Sunday, March 31, 2013

A General Guide of When to DIY vs. Buy

I think I mentioned before that I started DIY'ing during my first maternity leave ~3 years ago when I had a lot of time on my hands and zero income (personal income, still had family income from husband) flowing in.  I had always been a shopper and being off work for a year meant that if I wanted to fiscally responsible, both for myself and my baby, I needed to just turn it off.  Meanwhile, I'd feel the itch for something new when looking through magazines, watching TV / movies, or just walking down the street and seeing someone wear something cute.  Many times (especially then when it seemed like ruffles were all over the place), I'd notice the designs were generally pretty simple - like a basic tank / shell silhouette with some kind of embellishment.

I had tried "draping" a dress before (Project Runway was on my brain) and it looked awesome on the mannequin, but could not be worn practically (was a strapless knit and did not have any of the required structure to stay up).  Prior to that, I had a short stint of pillow sewing in middle school Home Ec.  I also used to watch my mother when I was growing up.  [An aside: I remember my home-sewn clothes to be very well-made, but unattractive (a mishmash of overly embellished garments featuring ugly prints - my very own "immigrant chic" look) and always 3 sizes bigger so I could grow into it.  To this day, whenever I sew something, Mom asks, "That's too small.  What if you get fatter?"]  So, armed with those experiences and years of Project Runway watching, I felt inspired to tackle making my own versions.  See my first projects here and here.

Hmm, that was probably more wordy than necessary - moving on to a general guide of when to DIY versus buy.

Easiest Items to DIY:
  • Tops
  • Skirts
  • Most dresses
  • Scarves - even knit / crocheted ones
  • Simple jewelry
Simple embellishments to add onto DIY'ed or existing tops (great for beginners!):
  • Ruffles - see ruffled cardigan tutorial here
  • Bows - see bow top tutorial here
  • Petals - see petaled top tutorial here
  • Any kind of trim - pearl strands, rhinestones, rope, fringe, chains, lace (but do watch out from a washability standpoint), see chain cardigan tutorial here
Simple trends to DIY:
  • Peplums - see a pencil skirt + peplum tutorial here and some other projects here and here
  • Colorblocking - see an easy color blocked maxi dress tutorial here and t-shirt dress here
  • Some spiking / studding / beading - see my spiked shoe here
When to Buy:
  • Difficult or time-intensive to make - Blazers / Outerwear, Sweaters
  • Hard to find prints
  • Cheaper than making / Effort for DIY exceeds cost of buying - i.e. Bubble Necklace materials were going to cost me about $10 plus at least an hour or two of making, easier to just spend $20 buying one from eBay
If you have questions about whether something is DIY'able or how to approach a project you're planning, please feel free to leave it in the comments below.  I hope this post was helpful!


  1. What I find funny about this is I tend to buy tops and skirts, and make outerwear. I've been averaging one major coat project per year, and I do wear them a lot. Last year I made a wool trench style cape, and this year I did a "softshell trench coat" = used a trench pattern but used softshell windblock Schoeller fabric so that it was weather proof. I need to take pictures.

  2. This is a fun and interesting read. I agree with your "East Items to DIY" list--skirts are especially simple and it's a project many people can definitely take on!

    I'm at the point where I would be really happy if I could make 90% of the items in my wardrobe. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor the skill to contribute to that many pieces. Instead, I put my funds towards items that I know will fill closet-voids but am not interested in making (ex: jeans) or do not have the skills to make (ex: most shoes) and DIY the rest when time permits. Building a streamlined closet is a marathon and not a sprint so I would rather add pieces to my closet slowly!

  3. I love that first purple top! Did you ever post a tutorial for that? I've been wanting to try making something like this!

    1. Aw, thank you! I didn't do a tutorial for that one, but they are just rectangular strips of chiffon w/ a curved/tapered end (toward the bottom) sewn to the front of the shell. Hope that helps!

  4. You've inspired me to try my hand at more DIY projects, since I have more free time lately. I'm starting my doing minor alterations on my clothes instead of paying my tailor $20 just to take in a shirt that's pretty much straight pinning and a quick machine stitch. I'm not that confident I'll succeed in sewing something wearable from scratch, but i'll be trying that pattern you recommended soon! :)

  5. this is a great guide. i don't ever think i'll have time to do any substantial DIYs. time is getting much more important than money now-a-days!

  6. You've basically described how I do my DIY's. Skirt, blouses and dresses. It's funny, but once you get into using patterns and DIY'ing it, you start noticing how most dresses are based on one or two different patterns, just with slight variations in neckline and sleeves.

    My favorite thing to do is scour through designer dresses/skirts at Saks and Neimen Marcus, ect and get inspirations from there. So, I might make my own version of a $800 designer dress for $40, but I rarely DIY something from Gap or F21, because it's cheaper to just buy it from them.

    1. Love your outlook! I need to start looking through Saks / NM for inspiration. I agree Re: F21

  7. For me DIY is not about the price tag and timing, but about quality and that great feeling of accomplishment that I get from finishing a handmade project. I try to make clothing that I really love and will get a lot of wear out of. Also, it's great to have people gush over your outfit that you spent forever and a day on and you can reply "I made it!"
    I love your simple trend to DIY tips!

    1. Would love to see your creations! Do you have a blog?

  8. aawww love this look / your blog!!!

    mines a super new blog any chance you could check it out:)?

    thankyou ever so much xxxx

  9. I think you are so very talented and definitely making clothes that fit better than your mom did ;). I think another criteria of whether to DIY or buy is if the piece is special. Can you find it elsewhere. I'm making a reading tent and curtains for the kids' rooms. Sure, I could find them elsewhere but I really want to do them myself and have that sense of accomplishment. You're such an inspiration!


I'm the type of gal who gets giddy when I receive mail - it's no different with comments! I really appreciate the feedback and love hearing from you :)


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