Finished Objects: Trio of Tiny Shorts and Valuing The Sewing (with worksheet pdf goodness)

I haven’t written about Lila’s wardrobe for a little while, but we’re making steady progress.  I like to start simple when I’m working on a “wardrobe” type project, so the first order of business was to make Lila several pairs of shorts for the coming summer.

Shorts worn with the mini Blank Canvas Tee I made a few weeks back

Wait, who am I kidding about “the coming summer?”  It’s pretty much shorts weather all year around here.  I’m sure this sounds delightful to those who hail from cold climates.

Lila and I have built her sewing into our “at-home” afternoons, and she’s learning to trim threads as well as what words like “baste” mean.  It’s fun, though she usually gets bored after half an hour and decides it’s more fun to stick pins into scraps of fabric.  That’s ok, too.

Click to see the pattern

We made three pairs of Oliver + S Puppetshow Shorts this time around.  The pattern includes a tunic- I like the tunic but never got around to making it.  The shorts are simple, comfy, go together in an hour or so, and I like the quality of the finished garment.  I also like Oliver + S for the quality of their instructions and the attention to detail.

This is the first pair of shorts made from remnants of my boot-cut Pinkie Pants.  The fabric is thick and tough, with a little bit of stretch.  I gathered the pockets as per the pattern and hand-stitched the binding at the lower edge for a bit of mindless hand-sewing while I watched Futurama.

The second pair, from remnants of my Teal Clovers.  I left the lower edge uncuffed as per Lila’s request, and we pleated the pockets instead of gathering.  All of the shorts feature a little speck of folded ribbon at the back- it’s a great little detail written into the pattern, and Lila doesn’t get confused when she dresses in the morning.

After I saw the twisty looking waistband in the photo, I checked out the already washed and worn shorts and they don’t look that way now.  These pictures were taken just after completion, perhaps the elastic hadn’t settled?

For the third pair, I was inspired by Jill’s lace trimmed shorts at Handmade By Jill.  I stitched each long edge of the lace just below the seamline on the pocket’s top edge.  The legs pleat into the cuff.

Ever since I read Tanit-Isis’ post on Homemade Legitimacy, I’ve been scratching my head to come up with a simple way to quantify the value of my sewn goods, partly as a way to challenge myself to pay attention to the quality of the sewing.  Even for simple little girl shorts.  It’s a tricky issue.  What’s my sewing worth to my family?

When I’m working on samples for Cake or crazy fun experimental stuff, I don’t think about it much.  But when I’m sewing things I could probably go out and buy, I have to wonder about the value of my sewing, and whether it’s worth it to sew shorts for Lila when I could go buy them.

Cost, Value, and Price

It’s tough to get a handle on the value of home sewing.  My google searches turned up very little, I had hoped for a calculator or worksheet or even a conceptual post on the topic, but I didn’t find what I was looking for.  I’m not talking about sewing clothes for re-sale or a business.   That’s not my talent.  (Though if that’s what you do, that’s awesome!  It’s just not for me.)

Rather, I’m thinking about the value of using my sewing for practical, utilitarian purposes.  I made a worksheet to keep my thoughts and the numbers in order.  After I finish Lila’s projects, I have a few Negronis to make for the husband and I’m curious how the cost/value/price stack up across my family sewing.

I broke it down into three pieces.  The first is “Cost.”  This is the actual, honest-to-goodness cost of producing the garment with raw materials.  When I calculated the cost of Lila’s shorts, I counted the pink and teal fabrics as “remnants” (free!) and the denim as half a meter because I bought extra on purpose for Lila shorts.  I charged myself $3 for the elastic (which was more like $.50) and use of my machine and tools.

“Price” means what I’d pay in the store for a similar garment.  It’s tough to match a particular ready-to-wear garment unless you actively seek to make a knock off.  Also, shopping is a pain in the neck.

To satisfy my curiosity, I went shopping online and pinned comparable “bubble shorts” and found prices ranging from $14 to $96.  I wouldn’t pay $96 for a pair of Lila shorts, but they are undoubtedly well sewn with some cute (and time-consuming) details and yummy fabric.  I settled for a median “price” of around $30- that’s a fairly ordinary retail price in these parts for cute girl shorts made of solid materials with good stitching.

Emphasis on solid materials and stitching.  It’s false economy to spend $10 on a pair of shorts that will become pilly or unstitched after a few wears.

Value is tricky.  It depends on the sewist, the garment, and personal priorities.  However, I think it is important to factor intangible elements of sewing into the value of the garment.  10% came about as a good, simple percentage and it seems to work well.  I could leave out the intangibles, but those personal values keep me sewing and deserve to be counted.  I’m interested to hear what y’all think about this, because I’m pretty much making it up.  At the same time, it’s important to value the sewing and I have to start somewhere.

Finally, I factored in my labor at minimum wage.  The minimum wage here (as such) is around $20/hour*.  Don’t have a heart attack, Americans, the cost of living is higher.  I’m happy to value my sewing time at minimum wage, especially when I’m zipping off several little pairs of shorts with my girlie and generally enjoying myself.  I’d love to hear thoughts on this, too.

This is how I came up with the cost, price and value of Lila’s denim shorts.

So what’s the point?

The Point Is-

My utility sewing has value for my family. In this exercise, my “price” and “value” worked out more or less the same and I think that’s about right.  If “value” fell below “price,” I’d go buy the item because it wouldn’t be worth my time and materials to make it.  Probably.  “Value” could also come out much greater than “price” for a variety of reasons- maybe the garment was made with time-intensive finishes, maybe I valued Stylistic Control heavily for purpose-built item, etc.

If I had more money than time or skill, I could go buy 3 pairs of shorts at $30.  This would mean I’d have to actually go shopping.  (Let’s leave out sales, they’re often as much work as just sitting down and sewing the shorts.)  3 x $30= $90

However, at this point in my life I have more skills and time than money.  It’s important to me my daughter is decently dressed though we live on a tight budget.  I spent under $30 for three pairs of shorts, for about 4 hours of very pleasant work I enjoy.

Moreover, I didn’t compromise on quality or personal ethics to “save” money buying 3 pairs of cheaper shorts.  All the seams are well finished, the shorts have functional pockets, are made of durable and easily washed materials, fit my girlie and Lila had some input into the look of the final garment.  And the sewist who made these shorts didn’t have to sleep under her sewing machine.  I sleep in a nice warm bed.

From Hucklebones, comparable style, click for source

The *only* change I’d make in my sewing after shopping thoroughly for ready-to-wear shorts is to make the front waistband flat and elasticize only the back.  I’ll try this when I make her linen-remnant pants and get back to you.  It’s only a small detail that’s covered by her shirt, but I’ll know even if no one else does.

Click here for your own pdf worksheet.  It’s interesting, well- maybe only to me.  I like filling in the numbers and thinking about the value of my work, and I want to use the sheets to keep track of the useful but “boring” sewing I do.  Boring has value, and charting the value is fun.

What do you think?  Am I chasing my tail and overthinking everything?  How do you value your sewing?  What kind of boring sewing is on your table?  Do you prefer to buy rather than sew the boring stuff?  Do tell!

Next up: Conversant in Color

Then: Bras and Panties (also part of my Value The Sewing project)

Then later: Tiramisu Pre-Sale Circus Time!  Heaps of posts on knit topics you’ve requested, and a look behind the scenes…

*correction: the official Australian minimum wage is $15.95/hour.  I’m going to leave my wage at $20 because that’s the very least I’ve ever been paid here at an hourly rate.


  1. i think this is a really interesting post. it reflects, without me actually thinking about it too hard or putting it as eloquently as you have, the way i weigh up what to sew, especially for my daughter. i made a lot of her summer wardrobe this year (as i was dieting and so didn’t want to sew too much for myself). if i found cute fabrics in a charity shop or remnant bin it was ideal. i made 3 skirts (1 remnant, 2 purchases), 2 pairs of shorts (both charity shop fabrics) and 2 dresses (fabric purchase). but i can’t bring myself to make tshirts for her – too much work vs the cost of buying them!

    i think this also reflects why i like to sew dresses – in addition to getting a better fit (i’m tall and long in the body so waistbands often hit unflatteringly at the ribs), they are things i couldn’t buy for what it costs to make.

    however there is obviously more to “value” than the cost or making vs cost of sewing. today i am wearing a tshirt that i made myself (first attempt!). i think my hubby was more impressed by this than any of the dresses i have made. yes it was cheaper than i could have bought it for, and it is better quality than a shop-bought one, but i mostly love the fact that i could make something so simple so easily! and exactly how i want it. so for the first time i am seeing the “value” of sewing simple things!

    • Thanks. :) That’s exactly what I’m trying to quantify here- I know very well that most of my sewing value can not be purchased for what it costs me to sew it. I do know I could buy bargain-shop type clothes for roughly what my sewing costs me, but that’s not good enough. Maybe I’m a snob, but it’s just not. I might go out and see if I can track down some comparable shorts for Lila for $6 (what these cost me) and compare them…. Hmm… Or I might let it go and try that kind of comparison later on…

      I love making t-shirts! At first mine came out a little weird and every now and then they’ll have some funny twerk, but the quality of my knitwear has become pretty reliable and consistent. That’s so awesome for you! :D

  2. My sewing is saves money but not my children’s sewing, any more. When my boys were little, they were roughly the same body type. All the toddler and baby clothes I made was handed down from older son to the younger son, and then on to nephew. Now that my boys are in their early teens, one is very tall and skinny, the other is shorter and chubby. The clothes can’t be handed down. Plus, they’ve gotten to an age where they want to dress like their peers, no homemade. I am still about to save the family money by buying bigger clothes on sale and doing temporary hems until the boys grow into them, and patching/mending. My husband is less tolerant of the learning process, so I don’t make him things very often. I’ve tried pajama pants but they never fit properly because it’s hard to pin him down to take measurments and talk about what he likes/wants.

    • Yes- I think little kids are probably the easiest demographic to sew for… And I’m positive the day will come when Lila won’t wear what I sew for her, but for now she’s super happy to pick fabrics and patterns… I love it.

      Mending! That’s another one of those things that I think is severely undervalued. I do it myself… I’ll have something in my mending pile for months and months, and when I finally sit down for a few minutes to fix the zipper/button/mend a hole, it’s like getting a “new” garment again…

      It’s funny, isn’t it, how sewing for a particular person will have a learning curve, even if you’re already a perfectly competent sewist? So weird. I thought my husband was sick of me-mades in his closet… We’ve had a few “learning process” type garments… But recently he asked me to make him some summer button-downs, shorts, and a very specific type of field pants. You could have knocked me over with a feather, and for me none of that stuff is very difficult, so I’ll take that on when we finish Lila’s stuff….

      Stephen’s pajama pants don’t really fit him properly either. He can go buy sweatpants. ;)

      • I am astoundingly lucky that my 16 year old girl *brags* about having her own personal designer to make her clothes. So you may find Lila will never let you stop sewing for her!

        • Hahah! That’s awesome! I hope Lila does, but if she doesn’t that’s cool. I guess. She does seem to have this idea that all she has to do is point to a fabric and ask for a dress and it magically appears. That’s why I started to include her in the process of sewing her own little clothes, so she understands I’m not a magician… ;)

  3. I make almost all my own clothes because;
    1. I retired early (made redundant and couldn’t find any work), and suddenly had v. little money and almost no clothes suitable for a stay at home lifestyle.
    2. I live in a village so would have to drive to suitable shops( see above-little money)
    3. Now I have a bit more money from pensions, but I enjoy making them.
    4. I still have fit issues i.e pear shape that can’t find jeans to fit.
    5. I can’t afford to buy the clothes I would really like.

    I didn’t make clothes for my children because I was working full time and could barely keep up with the housework as it was.

    • Those are all really great reasons. Do you find that in general, you don’t mind having less money and more time? In general? (Sometimes I get an itchy foot to travel and wish I had more money, but mostly I’m pretty happy to be poor.)

      It sounds like you were really busy when your kids were younger- I have nothing but respect for mothers with jobs outside the home. And housework is so hard! I only have one kiddie and a “part-time” job, and I still find my house gets filthy seemingly on its own….

  4. Very cute shorts! That’s really interesting to look at how much they cost vs their value too. If I wasn’t too lazy to go research what similarly priced things cost in stores I’d be tempted to do this too, but I can’t even keep track of the price of my fabric (’cause it usually takes me a while to use it after buying…), but the idea of calculating it’s value to you and your family is really cool.

    • Thanks, Molly. :)

      After a few more garments, I’ll probably ignore the “price” section of the worksheet. It’s there mostly as a control, and as a way to link the sewing to RTW. It’s still super simple to just calculate the cost of a garment (like, if you’re trying to be a conscious consumer…) or to calculate the cost and value together…

      I would dearly love to see what others might do with this kind of formula… It’s one thing to *say* our sewing is valuable, it’s another thing to lay it out in black and white… Right?

  5. While I haven’t tracked value/cost/price in the depth you describe (even though I’m a bit of a math geek about things like that), I’ve considered how much of my closet “cake” is worth my time (the “frosting” is always worth it).
    I’ve determined that t-shirts (long or short sleeved) or tank tops in plain colors aren’t worth my time. I wear these garments every day (mostly for layering) and can get a $7 tee to last quite a few wearings (I also have trouble finding the knits I like locally). And since these are generally worn under something (to fill a neckline or add warmth), I’m less concerned about exact fit and quality. I also own a bunch of each style, so each tee/tank doesn’t get worn every week. My sewing time is very limited, so I’d rather spend that time sewing something fun (although very often practical as well). I get far better fit and quality than RTW I can afford and I can sneak in great stuff that makes me giggle (example: a rather plain dark grey corduroy vest with pirate skull and crossbones print for the lining. I’m the only one that sees it, but it makes me giggle every time I wear it).
    Recently, I went shopping for a dress to wear to a semi-formal event. I was at my in-laws and realized upon arrival that I’d forgotten the proper bra to wear under the dress I’d brought (sewn/refashioned by me). I set my spend limit at $50 (the cost of a replacement bra) and went hunting at the local (small) mall. I was appalled by the cost of these flimsy dresses–dresses that didn’t even fit well and had quite poor construction. In the end, it worked out to be more beneficial to purchase a new bra (something I’m not terribly keen on attempting to sew myself) rather than waste money on a garment I would NEVER wear again and wouldn’t even look particularly good.

    • I hear you on so many levels! Please please play with my worksheet and let me know how it goes. I love nerds. :)

      I’m also hearing you about limited sewing time- absolutely. It’s your sewing time, you should 100% do with it what you want. I guess this exercise was to justify to myself why I should be excited about sewing boring daily wear type stuff. And honestly, it did make me excited. :) Undoubtedly, your sewing time/access to fabric/etc are different than mine, and that’s cool.

      Have you ever heard of Viridian Design? Somehow I stumbled across it years ago, and it’s really colored my thinking about consumption and construction…

      “The things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get… Expensive clothing is generally designed to make you look like an aristocrat who can afford couture. Unless you are a celebrity on professional display, forget this consumer theatricality. You should buy relatively-expensive clothing that is ergonomic, high-performance and sturdy.

      Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority. Shoes are notorious sources of pain and stress and subjected to great mechanical wear. You really need to work on selecting these — yes, on “shopping for shoes.” You should spend more time on shoes than you do on cars, unless you’re in a car during pretty much every waking moment. In which case, God help you.”


  6. I started sewing for Grace when she hit two… and had to go into three-year-old clothes to get them long enough. But one they were long enough, she was almost drowning in them… and the pattern has continued. She’s tall and thin. And while her entire wardrobe and her sister’s aren’t handmade, a fairly large chunk of them are. And I’ve seen similar clothing to what I tend to make at astronomically high prices. I’ve also become somewhat snotty about it. Why should I pay 5-15 bucks for a cheap pair of poorly-stitched leggings when I can spend less and make better ones? Why spend $30 on a cheaply-made RTW dress that’s probably going to be too short when I can make one that’s prettier and the right length and fits better? Why blow $12-$20 on a shirt that’ll be either too short or too wide? We tend to buy secondhand for the majority of the kids’ clothes or on deep discount clearance when we buy RTW. For shoes, I shop ebay and buy expensive, name-brand shoes from people who bought them for their kids and then their kids never wore or only wore once or twice. And my sewing makes up the rest. I alter things to fit, add fabric bands to the bottoms of favorite shirts, mend things, and make new, nicely-fitting additions to the girls’ wardrobes. My fabric is always bought on sale, re-purposed from other things, or things other people have given me. Patterns are my weakness, though! I’ve got lots of them and it’s not helped by the five garbage bags full I was gifted with and am now working my way through. (Most of them will be sold to finance my sewing habit!)

    Really, the value in it for me is more in the occupation than anything. I’m handicapped and immune compromised so I spend most of my time at home. Making things that are actually *useful* keeps me sane at times. For the rest, well, I’m sure it helps out my brother and sister-in-law’s clothing budget for the girls and I use sewing to teach my nieces about planning and budgets and using what you have on hand, etc. Grace knows very well that if there’s something she wants, I can make it for her. And in Gracie’s mind, the fact that Aunt Laura made it just for her means that I love her because I spent all the time involved making it.

    • You know, I think it’s ok to be a bit snotty. Not like to attack someone else’s choices, but to be proud of the value you can create from a pile of fabric and thread.

      I think you bring up another important point… For some, sewing and creating value for others is a useful occupation. I completely hear you about sewing being a source of “sanity” sometimes… It sounds to me like you’re a very frugal and sensible sewist, and you know the value of your $. Love it.

  7. I think of sewing as one of the most practical of hobbies. I get to spend time doing something I enjoy and I get something useful at the end. And I can do it as much as I want and I’ll never have “too much” of anything because I could always sew for someone else if I felt my closet was full (although at that point, odds are there is something in there that doesn’t fit or you don’t wear anymore). So on that level, I don’t worry about the financial cost/benefit of sewing.

    But, I really do think your way of costing it out makes sense. You’ve struck a nice balance between the actual cost of making the items and the aspects that are harder to put a price on without pricing them to the point of being silly.

    Lovely shorts for Lila. I would have loved the little bit of lace and all the pocket variations as a little girl.

    • I think of it this way, too – crafting (and gardening, for me) is a hobby which I would do for free, which affects the way I price it. I generally consider the costs as funding the hobby, because were I fishing or golfing, I would be spending money on supplies. As such, the garment often feels free!

      I love thinking about the economics of our lives, all parts of them. But for me, I think I would do the sheet differently. I think I’d put time and labour in cost – and my time fluctuates in value according to supply and demand (how busy I am in other parts of my life) just as in a regular market. Then I would actually SUBTRACT the value from the cost. For example, for me, fit is worth a lot, because being plus size I often literally cannot find an equivalent item to buy. (And if I can, it is expensive and poor quality). For me, having a garment that fits me, and is in my style, is worth the cost of time to get. Usually, anyway. Same would go for non-sweatshop clothes – it would affect the price, because to buy a fair trade garment would be completely out of my price range. And to find a fair trade garment, in my style, is almost impossible.

      • Oooooh- I see where you’re going with that. I like it. I like it a lot.

        I’ll think about that and maybe re-work the cost/value of the shorts to see what comes out…. :)

        And maybe, since you mention the high value you place on fit and style, you could increase those value percentages… OooooHhhh…. :)

        • Yes, I filled out a worksheet with ‘fit’ at 25% and that’s when I realised that how much I liked the finished product was actually deducting from its benefit, which didn’t seem right! I also included some value for the fact that I sewed it at craft camp, among friends who I value and who I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for sewing. I guess I should make the dress cost $500, then, for interstate flights!

          Sewing almost never saves me money, in real terms. But it does allow me to have and wear clothes that I consider to be ‘better’ than I could afford otherwise – better fit, better quality fabric and make (sometimes… I’m working on it!) better ethically, etc etc. I started out knitting and NO WAY does that work out in straight dollar terms – yarn is pricey and it takes forever. But could I afford a custom fitted, pure wool jumper? Never in a million years. And being a fibre snob, that has definite personal value.

      • Also, for me (sorry, I keep saying ‘for me’ a lot, but I am aware of how different values are for different people – or even the same people at different times!) shopping is WORK. It’s hard and I hate it. It takes time and effort, as well as transportation. So I’d have to add the time I would take to shop for an item, paying myself minumum wage for that, as well. That’s often longer and harder than just sewing the garment, depending on its complexity. I made a skirt on the weekend in just over two hours – I probably wouldn’t get to and from the shops in much less than that.

        I guess you’d have to count time shopping for/acquiring fabric, too, but I don’t find that nearly as much work! Well, sometimes in Spotlight I do, but still. I don’t have to try things on, and I don’t find it as psychologically draining when I can’t find something that works for me.

  8. I think this is a fascinating topic. I’m not sure I’ll fill out the worksheet for myself (because I’m lazy), but it’s interesting as a tool to evaluate the market value of one’s sewing.

    • I’m lazy too, Donna. Really. ;) Now all I have to do is fill in a few numbers and I don’t have to wonder anymore…

      Market value is tricksy, too… Sigh. Really, at the end of the day, something on the market is worth what a buyer is willing to pay… I thought about that when I was making this, which is why I left out “sales” and trying too hard to compare home sewing to RTW… It gets very very complicated..

  9. I really wanted to have something valuable to say here, but all I could think of was the calculations from the Frugal Gazette – and Amy D. wasn’t much of a seamstress/didn’t use quality as a factor.

    My zzzz sewing is for my daughter. *I* like to sew up dear little dresses for her. *She* likes to wear knits. I had some emergency sewing to do at the beginning of the school year when I found out that the tops I’d bought her – thinking that they were tunics suited to wearing over leggings – were short and a little tight, certainly not good for more than a few months. I traced off one of the shirts that we’d bought, added a good bit of length and a bit of width and got some knit. I was pleased to have the skills to do that, but have you sewed a serger stitch on a regular machine lately? It takes forever! And I had no interest in the fabrics we were using… no “wow” factor for me… not my most entertaining few days. (I found a woven pattern for tunics, in a woman’s size, and I’ll try that soon).

    Somehow I think I prefer crying over my seamripper to sewing boring things! LOL.

    • You know, for someone who’s been pretty poor most of her life and grew up with frugality, you would think I’d hear of Frugal Gazette before. Thanks for the intro!

      I have not stitched knits on a regular machine lately (well, I did the construction but not the seam finishing) but I know it’s super slow and boring. I think a serger is a really really good investment for those who sew knits, or those who sew “boring stuff”… And I think tracking the value of home sewn garments makes it easier to justify the purchase of better/more useful tools and equipment.

      I love love love the way you put that- “Somehow I think I prefer crying over my seamripper to sewing boring things!” hehe.

  10. What a fascinating post.
    I think it’s very easy for us as mums and home sewers to undervalue our contribution to the family coffers. Especially when we so obviously love the creative aspects of our lives.
    Its very easy to quantify the cleaning/cooking/childcare/laundry as all of these are services that can be purchased from other providers. However in our consumerist society where inexpensive disposable “fashion” is the norm, qualities such as durability, fit, and ease of care are often not even considered. But when as a family you make a choice to live on a reduced income so that your children can benefit from having a parent at home, as we did, or where finances are restricted through other circumstances, being able to sew brings the well made, well fitted, stylish clothes that would otherwise be completely unattainable well within our reach.
    We should certainly value our skills in this area. They are valuable.
    I’ll certainly be downloading and using this PDF. Thank you for coming up with such a great resource.

    • Well.. It’s tricky, isn’t it. By sewing three pairs of shorts for Lila, it’s not like I added $60 to our bank account… But the value is undeniably there. It’s very interesting, and I think that’s part of the reason domestic work is undervalued… I also think valuing home sewing is related to valuing other domestic tasks… Like meal planning, etc… But I’ll tackle that one later, I’m still in the research phase of that project.

      Ugh. Inexpensive disposable fashion. Ugh. I used to just dislike it because stuff pilled up in the wash, etc, but the longer I sew and the more I learn about the fashion and garment production industry, the angrier the whole system makes me…

      :) I’d love to know how my worksheet works out for you… You can play with the valuation percentages, etc. I’m sure there’s kinks and holes to be worked out so let me know if you come up with any refinements.

      • It depends… if you would have bought those three pair of shorts for $60, you actually DID add that much to your bank account. That was much the point of the Frugal Gazette thinking – do things yourself that have a high “hourly wage” in order to spend less of your folding cash. Eventually you save up.

        • Yes… But that’s where it gets slippery, because my husband and I live on a very low income. We’re happy like that, we live simply and have plenty of time to spend together. He’s a part time ecologist (looking for full-time work, but he’s a recent grad so we’re glad for what he can get) and I look after the house and work on Cake and teach sewing and fit pants on people. So I really don’t have $60 to spend on shorts. If I didn’t sew, I’d have to go to a Big Box store, thrift my head off, or aggressively shop sales….

          But yes, I do see precisely where you’re going with that, and if I did have $60 to spend on shorts I’d set the “extra” aside for guilt-free equipment upgrades. Or soccer or musical instruments lessons for Lila… Or savings for a trip, or a house, that kind of thing. :D

      • The disposable fashion industry makes me angry too. And the justification that a dangerous and poorly paid job is better than no job at all just diminishes our humanity.
        I’m going to give the worksheet a go after the exam so I’ll let you know if I come up with anything…but I suspect you’ll have hit the nail on the head as usual.
        Meal planning is such a skill…and so critical to living within your means. I also find it impacts on how healthily we eat. If I don’t plan we spend more money and eat more junk. If I do plan we eat well and healthily and more cost effectively. And we don’t waste any food. Which is another of those invisible savings. As with the sewing, you might not be putting funds in the bank account but you’re surely not taking them out.

        • Yes. I think she’s just arguing with me for the sake of arguing, it helps me sharpen my analytic skills and she’s been doing it to me for years. A small, small, small part of me sees the pragmatic side of that, though. People want to work. I’ve been to places that are very very poor with bad government where $5 is a week’s wage and that’s a fair one… I guess more than the raw wage, I think about common (terrible) working conditions, etc… Which always brings me back around to sewing for ethics as a personal choice.

          You are so right!! I’ve been really bored with our cooking/food lately. It’s SUCH a huge chore, or else like you we end up wasting money/food so that’s an area I’m trying to pay attention to more… I’ve actually found some good, cheap, new-to-me recipes and it’s a little bit fun again. I keep thinking I want to do something really ambitious like plan out several weeks of meals including the grocery lists and then just rotate them… Might work.

  11. I am so terrible at valuing my sewing! I like your worksheet – nice and simple – the only way I can do math! LOL! Miss Lila is adorable and her shorts are so cute! I just love Oliver + S for my little miss – such cute and straightforward patterns. Tell me you have girls patterns in the plan for Cake Patterns? Mama & Me Tiramisu dresses?

    • Bahahah! :) If you think of a way to simplify the sheet further or make it “friendlier” do let me know… And zoooomg have you seen the new Oliver + S releases for fall? I love love love the “shirt dress” and so does Lilabear so once we finish the garments we planned out, I think we can have a new dress pattern… :D

      I think it will probably be unavoidable that I’ll branch out into “Cupcakes” and maybe “Cookies” (for men..). But not yet! I want to get regular Cake up and running the way it is in my head first. :) Crawl, walk, run, fly, right?

  12. I found this really fascinating because I think this kind of quantifying takes some real thought, which you have put into it. Also, I think because other people ask this question all the time (why would you bother when you can just pick it up at the store), we can’t help but ask this question of ourselves. It’s not always enough to just say, “well, because I like to do it.” because it does marginalize sewing as a worthwhile activity. Thanks for posting this.

    • Thanks, Angela. :) I spend a lot of time working with my hands, and it helps to have an interesting problem to chew on at the same time…

      Yes! Partially, this is me helping us sewists answer that question in a “black and white” way, rather than just kind-of sort-of explaining that “…like, you know, I love to sew and it’s valuable.” Yes it is! And here’s my math! :)

  13. My favourite part of this post is
    “However, at this point in my life I have more skills and time than money.”

    I can agree 100%, although very little of my skills are in sewing, but I am slowly getting there!

    It’s one of the reasons why I am content in my day job, even though I never ever thought I’d end up where I am: time. Enough time to do creative things, learn something new, enjoy non-work things. And just about enough disposable income to make sure I can do that.

    Years ago I heard an interview with British comedian Eddie Izzard where he said he felt better having more time than money, because time allowed him to be creative more than money did. It was a lightbulb moment as it expressed the way I feel all the time.

    The whole starting to sew came out of wanting to learn something new, as well as a love of clothes combined with a hatred of shopping. It works for me, it makes me happy :)

    • That sounds like a pretty good balance, one worth striving for. It might not suit everyone, but I think in this crowd it’s just about right.

      I usually find shopping to be really, really hard work. Part of that is I don’t really “know” Australian shops and brands very well (and given the general quality I’ve seen in the shops, I’m not interested). I’d so much rather spend a pleasant afternoon stitching.

  14. This may sound terrible, but I don’t really think about the cost and value of my sewing. I use sewing as my stress reliever, or I did until my stash became the main source of my stress (too long of a story to post here, and perhaps too boring lol). I mainly was just tired of things falling apart, and even more than that, I wanted unique pieces that fit me perfectly. I don’t want to wear the same black pencil skirt as everyone else in the office – I want mine to have diagonal pinstripes and make a whooshing sound when I walk. I’ve probably bought ten pieces of clothing in the last 1 1/2 years, and that includes bras and running clothes that I haven’t been able to make. I feel as though I’ve come out ahead, though I know with my shopping for patterns and notions, I probably break even. The value sewing adds to my life as a whole is great, but I don’t think I could ever sit down and plot out the monetary value that it gives my pocketbook – but this is probably more to do with me being completely lazy and avoiding math at all costs.

    Love the adorable shorts you made for Lila – the lace detail on the corduroy in my favorite!

    • Aw thanks, Meg!

      Well… I only used money as a measure of value because it’s handy. The tricksy thing is, it’s not like making 3 pairs of shorts for Lila actually put $60 (the value, minus the cost) in my bank account. It doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately!

      I SO hear you about the reasons for sewing! I can’t believe I didn’t put “stress relief” on my list of intangible values. :) And also, I really really love that you described the sound of your skirt. That’s something I love, too! I loved my Hemp Hurricane skirt last summer because it created its own breeze and I just loved the sound of the fabric whipping around when I moved.

  15. Very interesting post. But I would value your time above minimum wage, because sewing is SKILLED labor. It has take years of practice to acquire the technique that lets you whip up those cute shorts in an afternoon.
    I sew because it makes me happy. And if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! There, that succinctly states the value to my family when I sew!

    • Yes, it is skilled labor but I’m being pragmatic and realistic. If I valued my sewing labor hours at the rate I make for my skilled labor (my teaching rate, for example), the value would be astronomical maybe to the point of being silly and I wouldn’t have much basis for comparison. Also, people who make most RTW would be lucky to make “Western” minimum wage… :)

      Besides, I really enjoy sewing, even the boring stuff. That’s why in practice, I do it for free.

      Bahaha! I love your sewing statement! That’s fantastic.

      • As to skilled labor, I was thinking more along the lines of what garment workers are paid in reputable (usually union) workshops. The faster and more accuratley they sew, the more money they make. I spent a very short time making men’s polo shirts in a union factory. So, I think maybe $30 Au or more?
        Doesn’t really matter. Sewing still makes me happy. And maybe those 3 pair of shorts didn’t PUT $60 in your bank account, but you have the shorts AND you didn’t have to pay OUT any money, so you are ahead. YOU WIN. And you got to sew.

        • Ah ha- good point! I’d actually be quite interested in getting a job in a reputable garment factory for a while… I’ve had all kinds of jobs in sewing, but never directly in industrial sewing and I’m so curious about how it would change my approach to domestic sewing…

          I WIN! :) Yay! hehe.

  16. Totally fascinating. I admire the way you went into this. I don’t have kids, so basically make myself clothes – and have covered my bedroom armchair, made a quilted fabric headboard, lots of curtains… Nobody who knows me ever says “why do you bother” or anything to that effect – maybe they don’t dare! I tend to get more of the “don’t tell me you made that too” reaction. I started sewing again after a hiatus of about 15 years – last real sewing was the wedding dress. Maybe that nightmare – three months! – [plus the failed marriage put me of. Plus the sudden appearance of Mango and its ilk in my little island. Eventually I became conscious of the waste factor etc etc, an started seriously sewing again last summer – this time so i could make myself clothes exactly the way I want and that fit well. I’ve never bothered to quantify and I don’t think I shall now, as I will probably over value my stuff :). I put a lot of time in – hand pricked zips, hems done by hand, I hope to not grow out of my clothes and want them to last – so I use good quality fabrics and give them lots of love.

    The only time I got a funny reaction was at the little haberdashery where I buy a lot of my stuff. The people there aren’t young, but when I said I was looking for lingerie elastic the reaction from the two women there was a kind of incredulous amusement. I eventually found some at the other ancient haberdashery i go to – run by men – who didn’t seem to find it at all amusing – go figure:). The only time I saw a twinkle was when I asked if they had anything besides black and white and he pulled out some red elastic and said racy. It looks great with the ancient rose print lawn I used:)

    So far I’ve made a couple of pairs of knickers – briefs and the only comfortable thongs I’ve ever worn – in remnants of tana lawn. In fact, the large triangles of said lawn left from cutting out dress skirts are the main reasons I started. Now I am in love with my fresh, light, pretty underwear and am making more. My sis thinks it’s brilliant, but I haven’t bothered telling anyone else. I think these would quantify really well on your spreadsheet – they are made from remnants, so the cost has been the elastic (supercheap) – the patterns – couple of PDFs at around $10 each – and my time, which would otherwise be spent sewing other stuff:). The nicest I’ve seen on etsy for instance are at least 25 each, so I think they’re a bargain.

    • I started out applying this to kid’s clothes because they’re tiny and (let’s face it) kind of boring to make, but I want to apply this to other stuff I make, too. Grown up stuff, undies…

      Hahaha! I sometimes get that reaction when I go looking for something “arcane”- incredulous amusement from people much older than I. It used to bug me but I think it’s pretty funny now… (“You’re looking for a WHAT? For Heaven’s sake, WHY?”)

      I’m so pleased your undies turned out well! I need to get on that, myself. Cheapies here are about $6/pair…. I recently found a remnant of silk-lycra for $13/m.. Once I figure out how to make bras and panties, I’m really really really keen to cut out some silk lycra sets and work out the cost and value of my silk underthings….;)

  17. Steph, your thoughts are always inspiring. I have a hard time evaluating my sewing. I just made a skirt for DD and may just for fun follow your calculation. What probably skews the proportions between price and value in my case: I’d almost certainly buy the RTW alternative at H&M (and no I haven’t had problems with quality; of course I don’t buy 100% acrylic) whereas I go for pricier Ottobre patterns, imported fabrics and (since my sewing machine repair man told me to) expensive thread as well (other notions are usually expensive, too). I justify this expense for my “hobby”, when I’d never pay the price in RTW!

    • I completely agree! I will always be willing to spend more on a sewing project than I would for RTW (except for jeans, underwear and basic tees) Steph, you are so not over-thinking! This is basic value vs cost what got me into sewing in the first place! And the deal-breaker some 25 odd years ago was my graduation gown. I walked into the high-end designer store in our home town the week after prom and stared my gown in the face. All $1200 of it. My material cost was around $200. My fabric was a waaaay better quality than the designer RTW and the labour was a free joy-ride, let me tell you! This is probably the strongest argument for why I don’t bother with T-shirts or other such cheapy-quality things that my teenage daughter would love for me to “whip up” (although I’ve made a few just to see if I could do a decent job and get my fingers around sewing up T’s) but rather concentrate on sewing garments of pretty, expensive fabric that mimic the designer wear I so love. That said, at my current stage in life, I probably should be more practical, but my first love is fully-lined silk dresses with a lot of handwork in my closet that would be impossible for me to afford if I didn’t sew them myself! I’ve tried to keep track of costs, and let’s just say that sewing is an expensive option to buying RTW, if I could find something that fit properly. But once I factor in any alterations I’d have to pay for (if I couldn’t do them myself), the cost of the materials for the garments I make always outweighs the sale RTW item with alterations costs.

      • I think we’re on the same page, Tia. Just different types of garments. :) When I was fairly new to “wardrobe” sewing and light tailoring, I read an article that suggested multiplying the cost of materials for a suit by 7 to get the “value” of it… It’s simple, sounds good, but I was never quite satisfied by that type of valuation… :)

        I bet your closet is so pretty… Siiiiiiiiiighswooon. ;)

    • Expensive thread, 100% of the time. “Branded,” rather. Someone explained to me once that if the thread doesn’t have a name on it, then it’s probably a bastard to use (ie- illegitimate). That made me laugh, but I have found it to be pretty true. The quality and the way it interacts with the machine and the garment varies…

      I hope I don’t offend you about H & M- I really really like them and used to shop there whenever I was in Europe. Loved it. But they’re a bit… Hm… Well, you can go read about them and decide-


      • You’re right about the labor practices, of course. I had my own little experiment of buying ethically (and trying to afford it) last year, and I’ve stepped back a bit at the moment because I found it extremely stressful. Not a good excuse, probably. I have researched H&M as well as other clothing retailers I frequent. In the end, these shops ranked somewhere between “fair” and “acceptable”. “Good” were extremely few, very expensive ones. What irks me is that the fashion that isn’t “cheap” but mid-range is produced no better. (Possibly including the Marc Jacobs shorts!) Some outdoor wear brands, really expensive ones, have abominable ratings! Also, I may buy cheap, but I don’t buy throwaway. For myself, I buy a couple of pieces a year, for the children, I keep a minimal closet that gets them through the week. I keep my own clothes for 5-10 years and wear out most of them. The children’s clothesthat aren’t worn out are passed on to other children or get resold at secondhand markets (about 2/3 of them get sold). This includes H&M goods that last as long as other brands in my house. Maybe because I don’t use a dryer? I wonder.

        • I tend to try and make better choices, rather than best. I just can’t afford the time, brain space and money that the best choices cost. So, I make the best choices I can at the time, and try to make better ones tomorrow. Otherwise I end up opting out altogether, permanently, because it just gets too hard!

        • Yeah, for sure. Everyone has to figure out best what works for them and their families, and I respect that. :)

          I think you’re both quite right and pragmatic in your approach…. Sometimes it’s SUPER hard to be an ethical consumer. I guess that’s really why sewing boring useful stuff appeals to me. I know who made it. Mom and I go around and around on the topic sometimes, she tells me that in a way I could look at my sewing as depriving someone of a job. I ask her where’s the dignity in working 14 hour days and sleeping under your machine? Is that life or existence? Then we get philosophical and round and round and round we go. It’s a very complex world we live in, I figure we just have to do what we think is right and respect that others are (probably) doing what they think is right… /off soapbox… ;)

          That’s a great way to put it, Crafty.. Learning to make “better” choices.

  18. I’m trying out your calculation; wouldn’t the value also have to include the “cost” with the other positions on top of the price of pattern, fabric etc? BTW, I love your shorts and, of course, the charming model :-)

    • Well- That is up to you and your way of reckoning. I thought about it, but adding the cost of the fabric to the value of the finished good didn’t seem to work out right on a conceptual level, or on a practical level when I was crunching the numbers. I ended up with a value that was (in my opinion) inflated, and it’s not like I’m actually charging someone (a customer) for the cost of my time and materials. It’s more a framework for helping me value my sewing and encouraging me to improve the quality of my work….

      I think of “value” as the intangible benefits of sewing, and the time put in. I actually wonder if it would be more correct to subtract the cost from the raw value to find the “true” value… If that makes sense. Think it over and let me know where your mind goes… I’m no economist!

  19. I did just about have a heart attack over minimum wage there. :)

    Those are very cute! You truly never cease to amaze me. Since I don’t sew for myself, I can’t really answer the question about sewing boring stuff, though if I did, I wouldn’t mind sewing the basic things. I would probably buy all of the formal things instead of sewing them, but, otherwise, I wouldn’t have much of a problem. By the way, I finally figured out who your daughter remindes me of! She looks like a baby Ella Rae Peck (to me, anyway–you have every right to disagree).

    • hehehe. My family used to have kittens any time I mentioned the price of anything, so I thought I’d put the disclaimer in there. :)

      Aw thanks! :D You’re so kind.

      I had to go look up Ella Rae Peck, and I’d have to agree with you! I think it’s the shape of the browbone, maybe the bone structure in general. Neat! :)

  20. So clever! Those English shorts are about $70NZ and for that alone I could make 5 pairs of shorts. If I had a little person to sew for. Actually I am surrounded by little girls but none of them are ‘mine’ and sewing for other people’s children is not anywhere near as satisfying I feel, as the likelihood of them being worn is lower.
    I think adding all the intangibles in, and also comparing the price with good quality, non sweat shop made bought products is very sensible. Perfect even. Comparing like with like as much as practical. :)

    • Thanks, MrsC!


      The thing that bugs me about “sweatshop” or not, is that I really can’t know whether a garment was made using coercive labor practices unless I go visit the place myself. There’s SO much information out there, and to a certain extent it’s possible to falsify and disseminate information about a brand’s labor practices. I really only feel confident about labor ethics when I make the thing myself. (I do want to delve into fabric manufacture ethics at some point, but there’s only so much I can do at one time!!)

      And if I walk into a Big Box store and pick up a t-shirt for $5, I absolutely have to ask myself if that worker was paid properly…. The answer is “probably not.”

  21. Well, don’t forget about fulfilling that innate desire that all human beings have to create with our own two hands. That’s worth mentioning. As an art teacher, I firmly believe in the value of the creative process. It feeds the soul in a way nothing else can. I make things because creating makes me feel whole, not because I have to or because I’m trying to avoid spending money (some of the time that is the case, though, which makes me so glad I know how to sew!)

    And all those shorts are absolutely adorable- just like Lila!

    • I didn’t! :) Some of us may value it higher than others, but I placed it right under “Environmental Ethics” (green fibers, transportation miles, packaging, etc) with 10%. :)

      Absolutely. Could not agree with you more. As a teacher, don’t you LOVE the moment when someone’s lightbulb comes on and they realize that they’re an innately creative being, and can actually *make*. It’s so powerful to me. It’s the difference between passive consumption and active consumption… So well put, LJ.

      Thanks… Hehe. She’s a silly thing, getting very smart. Wish I could send her to your art classes!

  22. Hmm.. I’ve never thought to value home sewing like that, my thought process is usually along the lines of “Can I buy this item? Will it actually fit? Will the fabric be decent quality? Will it be cheaper to make?” Sometimes it probably isn’t cheaper to make, but the fact that it fits and the seams won’t fall apart after one washing makes it worth it, or its something that I simply can’t find in a store. I also just plain like it better; I hate shopping.

    • Also those shorts are CUTE. I may have to get that pattern. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find shorts for Mini that are not insanely short, or that have a high enough waistband that she isn’t constantly flashing her knickers…

  23. Cute shorts! :D I love all three, but the lace has totally won my heart. I love that Lila has been giving you input on the design and details!

    I’ve been thinking about the value of my own sewing lately (not that I’ve been doing much of it or getting anything done). Having moved to a northern community, there’s just not a lot available in terms of clothes or sewing supplies. I’ve been trying to buy pants since I moved up here (since I have no trousers and my two good pair of jeans are dying a quick death from over-use), but everything is either poor quality or poor fit (and almost always the both together). I mean, I’ve been more picky since starting sewing for myself, but this is beyond ridiculous, and I live in one of the largest northern communities! I know that if I’m going to get the style, fit and quality I want, I’m going to have to start sewing my own trousers. And that means that regardless of the cost of these sewing projects in relation to the crap I can buy for cheap at the store, any (successful, hopefully) pants that I sew will be the best value.

    On the other hand, I also need layering pieces and sweaters, and for the moment, I’m going to be buying most of these, since it’s suddenly winter (frost and snow on my car this morning!) and I have…next to no warm clothes. But at the same time, prices here are stupid unless you go to Walmart (which I’d prefer to avoid, thanks), so it’s worth making the basics and warmer pieces if I have the time.

    Oh the other other hand (or possibly my left foot), I have exactly one choice for fabric, and it’s stupidly overpriced and no fibre-content is listed, so who knows what you’re buying. I’m so glad I have a decent stash now, and I’ll definitely be doing my fabric shopping whenever I go south.

    I wish I could keep track of the cost of my me-made garments, but I honestly can’t remember what I paid for most of the fabric in my stash. But since I’m cheap, they rarely cost much. :D

    Aha, sorry for the novel-length comment.

    • Thanks, Heather!

      Oooooh, in some ways you sound like a pioneer on the edge of civilization! I love that, it’s inconvenient but in some ways really exciting… We’d be looking at that kind of lifestyle if we moved up north a bit or inland…

      You have to keep warm! :)

      If you want to keep track and you don’t remember what you paid, why not “ballpark” it? Or look around for something comparable and assign your fabric the same cost? Just an idea.

      I like long comments. And you’re an interesting person. So it’s all full of win.

  24. Your worksheet is an excellent idea, that I’ll be sure to try out.
    My sewing is mostly as a supplement to the bought clothes for my boys, but they enjoy choosing fabric from my stash and wearing the clothes I make, so I’m not too bothered if the occasional item is not all that cost effective.
    I sew for myself because I dislike shopping (for myself), and I like that I can get clothes to fit ME, in fabrics and colours that I like. My sewing is mostly practical (cake?!) rather than lots of dresses that hang idly in my closet.
    I have started sewing my husbands dress shirts, because he prefers the fit, and I feel happy enough with my sewing skills that they look as nice as any bought ones. Also the shirts I make are much nicer fabric than the ones he would be willing to pay for.

    • Let me know how it goes, Wendy, I’m super curious…

      Uuuuuugh I hate shopping. For clothes.

      Cool! I like shirt-making too! And my husband has particular taste in shirts… He’s a pretty casual/business casual dresser (I mean… he’s an ecologist… a lot of them actually do dress like Steve Irwin) but he likes things the way he likes them… When he asked me to make him some button-downs, I told him to pull his favorite-fitting one from the closet and let me measure… I’ll probably post about it, but it’s his nicest shirt, the one that goes with his good suit. It has back darts and nice little touches, and it is neither small nor medium… So that’s what I’ll be aiming for. Would love love love to see your shirts valuation.. :)

    • Ah ha. Thanks for that! I didn’t look it up, just knew that most “menial” -ish jobs I’ve run across paid around $20/hour. Thanks for the correction! :)

  25. This is such an interesting post, especially as I sew a lot for my 5yo daughter. Everything she wears is sewn by me… except tights and socks! and some pyjamas she got as presents.

    I spent a good amount on fabric so if I used your calculations, the cost for each item I sew would be very high.
    I justify the high cost of what I make in a few ways.
    The quality of what I sew is really good. I line and/or French seam everything I sew for her – I could not buy that same quality in a store. She wears a lot of dresses and leggings which always fit for at least 2 years and still look good too.

    Though I agree with how you value your sewing, the fact that I detest shopping would add a lot of extra value for me. The emotional (meets a creative need) and social (blogging) value to me is also enormous

    As for boring sewing, I do that too, though sometimes I would prefer not. I up the value – and probably cost – of the boring sewing by adding interesting details to pockets, linings and hems which personalises the clothes to my daughter’s tastes, and makes the boring sewing more fun for me.

    Sorry for rambling a bit – it’s getting late here. The shorts you made are gorgeous, and I love the lace embellishment, Lila looks very pleased with them too :-)

    • Thanks so much.. :) I think we’re on the same page- the cost of good materials etc might come close to matching the price of a RTW garment. The “value” is my attempt to show in black and white exactly what you’re talking about- that a garment sewn by a competent home-sewist from quality materials is worth more than the type of garment one might buy for the cost of materials. Dear me, that’s a bit much to follow… Let me think about how to phrase that more clearly… :)

      Don’t worry, rambling is interesting…

  26. Another fantastic post. Of course, the thing you can’t put a price on is the love that goes into sewing for someone else. You know that you are making something for Lila that no-one else will have. She sees you making her things and she is involved in some ways, too, so it’s a thing you do together. When you think about dragging a kid around a shopping centre and both of you ending up grumpy (I loathe shopping) compared to the time you spend at home sewing and enjoying yourselves, there really is no comparison. You get rewarded every time you see your daughter dressed in an outfit you made for her, so the joy keeps on going. I remember reading a Salman Rushdie book years ago (I’ve forgotten which one) in which he describes the different kinds of chutnies made by various women in the main character’s family. The chutnies made by the loving, happy aunties was delicious but the chutney made by one grumpy auntie was awful and he described how she ‘stirred her bitterness into her chutney’. That image has stayed with me for many years now and I think about it whenever I find myself doing something that is getting tedious. The benefits of sewing for your loved ones are far greater than the dollars you save, but you already knew that.

    • Thanks, Carol.

      Hhehe… You made me think of the Simpsons… There’s a bit where a group of scientists are trying to work out the secret ingredient for a drink, and the computer tells them the secret ingredient is “Love.” The enraged head scientist says “OK! Who’s been screwing with the machine?” hehe.

      You are so so so right. We do go out together, and usually have a good time, but generally it’s not shopping. Shopping is pretty boring for both of us, we both have more fun in fabric stores… She sometimes finds buttons or embellishments or fabrics and begs me to get them, and sometimes I do… And sometimes she HATES that I dragged her into a fabric store so I give her my iPhone to play with while I stroke fabrics.

      I like that about the chutneys. In a similar vein, there’s a very light hearted movie about an American girl who moves to Japan and learns the art of making Ramen… The Ramen master teaches her the same thing, and it’s stuck with me. I’ll go look up the Rushdie- I’m always on the lookout for good reading material. :)

      • Oh dear, I’d be worried to dress people in some of the garments I make, if all the swearing I do making them were really impregnated into them!

        That thought is a plot point in the book ‘Like Water for Chocolate’, which I remember liking as a teen which probably means it would give me the absolute irrits now!

  27. I was never very good at high school maths – and it was 20+yrs ago – however my research background admires the methodological approach to the issue at hand. But I’ll still leave the spreadsheet to you! lol

    So my question is is it possible to ‘quantify’ the intangible of the smile on a childs face when she says “mamma made it for me” and the fun of an afternoon spend digging though the stash and deciding on fabrics together? possibly not….

    I rarely apply the “cheaper to purchase criteria” – if I did that I’d fail every time as I tend to buy more expensive european knits for tops. And proper fit in both my own clothing and for H will always get a much higher value rating than a cost comparison for me.

    I still do buy some ready made for myself – mostly pants as my attempts to date have been less than successful. So yes I need to sign up for your pants block service – one day soon!

    There are a few items on my regular sewing list that when I make them I think I’m positively mad – undies is the best example. Yes I made my little girl undies – they use minimal fabric – mostly scraps so fabric costs are close to 0, but they are fiddly and time consuming and in the same amount of time I estimate I could made 2 or 3 basic t-shirts for her! OK so the t-shirts would have a fabric cost but even so. So why do it – fit, durability and most importantly a child who isn’t complaining of undies going up her bottom lol. Shot me an email with your postal addy and I’ll send you a pair for Lila to assess against your formula!

    So tail chasing? possibly but thats OK as its worth reflecting on what we do from time to time.

    • Thanks… I do try to be logical and methodical, even if it doesn’t always work out that way… :)

      Yeah, probably a bit of tail-chasing… Sometimes I feel like a caffeinated chihuahua… But you’re right, it’s worth examining. :)

  28. I have sewn since I was little (at 6 or sew I was handsewing, and using a Singer featherweight to sew doll clothes by age 10 or 11; sewing clothes for myself by my mid-teens). I like sewing, and I like the items I sew (except maybe for the wadders!)

    When I was little, sewing cost less than RTW, at least for the things Mom made for me (mostly tops); when I was a teenager sewing was still less expensive for some items (and like many teenagers, I preferred to purchase certain items to “fit in”…).

    When my older son was born, I sewed because I couldn’t find the items I wanted for him (at least, not at prices I was willing to pay!) – onsies that snapped up the center front were SO much easier to put on a newborn! As he grew I sewed because he wanted a specific color or style; once he hit those teen years he went over to RTW…but still occasionally makes requests (red pirate shirt!).

    More recently I’ve been sewing for myself and my younger son, mainly for fit!

    I hate tugging down the fronts of shirts that aren’t big enough for my body (I’m often trying to pull the shirts down 3-4 inches in the front), & I (unfortunately?) need more room at the waist of pants, and want the waistband in a different spot than RTW…

    Younger son is super skinny – at age 8-1/2 he can still fit in about a US size 3T at the waist – high-water pants! Or the correct length pants…several inches too wide at the waist. So I sew almost all of his pants and shorts, swimsuits, plus the occasional requests – button front shirt, hat, vest…

    I don’t see the point in buying clothing that doesn’t fit, I don’t have the hours (or the dollars!) to seek out RTW that actually fits reasonably, and I’d rather spend the time sewing new than altering RTW. The intangible values – the fit (what price on that?) and the enjoyment of the finished fitting products – trump RTW most of the time, for me.

    BTW – very interesting post and discussion – thank you for opening it up!

    • Thanks for that- it’s really interesting to read someone else’s perspective and experience on similar projects. :) I think that the customization/fit aspect is one of the main factors driving the resurgence of home sewing. Second only to internetting- that definitely fans the flames… It has for me, anyway!

      Yes! Thanks for pointing out how much time it takes to shop properly… This is one of the things that kind of irritates me when non-sewing people ask me why I don’t go buy something… Or that they don’t have time to sew… That’s fine, but shopping takes a lot of time, effort, and even a certain amount of skill to do it well. But I don’t like shopping centers or shops, as a general rule. They wear me out, I get cranky and overstimulated and usually end up spending more than I wanted to.

      :) I hope the conversation doesn’t die down any time soon… I’m really really curious about how others might use the worksheet/Value The Sewing ideas/value their own sewing… Super curious.

  29. Thinking about this a bit more…

    Up until this year, I wasn’t saving money sewing things for my daughter, unless of course we are talking “dear little dress” category items. This year, even at the low-cost retailers, children’s clothing has gotten a *lot* more expensive (the quality hasn’t improved – if anything,the opposite. And then we have the fitting issues). It just comes down to time, style, and boredom.

    Something random, easy and nice, for those of us near Joanne’s… they sell this pre-ruffled, pre-serged fabric. If you have a smallish person, it’s pretty much an instant skirt, just sew a seam. If you wait until it’s not on sale and use the coupon, you can get a child’s skirt for around $12 and 10 minutes of your time. (Cute fabric, and my daughter finds the elastic-ruched waistlines exceptionally comfortable). Very small girls, like Lila, could have a dress with a seam and a couple of ribbon straps.

    • That’s really interesting, Hearthie.. I wonder how much of the price hike is tied to the Pakistani floods from a couple of years ago? Most of the cotton growing land was flooded out and ruined the cotton crops on a massive scale. I worked at the quilting shop at the time and our suppliers informed us that the cost of cotton as a raw material was rising, which meant our wholesale fabric prices went up. It’s interesting.

      Maybe part of that is due to (oh dear I’m going to use an incorrect term here, I’m not an economist) inflation or the de-valuing of the dollar in recent years? You’re in the US, right? When I met my husband in 2005, the US dollar was worth about double an Australian dollar. I used to give him heck about it, as backpackers do. Now they’re on parity, and sometimes the AUD is worth more… I know there’s heaps of factors at play there, but I wonder if that’s contributed to the higher price of retail clothing in the US? Maybe? I don’t know, I hope someone smarter than me jumps in with their $.02…

      • I’m in the US, yep. For sure when I bought cheesy back-to-school tunics for over $20/ea – at Kohls – I wasn’t happy. When 8yo put them on and I saw how they fit, I was less happy. Tunics should cover your rear end. Then I went to the fabric store. Honestly the little shirts only take about three hours to sew, start to finish, even on a regular machine. Not that big a deal. (like all moms, when I say, “three hours” I mean “and I got up 50 times in those three hours to do other stuff”).

  30. Aww your daughter is so adorable! It must be fun sewing for her. I almost wish I had a little one to sew for!

    I love the spreadsheet! lol (I’m a budget analyst so I’m into spreadsheets) thanks for sharing that with us.

    I really started sewing for myself because I have problems finding dresses that *fit* and my current job does not allow me to wear jeans to work. Then I found, I really, really like to sew. Ok, so I LOVE it. And I love the sense of accomplishment I get when I finish a project and I’m happy with it.

    As for the cost – I haven’t looked at that much yet. I have noticed that the more knits I want (and the limited options for them), the more expensive this venture of mine is going to get. Now, I only paid $80 bucks for my Brother sewing machine – in the few months I’ve been sewing, it’s already paid itself off! Well worth the little investment I made!
    I just brought a serger and I’m pretty sure that will pay itself off too. I still go to the mall but I find myself not wanting to spend money on a garment that I can make myself, like skirts, dresses and cardigans. I just made my first cardigan and I’m going to add it to my regular wardrobe.

    by the way, great post!

    • Kids have their ups and downs… She and I get along pretty well, she’s become very good company in general… And you should see her shop for patterns.. Dear me. ;)

      If you use your budget analysis skillz and come up with an improvement, please let me know and I’ll credit you on the updated sheet. :)

      My next machine upgrade will be a quality coverhem machine. I do too many knits not to have one, it makes sense. But aside from fiduciary concerns, we just don’t have the space. :D

      I used to love the mall… I worked in one when I was a teenager… Now I avoid them like the plague… I think after years of barely entering one, they tend to overstimulate me. Though I do like to go sometimes to window shop and see what other people are wearing and sneak in some horrible fast food. ;)

  31. I’ve toyed around with the idea of making a worksheet like this before, but again, you beat me to it, and probably did a much better job than I would have! I think for me, I’d increase the value of stylistic control to 25%, just because I like using unique fabrics. I totally agree with Meg about the immeasurable stress relief that comes from sewing. I also feel weird if I’m not learning something new, and since there’s always more to learn with sewing, but with relatively little cost for those new skills, sewing works really well as a hobby for me. I wouldn’t say I’m saving money because of my stash-building skills, but sewing means I can afford the fantastic costumes that I wouldn’t have bought before. And for me, the bottom line is that sewing my own clothes helps me feel more emphatically me; I’ve never known and loved myself as much as I do now, and I think sewing has a lot to do with that!

    • If you think of any edits, let me know!

      I used to feel weird about not learning something new… But then “new” began to mean “increasingly arcane…”

      Yes, I totally agree with you on that last sentence. I think it rings true for a LOT of people who sew. Maybe we’re all a pack of former misfits. :)

  32. I have just made 4 pairs of these shorts and they are delightful.
    With regards to costing items and determining value. I cost all items that I make for myself, including pattern, fabric, notions and extra. I do no cost my work as sewing is my hobby and my sanity time. I love it! I wouldn’t put a value on my walking hobby or my exercise hobby (not that there is one – lol!) I compare the cost of my garments to a mid range market. My own clothes to smaller designers and some department stores.
    Sewing is still a lifestyle choice, but it also means I can own things that I want without the high price tags and without going to the shops!

    • So delightful! :)

      Yes- I’m with you… I included my time because I thought I should for the sake of the exercise, but I like your way of thinking. :)

  33. Another excellent post Steph, also really interesting to read through all the comment chatter! One thing that came to mind as i was reading down was i can’t remember the last time i was asked why i sew (i’m assuming the question has come up at some stage but i’ve no recollection of it all!) even the twentysomething accountant boys i work with don’t bat an eyelid at me making things anymore. I think though what you and liza jane were saying about being creative is important too, a relatively new sporty friend had me down pat on that one and i was chatting to someone else totally new recently who is also creative in a different field and he had none of the what,why,really? Some people just get it…
    But back to costings and values, taking myself out of the fast fashion loop has become very important to me (and as you mentioned in one of the comment replies i’m also interested in researching further into fabric manufacturing)
    I used to make trousers for an old boyfriend. We had a very simplistic system if memory serves me correct he paid me what the fabric cost and then the same again. A pair of cords in jeans style trousers would cost him more than say topshop but less than more boutiquey places but more importantly to him he had what he wanted not what was being dictated to him by the shops. He was delighted with his bespoke gear and used to tell all his friends where they’d come from, was definitely worth the time that went into sewing them!

    • Oh cool! :) That sounds like a great system you had, really neat. It surprises me a little that Stephen so willingly wears what I make him, he carried a custom-engineered messenger bag I made for years and really delighted in responding to “Where did you buy that?” with “My wife made it.”

      We’re not the biggest fans of fast fashion either…

      • oh Keith was mad for the custom made, (he also had a slight obsession with the Saville Row tailors!) and he actually went out and bought me the Menswear version of the Aldrich Metric Pattern making book so I had a starting point for pattern for him!! I found out earlier this year that he still wears them all when he’s hanging around at home – they’re relegated to home because they’re quite literally worn through in parts. I’ve seen your custom engineered shopping bags so I’d say Stephen’s messenger was AWESOME :-)

  34. The shorts for your daughter are gorgeous.

    With your minimum wage,there is also a 23%- 25% loading for casual, depending on the industry (no holiday pay, no sick pay), so your original figure was closer – with the superannuation at another 10%. One of the reasons clothing is comparatively expensive here is the labour cost in retail.
    We have South African expatriot acquaintances who keep complaining that the Australian brands they see in the shops in South Africa when they return for a visit are cheaper in South Africa than they are in Australia, but don’t seem to understand that paying workers a reasonable wage adds costs to a business that have to be passed on in some way. You can’t have high wages without higher prices.

    Your worksheet is a good idea, but without working it out quite so precisely I know that my sewing reduces the outgoings. The best $ value for my sewing is swimwear, technical athletic/hiking gear ($20) materials and 30 minutes for a merino t shirt comparable to a $150 icebreaker adds up fairly quickly. Comparing work clothes to what I might buy at Cue adds up pretty quickly too. It does add $ to the coffers, even when sewing what originally might cost the same or more than a disposable thing from Big W, because you and your family have to wear clothes, and the clothes you make from good fabric outlast cheap and nasty, at a minimum saving you from having to buy more to avoid walking around naked. The $10-15 material cost t shirt I sew for my son from Stretchtex cotton lycra lasts 1-2 years, depending on growth, where a $5 purchased t shirt from thin yucky stuff (about which I also feel guilt re possible child factory workers), lasts about 3 washes at respectable, and 3 months as a terribly rag only to wear in the back yard, so effectively the $5 t shirt actually costs us $20-$40 in replacement cost comparison to the good quality one at $15.

    Where you have to work hard in sewing aside from skill development is in finding good quality fabric, particularly at good prices.

    I sew boring things to satisfy my internal accounting system for what I spend on my hobby, and I think the balance point between these is very personalised, with a lot of intangibles.

    • Yes- fair wages here are so complex! But very fair… When I first started working at the quilt shop, I was astonished by the difference in working retail here vs. the United States. Quite, quite astonished. Maybe I could never work retail in the US again. I really don’t know why everyone acts like Australia and the US are more or less the same place…

      YES! My husband works outdoors, and we both like *being* outdoors, so I can really appreciate the cost of making/buying outdoor wear, and 95% of the time it’s not that hard to sew outdoorsy clothes well. In fact, Stephen asked for some custom-engineered field pants, so I’ve been collecting ideas/inspiration and will probably start that sometime in November. BTW- any leads on where I *might* maybe find lightweight organic cotton twill with perhaps a whiff of nylon? Does such a thing exist?

      I think sewing clothes for Lila has especially made me appreciate the value of using good materials… She has a couple of Ice Cream Social dresses I made her two summers ago. The fabric is still good. They’re shortsy little tunics now, but still comfy and swingy and the fabric looks a little bit faded but it’s definitely not threadbare or pilling or pulling apart at the seams… SO many of her clothes look that way, especially the ones that seem to be made in ridiculously “good” fabrics for a little girl… Like her linen pants. I love dressing her in linen pants, and they last forever and ever, and look pretty good doing it. Hmmm…

  35. I have enjoyed reading the comments on this post, so interesting to me here in UK. I would like to change your PDF to pounds, please.

    How do I value and monetise my skills? Well, I have a massive stash and some pieces have considerable age. when a client friend wishes to use some of my loveliness in a project i price it by not what I paid 5, 10, 25 years ago instead i surf cyberspace and check the replacement value. Yes, a room full of remnants but they are never free, not then and not now. I do value my time too, not just the sewing but the planning and the fitting. i make my own patterns for each project and that means the base rate for each original project is £25ph minimum. I have a certificate to show pattern cutting is skilled work. Then I rate my sewing on a sliding scale, min wage for regular sewing, £6ph here, apprentice rate for beading, sequins & diamanté £2.60. Couture detailing is £15. I prize the fitting above all else and rate that at £25ph as it’s the main reason why i sew, most of my past endeavours are motivated by figure challenges. Although we are each unique I tend to help those more unique than others! I make lingerie, corsets and frocks but also any textile adventure which intrigues or stimulates me. Home furnishings too. I am lucky enough to live in a town with a fabric shop still in business and here in the north of England many mills sell direct retail on roll ends. I need variety and my mantra is ‘I am not a Factory’. it has taken quite a few years for me to attach value to my skills, very much due to the old attitude that making it yourself was the poor option.Thats why i went to college, to validate. My last project was a gold prom dress for a family friend,it cost the family £101 but the ‘true’ cost was £360. I did not charge for labour, fitting or shopping. The look on her face at the point of delivery? Priceless.

  36. I’ve actually been thinking about this as the weather moves into leggings-season here in Vancouver. Do I make leggings? Buy them? What’s it worth to me? What would I rather spend my time on?

    I’ve ended up deciding to purchase my leggings at Costco again this year. 2 pairs for $17, they fit, they will last the season. If I were to spend the time to make the pattern, purchase the thread, elastic and fabric, then take time to make the leggings then a) they’d never get done, and b) they’d cost way more than what I’m paying.

    Undies, however? I have a pattern, I have fabric, and I have the elastic. I’m definitely going on an undies-making binge at some point. I might even splash out and get a metre of silk jersey, which won’t even really be splashing out as underwear is expensive (silk jersey is about $30/m here, and I can get 3-4 pairs per metre) and I really love the fit of my own pattern…

    The Blank Canvas tee is also worth it to me, as I really like the fit (especially in French terry, which is even more perfect for fall and winter!), and I love telling people I’ve made my t-shirt when they ask where I got it. :) Purchasing t-shirts is probably less expensive, but I’m rarely as happy with them.

  37. I really enjoy this post. It got me thinking as to the added value of some of the stuff I make myself. As I do cross stitch, a little altering, some patchwork and quilting and some hair accessories, friends started telling me to sell the things I churn out but I am ALWAYS saying I have no proper idea how to actually price them. Thus I just add in my material costs and times it by 4.

    Now with your worksheet I might have to add in the other extra costs to the items I am selling.

    I always wish I could sew clothing but as it is I am CHICKEN SHIT when it boils down to sewing something wearable! LOL! So for now I’m happy to know how to alter my too long pants/jeans, replace zipper (was a NIGHTMARE to learn installing a zipper!!), up fashion some tops and skirts, you know minor “league” stuff. :)

    As like you I’m on a really tight budget to actually indulge in my crafts. So I normally get my materials on line as crafty items (fabric and such) sold locally are really at cut throat prices. Unless its during SALE time or its a local speciality item. The only thing is that its a drag waiting for them to arrive and I can’t actually see or feel the actually fabric etc.

    BTW, officially the Swiss do not have a minimum wage. It can rage from CHF2200 – CHF4200 per month for unskilled workers and from CHF2800 – CHF5300 permonth for skilled workers. But I’m counting my hourly wage at CHF20 per hour (same as the local McDonald’s worker). It seems a lot but the costs of living here is also pretty expensive.

    • I’m sorry I missed your reply last week!

      I don’t know if my costings are right for selling something retail, it’s more my attempt to pin down what my “utility” sewing is worth to my family. But if it works for you, awesome! It’s important to value our craft.

      Yeah, the tight budge thing is rough sometimes, but I have to say that learning to work with limited funds, fabrics, trim etc has been a good thing as often as a bad thing… :)

      Cost of living is through the roof here, too. That’s ok. :)

  38. Pingback: The “Denim Is My Best Friend” Dress « Toferet's Empty Bobbin

  39. What a great post! I love how you quantified the value of sewing for your family, with a worksheet no less! The better I get at sewing the less I want to buy. Why purchase ill fitting unerwear for my son when I’ve got a stack of t-shirts just waiting to be reimagined!

  40. Pingback: Finished Object: Book Report Dress « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  41. Reblogged this on Three Dresses Project and commented:
    Steph, from 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World, says, “Boring has value, and charting the value is fun.” I couldn’t agree more. Check out her blog post about how she thinks about the value of her sewing compared to the cost of buying in a store. She mentions the false economy of buying cheap garments that won’t hold up to normal wear. She also has a pdf you can use to calculate your own sewing value for the garments you make.
    Thanks, Steph, for a great post!

  42. I don’t have time to go read through all the comments on this post as I really need to get off the internet and go do some homework, but I have a few thoughts on the worksheet as an aspiring fiber arts professional:

    First, I agree with you 1000% on comparing to items of similar quality–sometimes I feel like an idiot for spending as much on fabric as I could on a store-bought garment that would look comparable. Then I remember all the gapping waistlines and torn-at-the-crotch-first stretch jeans and popped buttons I have dealt with in my life. (Fun story: I recently bought a french-seamed silk shirt retail for quite a bit more than I would spend on junior-department cotton because it seemed like it would be “better quality.” Well the button threads are all coming unraveled and after only a few months of wear it moved to my mending pile waiting for me to have the time to sew them all back on; meanwhile I have only just started to notice fraying on a junior-department shirt I have worn regularly for 5 or 6 years.)

    But second, how you value your time depends in part on how else you would spend it. For example, an artist choosing to spend studio time on personal garments would have a MUCH higher “wage” than a full-time professional or stay-at-home parent, because she is actively choosing to give up some of her creative time. Now this is a little misleading, because spending all your time on only one creative endeavor can lead to burnout, repetitive stress injuries, and other things that are no fun at all, and I think that everyone who sews garments for self or loved ones would argue that the “intrinisic” value of sewing–making something truly custom, truly well-fitted, with love in every stitch–can justify something that was supposedly a “poor economic decision.”

    There is a balance that needs to be struck, though, and I have certainly not found it yet, so feel free to ignore me!

  43. Wow I love this post! I will be using your system for future projects. I wanted to let you know I showed the expensive shorts and the shorts you made to my girls (3yrs and 5yrs) and asked which they liked better, they voted for the ones you made! (my husband as well) So not only are yours a better price they get the stylish vote in our house!

  44. Pingback: Finished Object: Seersucker Negroni Shirt « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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