Friday, 15 January 2010

what i wore today january 15 and some thoughts on costs

Sundress sewn by me June 2009. Lightweight cotton fabric with embroidered square motif from Joy's discount warehouse for a song $4 m or something, and I think I used about 2m for this dress. I didn't use a pattern, it was quick to make. You can also see a photo of it here. I made this knowing I was heading into the tropics and I wanted a loose, cool 'house dress' for slobbing about. I wasn't aiming for anything stylish, which is lucky because I really think this dress is pretty awful. Daggy style+sloppy fit+lazy construction=crap clothes. I do still like the fabric a lot, both the motif and the colour but aside from chucking it over bathers or wearing it around the house I don't see this one earning its keep.

This brings me to a little collection of thoughts I have been meaning to write down here. I had an interesting conversation with my mother a few days ago about what I was doing with this whole taking photos of my clothes thing. That led us to talk about our various experiences of buying and making clothes, about being pressed for time, frugal with money and not wasting anything. Since she has a lot more experience than me in all of the above I really enjoyed talking about it with her. And because my mum is a scientist she wanted to know what this experiment is about, my hypothesis, my methodology. All good disciplines for me to consider.

When I told her that I was interested in getting a more accurate perception of what clothes looked good on me, what clothes I wore most often, what my clothes cost, how long they lasted and thus which ones were better value than others and how all these questions related to whether I made or bought them, whether I could 'give up' bought clothes (whether that made sense in economic or other terms) and if I couldn't what kind of clothes I would continue to buy or in what circumstances.

All this led us into discussing some of the hidden costs of acquiring clothes. Now there's a whole lot of ways of calculating and talking about 'costs', and lots of them have nothing to do with money or economics, and while these things interest me, I am also interested in come hard cold data of the fiscal kind. I have been telling you how much my clothes or fabric cost but of course it isn't as simple as that. There are obvious add ons - thread and zips and buttons and patterns (if you use one), the cost of a sewing machine, and of course the really big one, the time it takes to sew.

But as my mum was pointing out buying clothes takes lots of extra things too. Like the shopping time - not just buying but also window shopping and the trying on of all the clothes you didn't like or all the stores you visited looking for the thing you liked. There's the time and cost of getting to where you do the shopping - cars, fuel, parking fees, or public transport fees or postage and internet connection fees if you are buying on line. Of course some of those costs are still there to buy fabric and notions but are they as costly?

And that led us to talking about other even less obvious costs. The tremendous advantage of being able to try before you buy and the sewing (and knitting!) disasters that chew up time, materials and sanity - it's not like you buy clothes that simply don't fit. But a lot of sewing disasters give rise to other projects where materials are at least partially salvaged, and we've all bought clothes on impulse that were fashion 'risks' that never paid off, or which felt apart on washing or shrunk or in other ways proved disasterous. We both agreed we were much more likely to buy more than we needed if we didn't have to plan and make it ourselves. I don't shop much but it frustrates the hell out of me how often I set out on a simple shopping errand and return home hours later with lots of extras I didn't really need...

If I was a good economist I would also be introducing the concept of opportunity cost. I know these all factor in differently for different people, so I am not universalising here. For me the time spent sewing is not generally 'free time'. It is often time I only partially own. In between sewing seams I am minding children or hanging out washing or answering phones or baking bread or being as quiet as I can so as not to wake children. If I wasn't sewing what else might I be doing? More housework? More gardening? Watching TV or reading books? Relaxing? Perhaps I would be taking up a hobby, not something purposive but something designed to challenge my mind, keep me learning and engaged and entertained and happy and feeling good about myself...perhaps something just like sewing or knitting only less useful and more costly? What would I be doing if I wasn't shopping? Well, for me, pretty much anything! I don't shop with my children, so the 2 hours I may have spent going to a shopping centre, looking through a bunch of shops and returning home exhausted, poorer and perhaps with stuff I did or didn't need could be used to prepare and elaborate and interesting dinner, bake bread, do a load of washing, sew a dress, watch a film, visit friends.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't reached my conclusions before the experiment has barely begun, and I completely expect that not all things are equal in this buy or make question. There's no amount of fiddling the numbers that will make buying a $25 pair of jeans a better deal than making my own in purely financial terms and there's no denying that sewing takes both time and money, and that for some people that time is as pleasurable as a visit to the dentist and for others a visit tot he shops is a much looked forward to and fun outing. I completely get that just because that could not be less true for me, doesn't mean everyone feels the same as I do.

All of which brings me back to where my conversation ended up with my mum. My goal here is to see what's going on more clearly. If anyone learns anything from this I hope it is to be reflective and mindful too - to realise that what you 'think' is true may not be borne out if you really look at the data. If the day is rapidly approaching where reducing our consumption is no longer a choice then everyone needs to know where they can trim consumption without losing out. Next time I pick up that piece of fabric or a shop made T-shirt I want to know whether buying them is a good use of my dollars and a positive consumption choice, and I don't think I can really know that unless I now more about how a lot of variable work together.

I haven't touched here on other very important things - like the production process. How textiles and garments are grown, made, processed and transported and their impacts on the land and air and water supplies and the people who produce them and who profits from them and what would be going on with that land and those people if they weren't making that stuff and what happens to the waste and what alternatives there are...these are very big and very important questions and they are becoming more important all the time. I need to learn more about these things, and everyone else should too if they want to be informed and mindful consumers.

But I will stop here because life is hotting up for me on the busy-ness front right now. With less than 2 weeks till we move back home and a number of fairly critical jobs on the list to be done before then I will be a bit thinner on the ground around here for a while. I hope you'll bear with me as I come and go and sort myself out.


Purple Paisley Patch said...

Very thought provoking blog! I love to sew, but haven't attempted to sew my own clothes, the prospect scares me to death, probably due to my disastrous attempt in home economics class many, many moons ago!
I know what you mean about opportunity cost and how people value different things. I used to like shopping, but I can't stand the boxing day sale hysteria. To me, the opportunity cost of attending boxing day sales well and truly results in me deciding to stay home. No amount of savings would make up for the amount of pure agony I'd endure if I went to these things. Good luck with your move home.
Kelly :-)

Gina said...

A great post to read, I like all your reflections and the fact that you're honest about not knowing where they lead right now!
As someone who has taken an 'ethical clothing' pledge I've basically restricted myself to clothing options that are second-hand, fair-trade made (mostly locally-made wear in reality) or made by me. Given that my tailoring skills are practically zero, the making of clothes for me is not yet a great option (also given the living-in-a-flat-with-2-toddlers thing). So in reality, I've actually spent more money in clothing (by buying local handmade clothes, or decent vintage items) than I probably did prior to this! I guess what I'm saying here is I'm trying to value the cost on human life and the environment more than the cost to me at this point. However I also think I have enough clothes and I should just stop buying things, and that would therefore save ME money too! (And it's just as much of a waste when I bring home bags of op-shop finds and don't use them).

kim at allconsuming said...

How Kim read this post:
Wow that is one awesome dress.
What, Sooz doesn't like it that much. Wow, if I owned that dress I'd wear it everywhere and possibly every day.
Maybe when she moves back to Melbourne she won't wear it and will just hand it on over to me.
Because I'm not precious about accepting hand me downs. Three of my pregnancies were in hand me down maternity gear.



Man I love that dress.

The end.

If you'd mentioned cake I may have paid more attention to the rest of it.

The Coffee Lady said...

It is interesting, trying to work out why we're doing this. For me it was more about making an effort, finding a personal 'style' - and also making that realisation about not saving clothes for 'best', or not getting things that didn't suit me because they were 'comfy' or they would 'do'. I always thought it was about weight loss, but the other day I found a picture of myself in some jeans and I looked hideous, about a stone heavier than I am now. But the jeans are the the back of the cupboard because they are too small! I wore them, and looked bad in them, because they were easy to pull on.

I don't sew, so I can't offset the cost of buying things against the cost of making them. (I used to, but its not a hobby I enjoy enough to cram into my spare time since having children). I am trying to concentrate now when buying new on buying things that suit me, that I will keep, and that don't bore me to death - I've made a 'no black or grey' rule! I take fashion 'risks' in charity shops - I don't have time to trawl them all each week, so I've picked a couple of 'favourites' that I pop into about once or twice a week. I think if I'm spending £3 on something, bearing in mind the £3 goes to charity, and the item has no production 'cost', if I find I hate it after a week then it's not a great loss to give it back.

travellersyarn said...

I'm interested in how your analysis goes - I've always said to my husband that I'm not crafting to save money...

Good luck with the move!

Frogdancer said...

I also found this post interesting. (Loved Kim's comment, by the way!)

I'm coming from the perspective of a person who only picked up sewing two years ago, and who only makes quilts. Clothes making scares me to death, though watching you and Janet is making me slowly less scared.

It seems to me that there are very few items of clothing that you can make cheaper. I think that the whole point of people making their own clothes is a personal statement about how they'd like to appear... the rewards for making your own wardrobe aren't financial, but creative and individual. Hard to put a dollar value on that!

sooz said...

I agree with Traveller's Yarn that saving money is not my motivation for crafting and I have always seen fabric and yarn (especially the good stuff) as indulgences.

But I am beginning to change my view on this. I don't agree with you Frog that it is very seldom that making clothes is cheaper - that sundress cost $8 plus a little thread and maybe an hour and a half of my time. I don't think I could have found a dress for less money or less time looking. Same with the shorts I wore yesterday and the day before, the pin tuck T and the skirt (even if I had paid for the fabric). In my mind I had always thought of the time taken to sew as an added cost, but I had never thought about the time to shop as an added cost.

I factor in too that I am plus size and this significantly reduced options for buying cheaper clothes and increases fit problems with clothes I do buy (like needing to shorten lots of bottoms and alter sleeve heads and other things on tops if I want them to fit well).

I definitely get better clothes for my money as well - better made, better fit, better quality fabric, more 'me', but I do think for at least some the dollar for dollar cost is lower.

SharonH said...

Very interesting and thought provoking blog... Hmmm where do I start? I am I imagine a lot older than all of you - although my mind doesn't think so at times... I am a product of parents who lived through a Depression and a world war... I think this factor alone has influenced who I am... My mother made EVERYTHING she possible could... I don't know whether she was good at sewing because she liked to do it or because she had to be... She was always in 'the scrum' at places like Dimmeys(Melbourne) and such like places looking for fabric that she could turn into something... However her golden rule was - If it isn't utilised then it isn't cheap no matter what you have paid for it...As for me I am not a sewer because I don't think what I do is good enough but my thirty something daughter has taken up the gaunulet and has started sewing... Her reasoning been that it is a style thing rather than neccessity thing... But in saying that she has said to me "I would rather ONE thing that I really like and feel satisfied wearing than multiple things I don't..." She and her hubby work on the theory of less is best... I work in a large retail "shopping destination" and it amazes me that the place is full of people day after day buying 'stuff' and at the weekends it is worse... Over the last few months I have started considering the waste that we are producing as the by product of the consumer driven life we are all have... The 'must have today don't bother about the consequences for tomorrow' ideology we all seem to subsribe to worries me a great deal...
Sooz - I have been reading these latest blogs of yours as well as other similiar on the Web with increasing interest... Not sure what I can do - however it has made me think of late as I reach for that 'must have' and have turned it around to a 'must I have?' If I don't have a direct use for it then no I don't need it... Sorry for going off on a tangent...

Clementine's Shoes said...

Really, really interesting post and comments. Some of the comments raise issues that burn me up- the quantity of totally unnecessary consumption that goes on in our modern world, how we are bludgeoned by advertising and the media into believing we need more clothes, the fact that manufacturers produce stuff that practically disintegrates upon use (I swear I'm never going to buy commercially made socks again), so that people need to buy more, more quickly.
Last week when I went to my optometrist needing new lenses (because my 4 year old lenses are too scratched now) they pushed the whole line of how it's much more cost effective to get 2 new pairs (They're whole sales strategy is structured around selling people two pairs). I felt like screaming!
For Pete's sake: the world's resources are finite. So what if it costs me no more to get two pairs. It is certainly costing the world more, and at some point we're all going to pay! The commercial world just doesn't factor the true costs in and pass them on to the consumer.
Back to clothes- I sew my clothes for pleasure, but also in the hope that I can create a small number of garments that I love, that suit me, that suit my lifestyle, that get worn and worn until they are worn out. It is overall I feel, even taking into account the occasional failure and time taken, a more cost effective way to clothe myself and my family.
The idea of making it myself is almost a natural instinct to me- it's how I was raised, and an attitude and lifestyle that my husband and my closest friends embrace too. I seriously wonder sometimes what people do with their time if they don't make things, but I guess there are other leisure options that I must be missing out on instead.
OK. Rant over..

ginevra said...

I understand sewing for yourself may not be primarily, or at all, cost driven. And that's fine, sewing for relaxation is great! But in the discussion of costs, I felt we may be comparing clothes we make against cheap mass-market goods. But is that really the right comparison to make?

I haven't sewn much for myself (yet). But I recently sewed a dress for me. Pure silk 3m @ $16/m = $48 + zips etc. Could I really buy a pure silk dress for $48, or even close (accounting for my time)? In my size? Nice colour? When we buy fabric for ourselves, we often buy high quality (100% cotton, silk, whatever), organic etc. We try to finish seams as best we know how ... so when we compare, we should be looking at the price of good quality garments in the same fabrics (regardless of the fact we bought the fabric at a designer seconds store).

Also, Sooz, you often work on getting a good fit (maybe not this time, but mostly): surely that makes what you sew closer to custom fit? Even I, with my limited knowledge, made a dress one size on top, different size for the bottom. And I know you studied pattern making, you should give yourself credit for those skills when you cost: you're making a higher quality product!

P.S. Gina, clothes sewing is indeed doable in a small flat with 2 toddlers ... if you really want too ;)

Kate said...

Yes, yes, yes.

I keep coming back to the themes - what is it? What is it for? Why is it in my life? Food, clothes, whatever. I mean, what IS it, really? What function does it fill, and what is it when you boil it down to its most basic components?

I am also realising a) how little I buy (new) in the clothes department and b) how small a proportion of the clothes I own actually get WORN. I'm wondering if maybe something like this mightn't be a bandwagon I should jump on - if only I thought I could maintain a photo a day! :P

I absolutely agree with Geneavra. Sure, I am paying $60 for this yarn and it takes three months to get me a jumper. But the jumper is stylish (sometimes) and warm, and although I could buy a jumper for $10, if I was shopping for a pure-wool jumper with a good design, it'd be FAR more than that. Besudes agreeing with you that my craft is my hobby, and I indulge in it accordingly. And at the end, I get bonus clothes!

I think a lot of the reason I buy less and less is that although I do not have my sewing chops like you, the more I think about clothing etc at a deeper level - what is it made of, where did it come from - I just find myself completely unwilling to pay prices for things that previously would have seemed reasonable. $70 for polyester pants that will go all baggy in the bum after three washes? I do not think so.

I also notice how many of my store bought clothes DON'T fit - not to a level I would find acceptable if I made it myself. I keep telling myself that that makes sewing/knitting mistakes more bearable, but I'm not sure it works that way.

On a less philosophical note, I am really enjoying the stories of when and where and how you bought your clothes. How many little histories like that do we all carry around with us every day?

Frogdancer said...

Yes... I didn't think about the comparison between mass produced and more high quality clothes. (I just went on the clothes buying expedition that I do every 3 years or so at DFO. HUGE bargains... but not exactly custom made.)

froginthepond said...

Coming late to this discussion but needing to comment anyway...

I came back to sewing because it was a cost effective way to clothe kids who are way taller than the average. And when my second was a girl, I realised that durable playclothes are rarely made above a size 2. I dressed her in her brother's hand me downs for a while but to avoid the glam, consumerist, sexualised clothing for little girls, I had to choose to sew for her.

That primed me for reconsidering my wardrobe. I'd learnt not to buy stuff that didn't suit me and found it increasingly difficult to buy stuff that did. The cost of clothing was getting higher - economically, opportunity (shopping time), ethically and style-wise. So I went back to sewing clothes for myself (Mum had taught me as a teenager) and I found it hugely satisfying to choose patterns and fabrics I loved. And after awhile, all this creativity was let out and I taught myself pattern alteration, elements of pattern design and then refashioning. Once I realised I had a thing for vintage fashion and fabric there was no stopping me.

I still buy some clothes - t-shirts, jeans, underwear - but I buy a great deal less because it seems a waste of resources.

And I love reading about how other people consider this question as well.

Louise said...

That dress might look quite lovely if worn with a belt - either black or red... I already know you're not a belt person, but neither was I until recently, you might like to give it a try?