Making Your Clothes: An Important Survival Skill

Making your clothes is easy, fun, a great way to up-cycle old clothing, and an important survival skill.

My first experience with making clothes was with a loop loom used to make potholders. When I was growing up, I made a bunch for my family. Then, I went up and down the neighborhood looking for more customers. I gave them a deal they couldn’t refuse—pot holders to match their kitchen colors, and they could set the price. It was a pretty sweet deal for an enterprising 7-year-old. I had fun making them, and my mom let me keep all the money from my sales.

Learning from Mom

Growing up, my mother always had a sewing machine. She made a lot of our clothes, Halloween costumes, and dresses for herself. She taught me how to use her Singer sewing machine. It was only slightly upgraded from the original that worked with a foot treadle. Mom’s electric version had a cabinet with a lever to press with your knee. The lever would speed up or slow down the sewing.  At 10-years-old, I sewed my first dress, a jumper with straps that buttoned and had two pockets in the front.

Making clothes through the years

Fast forward to junior high, I made my Halloween costumes, crocheted granny square vests, and made macramé belts to sell. My mom taught me the basics of crocheting. I learned macramé in art class at school.

Later, I made my first wedding dress with lace sleeves and satin skirts. Sewing saved me a lot of money, and made me some, too!

The Knitting Machine

However, my mother was not a knitter. It was not a skill I picked up as a kid. My father even bought her a double-bedded knitting machine from Germany, but she could never get her proficiency high enough to use it. My father didn’t want us messing up his machines, so we were not allowed to use it.

However, I love sweaters, so the idea of making my own has always intrigued me. I finally learned basic knitting in my 50’s, but hand-knitting took too long. Eventually, I found a knitting machine that was simple enough for me to use and fast enough that I could make something in my limited available time. The “Ultimate Sweater Machine” fit the bill.

It took me a while to get the hang of it. While I was learning, I created some strange pieces. There was a sweater with arms that stuck straight out, an afghan that shrunk when my husband washed it, and several incomplete projects. Eventually, I followed the directions that came with the machine and made my first sweater that looked right. It turned out to be huge. I adjusted the needle setting up, since I was using a bulky yarn.

Unlike sewing, if you screw up a knitted piece, you simply take it apart and start over. That’s what I did with the monster sweater. I unraveled the whole thing, wound it back up into balls, adjusted the rows, and number of needles to make a sweater that fit me. You can see the before and after in the images below


Now that I know how to make a sweater, I can make more and other things as well. Even if it isn’t the first priority for self-sufficiency, being able to make clothing is a skill worth learning.

Do you make your clothing? What is your favorite method? We’d like to know in the comments below.

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This post was written by Karen the Newbie Homesteader


  • M. says:

    Yes, I make my own clothes, almost all of them. I sew and crochet, have been doing both since I was about 10 years old. I am blessed in that my Gram and Mama taught me these fun, creative skills. I would love to knit, but I’ve tried and am not skilled enough to use two needles! A knitting machine would be fun, though. I have taught my own children how to sew, even the boys, because clothing repair is a good thing to know. The girls either make their own clothes, or refashion existing garments.

  • SA says:

    “Making your clothes is easy, fun, and an important survival skill to add to your homesteading knowledge.

    Learning from your mistakes is part of the fun.”

    Who wrote this? The same person who says, “How hard is gardening? Just throw some seeds on the ground.”

    I’ve been sewing for 50 years and I love it. But, it takes years to become a proficient seamstress who can fit clothes. Upcycling old clothes is not the same as “making your own clothes.” Many people would not consider sewing to be fun and easy.

    I do almost all the handcrafts proficiently–knitting, crocheting, and weaving. These aren’t sewing.

    Learning from mistakes is not fun. It’s just learning. And sewing is most definitely a survival skill. Stock fabric, needles, thread, buttons, zippers, old clothes.

    Despite the criticism, I do enjoy the articles.

  • G. says:

    I made most of my clothes and some of my son’s clothes as a young woman, but it really does not pay these days. And in my town there are now no more fabric stores. Still, the skills are important (and I’m short and alter most of the clothes I buy). I’m very glad to have these now rare skills in my tool box!

  • Charlene from TN says:

    Having fun is an attitude. My great aunt used to laugh and have fun, even in the middle of the most serious life issues. She lived to almost 100 because she learned that the biggest mistake was not to learn how to have fun while in the middle of troubles. So I am with you that having fun is a decision. It’s keeping our hearts wide open to serious life skills.

    I look at all the kudzu that grows here and think it would be a good thing to work with, but what an undertaking that would be while in the middle of learning how to eat from the garden produce–but yes, I have sewn everything from pants to winter coats and dresses, and even knitted, starting with doll clothes for my sisters. Great fun!

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