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Seven cheap ways to make your own clothes

Serena Cowdy
by Lovemoney Staff Serena Cowdy on 15 April 2012  |  Comments 34 comments

In this frugal climate, 'make do and mend' has come back into fashion. Serena Cowdy investigates how to cut the cost of making your own clothes.

Seven cheap ways to make your own clothes

I've made precisely one item of clothing - a scarf, as a Christmas present for my boyfriend. I can knit (very slowly and carefully), and I was excited that my gift choice was frugal, as well as thoughtful and personal.

Reality bites. I ended up buying three sets of knitting needles (the first two were the wrong size), then I headed off to John Lewis to buy some lovely soft wool.

I can almost hear the knitting pros amongst you muttering. Yup - the wool set me back £30, and all those needles another £7. And that's before you factor in all the time I spent getting in and out of tangles.

My boyfriend appreciated the thought (I hope), but it certainly didn't turn out to be a frugal option. So how can you avoid my mistakes and make your clothes on the cheap?

Tip 1: Take baby steps

If you don't know how to knit or use a sewing machine, books like SewBasic: 34 Essential Skills for Sewing with Confidence offer a helping hand. Get them from the library rather than buying them, to save a few pounds.

Alternatively, you could join knitting or sewing classes run by a fashion college in your area. Here's a list of all the college knitting courses in the UK. And here's one for all the sewing courses.

Tip 2: Buy cheap wool

This is where I went wrong. John Lewis has a very nice haberdashery and knitting department, but you can get good quality wool far more cheaply elsewhere.

As with so many products, online shops are a good place to start: Dragon Yarns and Abakhan are two of many that sell wide ranges of wool at cheaper-than-high street prices.

It's also worth visiting charity shops, many of which now sell wool. And a friend who knits recommends you look out for good-quality woolen jumpers here, too. If you can be bothered to spend time unwinding the knit, you could end up with a big ball of wool (ready to be knitted into something else) at a fraction of the price it would usually cost.

Tip 3: Shop around for fabric

For more hundreds of fabric options (including many 'budget' choices), check out FabricLand, CheapFabrics and OnlineFabrics.

If you want to feel before you buy, try The Fabric Warehouse (which has 40 stores nationwide) or the ever-present IKEA.

And it's also worth visiting your local street market. There will often be a stall selling end-of-line rolls of fabric - and offcuts - at bargain basement prices.

Tip 4: Get a good sewing machine

I'll admit right now that I've never used a sewing machine (I'm a mean sock darner, but that's all freehand).

However, a dressmaker friend ensures me that beginners need to do proper research when investing in a sewing machine, because they're definitely not all created equal. John Lewis' range, for example, starts at £49 and shoots up to an eye-watering £3,950!

If you want to buy a sewing machine new, I'd recommend you use a price comparison site like Kelkoo or PriceRunner to help you track down the model you decide on at the cheapest price.

Alternatively, borrow one from a friend or relative until you're sure about the whole clothes making thing. I have a very bad habit of enthusiastically buying equipment for new hobbies only to lose interest in a few weeks!

And it's also worth checking community freebie sites Freecycle and SnaffleUp, to see if you can bag a secondhand machine for nothing.

Tip 5: Choose a cheap pattern

Sewing/knitting patterns can cost several pounds each, but there are various ways to get them for less.

First of all, check out the free patterns available on the Modern Sewing Patterns website. And have a root around in charity shops, which often sell both individual patterns (and books of them) for next to nothing.

Bear in mind you don't need loads of patterns at first - most come with a variety of suggestions on how to alter sleeves, necklines and so on to create several different items of clothing.

For example, Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe has three basic patterns complete with instructions on how to customise and alter them, so you end up with a largish range of wardrobe options.

Tip 6: Cheat

Clothkits sells kits for you to cut and sew. All the cutting lines are printed on the fabric already, and the kits also contain the paraphernalia you need to complete the project (thread, buttons, illustrated instructions and so on).

These kits do make enjoyable little projects (or perhaps unusual presents for crafty relatives). However, they probably won't save you money; a pack for a simple knee-length skirt will set you back around £35.

Tip 7: Use what you already have

Why not start off by re-working or customizing clothes you already have? This could give the kiss of life to garments you haven't worn in years - and it means you don't have to shell out for material or patterns.

If you don't fancy hacking your existing clothes about, pick up good quality pieces from charity shops and have a go at them.

Relatively simple alterations include shortening skirts and sleeves, changing buttons, adding ribbon and lace, and turning jeans into shorts.

Websites StartSewing, ThreadBanger and CutOutAndKeep are packed with text and video guides to help you make alternations and give your wardrobe a new lease of life.

So can you save money?

Sadly, making your own clothes very often doesn't save you money. I think realistically you'd struggle to make your own outfit for less than £30, especially when you factor in the 'man hours' spent.

However, I think there are certain circumstances in which sewing and knitting do make financial sense. For example:

  • If you want something special, made from good-quality, long-lasting material;
  • If you are an unusual shape/size.
  • If you have kids who are constantly growing (you can, for example, make several simple smock dresses - all from the same pattern - as they mushroom).

What do you think?

Do you make your own clothes or know someone who does? Do you have any frugal tips to get readers started? Are there any costs I've overlooked?

Do let me know what you think by posting your comments here.

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

More money-saving tips:
Where to find cheap clothes

Recycle your things for cash!

How to save money on food

Fabulous baby freebies

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