Can you save money sewing? Part 2: Apples, oranges, and cushions

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.

If you want to save money, don't buy this cushion from Liberty. Even though it's lovely.

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.

I've just put this coat in because I love it and wish it was mine

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.

Hope that made sense.

Quilts, cushions, and Scottish tweed

I was up in Edinburgh last weekend for a flying visit, and most importantly a chance to remind my mum about the quilt she’s promised to make me. She wanted me to pick out some fabrics and patterns, so I had a look through her vast selection of quilting books and put post-it notes on all the ones I liked.

I love the vintage look of log-cabin quilts:

Log cabin quilt pattern

And I fell hard for this cute Flying Geese pattern, with the long strips of plain fabric in between the triangles:

Flying geese quilt pattern

I also went through her massive fabric stash and had a go at picking out some combinations – what do you think of this selection? Too bright?

Fabric selection for quilt - greens, purples, yellows

I think these lovely purple and green saturated shades would be nice for the little Flying Geese triangles, with a neutral (like the grey/beige in the middle, or a dull green) for the long strips.

I think I MAY have been subliminally influenced by my surroundings when choosing these colours – see exhibits A and B below:

Colour inspirationOn the left we have the doorway to the block of flats where my mum and dad live, and on the right my new, beautiful double-strap Swatch in lilac, from their hilariously named ‘Lady Collection’.

I don’t think I have the patience for patchwork and quilting. I know people say that about knitting, but knitting is something you can do in front of the TV/on long train journeys/at work under your desk* whereas patchwork requires you to be at the sewing machine, or hunched over a cutting table cutting teeny weeny squares of fabric to the exact millimetre.
*Not really, if my boss is reading this

One bit of sewing I have been doing, however, is making some cushion covers for my boyfriend’s parents, from the the fabric their sofa and armchairs are upholstered in.

They asked me to make these cushions… a little while ago. I’m not going to disclose exactly how long it took me to get round to it.  Suffice it to say that couples have met and split up, babies have been born, riots, corruption, and snowstorms have shaken Britain to the core, and empires have crumbled (if you count the Greek economy), while this bag of fabric sat under my sewing desk.


This is because I am

A: Kindred to the Selfish Seamstress,

and B:  Terrified of making a cushion with piping AND a zip.

However it turns out that, much like going to the dentist, it was fine once I got started. I’m not saying I enjoyed it exactly, because sewing cushions is surely the most boring thing I have ever inflicted on my poor Bernina, but it was extremely satisfying to see the cushions emerge. The fabric is an absolutely gorgeous tweed, woven in Scotland.

Zips close up

These are the first five (I still have 8 to make…)  They’re not really difficult, just time-consuming. Making the piping is actually quite fun, and I can’t wait to try it on some clothes. Cutting out endless metres of bias binding, sewing in zips over 8 layers of thick wool, finishing all the inside seams, and trying to turn out your cushion only to realise you’ve forgotten to unzip the zipper (I did this every. single. time.) = not so fun.

If you ever get the urge to sew your own lined, piped cushions, I recommend sitting down in a quiet place and reading Burda magazines until the feeling goes away. If that doesn’t work, I highly endorse these videos on youtube. There’s no way I could have done it without this guy.

Here’s an EXTREME PIPING CLOSE-UP for all you piping enthusiasts out there:

Piping close-up