There was a time when our moms and grandmas would sew our clothing in order to save money. It was “Home Economics”. I probably grew up at the end of that era.
When I was eight years old and making my First Communion, my mother took me to Mrs. Joyce’s house and I was fitted for the perfect First Communion dress. I felt like a princess as Mrs. Joyce elaborately sewed layers of crinoline and lace and a long, beautiful veil.
Then in elementary school, my grandma sewed a bunch of underpants for me! In one afternoon, grandma sat at her machine, cotton and elastic already on hand, and just sewed me up some underwear!
I vaguely remember my mom sewing me dresses and pantsuits in the 70’s. And as I approached adolescence, my grandma taught me how to make a duvet cover. No pattern- just fabric and a strip of snaps or velcro. Of course, it was called something different. A beautiful Polish word I cannot spell in the English alphabet but it sounds like “pyeh-jinna” cover.
(Pyeh-jinna)s are beautiful homemade Polish feather beds. My grandma made them homemade. We all had one. Filled with feathers that at one time my grandma could get at the butcher, they were a luxury of the past. Warm in winter and cool in summer, falling into your pyeh-jinna made everything okay. I was sleeping on a cloud of love.
I took Home Ec in junior high and we sewed vests. Yah, it was cool to design your own vest and wear it. But I think it was slightly expensive even then. I remember my mom bitching about the cost of corduroy by the yard, the polyester lining and all the notions. Of course- those were lean years for our family.
My aunt being a Home Ec teacher extraordinaire, my Polish genes, my “Grandma Vicky” heredity, I was determined to sew. In the late 80’s my husband bought me my first sewing machine for Christmas. I cried out of happiness! My in-laws clucked at me as I opened it and made sarcastic remarks about why I’d need a sewing machine. (They didn’t believe in my domesticity). But my husband knew what it meant to me. He knew I was a closet-housewife-wanna-be. He understood my roots.
I proceeded to sew stuff. I was not that good. I could not “read” a pattern. I could cut out the pieces and assemble them like a jigsaw puzzle. Well, that’s mostly still true. But I had a great time! Then when my children came along, I sewed baby clothing for them. I loved it- soft cotton “onesies”, little pajamas and jumpers- even hooded bath towels. However, I started realizing it was expensive.
So- have things changed since then? They must have because I know my foremothers were sewing clothing to SAVE money. They sewed because it was cheaper. They sewed to get more for their buck.
I have continued sewing. In fact, this past year I’ve experienced a resurgence of my sewing. I’ve been making three-eyed stuffed monsters, and owls, and purses, etc, etc. But I’m using fabrics that I can get very inexpensively. When JoAnn’s has clearance fabrics you can sometimes get them for an additional 50% off. I’ve purchased fabric for $1/yard or $2/yard! But it’s really fabric that I get because it’s cheap and THEN I figure out what I can do with it.
This summer I was invited to a bridal shower. Yippee! A ladies’ brunch at a pretty banquet center. A reason to play dress up! I wanted to wear a dress. I knew exactly what I wanted. One of those pretty wrap dresses that would hide my weight gain a little. Something in a modern geometric pattern. I’ve seen these dresses in long-sleeve form at Target and JCPenney. They were about $30.
I went to a $1 pattern sale at JoAnne’s. I found a great pattern. It was exactly what I had in mind! The pattern was normally $16.95. Yay pattern sale! What’s more- it looked like almost every fabric in the store was on sale for Memorial Weekend. I saw plenty of the new geometric patterns in draping fabric that would fall and move just right. And- I could have a dress that FIT me. (I’m short and chubby both!) All of those factors aside- I was going to be able to wear a dress to a family function that I had made myself. I would be so proud! This shower is for the daughter of Aunt Home Ec Teacher Extraordinaire and she is always so supportive of me! She’d be so happy for me!
That was the end of the Homemade Dress Romance.
I would need 5 1/4 yards of fabric for the dress. A 14 inch zipper, a couple yards of interfacing and some thread. I quickly scanned the clearance fabric. But I really wanted to go up front and see that perfect fabric I had in mind. I found it! The colors were beautiful- the prints were amazing! Which to choose from? Uh-oh. The price. They were half off alright. But they were still $5-$8 a yard. That’s about $30-$40. Then add the notions- maybe $12.
Now we were talking about $45-$55 for a homemade dress- not to mention my time and trouble of making it! If I had paid full price for the pattern it would have been $62-$72! For a dress that I could have purchased at Target for $30.
I searched the clearance fabric. The $2 fabric was really unsuitable. Out of season- too heavy or completely sheer- just not workable. I moved up through $3, $4 and $5 fabric- all the same. I found a beautiful perfect fabric for $8/yard. The sign said “Half off all clearance fabric”… but I didn’t see the small print that said “Home decor fabric only”.
I think I have given up on it. The shower is only 3 weeks away. I went to TJ MAXX, which is right next door. Large geometric print summer dresses are $19.99-$23.99. I don’t have to spend any time cutting it, or pinning it, or sewing it.
No, they aren’t a wrap dress. Nope- I didn’t “design it myself”. Nope- I’m not really “in love” with them.
Some other people may argue that homemade is better because I would not be supporting poor working conditions overseas, because I would last longer, because I would be proud of it. But these are people that do not understand. For every dollar I spend on fashion, that is one dollar less I can spend on groceries. If I spend an extra $10 on fashion, my kids maybe can’t have Popsicles, or kiwis, or brand name cereals. They don’t get to order a pizza on Friday night.
It’s not that I “choose” to buy cheap big box stuff- it’s that I have to.
Anybody want to buy a cool pattern cheap?