The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Too Expensive?

Lots of times we sewists see things in the catalog and think,”Wow, that would look great,” and then try and find some really nice fabric, and suddenly we’re thinking – dang, that’s way too much.

This post is to help you put things in perspective.  It’s going to sound counter-intuitive, and it’s going to look like I need a psychiatric examination, but from my own closet, these stories are coming to you – IOW, I KNOW it to be true cause I’ve practiced this for almost 40 years.


First of all let’s have a reality check here.  I did a blog on the Matthew Williamson dress pattern that was in the September 2012 issue of BurdaStyle (and you can also download it on

Here’s the dress pattern from BurdaStyle.

But let’s take a look at what’s out there in the market:

Here’s a dress that’s pretty close to the pattern above.

This little Matthew Williamson runs $1,325 before tax and/or shipping.  Considering this probably takes about 3 (max and I’m way over-estimating) yards of fabric, and the interfacing and lining (china silk for lining, best zippers, etc.,) runs about $100 – max (probably too much), so that leaves $1,200 for fabric….that means to match this would be fabric at $400/yrd.  This dress probably takes more like 2 yards which is around $600/yd.

Now I’m here to tell you, I’ve sewn with fabric more expensive than that, but it was highly embellished – HIGHLY and it was from a very well-known fabric house in London (Abraham, and purchased on Bond Street) so the retail mark-up was horrific.

This is a semi-formal to professional looking dress, which means the fabric does not and is not highly decorated (the other formal designs like this from Williamson – the formal ones are in the $5,000 range).

So let’s say you find a great print – about $70/yd….3 yds means $210 – plus (the most expensive ever) innards (lining, interfacing, notions), $100 – so you have $310, plus your time in this dress.

So what do you have?  You have a dress that works for formal and probably more useful as a professional dress that makes you feel wonderful EVERY time you wear it.  It fits (cause you’ve made it to fit you just right) and here’s the part that will truly astonish you – it will last for 10 years.  This is a classic style from Mr. Williamson and even though it’s hot now, it’s a classic style and will work for many, MANY years to come.  So let’s look at the cost here.  This means that the $310 you spent on the dress to make costs you $31/year.  Say you wore the dress a minimum of 5 times per year….that’s around $6 per wearing.

How much if you were to buy that $120 dress at GAP, or Banana Republic – how many times can you wear it?   For 5 times?….that’s $21/wearing, as opposed to the $6/wearing for the Williamson dress.

Getting it now?  There’s other benefits here, but I’m just touching on the financial ones.

Let’s look at another (just in case you think this is an anomaly):

Bleack – this looks frumpy to me….a $1,425 – frumpy – let’s go to another one.

OK – this is a cute dress and something I would love wearing (this is more like it), but this number is $1,325 – a little more expensive, but it has that tie piece in front, but honestly that doesn’t take that much more fabric, maybe a little more expertise in assembly.  So again, innards at $100, and that means $1,225 for fabric….say 2½ yrds means $490/yd which you ain’t gerna spend on this dress cause this isn’t that formal.  So again, we’re maybe at a $70 (the truth is that this would look dynamite in a fabulous silk dupioni which ranges from $17-ish to $25 which means you’ll have $162 in the dress).  But let’s just say you’re doing the $70 fabric….$225 for the dress, worn for 10 years (yeah, I know you think I’m lo-lo and need to go to the reality doctor, but I have clothes in my clothes for 25 – 30 years that I still wear, and they aren’t frumpy or bad looking – they are classic – not everything, but somethings.)  Anyway wearing it for 10 years – that’s $22.5 a year, and wear it 5 times (you know you’re going to wear it more than that, but I’m being really conservative) and that’s $4.50 a wearing.

That’s a great price no matter what you think.

The purpose of this long post is to make an emphatic point – that you REALLY need to think about what’s REALLY all that expensive for this dress.

A quick search for something just outrageously expensive (online) was around $40 for some really very fabulous designer fabric and then a gorgeous twill (a heavier weight silk than dupioni) very reasonably priced.

Both of these are from Mood fabrics, so if you spend up to $40/yd for the dress, you can still see how totally economical this is.

Granted this is hard to understnad when you’re faced with mounds and I mean mounds of clothes that are so much cheaper, thinking that these will all work just as well.  The fact is that they don’t, can’t and never will is hard to fathom when it’s all you see.  It’s also hard to see when you don’t have a retail store that handles really beautifully made clothes that you can see up close.  It’s also hard to understand when it takes a while to mount up some beautiful clothes like this – if you’re making one or two outfits a season, it can take 2 or 3 years to see the benefit of this.  But I’m here to tell you, there are other benefits besides the economical benefits.  One of the others, is when I hear a lot of my friends who buy store-bought things and their clothes are stuffed – with clothes they don’t wear, can’t wear or have worn out and haven’t thrown out yet.  My closet isn’t crowded with those sorts of clothes.  It’s filled with the clothes that I’ve done for myself that are still working for me.  I add an outfit or two per season, and that’s all I need to do.  I can save my money and space for other stuff (like someplace to put floppy disks – do you remember those things?!!!!)

OK – hope this makes you think differently about your clothing and particularly about buying excellent fabric so that your work and time (which is very valuable) is spent creating a time-classic garment.

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