The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Comparing Apples to Apples and Oranges to Oranges!

Just finished a wonderful “Playday” with some of my students.  This is a time when we all bring all our projects including me and just exchange ideas and play and do….the most important thing is that we “invite the muse(s) in the door and she (they) play with us too!”

class1Mei on the left is finishing her chiffon dress that fits like a dream!!!  She’s elated with the fit, while Lolly on the right is doing a jacket that is a combination of several looks combined to match her style!  Notice how it matches in front (it’s hard to see, but it does)!

What I love about this is watching all my students express themselves.  To see their creations not only go from idea to reality, but in a way that reflects their personalities and style.

Here’s the thing.   They often get hung up on comparing their sewing with “industry standards”.   When my students start comparing their work to RTW, they have this idealized view of what RTW is.
badsewingBut when they are comparing their work, it’s like that have instant selective amnesia.  All they think is that RTW is made like it’s couture or from the hand of a fine expert!!!  It always amazes me that they can sew something up and compare it to some idealized version of RTW (some of them haven’t even seen anything that they are comparing it to), and think their sewing is a failure.

Here’s another conundrum.  Some of my students fall for the “industry standards” line.  Let me tell you compared to the photo above, which could easily be classified as industry standards, those standards are so slack, that pathetic techniques is a step up from industry standards comparing to what is in the stores today.

On top of this, going to the finer boutiques and department stores, won’t help much on quality assembly and components in the apparel.  These folks have to compete with the big box retailers and mall stores too.  Now, they’re not competing with their $7.99 to $49.99 pricing, but here’s the consumers’ thinking on this (and it’s born out by stats that support this train of thinking): If I go to the discount department store or the fast/cheap fashion store and it costs me $7.99 for a top, I shouldn’t have to pay over $100 for a top at the high-end boutique, when in reality it takes about $250 to bring that item to market with good assembly techniques and good apparel components.    See, the reasoning?  Consumers aren’t going to pay 30 times a bargain store price.  They may pay 3 times or even up to 5 times, and even 12 times is a lot to pay.  The point is that even though the high-end boutique is selling much more expensive clothing, the consumer pricing mentality is so warped that it extends into the high end boutiques and department stores.

Today, there are very few places that provide well-made clothing with good to excellent components, and that clothing is very expensive.  Most of it isn’t in stores, and therefore doesn’t have to have a huge mark-up to support a physical facility.  Another source is to have your clothes made, but even at that, it’s usually short-lived, because the seamstress is usually competing with third-world pay scale, and there’s no way that can be sustainable, much less profitable in the real world.   Another source is the maison of the designer himself/herself.  You have a garment custom made for you by a name designer for a very handsome price.  Finally, the last source is to make it yourself.

And in the last category, what I find with my students is that they continually compare themselves to what a designer house would turn out, at a price that would be 125 to 500  times the price they would pay in a fast/cheap fashion store.  Additionally the price they are paying (including their time) is like a joke it’s so low when they comparing to a comparable item which would be a designer house garment.

So let’s get a realistic grip on what’s going on here.

If you’re comparing your sewing work to that of Maison Chanel or Maison Vera Wang or even a local designer, and say you’ve spent $75 for a shirt (say it’s silk and it was REALLY expensive fabric), let’s compare that to something closer to what it IS rather than what it is NOT.

Cost of Garments

Garment type Sewist Cost Cheap/Fast Fashion Boutique Designer Maison
Shirt(silk) $ 75.00 $ 14.99 $ 125.00 $ 2,500.00
tee $ 12.00 $ 7.99 $ 35.00 $ 550.00
Suit $ 300.00 $ 75.00 $ 500.00 $ 50,000.00

You can begin to see the difference here.  Now if you want to have a cheap/fast fashion result, then let’s compare your sewing to that.  In that case, you can slop through it, press the hell out of it (including steaming it to shape right because the sewing was so bad the shaping wasn’t right) – the buttons are cheapo buttons, the thread is dinky thread, and the fabric is the cheapest you could find at the store because it’s made with inferior yarn components and it’s woven so loosely that it almost evaporates on the bolt.    In reality, you can NOT find fabric this cheap or thin or poorly made, because the fabric consumer won’t buy it.  When you put your hand on the fabric, you can tell how poorly made it is.

Now that’s how you compare to “industry standards!”

The idea that high-end boutique or designer maison apparel is industry standards is ludicrous.  First the boutique apparel is not as well made as it used to be as they have to compare to the same warped thinking developed, promoted and extolled by the fast/fashion stores, and the garments from the designer houses are a relic of the past, that is dying away.  Don’t believe me?  In 1946 , there were 106 couture houses.  In 200 there were 18.  The market for this work is quickly decreasing.


And if you’re going to compare your work to the designer houses, then let’s be serious and realistic about it and compare at the same price.  Course, that really may be difficult, because not many of us have access to those clothes, much less know the pricing, but you can google them and find them used.  Even at used, the pricing is very educational.

That’s not to say your sewing should be sloppy, poor quality or with inferior quality components.  It’s to say that your fabric is most likely far better than what the fast fashion stores are using, and you’re sewing is much better than that fast/cheap fashion quality, so don’t sell yourself short.

In addition, what really blows your mind about this is the length of time you will wear this  clothing.  This is the real value.    Currently I have 5 pairs of knit pants (including leggings) in my closet, one winter leggings, one summer leggins, one Baroque leggings, one green knit pants, one black boot-cut pants – that’s it.  That’s all I need.  That’s all I’m wearing.  I use the black leggings under almost all my tops and wear the daylights out of them – like every day (except laundry day!!!).  The Baroque pants are new, but the others have been there for 4 years!  FOUR YEARS!!!  And I’m not suffering.  I just don’t need 5 pairs of black leggings – I only need one!

Yeah, this is a very economical way to live, but what I love is that I find the pants whenever I need them – I don’t have to filter though 25 or 15 or 10 pairs of pants to get to the ones I want.  I only have 5 and they are right there.  Also there’s something very empowering about being able to be in complete control of my closet. – I know what’s in there.  I know what’s missing (uh-oh time to do the laundry!).  And most of all I know what I need and most of the time what I don’t need.  I don’t need more cr** to fill up my closet so I can’t find my clothes that I wear and love.


This is what my closet looks like and this is really what it says to me!  I’m always culling out what I don’t wear and keeping it lean.  It works for me and I love being able to find anything I want by just opening the doors and there it is!

I live this.  That’s how and why I know it’s true.  Cause believe me, it’s sounds like some sort of ludicrous fantasy!  It’s not. I’m even shocked at the lifetime of my own clothes and sometimes when I take a suit out and think how many years I’ve had it, off the top of my head I’ll think 3 or 4, and remember that I wore it to my parents’ funeral 15 years ago!  FIFTEEN YEARS!!!!  That’s shocking to me!  And my black suit is still good today.


So be realistic about your sewing – compare to what it really is – to designer boutique or designer house sewing – and then compare the price and lasting ability of the garment, and it becomes a no-brainer!


  1. Let’s not forget that RTW is very often off grain to maximize cutting layouts and after one wash twists all the back to Asia, practically unwearable.

    You can beat investing in quality clothing, whether retail of self made. It just lasts and lasts. Love it! It is so much smarter financially than buying crap.

  2. Meant to say “you can’t beat” not can. I need more caffeine right now!

  3. I would love to see a list of good sewing standards … raise the bar and share it with us!!

    For example, when I sew a blouse, I’m not sure if serging it together is acceptable. I often wonder what the best construction methods really are.

  4. Mary – that’s a great idea. There’s one big problem. As the commercial or RTW industry has slowly down-graded the level of quality of a garment, this has affected all levels of garments – from the exclusive boutique to the big-box discount retailer. If you think about this, you can see how this happened: the exclusive retailer to charge what they need to make a profit would have to charge thousands of dollars for a jacket, that can be purchased for $49.95 at the big-box retailer. The only way they can compete is to be at the most 10x the big-box retailer, not 100x (which is more in line with what the garment actually costs). This is not gouging on the exclusive boutique’s part. It is more a matter of the big-box retailer offering a product at an unrealistic low price, which BTW is not sustainable – prices will inevitably rise, and here’s the kicker on this: when the prices do rise, most folks won’t be able to afford even the cheap clothing – that means even the cheap clothing will seem outrageously expensive compared to today’s pricing.

    But I digress…the point is that a list of standards would be arbitrary at best, and at worst totally unreasonable. My level, is that if I can see it, if I know better, if it doesn’t look good to me, stop and do it over or figure out how to do it right. If someone comes up to me and says, “Oh you did that all wrong,” or “Oh that looks horrible,” I think that this poor person doesn’t have a life and just not worry about it! There’s always going to be someone who tells you something’s wrong and it’s usually a member of your family!!! 😉

    A good example is serging. It is so widely done these days, that I would totally consider it acceptable. The rare (and I do mean rare) times it has not been done has been in garments that were in the tens of thousands of dollars range – they were items that a Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Armani or other famous house had only created 5 or 6 of that garment. Those types of garments are finished either with a Hong Kong seam or it has been completely lined and finished on the inside as well as outside. The lined garment is most often what I have seen, and the inside seams (in between the fashion fabric and the lining) are left unfinished so that the garment can be easily altered without having to remove any seam finishing. Of course if you go to the designer himself/herself, and have them make the garment, it would be totally finished inside and out cause it would have been made to your specific measurements. This is couture, and couture sewing is a whole other animal altogether. It is almost “over-sewing” in that the work done on it is so exquisitely intricate and detailed and hand-intensive that it would make the most experienced home sewists faint with admiration!!!!

    There’s a fine line here, in that one of the things that we sewists can afford is time. The retail market can not – it’s all about how quickly a garment can be finished, how few seams in the garment and that sort of thing. With the home sewist, that isn’t so much a problem. At the same time you don’t want the garment taking too much time or it becomes unreasonable, and that’s where seam finishing like serging comes in.

    For light weight, summer jackets, over-blouses/shirts, easy flouncy linen, chiffon, sheer garments all can be finished with serged seams and you can feel perfectly fine in doing so.

    The more formal the garment the more formal your finishing should be. For a tailored jacket it should be lined, and the inside seams would not need to be finished; for a silk brocade jacket, a lining would be a must, and again the seams inside wouldn’t be finished. In both these cases, the inside of the garment would be the lining. Between the lining and the fashion fabric, would be seams that would be unfinished. This is common in fine men’s tailored suits as well as fine ladies’ garments.

    Unfortunately there’s really nothing to compare this to unless you happen upon some vintage garments, and taking them apart to examine the workmanship is a real treasure. I often get wedding gowns that are 2 and 3 generations old, and they are a total delight to reconstruct.

    If you happen upon an exclusive department store or boutique in a major metropolitan area, it’s worth a visit, but I have to tell you the ones I’ve been in and examination of the product has proved to be shockingly disappointing. So even there I’m not sure there’s too much help for guidance.

    In Europe, Canada, Asia, there are places where you can see exquisitely crafted garments, either by local craftspeople, or by the designer’s main maison. That’s why I’m clear about how the home sewists should not even consider comparing her work to that of the big-box retailer or the high-end boutique – both seem to succumb to that addiction of cheap/fast fashion.

    • Thank you so much for taking your time to write all those comments. I agree – clothes aren’t made the way they used to be.

      I noticed that you have written about how much you love the clothes you make for yourself. It might be a fun for you to blog about a favorite garment and talk about how you made it. You could comment on how you decided to finish seams a particular way and all the other construction details that you feel are worth commenting about. Many of us are just starting to sew and we crave learning about old school ways. I don’t mind if people dash an outfit together showing a quick tutorial on You Tube. But some of us (and I know I’m not the only one) want to learn really great ways of constructing a garment even if it’s just a simple pair of pants.

      It’s just a thought – I know I’d be interested to read about those details. For me, if it’s worth my time to buy good fabric and fit a pattern, I want to take the time to do my best sewing. I enjoy hand work so I usually do all my hemming by hand. Now I’m thinking about hand picking the zippers I install (it seems like it would go faster than trying to sew around a zipper pull any way).

      • Well, Mary – this is my obsession passion, and the truth is it’s very close to my heart. I have discovered a freedom that not only frees me from having to wear what someone else thinks I might look good in, but also what they think I need, what it needs to be made of, what makes me comfortable and worst of all at a price that is outrageously exorbitant. Many people don’t get it cause the cost-of-the-moment is cheap, but when you add it up over years of spending, it’s such an extravagant price, that if people would actually take the time to look at this pricing, they would be shocked. What would really happen is that they would think, I paid that much?…..I should have something that the most fashionable divas wear for that price! And well they should.

        Here’s the kicker in all this – They actually could have something that extravagant (and better), if they sewed it themselves!

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