Fabric, Durability and “Home-Made” Garments

I saw a great post by Zoe at “So, Zo…What Do You Know?” on mass-produced vs. home made clothing.  She’s taking back the term “home-made”:

“Many suppliers are fully aware, but do not care, that the garments they produce will not retain anything like their original appearance five or ten washes later. Most home sewers, by contrast, go out of their way to pick good quality fabric to invest their sewing time and effort into for a final garment (as opposed to a toile/muslin).”

Yes!  One of my top reasons for sewing is for economy.  I tend to use high quality fabrics, especially for “staple” garments.An example- Basic Black Skirt

I made this skirt over a year ago.  Aside from routine mending it’s still a wardrobe staple.  I used black bottom weight linen, an invisible zipper and a closely woven cotton voile to line it.

At the time I spent more than usual on fabric.  I knew I was making a basic piece that would work with most of my wardrobe and I knew I would use durable construction techniques so I splashed out.  (Even then, it cost roughly what I would spend on a generic “black skirt” if I could find one.)

The linen lost its “crisp” but aged well.  The fabric has a gentle luster, smooth and cool to the touch.  Rather than creasing sharply, it tends to rumple.  I learned how much I enjoy wearing linen from wearing this skirt.

When picking fabric, I test for a few things:

  • thread count- as a general rule, a tighter woven fabric with a higher thread count works well for shirts and bottoms and some dresses.  Often, it will wear harder than “looser” fabrics with larger threads or more space between the threads.
  • texture- some fabrics have texture woven into them- waffle weave or boucle.  Often, highly textured fabrics don’t wrinkle as much as others.  I like to rub those textures between my fingers before buying.  “Harder” textures that don’t separate tend to last longer than “smooshier,” though not always.
  • weave- Twill wins in my book for durability.  The weave actually hides and repels stains, which is why it’s popular for work clothes and upholstery.  Many types and weights of fabric come in a twill weave.

Bottom Line: The longer I can wear a garment, the less time and money I spend replacing holes in my wardrobe.  Instead, I can focus on a little “slow sewing.”  As I continue to sew for myself, I seek out new ways to extend the life of the garments I create.  That begins with fabric selection.

How do you make your clothes?  Do you have any durability or quality control tips to share?

(I’m trying the salt and lemon on my rust stain after reading Heather’s scientific breakdown.  Many, many thanks for all the tips and advice on what to do about the Jasmine Dress.  I’ll try them all if I have to!)

I found these African White Irises in a corner of an abandoned lot today and wanted to share them.  I never saw irises like these before!


  1. Eek. I have loads of those irises. They don’t die, no matter what you do. But they are pretty.

    As for durability – I mostly make bottoms because my shirt fitting isn’t what it might be, but I think my idea of durable is most people’s idea of “made out of sheet metal”. (I have five or six bottoms in regular rotation, with three of my skirts getting the lion’s share of wear. I *abuse* my clothing).

    Honestly – most of the things I made two years ago were in decent shape. Faded, yes. Stained here and there. Yes. But seams were fine, fabric wasn’t degraded. Unfortunately I’d hemmed for a tummy that isn’t as much there any more, so they had to go… over to my BFF to wear for a couple of months while she was preggo. She’s had the baby, so the zippers are getting ripped out and we’ll start anew.

    Would RTW have lasted like that? Possibly. But … probably not, not unless it was denim (only one of the above was twill). Was I good and tired of the skirts because they were a couple of yeas back on my sewing/fitting/finishing skill? Oh yes. Hasta la bye bye. But they were still usable. And yes, I feel a wee bit guilty about getting rid of usable items. I should probably have read less Laura Ingalls Wilder in my formative years. :)

    • Yes! “Made out of Sheet Metal.” Once I made a joke (a deadpan joke) about interlining something with Kevlar, and people who heard me assumed I got my hands on some. Hahaha. If only. I’m still working on that one.

      I read a lot of LIW growing up, too. ;) It gets inside you….

  2. I love being able to pick out good fabrics and they’ve made sewing more pleasurable for me. Twills are very pretty, too–I love silk twills, wool twills. I wish I could find a linen twill! Yeah, they have this crispness that I love. For some reason I’ve never felt the stigma of ‘home made’ around my sewing–I’m always curious where/when that originated. I started sewing as a teen and we had little money for clothes, not even what many consider cheap clothes, and I felt my sewing gave me access to unique fashion that I couldn’t otherwise afford. It’s not so much about economy to me now and I love fashion and buying special things, but making clothes is an entirely different pleasure and I love, love textile hunting. Anyways….

    Those irises are really stunning and unusual… do they have kinda grassy leaves? I think we grow the same type in our garden and when they are in bloom it’s really something.

    • I don’t see “home made” as a stigma either, but I know plenty of people who haven’t quite converted if you know what I mean…

      The irises DO have grassy leaves and reedy stems. Quite thick, actually. The flowers are making me want to watercolor for the first time in years…

  3. This is why sewing is such an economical hobby. Even if I buy high-end fabric, which I can often find at a discount if I am not looking for something specific, my clothes cost far less than something of comparable quality off the rack. Furthermore, I can use designer patterns or copy runway styles if I want something fashionable, and make garments I could never, never afford otherwise. If I compare the amount of time I spend in making something like a black skirt to the amount of time it would take me to comparison shop for that same skirt in several stores, it takes scarcely more time to sew it than to buy it.

    • YES! Exactly! Ditto everything you said… I remember griping to a friend years ago that I could never find ANYTHING to wear in the stores. She suggested I make my clothes and I scoffed.

      Well… Here we are now…

  4. Sometimes I think my local fabric store hates me a little … when I go to a web search for a specific project, the clerk … trembles with terror! I can be for hours looking to get what I want, it’s not a pretty fabric (as for most) … I need this fabric does not miss the point when I wash the finished garment, and the hours invested in a garment sewing show the final quality, so I do not begrudge that …
    When I sew a garment, I want this to last in my closet for a long time.

    • Yes, a long time. Or else what’s the point of thinking, designing, fitting, drafting, cutting, stitching?

      I just realized how much work I put into my clothes….

  5. For me, it’s about the seams. I do French seams on lightweight blouses and serge finish all my other seams. I always make sure not to handwash my handmade clothes and so far everything I’ve made has worn pretty well. I still wear one of my first projects (a pencil skirt), that was made a little over 2 years ago.

    • Well done! You don’t handwash anything? I don’t either, except knitted items… Though I’m thinking I need to get some fabric conditioner for some of my cottons. They’re feeling a little crisp lately.

  6. I agree with your fabric buying tips. That and seam finishes are the key to long lasting garments. The advantages to home sewing? You are ‘preaching to the choir’ here!

    Unless you have a large budget and can get everything from the one designer you love and whose clothes always suit and fit you, shopping takes a lot of time. Does it take more time than sewing? Maybe.

    But there are so many other advantages to sewing, as others have already mentioned:
    Superior quality fabrics and finishing. Yes, most of my clothes last over two seasons, sometimes more.
    Custom fit.
    Unique styles.

    There are not that many other hobbies that are either cost neutral (fabric and notions costs as much as RTW) or save you money (usually this is the situation because the RTW version that costs the same as your fabric and notions is normally of inferior quality, and we are not even considering fit here!).

    • Yes! I often approach my sewing as a “collection” of unique styles, colors and fabrics I love which work well together. It makes dressing in the morning much easier, and over time as I “re-mix” my pieces I end up with delightful surprises. Maybe I should do a storyboard of my Summer 2011 collection…. If only I could draw better!

  7. I hope you’re trying on a test piece, because I could be wrong. By dissolving the iron, it could just spread it around. Eek, I hope it works for you! I’ll feel really bad if it doesn’t and it makes it worse.

    I haven’t been investing in good fabric yet, because I’m still really learning how to sew worthy garments. I’d love to work with better fabric, but I’m just not there yet. Buying less expensive (aka thrifted and/or clearance) fabric, I can practice to the cows come home and not worry too much if it doesn’t work. But I do try to stick with fabric that I wouldn’t mind wearing if it works out. This usually means cottons. :)

  8. Used to shop for quality, back in the days before the economy collapsed and jobs were hard to get … in 1980. Never yet fully recovered from the Reagan years. Now, I usually take what I can find, where I can find it; and friends dump their “I don’t want this fabric anymore you take it” items in my lap. It is the process of sewing that I enjoy. Finished objects are just a bonus. Still, a great deal of what floats into my fabric stash is quite good, and far better than I could ever have afforded. I just have to figure out how to use the colors and patterns that I would not have chosen for myself. Different design strategy than dreaming up a dress then hunting the perfect fabric to fit my dream. I read once that the plot-and-plan-and-find-the-perfect-match is the German way; the oh-what-the-heck-use-whatever-is-to-hand-as-best-you-can way is Irish. Hmmm.

      • Hahahaha! I think I am wholly “Irish” in my entire approach to life, yet I enjoy a good German beer.

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