It All Adds Up

It occurred to me recently, when I was looking at supplies I needed to buy for sewing, just how quickly the money adds up with a hobby like this. The problem with sewing is that many people don’t realize what goes into it if they don’t sew.

Not always just thread and fabric

There are times when simple garments really do require nothing more than fabric and thread — and sometimes fairly inexpensive ones, at that.  Many times, however, there are many more supplies and parts involved.  Take corsets, for example:  you have different layers of fabrics, stiffening hardware like boning and busks, grommets, and lacing.  Some corsets are heavily boned, which means they require a lot more boning, and they usually use different kinds of boning made for specific areas of the corset.  Some grommets are better than others.  What about cutting your own boning and having a good grommet-setter?  Those tools cost money, even if they are a one-time purchase. Sometimes you have to order many of these things since they’re not always available around the corner at your local fabric or craft store.

Quality costs

The other thing about sewing is if you want something to look great, you need to invest in better materials.  As I mentioned above, this doesn’t just mean fabric itself — the hardware and notions also make a difference.

Some people want costumes that look just like a costume used in a movie.  Again, the person sewing the garment has to look for fabrics that are an exact match or as close as they can get.  You usually have to pay a pretty hefty price to get some of those really nice fabrics, too.  In fact, most fabrics that are really nice and rich-looking usually cost a lot more.

Other reasons higher-priced costumes and garments look nice is not scrimping on layers or fabrics.  If a costume requires fullness in the skirt, not only are there possibly hoops supporting it, but there are usually a couple of petticoats or layers of fabrics used to help the skirt look correct.  Billowing folds and trailing, draping rich fabrics look that way because enough yardage was purchased to achieve the look.  Add any extra trims or ornamentation, and there is even more time and money involved.

Time is money

Artisans definitely earn their money for the time and skill they put into garments.  There are of course varying levels of detail, from basic to incredibly detailed, but they still had to work on it.  There are many times I’ve been amazed to see just how much has gone into some of the costumes I’ve seen made by friends.

Some even sew by hand and rarely use a sewing machine.  This not only adds authenticity to some garments (such as re-enacting), but it also adds to time spent.  Some hand-embroider, or hand-bead.  The options for customizing a garment to purchase can be amazing, but it can also take a lot of time.

Why I’ll never sew for money

I am incredibly impressed with those who make a living doing this, or even just extra money on the side with a few commissions.   Honestly, I don’t ever see myself doing anything like it.  I don’t work quickly enough (I’m still learning), and I don’t want the added stress.  Plus, I have enough ideas and plans to keep me busy for a very long time.  I just don’t see myself being able to squeeze in even more sewing to do.

Respect and patience

Those who sew or create items like sewing, leather-working, etc. deserve respect and they deserve patience.  They’re not running to a store and buying a garment instantly — they’re creating something completely from scratch for someone.

Check out their FAQs and communicate with them about what you need, but try to understand what you’re asking for.  If you’re wanting something that looks great and is very complicated, it’s going to cost a lot.  (It’s not uncommon for many of the top costume-makers to charge into the $1,000’s for a custom costume.)

People don’t wear things like that every day for a reason.  Not only are clothes like bustle gowns with trains and tons of draped overskirts a bit much for our usual day-to-day activities, there is a lot of yardage and time and supplies put into a garment that is a one-of-a-kind creation.

About Cynthia Griffith

I have way too many interests and hobbies, and continually cycle through them -- paying attention to some, while others wait for when I can get around to them again. My main interests are sewing and costuming (I enjoy historical clothing, such as 18th and 19th century, as well as fantasy costumes like elves and hopefully someday even dwarves), as well as getting back to art by drawing fan art of Thorin Oakenshield and Company. My husband Christopher and I spend a lot of time together, enjoying the outdoors and shared hobbies such as juggling. This blog and website is my way to share what I'm up to with friends and family.
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4 Responses to It All Adds Up

  1. Knocking around fabric shops with you, I’ve seen some expensive fabrics.

    I’ve seen people request custom costumes for $100. I’ve seen some fabrics and laces run not too far from that for a yard!

    I think even if I didn’t know firsthand, though, that I’d be able to get my head around something taking months to make alone would cost more than $100.

    The time/cost ratio to what some people think a custom costume costs…well, the person making the costume would stand to make more per hour in a third-world sweatshop in many cases.

  2. I’m sure there are a lot of problems, but I suspect two of the biggest are: 1) Many people seem to think “quick and cheap” are the norm for everything, and 2) Many people don’t understand why you would spend that much on something you would only wear for Halloween (of course, not realizing many of us have a LOT more places and chances to wear a costume than just on Halloween).

  3. Mary says:

    I think it would be a tremendous stressor to sew for money, especially what you do. It’s one thing to go to a tailor/seamstress and order a wool-blend custom suit, for example, and quite another to order a costume such as something you’d make. This is not to diminish the custom suit by any means; but there IS much more involved in a bustle dress and undergarments. Staying “on time” with such a project for another could take the pleasure out of it, it seems.

  4. Mary: Yes — I had to deal with some “interesting” things when I tried freelance art, and I ended up hating it. It definitely removes a lot of the fun for me. I know a lot of folks who take sewing commissions, and I have been able to read about others who do as well. Lots of horror stories, and very frustrating. Since I’m so slow and get easily irritated about things I love turning into things I don’t love so much anymore (like what happened to my art), I know I should definitely not sew for money.

    Like I said… the people who take sewing commissions have my respect. Not only are they workhorses, they have to deal with some frustrating situations, yet still love to sew and find time to sew for themselves.

    It would definitely help most peoples’ frustration level if customers knew that offering $100 for a $2000+ outfit isn’t going to work. For what they want to spend, they should just go to a costume shop. That’s not a slam on that sort of customer’s needs, either — not at all! They just have different views and needs. Those who are serious about creating or purchasing a very detailed, quality costume or garment, usually don’t blink twice at paying big bucks for it. They’re also the ones who have more occasion to wear it than just once at a Halloween party.

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