Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Wednesday's Workbox (21st March)

Today's Wednesday's Workbox is all about the pleasures of home-making your own clothes.

The two crafts which I particularly enjoy when I have enough time, are sewing and knitting. I learned both of these at a very young age, and although I'm not brilliantly skilled at either, I do have enough experience to make my own clothes, whether they are sewn or knitted, and to make garments for my family too. Having said that, from a cost point of view, I certainly don't find that it is always cheaper to make these items myself, rather than buying them ready-made. It's certainly a lot more fun - I like sewing and knitting, and find them pleasurable and relaxing pass times (which is why I reserve them for my free time, and don't indulge during the weekdays - they are entertainment for me, not work), but I am not sure that they are always more economical than buying them ready-made. You do also need to have quite a bit of skill to create garments, especially tailored ones, that look as nicely produced as ready-made ones do. Clothing manufacturers have specialist equipment, and staff devoted to making their garments (not always in very ethical ways, however, which is another factor worth considering) which we don't have access to at home, if we're only making clothes for our families. This means they are able to mass-produce well made garments for a fraction of the price that we can. If you are trying to save money on clothing expenses, as we do, I can't recommend thrift stores and charity shops highly enough. Here you can get ready-made garments, quite often from good high street stores, for just a couple of pounds. You do need to search hard - and I'll talk more about thrift store shopping on Friday - but it is worth the trouble in my experience. However, there's nothing like custom designing your own clothes - and having the pleasure of seeing your family enjoy your creations! Papa Bear has picked out a couple of new dress patterns for me recently, and as soon as the evenings get lighter, I'll be starting work on them!

In the meantime, here I've looked at a few different garments, and considered whether it really is worth making them yourself, aside from the enjoyment factor.

Dresses - simple jumper-style dresses, or loose dresses with very little tailoring, are not cheaper to make than ready-made ones (and very definitely not, if you are buying them from thrift stores or charity shops). More elaborate garments, such as christening gowns, bridal wear, party outfits and such, probably are cheaper, because the expense of these is mainly in the time they take to create, which you aren't having to pay for. However, as these require more skill to make than simpler garments, I would not recommend that you attempt to make these yourself unless you have a lot of sewing experience. I have made some very fancy party dresses, both for myself and Little Bear, and while they were beautiful (and custom-made, so they were exactly what we wanted) they took HOURS of hard work, sewing beading and sequins on by hand, adding flounces, darts, invisible seams and such. I was pleased with them, but unless you have a particular need, such as a custom-size garment, or one for a specific occasion that can't be bought to your specifications, I would think twice before taking on such a large project if you are a beginner at sewing your own clothes.

Shirts and blouses - likewise, these are generally not much different in cost if they are fairly simple designs. Once you have got a pattern that you like, of course, you can re-use it if you are careful, and this cuts down on the time taken to make them, as you'll know exactly how it will fit, once you've done it a couple of times. But shirts for men are quite tricky - fitting the collar, cuff and sleeves, and doing the buttonholes neatly. I've only made blouses for Little Bear that required this level of tailoring. Papa Bear wears plaid shirts for work that cost just a few pounds store bought, and sports shirts when he's not at work, and Cubby prefers T-shirts or polo shirts, which would be difficult to make at home with the choices of fabric available. I tend not to make these garments at home for these reasons.

Skirts - these are an excellent beginner's garment to make. In fact it is possible, if you are fairly confident, to make a simple skirt without using a pattern at all. A tiered skirt with an elasticated waist is pretty easy - it just requires a lot of gathering and pinning, but it's not difficult to do this, and most of it can be done by hand, which makes it a nicely portable garment to work on, which you can do sitting with your family or when away from home. It's only once it's all pinned and tacked together, that you need to get your sewing-machine out. You can vary the design by the width of fabric that you choose, and the colours and styles. I've been making skirts for myself and latterly, Little Bear, since I was about 13.

Trousers - really, really, don't try to make trousers for your menfolk by hand until you are very skilled indeed. In my experience they almost always look far less well tailored than the ready-made ones. A great deal of fitting and measuring is required to get them to hang right. I would also not recommend making jeans, for the same reason but also because sewing jeans-weight denim is quite hard work. I guarantee that unless the man in your life for whom you are planning to make the trousers is older than 5, he will look better in a pair of ready-made ones. The exception to this is those big baggy shorts (surf shorts?) that are popular for boys and men in the summer. I would think they were not so difficult to make, but once again, the men in my life prefer these bought from a store.

Coats and jackets - I've successfully made fleece jackets for the cubs when they were wee, but these were really no cheaper than buying them ready-made as they are not expensive. The fleece fabric that I used was, however, much better quality than the kind that the ready-made garments are made from, and it was prettier too - Little Bear's had flowers all over, and Cubby's was plaid reds and greens. They were unique, and I created matching hats with the left over fabric too! Tailored coats and jackets are possible to make, but although I can see the obvious benefit - it is almost impossible for me to find ready-made coats that fit properly because I'm small, not just short but diminuitive in every direction, and it would be great to have a "grown-up" coat that did fit nicely - the work involved would be considerable, and my sewing-machine would not be able to tackle the thickness of the fabric being used. I'd like to have a go at making wee fake fur shrug jackets for Little Bear and I to wear at Christmas one day though! In the meantime, I "make do and mend" with coats that don't fit me quite as well as they might, and Little Bear's cast offs!

Hats - these are great fun to make at home! The sort of floppy, sunhat style is actually quite easy to make too, using just 3 basic pattern pieces and some heavy iron-on interfacing. I've made LOTS of hats over the years, although now that I have so much hair it is hard to keep a hat like this on my head, so I tend just to wear my headscarves. Perhaps I'll have another hat-making phase - and share the results with you here!

Knitwear - unless you are knitting baby garments, it is never cheaper to knit your own clothes than to buy them ready-made. In the larger supermarkets, you can buy a sweater or cardigan for less than £10. If I want to knit myself one, even taking into account the fact that as I'm quite tiny, I can get away with knitting the very smallest size - or even a child's pattern - it will easily cost me twice, if not 3 times this. I usually need to buy 8 50 g or 4 100 g balls of yarn to knit a cardigan. The cheapest I can get this is about £3. That's a big price difference - and once again, bearing in mind that you still have to sew (or "graft", as it is called in knitting terms) the garment together once you've finished knitting it, you do need a fair amount of skill to be able to get it to look as nicely tailored as a ready-made garment. That being said I do really enjoy knitting - it is a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing occupation, and some of the items I've created, like fair isle cardigans for Little Bear, thick socks for Papa Bear and Cubby, and cute Christmas stockings, not to mention tea cosies, novelty egg cosies, pot holders and even a "poodle" toilet roll cover, have been fun to give and enjoy, as well as create!

I think the personal elements that make home-made garments so special, are invaluable - you can't put a price on the love that's gone into creating a home made cardigan or pair of socks, or a dress or shirt for someone that you love, and the fact that you've made it yourself makes it unique, as well as something practical. There's also a certain beauty even in the humblest, simplest home-made items. I personally like the fact that everything I've made has a wee imperfection in it. That's what makes it special! It's evidence of the personal involvement of the maker, which mass-produced items don't have. If you make clothes for your loved ones, they bring pleasure to the wearer, and pleasure to you, too, every time you see them enjoying them. For this reason alone, even though in terms of time and financial outlay, it isn't always more economical to make your own clothes, I'm more than happy to carry on doing so - although we are just as happy to supplement my creations with economical purchases of ready-made garments too!