Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Price of Everything, the Value of Nothing

One of the reasons that women have made their clothing themselves, classically, was to save money.  Back in the day where a dress commonly retailed for over $100 (adjusted for inflation), making something yourself was a wise and frugal choice. 

What has changed is that clothing is now mass-produced by extremely-low-wage-earning people, and is made with extremely low-quality fabric.  The "Wal-Mart-ization" of clothing isn't a small change, it's just that it's been so incremental that it's hardly been noticed.  I can remember spending $30 for a blouse... as a teenager.  What's odd is that I almost never spend that much as an adult, 20 years later.  That means that clothing prices haven't changed although everything else has.

Of course as a home sewer, until you're near-professional *and* have some very sweet fabric sources, you're never going to pop out a $5 tshirt.  I don't even bother trying - if I want a tshirt, I go buy one.  (I do have a tshirt pattern I'm meaning to try that's a bit nicer than usual... but that's certainly the exception to the rule!)  I might make a $15 shell someday.... but that's about as cheap as it's going to get unless I choose to recycle fabric from the thrift store (a decent option, if one lives by a decent thrift store).

Instead of comparing our home-made items to the items made by laborers in Burma, perhaps we might compare it to a dress from Anthropologie.  You'll here find a dress from Anthropologie with a source of pattern and cloth to replicate it.  $210?  I think  you could make that dress for a tenth of that!  A quarter, if you bought the pattern at full price.

Or one could compare one's home efforts with home efforts of the past - I had a very tempting moment this week when I found one of the vintage shops I source images from had a dress that had *my* measurements.  Homemade dress, used, vintage... $65. 

Five yards fabric, at $7/yard:  $35  (This will make me a dress with a full skirt, like Colette's Crepe dress, or the infamous '52 remake from McCalls). 
Notions, misc:  $10 (bias tape and interfacing, thread, whatever - this estimate is probably high)

Time to prep fabric/cut:  3 hours (have you ever ironed 5 yards of cotton? And yes, it has to be perfect).
Time to do basic sewing:  3 hours  (yes, if everything is going swimmingly, that's it).
Time to do finishing sewing:  3 hours (estimating high again, but who knows, I might have decided to hand-sew the hem).

I was tempted to calculate my time as a separate entry... and if I were selling my efforts, I would do so.  However, I'm a housewife, and primarily I'm at home to make sure that my husband walks in to a hot meal and my children are looked after, so sewing is my hobby.  It's not like I'd be working elsewhere if I weren't sewing.  Gracious, with the last couple of months and having hardly waved at my sewing machine, it's certainly not the center of my life. 

So, let's call it $50.  A cute dress for $50... well, that does sound less-than-frugal if you compare it with discount stores.  But very soon now, it's going to stop sounding quite so indulgent.  Why?

Oh, I was at Target two days ago, filling out the kids' wardrobes.  Target.  Hardly the most expensive place to pick out your pretties.  Do you want to know what they were asking for a girl's sundress?  $20.  Now, I can make a sundress for a good bit less than that!  (See my 'free' scrap dresses that my daughter lives in).  A few of their nicer things?  I'm looking at $30-40 price tags.  At Target?  I've bought clothes for myself there - I don't do it anymore because I prefer that my tshirts not require additional layers.

Same day, I walked through Joanne's.  They were running their standard 40% off sale - this time it was on their pre-smocked fabrics.  I stopped to take a look and realised that for the time it will take me to sew a seam, my daughter can have an instant skirt.  If I decide that the fabric is long enough, I'll add some ribbon straps and she'll have a dress instead.  This may take me all of half an hour, including ironing, setting up my sewing machine, and tracking down 8yo to hold the fabric up to her and decide on skirt vs. dress. 

This stuff is even gathered and hemmed already!  I *literally* only have to sew up the side seam.  Oh.  It was $12.50 after the discount.  If it ends up being a dress, I'm quite a good bit in the black.  If it's a skirt - I'm even.  :)
So.  The price of everything, the value of nothing... how do you decide what hand-crafting anything is worth?

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