Blast from the Past: The Easiest Way to Learn to Make Clothes

My first sewing project was a jumper I made for myself (I was 12). It was quite the learning experience, but I did not immediately follow it up with more clothing for me. Instead, I began making doll clothes for my sisters and myself.

I did this because we couldn’t afford to buy doll clothes in the store. But I soon discovered that it was a lot of fun to make my own color choices using remnants I got from relatives or marked down at the fabric store.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that using patterns to make doll clothes helps you become good at clothing construction without the costly mistakes involved in making people-sized clothes.

For example, if you cut a sleeve out wrong for a doll, or mess up big-time while sewing the sleeve, you can just cut a new one out of another scrap of fabric and try again. But if you do that while making yourself a shirt or a dress, you’ll probably have to go back and buy more fabric (if you can find more of it) to cut out another sleeve. This costs time and money.

Sewing doll clothes also helps you learn how the pieces go together in clothing construction much sooner than if you’re sewing people clothes. This learning happens faster because the project comes together more quickly, being smaller.

After you’ve sewn a lot of doll clothes and really understand how bodices work (and sleeves, pants, etc.), sewing people-sized clothes is actually quite easy. I thought it was easier than making doll clothes, actually, because after working with such tiny pieces, sewing large pieces seemed so simple.

(Originally posted 2/2/09.)

Blast from the Past: Make Sewing Part of Homeschooling

 The Sewing Class by Carl Frederick Aagaard
The Sewing Class

Many homeschooling moms want their children to learn to sew, but they can’t teach them because they themselves don’t know how to sew.

Yes, you can all learn together, but I think the process will go easier if Mom learns first!

There are several steps involved in learning how to sew. First, you need to learn to sew by hand. Stitching on a button by hand is easier for me than setting up the sewing machine, so I’m glad I can sew by hand. I was taught by my mother and grandmother. If you have neither of those, or (more likely) they don’t know how to sew by hand, you might want to inquire at your local fabric store to see if they offer lessons. Another good way is to find an online instructional video, like this one.

Next, you need to know how to use a sewing machine. Once again, you can ask a relative or a friend. My father actually taught me how to use a sewing machine. Being a mechanic, he could figure out any machine pretty quickly. And since he restored cars as a hobby, he had an old industrial sewing machine in his workshop that he used to make new roofs and seats for antique automobiles.

If you buy a sewing machine from a reputable dealer, free sewing machine lessons should be included in the deal. This is the best way to learn, because you’ll learn about your particular machine. This is important. The main reason people give up on sewing is that they get fed up fighting with their machine and trying to figure out why it isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. It takes time to learn the idiosyncrasies of a given machine, but lessons from the place where you bought it can shorten that learning time.

Finally, you need to learn about using patterns and fabric. I learned from a sewing class I took at my local park district, and followed that up with Home Ec in junior high. (They don’t even offer sewing in most schools these days—what a shame!) Today, there may be classes at your local fabric, craft or quilt shop. You can also ask a friend who sews to teach you. You might even barter one of your skills for sewing lessons from someone you know in your neighborhood, church or social group.

The price of clothes has been cheap, relatively speaking, for the past several years. But as the standard of living in countries that manufacture those clothes rises, the prices will go up. Learning how to make and repair clothing is a skill that you’ll be glad to have in the future. Your kids may need that skill, too….learn to sew, then teach your children. Make sewing lessons part of your homeschooling routine, and you won’t be sorry!

(Originally posted 1/30/09.)

Blast from the Past: Frugal Tools: Sewing Machines

 

In Stitches by Susan Eby Glass
In Stitches

Being able to use a sewing machine is such a gift. I learned to sew at the age of 12, and I can’t even imagine how much money it has saved me over my lifetime. I’ve made my own clothes as well as clothes for others. I have no idea how many window treatments I’ve made over the years.

Being a quilter, I’ve made dozens of quilt tops, including many that went to poor families in other countries after the ladies at my church and I added batting and backing to them, so I don’t even know where they are now.

It frustrates me when someone says, “I wish I could sew, but I can’t.” That’s just an excuse. Sewing is as easy as driving, and a lot safer.

Once you know how to use a sewing machine, you can save all sorts of money. We live in a society where most people pitch things and buy new instead of fixing what they have, but I think taking care of what you have is going to come back into style by necessity before much longer.

Think about your bath towels. You know how one side will come loose and get stringy? And then the strings get caught in the washer, which makes the situation worse? If you have a sewing machine, you can hem that side as soon as it starts to come apart so that your towels stay nice and you don’t have to replace them. All that takes is a straight seam…no big deal. But it saves money, because new towels aren’t cheap (at least they aren’t if you like them nice and thick like we do!)

What about hems that come apart on shirts or dresses? It’ll take longer to set up your machine than to sew a hem back up. My son is short, and even the shortest men’s jeans are long on him, so eventually the hems become frayed. My daughter can trim them and sew them pretty quickly on her sewing machine (a job that would take too long by hand and wouldn’t hold up nearly as well either).

Sometimes I use my sewing machine to make one thing into another. A while back I was out shopping and saw a set of three linen dishtowels on clearance for $4. One of the towels was striped, and the other two were in a coordinating print that really caught my eye. I have a pillow at home that had faded quite a bit, and I decided I’d like a new pillow out of those dishtowels, which I bought. I made a nice pillow cover out of the two matching ones, and use the striped one in my kitchen. My newly recovered pillow looks so pretty! Not bad for approximately $2.66 plus tax, and it’s very sturdy because dishtowels are made to get a lot of use.

I’m carrying on the “remaking” tradition from my grandmother, who was a single mom of four small children during the Great Depression. People sometimes gave her hand-me-downs, and she found that when she was given coats, they were women’s coats, not children’s coats, perhaps because the children had worn out their coats while the women took care of theirs.

In any case, she needed coats for her growing children much more than she needed coats for herself, so she accepted every woman’s coat she was offered, cut apart the pieces, and then laid out pattern pieces for kids’ coats on the cut-up coat pieces. She cut them out and sewed them together. In this way, her kids were always kept warm in nice, “new” coats and the only cost to her was her time.

(Once you’ve remade things a few times, it’s funny how you look at everything with an eye to how you could use it to make something. My grandma never did shake the remaking habit. By the time she was a great-grandma, she had begun buying up all the 1970s polyester pants she could find at garage sales and thrift stores. She cut them into strips and wove them into braided rugs. Let me tell you, they are indestructible. We have two that she made for us in the 1980s and they’re still holding up well.)

(Originally posted 1/28/09.)

Blast from the Past: Re-using Things

When I think of the frugal habits I’ve developed over the years, one thing that stands out is being able to re-use things, i.e. to make one thing into something else.

Some of that requires creativity. I’m somewhat creative but not overly so. My dh is much more creative than I am. When we’re trying to figure out how to avoid buying something we need, he’ll say “Why don’t you try using the such-and-such?”

For example, once he built a tall stand out of scrap pine to use as a display table for a garage sale we were having. After the sale was over, the stand sat in the garage for a few years, holding whatever we happened to put on it, until the year we made plans to remodel our kitchen.

I was thinking I wanted an island, but we were worried that we would just end up tripping on it. I was trying to find an inexpensive island in the sale ads for temporary use (the cheap ones on wheels that you can get on sale for $70) when Tim suggested using that pine stand in the garage. We cleaned it up, covered it with an old flannel-backed table cloth, and began using it as an island. It didn’t take long for us to discover that we loved having an island. When we remodeled the kitchen, he built me a beautiful island that I’ve loved ever since. But we wouldn’t have known that we wanted one for certain until he made a temporary island out of that pine stand (which also saved us the $70 research fee).

While I didn’t come up with that idea, I do know a good idea when I see one. I once had a neighbor, a lady probably 15 years older than me, who taught me a lot about frugality. For example, the first time I saw her home, I complimented her on the lovely sheers she had throughout the first floor. I was expecting her to answer as the rest of the women in the neighborhood would have: “Oh, I picked these up at Macy’s.”

But she surprised me. It turned out her sheers were custom made….by her. She’d gone to the thrift store and bought up all the white sheers she could find, which cost her just a few dollars. Then she remade them to fit her windows. How cool is that? She and I have both moved away from that neighborhood, but I still remember how clever she was to do that, and when I’m in thrift (i.e. resale) stores, I look at the linens and window treatments with the thought of “What can I make out of these?”

Of course, in the case of remaking window treatments, you need more than just a nearby thrift store. You need one of the frugal person’s most valuable abilities: knowing how to sew. More on that in upcoming posts!

(Originally posted 1/26/09.)

Blast from the Past: Lovely Leftovers

Go to your wallet, take out two or three dollars and throw them out in the street.

Sounds silly, but that’s what you’re doing when you pitch leftovers.

Leftovers get a bad rap, but when you throw out leftovers, while they’re fresh or once they’ve gone bad, you’re throwing away your food dollars.

I think leftovers are wonderful. I often double a recipe I’m making for dinner and we eat it two nights in a row. My husband doesn’t mind (he loves home cooking), and it means I only have to reheat dinner the next night instead of making something from scratch. Since I work at home, I’m always looking for easy, economical ways to make dinner, and leftovers fill the bill.

Yesterday we had a wonderful rump roast with mashed potatoes and peas for dinner. Afterwards, there were no veggies left over but quite a bit of roast. So I cubed the leftover roast, added the drippings, and put the cubes in the fridge.

Tonight I nuked some potatoes, then sliced them and fried them in a little oil with some leftover onion slices. I added half of the beef cubes and stir-fried them until they were hot. Topped with Trader Joe’s organic ketchup, it was a delicious dinner.

I put the rest of the beef cubes into the freezer. The next time I make noodle soup, I’ll toss them in, along with any leftover celery, carrots or onion I may have sitting in the fridge at that time.

I do that a lot with meat. If I’m oven-frying chicken pieces, I like to cook extra (the family packs are always a better price anyways) and freeze the uneaten chicken after stripping it off the bones. Then it just waits in the freezer to be added to soup or chicken tortellini salad.

Sometimes I forget what I have left over in the fridge. I used to be afraid to use old leftovers because I wasn’t sure just how old they were. But I got in the habit of writing down menus ahead of time, and now I just look at the calendar to see which day we had the pork chops, or whatever. I’m pretty strict about leftovers; once they’re four days old, I’m afraid of them. So I make a real effort to use them up before the fourth day.

Often, I find weird odds and ends in the fridge and wonder how to combine them. An omelette serves this purpose pretty well. All sorts of veggies or meat taste good in a cheese omelette. A little leftover cheese is good in muffins or bread. A couple of lonely hot dogs can be sliced and stirred into a pan of homemade cornbread. Mmmm….there’s never any leftovers of that stuff!

On the rare occasions when we go out to eat, we always bring the leftover part of our dinner home with us. Restaurant portions are so huge these days that you can’t finish dinner anyway, but they taste even better as the next day’s lunch. I’m not embarrassed to ask for a take-home box. If anyone who sees me with it thinks I must be cheap or tacky, that’s only fair, because I think people like that are stuck-up and very likely not debt-free like we are.  ;)

Whether your leftovers come from the fridge, the freezer or the restaurant, the most important thing to remember about leftovers is that they’re like money…if you lose track of them, it costs you. Leftovers can really stretch your food dollar by making sure you don’t waste anything.

(Originally posted 1/21/09.)