in this way.
Language can be used in an analytical and descriptive way, but it can also be creative and evocative (poetry!). Visual information can be wordless and emotive, but it can also be incredibly technical and precise (architectural drawings and infographics, for instance). There’s so many interesting ways to combine the two.
Anyway, if you’re on Oxford Street I recommend popping in for a look.
EDITED TO ADD:
I forgot to say that they are also running a workshop programme, with two crafty events of interest:
Is what I should have shouted on finishing this cardigan. Unfortunately I didn’t, but here it is anyway.
This is Tinder by Brooklyn Tweed, and I’ve only just got round to photographing it because I’ve hardly taken it off since it was finished.
I love it! Also, I knitted it in record time for me. Less than two months. This was partly down to several train journeys I had to take, but mostly I owe this jumper to watching Strictly Come Dancing with my friend Lucy every week. It’s perfect knitting TV – two hours long and not very mentally taxing.
It’s hard for me to choose the right knitting pattern, not just because of my problems with decisiveness, but also because I am incredibly picky. Everything is either too tight, too loose, too ruffly, too plain, or too detailed. But when I saw Tinder, it was love at first sight. The basketweave stitch pattern! The raglan sleeves! The reverse stocking stitch sleeves!
It used 8 and a half balls of Rowan Silky Tweed which I got in the John Lewis sale last year. It’s gone a bit bobbly but is otherwise bearing up well from constant wearing.
The only two things I would change are:
– I’ve really gone off green lately. Wish I’d bought the yarn in a different colour.
– If I knitted it again I’d put pockets into the ribbing, as some people on Ravelry have done.
The buttons are rather shockingly NOT from Ultimate Craft, but from Dalston Mill Fabrics instead. Sorry UC, but you let me down this time.
I think the nicest thing about knitting your own clothing is that you control what it’s made of. Here is a 53% acrylic cardigan from Juicy Couture which costs £255. The horror! My Tinder cost me £40 in wool, which isn’t cheap, but it is 90% lambswool and 10% silk, so there.
Next up – more hats. I normally knit a couple of new hats every winter but this year haven’t managed even one (except for a Christmas present, which doesn’t count). Anyone else planning some late winter knitting projects?
After getting a rather alarming gas bill for December, I decided to go with an old-fashioned solution – flannel nightwear. No, bear with me.
I’m not talking about winceyette floral sleeping gowns, or the red petticoats they use in the Railway Children to stop a train (much as I love the concept of averting a railway accident armed only with fabric remnants). Just some pyjamas.
I bought 2 metres of this plaid fabric from Fabrics Galore for about a tenner. It was marked as being from Jack Wills, so not only do I have some lovely toasty pyjamas, I also have the smug satisfaction of knowing I saved £49 by making my own, without having to give a penny to a shop that uses the word ‘loungepants’.
Plus, mine have pockets. I used to be sceptical of the value of pockets in pyjamas, and I’m still not 100% sure what you’re supposed to put in there (Your glasses? A biscuit? Some light reading material?) but I like the look of them.
They’re super easy to add, whether you’re using a professional pattern or a self-drafted one like me. I just traced a suitable looking line onto the front pattern piece, then cut out pocket linings from one piece of fabric folded in half.
With the left-overs I made this hot-water bottle cover, another satisfyingly thrifty way of keeping warm. When I was a student I spent a whole winter in Brighton sleeping in a room with no central heating. The only reason I still have fingers and toes is because of the existence of hot-water bottles, so I’m quite attached to them.
There is no shot of me modelling these as I am reluctant to appear on the internet wearing pyjamas, in case I decide to run for Prime Minister sometime in 2032. But here are both items being modelled by my bed, which does a great job for an inanimate object.
I was in Scotland over Christmas and New Year, and I took these photos in Stonehaven, which is a small town south of Aberdeen. Sometimes you get really nice light up North in the winter.
I have a strange obsession with old flaky paint. When I went to Greece last year I took more pictures of an old blue garage door than you would believe possible. I probably have enough photos to publish an extremely niche coffee table book (“Watching Paint Dry: A world tour”)
It’s nice to get out of London and smell some fresh air sometimes.
Does anyone know what those fishing cages are for? Lobsters? Crabs? Prawns??
Happy 2012! Hope you’re bearing up well in the new year.
Between you and me, I hate January. Magazines have already started printing ‘bikini body’ diet plans (URGH), the sales are totally rubbish, and everyone is poor, tired, and grumpy. On top of that I spotted some hot cross buns in Sainsbury’s yesterday. How can we cheer ourselves up?
It seems quite appropriate as the poor year has already been laden down with dire predictions, and orange is a colour that seems to me to be teetering on the edge of hysteria. Not quite red, and not quite yellow, it’s like someone singing just off pitch in a glass-shattering way.
(I also think of orange as the colour of drunkenness for some reason).
‘Tangerine Tango’ is a bit too red for me though. I prefer my oranges to be a little more ‘Workman’s Vest’/’Easyjet Air Hangar’ (two of the shades rejected by Pantone this year, I believe)
Farrow and Ball have a fabulous bright orange called ‘Charlotte’s Lock’. I love it in this pale pink and beige combo.
And on my orange hunt, I also found a truly amazing array of tangerine coloured vintage dresses on Etsy. Feast your eyes on these.
This is the ultimate hippy wedding dress. Kate Moss should be ashamed.
This dress was clearly once owned by a 1930s nightclub singer, who used it for her big tropical number.
And this is the dress a lady alien wore to seduce Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek (watch out for sparks though – it’s 100% polyester).
I’ve never sewn anything in bright tangerine, but maybe this is my year to start.