Froggy Girl Designs

A glimpse into my daily life of crafting, frugal living, and being a mom!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Frugal Friday: Sewing on a Budget Part 1

If you're coming over from Biblical Womanhood-welcome! I hope this post is useful for you! And to my regular readers, I hope you can glean some tips as well! I'm going to break this series up over the course of a few weeks because WOW it's alot of information (either that or I just talk too much, which is very possible!), so come back next week for Part 2.
I started sewing about a year ago now, and while I am no expert, I think we can all agree that most times, making clothing for yourself or your family isn't always the most frugal way to clothe your family. Buying from yard sales, thrift stores, even retail clearance racks is generally cheaper than paying $8 a yard for fabric, plus whatever notions you need for each particular garment. I completely agree. But! It doesn't have to be that way. I know most Wal-Mart's have discontinued their fabric sections at this point, but I'm lucky to live within an hour of 3 that still haven't, as well as a Joann's Fabric and Hancock's. But the tips I've got for you today will help you even if you don't live near any of those.
First, the main expense is a sewing machine, at least starting off. My first machine was a Brother that I got off of Freecycle. It was a very standard machine which did a straight stitch and zig zag and that was it. But that is more than enough for most simple sewing and mending. I used that until about a month ago when Bobby (my husband) got me a higher end machine for my birthday and business use. More on that in a second. ALWAYS check Freecycle before making purchases of really any amount. Everything from dishes, to clothing, to cars are all things I've seen posted for free on our local list. Especially if you're a novice sewer, start simple, 9 times out of 10 a straight stitch is all you need, so get a decent machine without the 50 decorative stitches. My recommendation if you can't find one on Freecycle is your local sewing machine shop. My reason for that is two fold-1) you can get a better machine for your money and 2) you will always have someone you can call with questions.

When I bought my new machine, I started out buying one from Wal-Mart, thinking it was cheaper and would work fine. After less than 2 weeks, I was having problems with the tension and things, and had no one to call. So I started calling local sewing stores. I knew I couldn't afford any of the really awesome machines which often start at $1,000 and go UP from there, but one local store also carries the "lower-end" Singer machines. So I went in to check them out. They offered new owner classes with machine purchase for free to help you learn how to use the machine, as well as a trade-in program. When you trade in your machine within one year of date of purchase to a higher end model, you receive the full purchase price of the first machine as a credit towards the second. Now, to the average sewer, that's not generally a benefit, but for me since I am starting a business where my machine is my #1 tool, that's really great, since as my skills and business grow I will most likely need a better machine and this way, I can get the most "bang for my buck" so to speak, without being overwhelmed at first by features I don't know how to use.
They had 2 options within my budget, both were Singer Touch N Sew models. One was $249 (the same price I had paid for the Wal-Mart machine) and the other was $329. I was going to get the cheaper of the two, because it still did all I needed at this point, when the salesgirl let me know they had actually received a trade in of the higher end model if I was interested in that. Of course I was-they clean and service all trade in machines before offering them back up, so I knew it was in perfect working order already. The price? $239. Yup, $10 cheaper than the brand new lower end model. And I love this machine. Not an ounce of trouble with it so far, and if I do, I can call the store and get it fixed right away for nothing. It also came with 4 bobbins, a package of basic needles, 5 different feet, plus some little do dads for cleaning the machine and the like. I'm still learning how to use some of the features, but that is exactly what I planned, I wanted a machine that would enable me to learn how to do things like installing a zipper (done), making buttonholes (haven't tried), overlocking (done), and more.
The moral of the story is this, cheaper isn't always better as we all know. Sometimes paying a higher price is well worth the benefits you receive. In the case of the Wal-mart machine, which was also a Singer, but it was made by a specific division which doesn't make the good quality machines. The Singer dealer isn't even able to get parts to fix those machines, and if you're going to invest a couple hundred dollars in ANYTHING you want to be able to get it fixed if something breaks. Do your research before randomly buying a machine, find out what your local sewing shops offer and go from there.
Next week I'll cover getting fabric and notions CHEAP, and I mean CHEAP. So come back then for more great tips!

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  • At 8:30 AM, Blogger Chesterfield said…

    Thank you! This post is very timely for me. We are currently exploring options for a new (or used) sewing machine.

    I have a simple Singer that I inherited, and it loses it's "timing" or something like that at least once a year. Unfortunately, where we live, it costs nearly $100 to get it serviced!! This machine is barely worth $100 itself, lol.

    You're absolutely right about novice sewers mostly just needing a straight stitch. I've been sewing for about three years, and never even had to zig zag until this summer (I attempted to make a swim suit).

    Thanks for the food for thought about what to consider about our purchase!

  • At 9:24 AM, Blogger Angie said…


    Thanks for the information! I probably would have bought a machine from Walmart. Yet, I don't know how to sew or rather the last time I did was in HomeEc class uh... 23 years ago! I would love to learn though - any chance you would take a trip to South Dakota for lessons?

    Sewing is something I would love to learn how to do just as knitting would be but between the 3 kids and the husband I am usually last on the list to get something I enjoy. I will just live through you for the time being and hopefully I can join you before your kids are all grown.

  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger lera said…

    My hubby bought me a Kenmore in 1996. I upgraded to a more expensive brand/model in January 2006 and have had problem after problem. I am currently using the old Kenmore (and having tons of problems with tension and threads) but at least it's working consistently. Sewing, that is.

  • At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Homeschoolers can sign up for a Joann's teacher discount card through PEAH. You don't have to be a PEAH member either - gives instructions. The card will give you an extra 15% off anything you purchase in the store. You'll also be signed up for their flyer that has at least a 40% off coupon off any item, or 5 off 35.


  • At 1:35 PM, Blogger Mika said…

    Quinn, that's one of the things I'm going to cover next week when I talk about fabric and stuff, but thanks so much for letting me know about the homeschooling aspect of it as well. I appreciate it! Anyone else have any tips like that?

  • At 5:20 PM, Blogger Mom2fur said…

    A machine you love is half the battle, isn't it? I had a Janome years ago. I'm talking 179 stitches plus embroidery capability. It was all shiny and pretty and computerized. My sister said I could probably press a button that said 'christening gown,' and one would come out the other end. I did a lot of sewing with that baby. It was a blast to dress up my kids, especially my daughter. Well, I ran the thing into the ground. The computer died. And I let the sewing slip away from my list of things I enjoy. The kids got too old to 'dress.'
    Well, a few years ago I decided I wanted a machine just for simple projects. It's just a Kenmore and has maybe 30 stitches. And you know what? I love it. These days, I'm really back into the swing of sewing again. Friends are having grandchildren, and I'm sewing for myself as well. And I'm looking forward to reading more of your ideas...any way I can save money sewing is great!

  • At 5:29 PM, Blogger Sherry said…

    You definitely do not want a cheap machine. I will just be money wasted.

  • At 7:50 PM, Blogger Sunshine said…

    I went to walmart and purchased a brother and I have no ideal how to even thread it. I figured the manual might have some instructions included. Wrong. I am going to take a sewing class for beginners through our local 4H. It's $10 and personally I think that's a bargain since no one in our area (major city) even gives lessons to adults anymore. I wanted something to pass onto help them when they are living on their own.

  • At 10:02 PM, Blogger Mika said…

    mom2fur...I know exactly what you mean! My machine is simple on the scale of what is currently available, but I just adore it. The gentle hum as it goes along is wonderful! Hope to see you around here more...I'm all about saving money..even if I forget to post about it sometimes lol.

  • At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Elaine said…

    Thank you so much for this great information!
    One thing I would like to add is that if you buy a basic mechanical machine the odds are very great that you will have a machine for years to come and all you will have to do is to oil it and take the lint brush out and clean it now and then.
    The reason is that the mechanical have METAL gears which don't break down like the plastic gears, which are costly to replace!
    The mechanical machine I have is versatile and not at all delicate. I ahve a Riccar that is several years old and it is alot like the Kenmore mechanical , from what I have seen. I read a review about the Riccar that I own, which is a standard model and it is bascially the same year after year.
    The lady who wrote the review said she & her husband teach drama and their students (who are not experienced sewers and can be rough on things), have used the Riccar for years with no problem!
    I have sewn for years and this basic machine is really about all I need. Although other machines certainly have many bells and whistles and would be fun to own, I have never been able to justify needing another one!
    Sewing is such a great way to be creative and to help stretch the old dollar at the same time! I am so excited so many people are discovering the fun of sewing!

    God bless,

  • At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Elaine said…

    Hey again!
    I just wanted to make one more thing to my previous entry about the mechanical sewing machine. They are so affordable!


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