Sewing is an expensive habit. How do you budget for it, or do you? Does your budgeting limit your productivity, or are you (like me sometimes) spending money that you don’t have allocated to sewing on fabric and other supplies?
Why is sewing more costly than ever?
Fabric prices are increasing due to taxes and tariffs, pattern aren’t cheap, and the relative cost of RTW keeps dropping. Of course, there are some exceptions — if you live in the USA, you might have access to $1 Big 4 pattern sales, or if you live in certain cities there might be cheap fabric in markets. The price of sewing increases as your size increases, or if you need natural fibres for medical reasons, and many other factors. For all of us though, the costs add up!
Social media also leads us to think that everyone else is always sewing new and beautiful things, and gives us the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when we haven’t tried the cool new trendy fabric or design. How many of us have bought a pattern or textile because it was the latest fad? I sure have!
What are your sewing costs?
I started sewing clothes in 2012 when my husband and I were living with my parents, severely underemployed, and disposable income was very tight. I sewed from my mom’s stash, thrifted sheets, and fabric I could find for cheap. Since then my fabric budget has increased as my income rose, but I always feel like money is stopping me from buying everything I want. That is especially true as the Canadian dollar has dropped further below the USD, and Canada has started charging import duties on every single package of fabric crossing the border. Yardage that starts out looking affordable online suddenly because a luxury good!
Of course, sewing isn’t just about fabric costs. I use bottom-of-the-line Brother sewing machines, and and try to use patterns many times to save money. Having a sewing blog is important to me, so I also spend money on my blog to make it ad-free and I pay $11/month (Canadian dollars, again) for Adobe Lightroom to improve my photo editing. I’ve blogged for fabric stores in return for free fabric, although that sort of content doesn’t appear on Sewcialists. For years I did pattern testing so that I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for new patterns, but whether that is a money-saving approach is up for debate!
Do you budget, and how?
Truth be told, financial savvy hasn’t come easily to my husband or me. We spent 2019 teaching ourselves new habits by having weekly “Money Chats” using financial tracking apps and a paper calendar to set goals and keep track of progress. I allocate $250/month (8% of my salary) to myself for fabric, haircuts, makeup, shoes, clothes and anything else I could live without. I confess that I do buy myself fabric sometimes when I’m feeling down, and that’s a habit I’d like to diminish. Before you start to worry, I’m not driving us into ruin with my spending — in fact, my stash is sorely depleted and the reason I’m thinking about finances is that I want to replenish it with fabric that is good as well as cheap! Just trying to be honest here.
I choose to budget a lump sum monthly, but there are lots of other ways you could start, like setting an annual budget, a price per project, going on fabric fasts, and so on. I know that there are also people in this community who just don’t have any additional money to spend on crafting, and I honour that too.
Money is a hard topic to discuss because it is so relative and so deeply personal, but I hope we can be honest and kind in the comments. How do you budget for sewing? Do finances limit what you can sew? What are your strategies for spending sustainably on your sewing? How do you find ways to save money while still being able to practice your craft?
Nowadays I do a lot of browsing at thrift stores and sometimes I’m lucky and find something interesting for not too much.
I used to go to markets and buy really cheap fabrics, but they are usually polyester and I am trying to avoid it.
But I actually started sewing when money was not short and would simply buy whatever I wanted, when I wanted.
Since the money situation changed I have been more mindful of what and when I spend. I’m lucky enough that I (still) don’t have to pay import taxes when I receive fabric for a collaboration blog post, so for me pattern testing and writing blog posts are a way of still being able to sew and not spending a lot of money.
And since I had the means a few years ago, I still have a lot of zippers and buttons and elastic I’ve bought just because.
If I had to pay for everything I sew lately I would not really be able to.
I did that too – made my more major investments when I was still working a corporate job and had the steady income, and now am grateful for it now that I have the time to sew but less disposable income.
I think a lot of us started sewing when under/un-employed because sewing gives you something tangible for the labor that you put in. As for a budget, I’ve been trying to shop my stash (or my families) the past few years. I tend to buy fabric for gifts or muslins and am trying to avoid purchasing too many patterns but have supplemented that by purchasing drafting books. Per year, I’d estimate, I spend under $500 USD on sewing but I’d like to drop that further by being more intentional about my sewing (I’m already fairly slow) and by purchasing better quality fabrics when I’m able.
Yes! A creative outlet with something useful in the end has always appealed to me as well, regardless of financial status, but definitely more so when finances come into play. $500USD per year, when you consider it is also your clothing, is pretty great I think! Do you have future better quality fabric projects in mind?
I’m lucky that budget has never been an issue for my fabric buying. Our family income has always been high for one but we’re also good at managing our finances. That said, I don’t have the big stash that one would expect because my time and storage space (apartment living!) are limited. And having too much stuff weighs on me, both mentally and physically. The side effect is that I end up spending less. I’m trying to reduce my stash this year so that will also reduce the spending. When I do buy fabric or notions, I buy with a specific project in mind, one that I plan on starting right away. That means that I can’t buy faster than I sew. (It helps that I live in NYC so local shopping options aren’t an issue when I can’t wait for an order to come in.)
Not having a lot of storage, I wonder, if it helps to use one’s stash because you can’t as easily get into “out of sight, out of mind” being that it’s right there with you? Do you plan your makes then? Like, with a planner, or wardrobe planning series, or something like that to keep fabric/notions assigned to projects?
I’ve tried planning for every piece of fabric that enters the stash but I frequently end up changing my mind before I get to it so I’ve stopped planning very far ahead. Right now, I have 4 makes completely planned out.
What happens to me is that I go out to buy fabric for a specific project and come home with a couple extra cuts. Then, there’s the leftovers. Part of my stash is pieces that are too large to toss but too small to make something. That’s the part of the stash that needs the most pairing down. I think there’s Closet Case pouf in my future for that purpose!
That is so relatable. I always shop with a specific project in mind, and tend to end up with the leftover situation you described. As you mentioned I also don’t sew fast enough so fabrics have accumulated – tho I have to be fair: some are for my store, and some are my husband’s. This year I really want to avoid being swayed from my sewing plan and sew those projects I’ve planned with the fabrics I’ve allocated.
I know precisely what I spend on sewing – about $90/month in 2019, charts here! https://poundcakesewing.wordpress.com/2020/01/06/time-and-money/. However, I don’t actually set a budget, even though I love tracking money. My earnings are unpredictable, which is coupled with my natural aversion to spending money, so it’s more of an effort to talk myself into buying things than otherwise. “When in doubt, go without” is my and my partner’s universal rule.
That being said, if you had told me when I had started sewing in my even-less-predictable mid-twenties I’d be spending THIS MUCH, I would have been shocked and horrified! But it’s most of my fun budget and the vast majority of my clothing budget, and I can afford it without risk or discomfort. As long I walk on by the Atelier Brunette, anyway, but c’est la vie.
WOW! That is super detailed an interesting. My SO always says, “the easiest way to make money is to not spend it.” That is also why the SO is in charge of the savings. 😀 I was no better in my 20s as I was learning how to cook and would spend an inordinate amount of my wage on groceries.
This is a terrific catalog!
Such an interesting and honest post. Well done! Budgeting ….. I am so bad at it. I do suffer from FLMO – I used to work for a yarn company and I’d blow as much of my salary as I could on yarn. Now I own a huge stash. Before then and again afterwards I worked for a haberdashery firm and whilst not all their fabrics were to my taste, again I blew a large part of my salary (with discount) on fabrics – mostly for craft projects that are still ongoing or stagnant. Now I am inbetween jobs. My true problem is not planning projects properly. So – I have fabric and yarn but in sometimes too small quantities. Towards the second half of last year I truly reigned myself in and dived into my stash, had a very satisfying time creating from what I had. I have crafty friends and between us we do a fair bit of swapping as well which often means something someone can’t use gets used by someone else – and that can be a lot of fun. I was sorry to hear that Canada has so much duty to claim – I knew it was a huge issue previously – sounds like it’s got even worse. I do hope you can continue to make lovely things – your blog is pretty amazing at times.
I’ll be back later with more but for now: Rule #1 is Cash only
I am fortunate enough to live close enough to a fabric store for basics and the occasional remnant. Although I do order some things like my machine needles online to get the better ones I like.
And shop after I have picked up groceries and prescriptions.
Second is to online window shop
Fill up the shopping cart…dream and delete
I can spend hours just window shopping
gives almost the same mood lift as actually purchasing…80% lift for 100% less
I do love walking away from a full online cart! Oddly satisfying!
I have a monthly budget that I adhere to fairly well. But I also have a purchasing cycle of fabric, notions/tools, patterns. I may mix it up a bit, but try to not buy fabric multiple months in a row, because that is when it gets out of hand. My sewing time is limited, so I can usually fit projects into this longer cycle.
I fall prey to fabric sales fairly often, but try to remind myself that there will always be more fabric and I will fall in love with something else.
Gotta be honest, I have no idea of how much I’ve spent on sewing and knitting in the last year. It was likely less than in previous years (except for the 2 years when I was on hiatus cuz I was doing a big home reno and was living in a rental. That time was very inexpensive vis a vis fabric, though less so when it comes to yarn and things like floors!). I’m not a fast sewist – my productivity is on the low end with this craft – but I do tend to burn through yarn. I’m also at an age and stage – oh, who am I kidding, I’ve always been this way – when my goal is to craft with the best materials that I can afford. So I’m pretty sure I spend at the high end, given what I produce. Mind you, I’m not a hoarder of craft materials. I stick to the dimensions of the space I have for storage and I use what I must before I purchase more. And more and more, with sewing, I am not to buy unless I have a chosen project that I’m serious about. Mind you, who doesn’t need denim and interfacing and zippers and bamboo rayon all the time. If I had to guess, between sewing and knitting, I probably spent 2K in 2019. But that’s just a guess.
yeah, I haven’t really been tracking the last few years, but I know it’s rather high in average, especially if I’m comparing to these comments. On the other hand, I’m happy for my substantial stash when I’m trying to work out a pattern draft, sew samples, or when I have a quick turn around on a pattern test! and of course this never includes denim, notions, or something particularly soft and on sale. I mean, if I don’t buy on sale, I’m losing money, right?
Your brain is just like mine – it is losing money if you don’t buy on sale – and I don’t care what anyone else says to rebut this!
I don’t really budget, but I have kept closer track of my spending over the past couple years. At the end of the year I just total up everything I have spent over the year, whether it is fabric, notions, patterns, equipment, books, subscriptions or other tools such as My Body Model. In 2018, I spent $1720, in 2019 I spent $2035. I also total up the number of items I make over the year (this year, for example, I made 63 items, 38 of which were for me, while others were gifts for others) and conclude that this year I’ve spent $32 per item sewn. I tried cutting into my stash this year, but in the end found I purchased 68 metres and sewed 75. I’ll keep trying, but I may find that I need to have a floating stash of about as much as I currently do. I found that my sewing actually used about 50% fabrics from my stash, and about 50% fabrics purchased new this year.
I generally buy good quality fabrics, but always look out for fabrics I don’t have, fabrics that are special, and fabrics that are on sale. I would have to say that I am quite happy with my current level of spending. As long as I’m sewing as much as I am, I don’t think I need to cut back on spending. With the money spent I have created a lovely, personalized and wearable wardrobe, and a whole bunch of birthday and holiday gifts for family members. So the budget for this “hobby” really incorporates my clothing and gifting budgets as well. All a win-win, I think. I would only worry if I was buying and not sewing. I really hate the idea of rampAnt consumerism, and don’t believe a hobby should ever be an excuse for purchasing things we really don’t need.
yeah…I feel ya. It is more than just replacing a fast-fashion shopping habit in so many ways. We gift, we mend, we thoughtfully use up as much material as possible, and for many of us it’s also gifts, therapy, art… so much more than just a fabric-spend.
I love the term “floating stash”. It perfectly articulates what I’ve often considered (but really diffusely) vis a vis my own fabric and yarn stashes. One needs a certain amount of stuff to enable creativity. Sure, you could go and buy for every project, but at some point it’s not efficient (or even cost effective). I’m much more inclined to sew a pair of jeans if I have a great denim in my stash to get me going. And then, when I use it, I feel the hole where next denim should be. I kind of think that de-stashing is a racket. Crafts are designed to keep you in the game because you always need to have what you need for the next great garment.
I have a very large stash which I doubt that I will ever use up. At times it worries me. I retired earlier than I expected becasue of health problems. Fabric stores were now starting to carry only quilt fabrics or leave town and online fabric shopping was just beginning. I quickly learned to shop online as mobility became a problem since I know was an oxygen user. Unfortunately I loved shopping for fabric, touching the fabric and then putting it away. Repeat. Repeat. I didn’t have much energy and my body had changed from the 20 something body that I used to have.
Buying fabric, reading about fabric, taking online courses on what used to be Craftsy is lots of fun but actually sewing the stuff up is not that much fun. Oh, I have lots of sewing friends. Some do sew. Some talk about sewing. Some call me a collector.
As to your original question I spent quite a bit initially on fabric but I rarely buy much any more. I do sew an occasion small item for my grandchild from my stash. The child is thrilled beyond belief. I wish I could get more energy to sew.
I, and my daughter, are dressmaking to rebuild wardrobes after forced clearing out of our clothes a couple of years ago – she lost 90% of her clothes and I lost 60% – and we didn’t have huge wardrobes to start with, and my wardrobe had a fair bit of me made – but much of it was old, collected over the years. She is allergic to cannabis and lived in a student flat with ventilation system connected to that of the local dealer, had to give up her PhD and come home as she couldn’t breathe. Everything she bought home reeked and contaminated everything at home even after repeated washing. She ended up with nothing to wear and I hit my stash to make clothes immediately. She’s now well enough to be dressmaking herself. We are both petite and not big with it.
As she was made so ill by this on top of the other underlying conditions I’m now caring for her and we are on a very tight budget, so we are making clothes where the fit is better and/or we can do this cheaper than buying from charity shops (thrift stores) or in the sales. One of the local shops reduces by 90% when they are trying to sell off the last few garments and we have bought a few clothes there to remake – my daughter is currently remaking a linen shirt that was originally a size 24, sold new for around £2.50, I have a pair of trousers that cost me £1.79 to refashion to test a pattern. I look out for sheets and other fabric to remake but do buy some fabric.
We are shopping my stash, which had grown over the years by the addition of other people’s discarded fabric and haberdashery on top of the stuff I bought when I dress-made in the past, this includes fabric from my grandmother and sister. We are also swapping out anything we’re not going to use at fabric swaps having planned colour themes that we are basing our wardrobes around. When we go fabric shopping we carry a little bag of fabric swatches for matching.
I am not making the fashionable patterns, my figure is so far away from any standard woman’s pattern block that I’m now using teenage boy patterns with a FBA where necessary, where I can find them; it’s what fits me best RTW. I’ve also stopped buying the sewing magazines with their tempting free patterns as they don’t fit and it’s not worth it. We did spend money on Megan Nielsen children’s patterns in the most recent sale and a batch of Ottobre kids magazines, so will be taking part in #SMS20 by using the Mini Tania. Seriously if the age 10-12 fits me without alteration and my daughter with the addition of a zip, I take it as a sign that the adult pattern will not fit.
This is fascinating! I set myself a budget each month, too – for clothing+shoes+dry cleaning+fabric+patterns+sewing equipment. It’s around 10% of my net income, which sounds a lot compared to yours until I try to buy good quality trainers/sneakers for my awkward feet! I used to buy one length of fabric a month, but then I’d find I wouldn’t always get around to sewing it up and my stash was getting out of control… so I guess I save money by buying just what I’ll use. The hardest thing for me is forking out more for fabrics that I hope are more sustainable/ethical choices – natural or recycled fibres, organic fabrics and those that come with some kind of assurance that the textile workers were not badly treated. But sometimes the lure of a sale is too strong for me and my principles give way!
My husband and I are budget-conscious, and we each have an allotted amount to spend on ‘whatever’ each month. Mine gets spent on fabric, yarn, and leather, for the most part. If I end up making something that I would have bought with our regular budget – clothes that I’ll actually wear, for example – then I credit a fair price to my ‘fun’ account. It’s strangely motivating to get ‘paid’ for finishing a project.
That said, the budgeting absolutely limits the materials I can purchase and how much I make. For me, that’s what it’s there for.
I don’t really budget, but I am just coming off a long period of unemployment so I know I didn’t spend more than a couple hundred $$ last year. And that feels good, I feel oppressed by a huge stash so I am happy I only have a couple boxes. Fabric, because I am worse with yarn, but I am a slow knitter.
I do some swaps with local friends, pick up some good pieces here and there, especially if I am traveling as I hate mail order, I really have to feel a fabric. Cheap is good, but not cheesy, nasty polyester won’t ever make it to the top of the queue. On the other hand I sew only for my needs, so a piece a month is more than enough. Good quality fabric pays for itself not just in comfort but in longevity. I have a weakness for patterns though, but I am working on my patternmaking skills, so these days I am collecting pictures more than the real thing.
Like someone else mentioned, I started sewing when things were great for me, financially. I’d run a successful Etsy shop of handmade goods prior to and that really fueled my sewing expenditures for awhile! And I have amassed an enormous stash of patterns and fabrics. I know I have somewhere around 850 patterns plus 7 years of Burda and I can only imagine how much fabric yardage I have.
In 2019, I spent ~$1500 on sewing not including a trip to Berkeley for a class.
In 2018, I spent ~$1800 not including a trip to PA for Sew Camp.
As a monthly average, that isn’t horrible…but this is also while bleeding money for college-aged kids.
2020 feels unsteady to me (political reasons, etc) and we are cutting WAY back on spending, plus, I HAVE AN ENORMOUS STASH! 🙂 Anytime I go rifling through my stash I get excited (and a little sad, honestly!) but pieces that I love. I want to sew these cuts of fabric and that’ll be my focus this year. Not necessarily a stash diet, but moreso from the perspective of controlling spending while also using up good fabrics. I’ve got a super low fabric budget for this year of $250 because I hope to sew what I have. My pattern budget is $50 — I primarily buy Big4 and already renewed my Burda sub in 2019. I will buy notions as needed but will shop the stash first.
Last year wasy first year sewing clothes and I figured some things out along the way in terms of budget. I tend to buy with a project in mind, and slip something extra in if the shipping cost merits it (I am also Canadian) or there is something on sale. So for the most part I can attach a value to my purchase in terms of the finished item… for example, would I pay $120 for the dress I want to make with this $120 purchase? Can I afford a $120 dress? Why do I need it?
It seemed good in theory but I wasn’t always good about making the thing I intended to make (how is it that all the pattern reviews seem good when I plan it and bad after I purchase the fabric?). So I’ve built up a bit of a stash in my small space and spent much more than I should have on a small amount of output.
For this year I plan to only make things that use something I own and will be taking any extra money I want for sewing out of my small entertainment budget.
Great topic! It’s wonderful to have more openness around money. My sewing money comes out of my discretionary budget, like Gillian.
I’m fortunate because right now, I don’t have to stick to a specific dollar amount. I am super intentional and purposeful in my buying. Much more so than I used to be. I’ve focused hard on developing mindfulness and good habits. I’m really privileged to be in position I am.
In the past, I had so much less income and financial resources, and like a lot of posters, I was underemployed / working part time when I got into sewing. I had more time than money.
I tracked my sewing spending closely in 2019. Here’s some radical transparency!!
Online or in person classes: $364
Patterns (11 total): $135
Fabric (20yds new; 40 yds thrifted): $346
Tools & Notions: $177
Printing PDF Patterns (15 printed): $68
Machine Repair: $180
Total: $1311 USD
It’s more than I’ve ever spent in a year on sewing – probably double – but I’m much happier with *how* I spent it. In the past I spent my whole budget solely on patterns and fabric, randomly, and accumulated too much stash. This year, I spent a lot less on fabric and patterns.
I only bought fabric shopping twice all year. I bought a lot of merino wool at The Fabric Store – that’s honestly what most of that went towards. And I spent about $30 on fun impulse buys at a fabric reuse store. That was it. Otherwise, I sewed the stash.
I made or muslined 7 of the 11 patterns (which is a huge usage improvement for me).
Before this year, I had never spent any money on classes, and it they were SO worthwhile. I made the biggest increase in my technical skill last year of any year I’ve sewn. I made my first pair of jeans, my first coat, and my first button up.
I started shelling out for PDF large format printing because I have less time & hit my limit with cutting and taping. Worth it!
In 2020, I don’t have a specific budget goal. I’ll aim for this same ballpark, probably. My sewing goals are really focused on using what I have, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts spending!
Add on: I feel lucky to be in a position where I can focus more on habits and goals than needing to watch my budget hardcore. Basically now that I have more means, I’m trying to be responsible about how I use them.
About 4 years ago I kept every single receipt for the year that related to my sewing. It came to a little over a thousand dollars. I did make every gift I needed to give, birthdays,holidays, etc. and make all of my clothing other than shoes and undies. I doubt if I spent 200 this year. I have a quite small stash, but really nice fabrics. I’d say a bout 20% are bought for a specific project, the rest for whatever. i love quality fabric and would rather buy just a couple really exceptional fabrics a year for big money than tons of fabric that will fill my shelves but be cheap and not great quality. I do avidly search out thrift shops and have gotten incredible finds this past year from exquisite linens to cashmere clothing. I love sewing with beautiful heavy damask tablecloths which are getting harder to find.As far as budgeting, I don’t really. I am quite thrifty and when I don’t have the money I just don’t have it. That is when I go look through my stash or hit the church rummage sales. I have been sewing decades and if I have learned one thing about sewing and money, I have done my best, most creative work when I had the least to work with. It forces me to be creative and to be careful with what little I have. I have to make it work. Luckily I am in a comfortable position today and don’t really have to worry about fabric budgets but old habits die hard and I still am very thrifty and careful with my purchases. Hubby is in total support of whatever I want and get.
I agree with your comment that making do with what one has really drives creativity. I’ve noticed that applies not only to my sewing, but to cooking. It’s a lot of fun to cook with what’s found in the fridge, and some of my best meals are created that way (just don’t ask me to make the same thing again). As long as one has purchased quality supplies, and honours those ingredients with attentive prep, it’s really hard to go wrong!
My spending on craft has varied: usually it’s three major spends at quilt shows and interim purchases. But 2019 was a year when savings had to be dipped or should I say mined into for a kitchen renovation (planned) in March and a complete reroofing (an unplanned emergency) immediately after. So I restricted myself to only buying background fabric for quilts, no dressmaking fabric at all, and the only patterns were in books. I’m hoping 2020 will be a year with no major unplanned expenditure on home repairs so I could enjoy buying, but realistically I have enough in my stash to never need to buy quilting fabric again…