Sewing Circle: What can you make yourself?

Sewing Circle again!

This time's a little more open... let's talk about where you draw the line between "I can make that!" and "Uh, no, totally worth the however-much-$ to pay for the storebought."

I got a great question from Lauren of Ren Was Here, wondering if there were ways to DIY some fave shirts from American Eagle.  Read on...

Q: I love your segments on finding patterns to make something you saw in retail. I hate shelling out bucks to wear clothes that just don't fit great. Here are a couple of the shirts I like--are there any good patterns I could use to make my own? Also, I'm a very novice sewer! Thanks a heap! 



A: Hi Lauren,
Thanks for your email, and thanks for reading! Wow, I haven’t checked out AE in quite a while… cute stuff! Those are both adorable. And good examples of what can and can’t be replicated at home:
  • The lace tank top could easily be done yourself, although you won’t find such nice cotton lace at JoAnn or most craft stores. You’d have to use polyester lace.  Although, one easy project you could do would be buying a plain tank top (not a ribbed one) at Old Navy or somewhere super cheap, then cutting out lace of the exact same size as the front… although you also could buy some lightweight cotton and matching color lace, and make the whole thing at home with a simple top pattern or by tracing a tank top you have and like (but add plenty of seam allowance around all sides). McCall’s may have one, or use something like this from BurdaStyle:
  • The denim shirt. Nope, can’t make that at home. I mean, you could, but it’d be a relatively complicated pattern, and I think a big reason those are cute is the faded soft wash, which they do in big sandblaster machines or something. I love my denim shirt—got lucky and got it brand new donated by Target at Goodwill for $5. But I wear it all the time, so if you really want it I’d say treat yourself to the AE one!
And readers, what would you say?  How do you draw the line, when you want something new?

I love seeing trendy pieces at the stores and making versions at home (remember all my J.Crew-ey ruffled tees from a couple years ago?).  It's so FUN to make it yourself, and of course if you're on a tight budget like many of  us are, it's much easier to pay a fraction of the cost for the materials.

And, as you sew more, your skills improve--but there are still some things I'd never want to make myself at home, because they'd be hard and wouldn't turn out the same.

My "storebought, please!" list includes:
  • Bras.  I know I could make one, but it'd be more trouble than it's worth for me!
  • Jeans.  I could make them, but all the wash and stitching and fit... I'll leave it to the pros.
  • Socks.  Even when I could knit, I wasn't patient enough to use fine enough yarn to make anything that would fit in normal shoes or slippers.
  • This one goes either way--outerwear.  Unless I have some great wool, or really want to try a pattern, I buy my coats.  I'm pretty sure they can do better with the warm linings and make cozier coats than I can!
But, you all know, I LOVE to make stuff at home!  I get inspired when I walk around the mall, and often don't buy anything (or just buy basics)--I love coming home and making something that, in some cases, is better for me or better quality than the store version.  Tees, tanks, dresses, even sweater embellishments...

How do you decide what to DIY?

25 comments

  1. I draw the line at pants and things with underwire/boning. I have no desire to deal with the fitting nightmare that I'm sure pants are! As for boning, it's always so fiddley and never seems to achieve the shape I want.

    I love coats! As much as I would loooooove to remake all the adorable ones I see about (hello Modcloth!), I think I'll continue to buy them. I would like to try sewing a coat sometime down the road, maybe if I was taking a class and could get some really good guidance.

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  2. Cost is a big one for me too but I agree that there are some things that I prefer to just buy. On my list are knit camis and t-shirts. If I hit a sale just right I can usually get them for close to the cost of the fabric and my attempts so far at making them myself have turned out... awkward.

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  3. I would say "just have a go", don't write anything off as too difficult until you try.

    Three months ago I hadn't touched a sewing machine in over 50 years, but now after a little practice lots of help from the internet and quite a few mistakes I have successfully completed 3 shirts for myself in addition to some other projects for my children, including school trousers!

    Just try, I say.

    Regards, Richard

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  4. Great advice! For me, it's always come down to price...and in the small country town where I used to live, fabric is EXPENSIVE! I tried so many times to get started on sewing garments for myself, but I'd go to one of our two fabric stores and it would cost as much, or more, to make something as to buy it brand new. I've had much better luck with thrifting garments and altering them to fit me. Once I get my sewing machine moved up here (hopefully in the next few months...) I'm going to get back into crafting, and hopefully Raleigh has a few more fabric stores than my last town!

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  5. If the cost to make something is within range of the store bought item, I'll usually but it. This rarely happens though. I usually shop pattern and fabric sales so all of my projects turn out really budget friendly, except for quilts. Quilting is expensive and time-consuming, but worth it. I'm not sure I'd tackle a bra or jeans either simply because the hassle of it and my sewing skills probably aren't on par with store bought.

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  6. I make all my dresses and skirts because I know I can. I agree with the comments about cost. There are some things that I am willing to try but there are some that I know will only frustrate me and it's just not worth the grief. I would not try the blue shirt but would totally try the tank.

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  7. I made my first DIY dress that I wore last December, and I made it out from my old clothing. If I probably were to mimic a design, I can go to thrift shops downtown and buy second-hand clothing for 30 cents, only for the purpose of its fabric.

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  8. I buy underclothes (bras, underwear, tights, socks, etc.), bathing suits, and sweaters. Everything else, I can either make or do without. I bought a gorgeous dress from Banana Republic a few months ago, got it home, and realized that in spite of the money I shelled out for it, it didn't really fit me right and never would in any size, so I took it back. My body is a far cry from standard, spanning 4 sizes in every chart I've seen (just a fact...I'm not average, and now that I sew, I can love my body for what it is), and even high-quality garments aren't worth anything if they don't fit right.

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  9. My grandmother has sewn her entire life, and used to make EVERYTHING for her kids, husband, and herself. I currently have some the the western shirts she used to wear (she had a ton). I've also assisted her in making myself a western shirt and I can assure you it's a complicated task for a beginner. That said, if you come across a fabric you'd love to have a snap/button-up shirt out of, grab it and hang on to it until you're ready to give it a shot. Make a practice shirt out of chambray or something first though, to get familiar with the pattern and figure out the mistakes you're going to make before you use your good fabric.

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  10. There is no real line for me, especially if I can get a better fit and save money. Tho, anything that I have to knit, I will probably skip on making myself.

    I am currently working on my first coat now and will be starting a rain coat this coming week.

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  11. There is nothing you can't make! I have made everything from a corduroy winter coat to undies. You just need a pattern with good instructions and the right needle in your machine. Besides, I read on "Slow Fashioned" that those sandblasters are like killing people in Asia... so you know there's that. I have gone a year without having to buy clothing! (With the exception of a spanx like camisole... shhhh!)

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  12. I surely won't make my own jeans. Pants are generally off the table unless you count the full ruffled pants I make my daughter or loosey goosey yoga pants for myself.

    Casual fleece coats-yes. Dressy wool ones-no. Never bras.

    I plan on trying bathing suits soon as well because my daughter wants to match. :)

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  13. Oh man...I love the mental image I got on trying to make my own bras, LOL! I wear a 36F and, honestly, I'm amazed that the professionals can figure out how to make bras that fit me! Thanks for the giggle - and the great post :-)

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  14. I'm not currently interested in making my own underwear as I am happy with what I buy (wrt price and fit), and I don't knit, but I really enjoy sewing most other things. Although I make plenty of simple things, I probably get the most and longest term satisfaction from more complicated projects (so far a suit and winter jacket). I rely on good patterns of course!

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  15. Well...undies and jeans I don´t do, but everything else. If it doesn´t work...well, you learned something.

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  16. This is a great post as I was just thinking about this topic recently.
    Sometimes it is too much bother to diy. It may be creative and a fun project but sometimes it just doesn't do to waste the time. When I can simply buy whatever it is instead of taking the time to find all the "ingredients" for a project and try to replicate it myself, or if the end product ends up being more of an expense than to just buy it. It's not worth it. However! Sometimes I just want to be creative and it doesn't matter what it takes to make it or if it would be easier to buy it. I want the experience of making it and saying look I made this instead of buying it then that's good too!

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  17. Really I tend to only make dresses, but I'm having such trouble funding a nice funky skirt that I think I'll have to make one of those too.

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  18. I will make just about anything if I can find the materials for less than I would pay for a storebought item. And some things, like socks, I make anyway. For me, it's worth the time to have a perfectly fitting, pure wool sock, which is way nicer than the wool ones I could buy! I'm also really tall and not "standard-sized" at all, so even more complicated things, like formal gowns, are worth it to me to make, since I would have to pay for custom alterations anyway!

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  19. Wow, folks, what an awesome range of comments! Really goes to show that you CAN make it all yourself, but some of us choose not to! I love the great diversity of readers here on the blog, and how talented and creative you all are, regardless of what you make!

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  20. Yeah no - I would never make that denim shirt! I could, but I won't. I too found one at Goodwill (Lucky Brand) and I see them all the time at thrift stores. Those denim shirts have been in style before, so you can find them cheap. I don't think I would even make that tank top from scratch - mostly because you can get them cheap. Time is so limited (when you have a full time job) that I stick to making things that are truly unusual/can't find/need a perfect fit. If only there were more hours in ever day....

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  21. Great advice! For me, it's always come down to price...and in the small country town where I used to live, fabric is EXPENSIVE! I tried so many times to get started on sewing garments for myself, but I'd go to one of our two fabric stores and it would cost as much, or more, to make something as to buy it brand new. I've had much better luck with thrifting garments and altering them to fit me. Once I get my sewing machine moved up here (hopefully in the next few months...) I'm going to get back into crafting, and hopefully Raleigh has a few more fabric stores than my last town!

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  22. Great advice! For me, it's always come down to price...and in the small country town where I used to live, fabric is EXPENSIVE! I tried so many times to get started on sewing garments for myself, but I'd go to one of our two fabric stores and it would cost as much, or more, to make something as to buy it brand new. I've had much better luck with thrifting garments and altering them to fit me. Once I get my sewing machine moved up here (hopefully in the next few months...) I'm going to get back into crafting, and hopefully Raleigh has a few more fabric stores than my last town!

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    Replies
    1. That is tough! Thrifting and upcycling is great but also check out the fabric section of your thrift stores--or the curtains! Sometimes can get good yardage there for cheap, too. And, of course, the clearance rack at the fabric store is a great place to get fabric to learn on!

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  23. In a lot of the thrift stores in my area, they sell bedsheets for $2-$5 and I've used those as practice fabric for dresses and anything else I want to make but want to try out on other fabric before I cut it out on the good stuff. Of course I make sure to pick bedsheets that are stain-free and look clean! Then I take them home, put them in the washer a few times, and there I have some nice fabric to use.

    And even a few times, I've used a bedsheet to make an actual dress to wear out of the house! And no one except my husband and me even knows that I'm wearing a nice bedsheet. :-)

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    Replies
    1. Great idea! I don't do that much since it bugs me that the width is so big, I can't fold it like a 45" or 60" wide yardage, but I really should get over it and try!!

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