We’re tackling a big question today: is it cheaper to make your own clothes?
In uncertain times, you start watching your wallet. As someone who is primarily a garment sewist, this is something I’ve thought a lot about. Over the years, I’ve heard from many many women who used to sew for themselves and stopped because it got “too expensive.”
This is a bit of a thorny topic, but in this post, we’ll answer is it cheaper to make your own clothes. I’ll touch on considerations that might surprise you and I’ll break down some categories of projects to help you decide what’s worth your time and not.
My hope is that you’ll feel empowered to be smarter in the economic decisions you make as you’re sewing. It’s always my goal to encourage you in your sewing, and this hopefully you’ll start to see that this question doesn’t have a black and white answer.
Here’s to helping you prioritize the kinds of sewing projects that are worth sewing for yourself.
Mixed bag question: Is it cheaper to sew your own clothes?
I led with this question, but the answer is a little complicated.
Sewing for yourself does not have to cost a lot of money, but it absolutely can. A lot of the true answer comes down to what you’re getting yourself into.
First off, let’s talk about some general considerations.
What about the time you spend sewing?
Your time you spend making garments will never be worth it vs. just buying a garment.
Now, if you’re sewing for other people, you must consider time. For those of us who sew largely for ourselves time is part of the enjoyment process and is difficult to quantify in dollar amounts.
There are projects I will not tackle due to the time factor.
Complicated handbags fall in that category. Though I’ve made them, the amount of time they take plus the number of little parts all around my sewing room and the various bits of interfacing and hardware and the difficulty of sewing through all of them have made for not my favorite times sewing.
This laptop bag though I love it I would not willingly make again (though I probably will when it falls apart because boring laptop bag is not my style). It was a long week that got me to a finished bag; my room looked like a tornado hit it the whole time.
Is it cheaper to sew your own clothes with the cost of patterns?
There seem to be fewer and fewer glorious days of 99 cent pattern sales. I know I’ve stocked up on far too many of those at times. It can be shocking to look at the price of one pattern from an indie designer, but I want you to think about this.
The price of one pattern is only truly expensive if you make it one time.
You can take 1 raglan t-shirt pattern and morph it into endless variations.
Turn a basic raglan into multiple variations
Explore the raglan-tee series
Step by step tutorials to hack a raglan t-shirt into the tee you want to wear.
Maybe it sounds boring to you to have a few patterns that you change up multiple times. New shiny envelopes are lovely. I’ve fallen for the design art on a pattern more times than I can count.
If you’re not using them, those 99 cent patterns are actually really pricey.
Comparing the cost of Retail vs. Thrift stores vs. you and your sewing machine
When you’re sewing for yourself, I’m convinced you can almost always beat the price of retail. Notice I said retail, not super ultra mega clearance with a coupon.
Mall prices are not hard to beat when you sew, but a clearance rack will be tough to beat.
The same can be said of thrift stores.
You will never beat thrift store prices sewing for yourself. It’s actually one of the reasons I upcycle.
Sometimes thrift stores can be a fantastic resource that gives you access to quality materials that would be tough to find in a fabric store for bargain basement prices. You have to be diligent and know what quality looks like, but you can do really well here. Check out 15 unusual sources for sewing supplies at thrift stores for some of my best thrifting for sewing tips.
Consider wears/garment and overall quality
I think we’ve all gotten a little spoiled by fast fashion. It can be so cheap to buy clothes (especially if you thrift), but sometimes you really get what you pay for.
Years ago, I made a pair of jeans from some Italian denim from EmmaOneSock. It was beautiful to work with, though I almost passed out paying at the time $20/yard.
If you think about it though, you need about 1 1/2-2 yards of denim for jeans, and that’s still way less than most RTW jeans.
But I’ll go further. Those jeans are still in good shape 11 years later. The bottoms are just now slightly frayed. I’m never blown out the knees, they’re not faded at all. They’ve been washed countless times and still in pristine shape.
Despite the initial sticker shock, my initial investment in that denim has repayed itself back many times. Before I made jeans, I would blow out the knees in my jeans about every 6 months like clockwork.
I say all this to say, when you’re sewing for yourself, consider how many wears you’ll get out of a garment vs. the cost of your materials.
You might be surprised at the long term savings you might get. Looking for good quality fabric that lasts will always win out over buying cheap stuff.
For that pair of jeans, I’m looking at pennies/wear vs. several dollars for my RTW jeans that would fall apart after a while.
A garment that you can wear for decades because of the combo of classic style, your craftsmanship, and quality materials is worth your effort and time even if the initial cost of materials is higher than you’d want.
If you’re thinking of something like making your own formalwear, that price of a handmade wedding gown is going to be tough to justify since you’ll likely only wear it once. Still, that could be worth it to you if you think in terms of creating something you can pass down in your family.
It depends on your project if it’s worth it to sew your own clothes
Some garments are just plain pricey to buy at a store, and some are way less expensive for the amount of work that’s in them. My goal here is to go over a few categories of garments and explore whether or not sewing them yourself will ultimately save you money.
Activewear is kind of a funny category.
On paper, activewear can be really really pricey (think $50-100+ for a pair of leggings!), but people in various sports usually have specific needs in their gear.
You might be fine sewing a basic set of leggings might be fine for you, but for a runner who needs extra pockets in specific places, they might be fine paying the money for those.
I do think that pattern companies have come a long way in creating patterns for those specific needs. There’s more and more people who practice specific sports and activities making patterns for those activities. This is awesome because they know what people need!
People like Melissa Fehr and Johanna Lu are excellent resources for teaching people how to sew activewear that can rival what you can buy. Jalie also has some great patterns with all the ready-to-wear details you could hope for. Greenstyle Patterns is also another excellent resource for sewing activewear as they have activity specific patterns as well as specialized performance fabrics.
Is it worth it to sew your own activewear? Definitely. You can save a lot of money making activewear and get exactly what you want. Maybe skip sewing activewear if you are an athlete who has specific preferences or needs in your gear.
Base layer gear for runners and people who live in cold climates
I guess this is a specialized category of activewear, but it’s one that is part of my winter life in Colorado.
I love merino base layer tees as an extra layer to keep me warm in winter, but I’ve always made them myself.
A Smartwool base layer tee can easily set you back $100. In contrast, I can pick up a yard of merino rib knit from RockyWoods for under $16. That’s a big savings.
Likewise, Polartec Power Stretch leggings can run $50-100 or more. You can pick up Power Stretch from outdoor suppliers like RockyWoods and often Mill Yardage for about $18/yard for the warmest, most lovely to wear leggings you’ll ever own.
Assessment?: Make base layer gear for yourselves.
Check out the Virtues of DIY fleece leggings for a how to.
Do you save money sewing bras or underwear?
This is a maybe category. Sewing your own underwear can be very cost effective. In the past I’ve sewn the free Acacia underwear pattern from Megan Nielsen. It’s easy, and you can use your knit fabric scraps.
Sewing a bra is a more specialized project. It definitely requires practice, a good source for underwires and patterns, a commitment to working out the fit. Time wise, sewing underwire bras is not worth it for me. Bra kits can be cost effective and nice because you get everything you need in one place instead of having to source lace and all the various elastics you need.
There have been times when I’ve made soft bras like Jalie 3131. Soft bras are easier to sew, and because there’s less hardware, you can use a variety of fabrics or scraps.
Is it worth it to sew bras and underwear? For underwear, absolutely, and maybe for bras, but this is a category that you may not be interested in because of the time investment and the learning curve.
Do you save money sewing t-shirts?
Uh, yes. T-shirts require very little fabric and hardly any time. Get one t-shirt pattern, and you can make it 6 ways to Sunday for forever.
A while back I started treating myself to a yard of Art Gallery 95/5 Cotton/spandex knits. Even though fabric wise, they’re pricey at $16-18/yard, I only need a yard. I figure that’s well under ready-to-wear price for a simple t-shirt, and I NEVER make just simple t-shirts.
Check out how to make a puff sleeve t-shirt with this tutorial.
These days too, people do really cool things with cutting machines like Cricuts. If you love custom vinyl transfers for t-shirts, you can save money doing it yourself here too. You can check out this post on free patriotic designs for crafters for an idea of what you can do with t-shirts you sew yourself.
By extension, you can save money sewing knit dresses and other knit garments. One of my favorite makes ever was this colorblocked dress. It was inspired by Boden where it was priced at I think around $150. I used maybe a yard and a half of ponte plus some scraps of other ponte knits. My version was stupid fun to make figuring out how to draw all the puzzle like shapes and it cost me probably about $10.
Can you save money making knit garments? Yes, do it. Your life will be better for it!
Do you save money sewing a coat and other outerwear?
I’ll say right now you will probably not save money sewing coats for yourself. Even if you get a cracking deal on the outer fabric, there’s a lot more going on in a coat…
Take a trench coat for instance. Here’s a simple breakdown of the materials:
- about 3 yards fabric
- 18 buttons
- weft interfacing
- possibly hardware like zippers, rings for belts etc.
- possibly shoulder pads, tie interfacing for tailoring
There’s a lot going on in a coat! Can you make a trench coat for less than you can buy one?
Probably not. There’s a ton of work in something like a coat. But if you’re willing to go through the effort of making a coat, it’s probably because you want to make something you can’t buy. Maybe it’s a brilliant print that catches your eye. Perhaps you found some vintage buttons that need a canvas to sit on.
(True confessions: I’ve totally paid too much for vintage buttons on this trench coat I’ve made… I kind of justified it because it’s unlined, but then it’s interfaced with silk organza so that argument doesn’t hold water.)
Chances are if you’re sewing clothes for yourself, you’re doing it because you love it, and the price is not your first consideration although it’s absolutely something you think of.
Simple outwear like unlined fleece jackets, hoodies and other outerwear patterns that don’t require a lot in the way of extra layers and hardware are definitely less expensive to make.
You can save money making denim jackets too, especially if you get your tack buttons from some place like Goldstar Tool where you can get a super affordable price/button. Check out denim jacket patterns for ideas.
Should you make a coat or outerwear to save money? Probably not if it’s a complicated pattern, but for something unlined and simple, give it a go.
Is it worth it to sew formalwear?
Sewing your own wedding dress or mother of the bride’s/groom’s dress or flower girl’s dresses is a big undertaking. From sourcing fabrics to making muslins to tweak fit to actually working with fine fabrics that require special handling, you’re undertaking a lot when you sew formalwear.
I know women who make their living doing alterations in part because it’s so much quicker to tweak, modify, and fit an existing gown than it is to start from scratch. And cheaper too.
Fine bridal laces alone can easily run you $50/yard. They are NICE…..but you’re going to have a sharp intake of breath when you pay for that situation.
But just like with sewing a coat, if you’re willing to sew formalwear, it’s because you love the process. You want to create a special garment for a special day to make special memories with people you love.
Should you sew formalwear to save money: Nope, alterations are more cost effective. Sew your own formalwear if that’s something you want to do and you’re okay investing the the materials and make a family heirloom in the process.
Is it worth it to sew your own maternity clothes?
You might not like my answer here. I will say no.
I have 4 kids and I sewed a little bit with my first couple pregnancies, but then I realized a couple things.
- Even though it seems like an eternity, pregnancy takes up a really small portion of your overall life, so your cost/wears is kind of high.
- Fabrics get stretched out a LOT in pregnancy, making it tough to upcycle maternity clothes later.
- My personal energy level in pregnancy wasn’t high enough to make the effort of sewing maternity clothes worth it for me.
- Wearing real pants is zero fun when you’re pregnant. Bring on the leggings 100%.
- When you’re pregnant you’re trying to hit a moving target. By the time it takes you to finish a garment, you may well have outgrown it and that is a big giant bummer.
My suggestion would be sew one or two maternity garments if you feel like it, and thrift everything else. If you do sew when you’re pregnant, focus on garments that won’t be so affected by your changing size or take too long to make.
Cardigans and ultra stretchy tops are not bad choices.
Realize that you can dress up boring maternity clothes with cute scarves and cardigans that won’t be affected by your changing shape.
I know several ladies that do bother making nursing tops because the cost of ready-to-wear nursing garments is too high. Do that if that’s what you want to do. Nursing tops are basically modified knit tops, so they’re relatively cheap to make for yourself.
Other than that, I’ll always be an advocate of wearing non-maternity clothes in pregnancy.
Is it worth it to sew your own kids’ clothes
This is a it depends category.
Kids grow really fast and they can outgrow their clothes even quicker it seems. Still, if you love sewing for your kids, do that. Use quality materials you can pass down through multiple kids or save for your grandkids.
My kids treasure their stuff I make for them. Can I buy things cheaper for them? Yes, but it’s an expression of love to sew for them, and they get that. Check out How to start a handmade Christmas tradition with DIY family pajamas for evidence of that.
And if you’re looking to save money on your kids’ sewing, check out Where to buy great knit fabric for kids without shooting your wad.
Make your handmade kids’ pants go a little further with these knee patches.
Can you save money making your own jeans?
This is a big yes, but making jeans comes with an equally big caveat.
Sewing jeans is easy and fun, but fitting them requires help. It’ll take you time with a good sewing teacher or tailor to help you understand how to fit jeans properly…probably. Once you’ve done that, you can make jeans that are way better than ready-to-wear and for not a lot of money.
Jeans require just 1.5-2 yards of fabric. That’s it. You can buy fancy pants denim and still be money ahead.
Making your own jeans comes with “I. Have. Just. Made. Fire!!!!” moments, and you really can’t put a price on that kind of satisfaction.
Can you save money making your own skirts?
You can absolutely save money making skirts, though it does depend on how much fabric you need.
Certain styles like circle skirts and long maxi skirts can take a lot of yardage.
But in general, skirts don’t take a lot in the way of notions or fabric, so they’re almost always worth making yourself. Skirts are also a very easy project for beginners, so if you’ve always wanted to sew a garment for yourself, why not start with a skirt.
You can learn how to make the Overture Skirt inside of my beginner sewing class: Self-Reliant Sewing. This 3-tiered skirt with an elastic waist is perfect for people just getting started with sewing. I show you step by step how to make this skirt along with 3 other easy, repeatable, skill-building projects and everything a sewing beginner needs to get started.
Money-wise are skirts worth sewing yourself? Unless your skirt pattern requires yards and yards of fabric, yes.
Finally, Consider your enjoyment when you’re wondering if it’s cheaper to sew your own clothes
We all know how powerful sewing can be for helping you destress in life.
I heard Sandra Betzina talk one time about how she knew she could go to a store and buy a jacket. She knew it’d be much easier, but then she’d miss out on the fun of making it herself.
There’s simply a joy in putting together a garment with your own two hands that is difficult to quantify.
People spend a lot of money on entertainment.
For me, I’d happily forego watching the latest movie so that I could sew something.
We’ve covered a whole lot when it comes to thinking about the cost of sewing garments for yourself.
I hope this post will become a resource for you so you can prioritize the types of projects that make sense for you to make.
If you’ve found this post personally helpful, I’d love it if you’d share it with your friends. Thank you for making it this far reading!
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.
4 thoughts on “Is it cheaper to make your own clothes?”
I could not agree more on everything you said! This is perfect-I intend to share with those I teach to sew because usually they want to learn to save money and then swear it off because it’s not pennies to make that dream dress and then the barrier to entry is so high they give up. Thank you!
Really thought provoking piece. I also think sewing gets expensive for me when I stash fabrics. Sewing my stash has been enlightening (my resolution for 2022). I realise now I don’t have to even look at the latest email from a fabric company. I have worked on my WILLPOWER.
This is a really interesting article. Thanks for publishing it! It articulates lots of reasons that just spin around in our brains as to why we sew our own clothes. I love the fact that I can tweak sewing patterns to fit my body and so make clothes comfortable in a way that RTW clothes are very definitely NOT. I can shorten my clothes in the right spot rather than just hacking cms off the bottom. I can make that forward shoulder adjustment so my neckline doesn’t choke me. I can do a fba so my buttons don’t pop and I dont get gaping armholes. But most of all I sew because I love the challenge of forming a 3D item from a 2D piece of fabric. I get a real sense of satisfaction and achievement. Sometimes it works out cheaper than RTW, sometimes not. But always, always more satisfying than just handing money over for someone else’s creation.