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#94464 - 04/15/08 05:47 PM Worth learning to sew?
wanderingscott Offline

Registered: 04/14/08
Posts: 13
Loc: Austin, TX
I don't sew but sure like all the homemade gear I see on TLB. My question is, Is it indeed a cost savings to sew your own gear? I'd like to buy a used machine, learn to use it and start some beginner projects but it seems like a pretty expensive undertaking. Also, not sure about the learning urve for a complete beginner. Any tips or advice from ya'lls experiences with getting started?

#94465 - 04/15/08 06:05 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
jasonklass Offline

Registered: 08/27/05
Posts: 551
Loc: Denver, Colorado
I've tried the same thing you're considering. There was an initial investment of the machine and some materials but if you produce enough, I think there is a substantial savings. Think about it: you can make anything you want for a fraction of the cost!

My problem was that I found the process of sewing itself boring so I gave up. The finished product wasn't enough motivation for me to suffer through the tedium of pushing the material through the machine. But if you enjoy or can tolerate the process and have some good designs, I think it is totally worth it.
Gear Talk There's no such thing as having too many sporks!

Backpack Flyfishing Tight lines,light packs

#94466 - 04/15/08 06:32 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
hootyhoo Offline

Registered: 12/14/06
Posts: 686
Loc: Cyberspace

#94467 - 04/15/08 08:57 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
Roocketman Offline

Registered: 03/10/07
Posts: 203
Expense - maybe, but you need to consider this as a hobby.

Used sewing machines can be cheap. I have bought several at thrift shops for prices around $15. I was picky, and waited for the deals where there was a good looking machine (generally) and it had a box of attachment goodies.

My most recent purchase was $15.88 for an old used Singer 328k made in the 1950's or 1960's. This one was frozen up from sitting unused for a long time, and the lubrication had literally solidified. P Blaster, Tri-Flow or BreakFree will loosen and lubricate. WD40 is strongly disrecommended for sewing machines as over time it dries to a varnish like nearly glue.

I have read about repair of these machines ( as a hobby) and this worked out to be a fine machine which just needed a little work.

A Cleaning, Oiling and Adjustment (COA) will typically run $30 to $50 in most areas, but maybe you can get on the phone and get this info for your area.

Many people are quite happy with a WalMart Brother or Singer NEW sewing machine for about $100. Mostly, you will use a straight stitch and basic zig-zag now and then. You literally have no need for 128 fancy stitches and embroidery designs at your finger tips. Just look at gear that you have to tell you this. You want a little quality in the machine, so stay away from the real dirt cheap things.

You will want some cutting instruments, and it is often suggested that you buy quality scissors and/or rotary cutters (and cutting board). There are a number of small tools you may find you want.

needles, thread, thread snippers for use at the machine, pins (get the ones with beads on the end as you can find them easier when you drop them, and stick them in easier),

tapes, webbing, buckles, zippers,

Fabrics, insulation,

There are some excellent books on making outdoor gear, but mostly these date from the 1970's and 1980's. You can borrow these on interlibrary loan, for free. Copy out the pages you need or want. Also, from the library, you may be able to get video tapes or DVD's on sewing topics. Same for books on sewing machine repair. Used bookstores online are worth it.

Stuff sacks are common first projects, and you can often find instructions online.

You might be well served to buy a kit from somebody with instructions and illustrations as a next project, or you could just "wing it" as some are inclined to do. Kits available include quilts, packs, ponchos, parkas, ... but nothing yet like the booming industry in kits of the 1970's.

Reread the MYOG groups. They are full of interesting stuff on the major backpacking forums.

It won't be long till you can translate your dreams into gear.

In the 1970's I decided not to sew stuff. I regret that decision now.


#94468 - 04/15/08 11:11 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
billk Offline

Registered: 08/20/03
Posts: 1196
Loc: Portland, Oregon
It's worth it if you think you would enjoy the process of making your own gear, but probably not for the cost savings alone. You can save a little money, but I've found that I end up making more than one of nearly everything, in an effort to improve it, even if the first one was perfectly serviceable.

I'd recommend buying an older used machine at a sewing machine shop, and avoid thrift stores and big box stores. You can sometimes get lucky at thrift stores, but you have to know what you're looking for. Sewing specialty stores will sometimes include free lessons with even a used machine, and they generally offer a year warranty on them.

It's not particularly difficult to learn, even by yourself. A basic book would be helpful. As with anything, there'll be moments of frustration. I recall how proud I was years ago after making myself a shirt...until I realized I'd put the buttons on the wrong side.

#94469 - 04/16/08 05:05 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
Dryer Offline

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3590
Loc: Texas
Is it indeed a cost savings to sew your own gear?

Depends on how you look at it. I don't sew my own stuff for a 'cost savings'. I like the flexibility of 'customized' equipment/clothing that you simply can't buy off the shelf. You can control the quality right down to the stitch. You can target functionality without lots of extras that do nothing. However, when you figure your time and trouble into the equation, home made gear is probably much more expensive than store bought.

Worth learning to sew?

Oh, heck yes!!! It's habit forming and one of the handiest things you can do!
Even the cheapest Walmart machines will do good work these days. Find yourself a privately owned 'sew and vac' shop in your area. Buy a basic machine that does straight, zig-zag, reverse, and you'll be good to go. They sometimes throw in some lessons for free. Ask around in your might find a free one. Watch garage sales for thread and other notions. I bought a lifetime supply of really serious quilting thread and serger cones (thread for sergers but will work on standard machines) for $5!!! Got my serger at a garage sale....a good one too.
Craigslist is another good place to get a machine but if you don't know what your looking at, you can end up with someone else's headache.
paul, texas KD5IVP

#94470 - 04/16/08 06:36 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: billk]
finallyME Offline

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
I recall how proud I was years ago after making myself a shirt...until I realized I'd put the buttons on the wrong side.

Give it to your wife. Women have buttons on the other side. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

#94471 - 04/16/08 06:56 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: finallyME]
pennys Offline

Registered: 12/31/01
Posts: 2842
Loc: Washington
Sew and Repair Your Own Gear by Louise Sumner is still in print and you can get used copies off Ebay for cheap.
tips for making gear

#94472 - 04/16/08 06:58 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
finallyME Offline

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
A lot of good things have been said so far. And, I agree with them all. When I started to sew, I kind of had it easy. Both my grandmothers, and my mother and mother-in-law had been sewing for years. My mom majored in textile design or something like that. She was always sewing (despite bad arthritis in her hands at a young age). My wife started to learn to sew dresses soon after our first daughter. She had many women to show her how to use a machine, and she used their machines under their supervision. So, here I come along wanting to make my own gear. All I had to do was ask my wife and mom how to do it. I am not an expert, but I know who to ask when I have a problem. I would recommend that you ask your family if there is someone who can teach you and let you use their machine on a few projects to see if you like it.

Is it cost effective? That depends on your skill. Go look at the prices of gear at REI or some specialty shop. Those are the prices you are trying to beat. A lightweight tarp is between $75 and $150. I can easily make the same quality or better tarp for 1/3 of that price. You can make one that doesn't look professional but works for less as well. If you compare the cost of cheap gear that is heavy and falls apart, then it is not cost effective. Clothing is little more difficult. Usually, if you look hard, you can find cheap clothing that is just as good as that expensive stuff at REI or Cabelas. But, in reality, when you make your own stuff, you are custom manufacturing it to your needs. The cost should be compared to a custom job, not an off the shelf, fits everyone, job. And as a side note, REI is a great source for webbing and hardware like side release buckles and ladder locks. They are pretty cheap compared to other places I have found.

I would recommend you look at Ray Jardine's site for his opinion about MYOG. He has a good article about sewing.

Anyways, my goal is to have all my equipment 100% homemade. My shoes might be a challenge, but I think I can do it. Happy sewing. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

#94473 - 04/16/08 08:31 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: finallyME]
phat Offline

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

I sew for a little of both. In some cases it is economy, however, for me, I'm a "slow" sewer, and I kind
of do count my time and aggravation in it. For example I can buy a silnylon tarp at MEC for $60, and It'll take me $25 worth of silnylon and $10 in odds and sods to make one, plus my time - so I don't do that.

OTOH, I can modify gear like packs and tents to have what I want in them, or make gear like a hammock with features that I want *for me* that I just couldn't buy otherwise, or at least not at
a price that I can afford. So, I sew my own hammock, hack my tents, make my own fleece pants, etc.

If I were a more in practice sewer, and or had more time on my hands to do it with, I would think it cool to use all homemade gear. For now at least, if my choice is spend a weekend sewing a backpack for $50, or spend $150 on buying a backpack and spend the weekend hiking, I buy the backpack and go hiking for the weekend <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Any fool can be uncomfortable...
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Winter list.
Browse my pictures

#94474 - 04/16/08 08:47 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
froldt Offline

Registered: 01/13/08
Posts: 67
Loc: Ireland
Just recently I pulled out Mom's sewing machine and basically started all over. I have used sewing machines when I was young (preteen or younger), but that just gave me the confidence that I can sew if I want to.

I followed the instructions in the manual and figured out how to get everything set up. So it is possible to learn by yourself (though I'm sure it's easier if you have someone to show you.)

I made a stuff sack, then made a hammock (4 straight lines, so pretty easy). Then made 3 more hammocks, and 3 more stuff sacks. This is a hammock and sack for myself, my fiance, my sister's birthday present, and for a friend who is going to pay for the materials.

Financially, if I were to purchase a comparable hammock, it would be about $50, and cost me $20 to make (probably closer to $17). So on the four hammocks I have saved about $120. I was able to borrow the sewing machine (it's portable, so not too bad), but I would have purchased one of the $100 WalMart ones otherwise.

Next up is going to be a pair of backpacks, since my fiance and I need some. I also want to try making some quilts (some to sell and some for camping).

So, financially, I end up ahead. This is mostly because I have more time than money. It doesn't hurt that I was able to borrow a sewing machine instead of purchasing one.
Hobby-wise, I enjoy making things, so this works really well for me.

As far as a learning curve, it was easy for me to start with straight line projects and I am in the process of moving to some more complicated projects. Even the backpack pattern that I'm looking at appears to be a series of straight lines, just more of them.

Wow, that's a long reply, hope there's something helpful in there!
More adventure in your life today.

#94475 - 04/17/08 03:19 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
TurkeyBacon Offline

Registered: 10/04/02
Posts: 524
Loc: Boston
I'm going to be saying much of the same, but...
Its more of a hobby. Over time it will be "cheaper" but then again, are you just going to be making things because its cheap/free that you would have not made before? For instance... I needed a large seat bag for my bike. I found I design I liked online and made one out of materials I already had. It was free... for now, but the materials came from other progects that never happened or extra materials from other pogects (has anybody mentioned that wonderfull plastic bin full of fabrics, zippers, velcro and webbing that you will aquire?). Also, cycling jerseys have pockets on the back of them... everything I am now sticking in my seat bag could have been stuffed in my jersey pockets. So was that realy cheaper??? Who cares. I have a kick [Edited for inappropriate languge, please review forum policies for more information] seat bag that no one else in the world has.
Is it cheaper... kinda. Worth it... absolutely. You don't start sewing you own gear because you need item X and want it cheaper, you start sewing your own gear because you enjoy the geeky coolness of it.
The real money saving is if you do not have any gear or need to upgrade all your gear and are very patient in making it all yourself.
I had superhuman powers, but my therapist took them away.

#94476 - 04/17/08 06:55 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
lori Offline

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
I suggest a Ray Way as a first project - I sewed mine together a little funky but it's still functional as a quilt. Kits you get from Ray Way have explicit instructions to follow and all the materials you need (except thread and clothespins, but you can get thread from RW too) so those are a good start, and a RW quilt is as little as $60, which is a savings over buying a complete quilt. If you don't like sewing after all, you still have a warm quilt. If you do like sewing, there are other projects, like stuff sacks, hats, jackets... and you can customize them however you please.

In other words, the answer to "is it worth it" is something you can answer only for yourself. Sometimes it's worth it for me to sew something instead of buying it. Sometimes it's not. It depends on how urgently I need the item (how much time I need to make it), and how much I am going to depend on it - if it's a complicated item I will need to rely on I'm more likely to buy one than make it.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

#94477 - 04/17/08 11:33 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: lori]
robi Offline

Registered: 05/29/03
Posts: 312
Loc: budapest, hungary
get a pattern of sg you want ... sew it.. you will either be addicted or not

I am addicted.


#94478 - 04/17/08 09:57 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
Diz Offline

Registered: 04/17/08
Posts: 1
Loc: Free Pineland! NC
Well, I kinda think that's gonna depend on you. In my case I just got out of the Marine Corps and wanted to buy new light weight gear. But the sticker shock (and my budget) knocked me back. So I decided to roll my own. I found I like to make things and enjoyed making my own gear, exactly like I wanted it. Been doing this stuff for over twenty years now and am finally making gear full time. So you have to find out if this is something you like to do, or not.

Is it cost-effective? Initially, probably not. You can spend as much, if not more getting set up to make that super light bag or pack than it would cost you off the shelf. But if you find you enjoy doing it and/or are pretty good at it, over time you will see a significant savings.

Getting started is fairly simple. A home sewing machine, some tools and supplies, and some materials are all you need. You also have the benefit of a vast amount of information available on how to make gear these days. Getting over the learning curve is a fairly painless process.

I started out by reverse-engineering simple stuff, like pouches and working up to things like full expedition packs. Get trashed-out gear, take it apart and study how it's made. Make copies until you have the techniques down, then branch out into your own designs. My wife always teased me about having taken out more thread than I ever put in. Until recently, she was probably right.

In the end, it's up to you whether this sewing business is for you or not. I find it fascinating to take a roll of raw material and turn it into something useful, like a pack. Sewing technology never ceases to amaze me. But just like anything else, it's probably not for everybody.

#94479 - 04/18/08 02:05 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
speyguy Offline

Registered: 04/11/06
Posts: 35
Loc: Portland, OR
This is a good thread. Lots of great stuff mentioned already. I would just like to add a couple of things. First, it's a really great feeling to pull a good piece of gear out of your pack and being able to say "I made it myself." The other thing is, for those of us in family situations, raising kids, paying mortgages and trying to balance the delicate financial ying and yang of marital bliss, I can honestly say that it's been a much easier sell to my spouse to get that additional piece of gear that I may want, when I can get the materials for a fraction of the cost of pre-made and make it myself. It rains a lot here in Portland, and I can usually find a rainy day to stay in and sew a piece of gear.

#94480 - 04/18/08 02:27 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: speyguy]
finallyME Offline

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
This is a good thread.

If you think this is a good thread, then you should see the bonded nylon thread I just got. It was $6 for a 1lb cone. Size 69. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

#94481 - 04/18/08 03:21 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
Haiwee Offline

Registered: 08/21/03
Posts: 330
Loc: Southern California
The cost savings can be significant. A pair of down pants will probably set you back $150 at REI; I made my Gore Tex shell, nylon-lined down pants for around twenty bucks (it helped that Wally World had Gore Tex in the dollar bin). A few years ago I ordered enough Power Dry from Malden Mills to make two sets of long underwear. If I remember right, I paid about twenty-five bucks for the material, whereas a set of Power Dry underwear usually sells for about sixty bucks.

But there are actually two main reasons I sew. First, I can make gear that fits perfectly and functions just the way I want it. No unnecessary bells and whistles, just good form and function. Second, I think it's kind of cool that almost all my hiking gear is home made. Maybe this is silly, but it fills me with a sense of pride that I'm actually out there surviving on gear I made myself.
My blog on politics, the environment and the outdoors:

#94482 - 04/18/08 07:13 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: finallyME]
speyguy Offline

Registered: 04/11/06
Posts: 35
Loc: Portland, OR
If you think this is a good thread, then you should see the bonded nylon thread I just got. It was $6 for a 1lb cone. Size 69. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />

Hehehe! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />

#94483 - 04/19/08 07:15 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
sarbar Offline

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 1453
Loc: WA
It can be worth it...but! Until you master it, expect to toss ruined fabric into the garbage can <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> So your first couple projects may cost you a couple times more than buying premade <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />
Your best bet is start small: a couple stuff sacks from a pattern.Then go up to the big stuff. Learn how to sew all the types of fabric - be it silnylon, stretchy spandex, tough cordura, etc.
When it comes down to machines....I sewed on a $100 Singer for many, many years. Is my current Pfaff machine that much better? Not really. It is more fun to sew but for sheer hard working, that old Singer I bought new in 1992 or so worked like a field horse!

Just remember: use the right needles, keep your machine clean (use a dusting brush often) and life will be ok!
Freezer Bag Cooking, Trail Cooking, Recipes, Gear and Beyond:

#94484 - 04/21/08 12:28 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: sarbar]
jamieS Offline

Registered: 09/29/04
Posts: 271
I would say that it's worth learning to sew to make a tarp and maybe a bivy sac, but for the other projects it does take some skill. Good sewers make it look easy, but it takes a lot of time to get good. So, beyond tarps and bivies, I would say: no, don't learn to sew, unless you are also looking for a new hobby!

<img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />

#94485 - 04/30/08 02:07 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
12Step Offline

Registered: 03/04/08
Posts: 89
Loc: Southwest Ohio
My grandmother and mother taught me how to sew (and cross stitch). Before I started backpacking I was sewing holes in clothes shut, and sewing patches on jackets as a kid. I still sew patches on things for work and every once in a while sew some Myguyver crazy experments.

Thanks grandma!

"Let's not miss the beauty of the forest by the ugliness of some of its trees." Bill W.

#94486 - 07/09/08 12:13 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
wanderingscott Offline

Registered: 04/14/08
Posts: 13
Loc: Austin, TX
So I finally picked up a used sewing machine last night. It's a 1957 Singer 401A.
I have no experience sewing but the manual has been helpful in getting everything set-up. My wife contributed some old shirts which I have cut up and began practicing with. So far, just practicing different ways of stiching and making a few small bags etc. Thanks for all ya'lls help during my original post.

#94487 - 08/31/08 07:47 AM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: wanderingscott]
Folkalist Offline

Registered: 03/17/07
Posts: 374
Loc: Fredericksburg, VA
I've not been keeping up with the forum very well lately, so I'm really late in replying to your initial post. I have to say though that everyone else has voiced my opinion pretty well. I'm a serious do-it-yourselfer, but there are a great many things where doing it myself won't save me money. Customized gear and clothing, though makes learning to sew emminently worthwhile! I love making things that are exactly the right shape or size. I'm also rather petite through the torso (I believe my sister refers to me as a freak of nature), so trimming 5 or 6 inches off of those dirt cheap, no-name-brand shirts allows me me to wear normal looking tops instead of mini-dresses into the woods.

As many others have mentioned, the pure feeling of pride you have over a perfectly functioning, correctly sized, homemade piece of gear (no matter how unlovely it might look!) is wonderful. Plus GEAR-REPAIR makes learning to sew very practical.
Why am I online instead of hiking?

#94488 - 10/05/08 12:39 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: Folkalist]
kev Offline

Registered: 08/30/04
Posts: 163
Loc: Iowa
Most definitely, if only for repairs and alterations.

I love buying discounted pants with legs too long.

I hate throwing something away because one cheap seam failed.

I could ask a family member to sew, but I might not get the item back for a year, heck mom has a new pair of pants of mine from 11 years ago.

Several rules to make sewing easier.

Change needles often, they are cheap but a dull or blunted one will cause problems.

Buy the best thread you can.

If the machine snarles up, cut off thead back to the spool or bobbin, it might be a bad spot or damaged, saving a pennys worth a thread is not worth the greif it can cause.

Keep the bobbin case area clean.

Don't let people play with it.


If you start feeling stressed out take a break, much better to have a nice cupa tea than spend half an hour ripping out a wrong seam.

Do whats needed to see what you are doing, I sprung for one of those lamps with the magnifing lens, my eyes aren't what they used to be and use it for seam ripping and threading needles.

Avoid deadlines, I haven't yet done a project I was happy with while under one.
A project takes as long as it takes, a well thought out one can seem to fall together.
Why am I getting old faster than I'm getting smart?

#94489 - 10/05/08 06:32 PM Re: Worth learning to sew? [Re: kev]
Pika Online   content

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1789
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
Kev, excellent summary of simple things to do to make sewing easier.
May I walk in beauty.

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