Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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DIY has GOT to be Cheaper… A Wee Little Rant?


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Yesterday, I was sitting at lunch with my mom, perusing the ridiculous influx of magazines that pour, unsolicited, into her mailbox this time of year. I came across a line of wool felt table settings that caught my eye in one of them – and I looked at the price tag and said the same thing I say every time I look at similar items: “You could make this a lot cheaper!”

The “Do It Yourself” mentality is nothing really new, but in the past decade, I think the drive to get creative and make things has gained greater impetus. For those on limited budgets, the urge to Do It Yourself may be initiated by the desire to have certain types of items found in the retail world that exceed the limits of the purse strings. For others, the DIY mentality is a way of life – a principled stand against some facet of manufacturing or commercial enterprises. For some, they do it themselves because they know they can do it better.

When the DIY urging inevitably overtakes me this time of year, I have to remind myself of a few things …. so I tell myself the following:

1. You can’t always DIY less expensively, but you can usually do it yourself better, simply because you can pay attention to quality of materials and workmanship that are often overlooked by commercial enterprises. So if you are going to put the time in to make it, then don’t do a rush job, don’t waste materials, use good materials, and make something that will last.

2. You can DSY (do something yourself) less expensively, if you pay close attention to your needs and your wants. If you don’t Neeeeed it, you don’t need it. So don’t make it. Make something else! If you must “create,” then create something you can afford to create. Re-use, dig into stash, etc. Forget the catalog …

3. When you set about to improve upon something you’ve seen or to imitate it, add your own twist – at least take the source of inspiration up another notch to make it more “your own.” If I’m going to imitate something and make it myself, I’d rather people not equate it automatically with something bought from a retailer.

Ok, all that being said… this DIY idea has GOT to be cheaper…. It’s a good source of inspiration that I think could be adapted a bit and even improved upon.

The catalog was Williams-Sonoma, and the items are a table runner, placemats, and a tree skirt made from a red felt blend (read that correctly: probably 20% wool, 80% acrylic … it was on sale at the local fabric shop off the bolt last week for $6.99 / yard) backed by white fabric. There’s a cut out design in the red felt so that the white shows through.

Cutwork Felt Ideas

These cutwork felt items from Williams-Sonomoa are rather striking, I think. I’m not exactly sure I would decorate my Christmas table with felt, especially at $60 for the equivalent of less than a yard of fabric for the runner (you’d probably have to buy more than that, to get the length in one piece, if you wanted it in one piece – unless you’d settle for a 72-inch runner as opposed to a 90-inch).

Cutwork Felt Ideas

Zooming in on the pieces, they’re just cut out … there’s no re-inforcement or anything on the cut edge. It’s a clean cut – felt is great for that. A little template, a craft knife or small sharp scissors (I prefer the latter when working with felt), and you’re all set.

Cutwork Felt Ideas

There’s also a 56-inch circular tree skirt for $89. Let’s see… 72″ wide on that felt blend from the local fabric store… so, two yards to make a 56″ circle.

I suspect the white fabric is nothing too fancy-schmancy. Just cotton or a cotton-poly blend.

Anyway, this is, surprisingly, the only thing I’ve seen in any of the hyper-abundant, unsolicited magazines filling the mailbox lately that strikes me as something worth imitating. I’d probably change the cut-out pattern. And I probably wouldn’t make a table runner and placemats. But little Christmas stockings for the tree or for gift-giving? Little gift bags? Ornaments? Yep. But you do realize there’s something missing? Oooooh yes…. I’d definitely add some embellishment – just a touch of embroidery, in the right spots. It might take away from the clean-cut look. But, done right, it just might add the perfect touch.

So my mind is chewing on ideas for that. I may have already mentioned that this year is entirely a hand-made Christmas on my part, for three reasons: 1. I think it means more, though I may have a hard time convincing my younger nieces and nephews of that! 2. the budget; 3. I thought it would be, somehow, an interesting challenge for myself. Yes, well. I may regret #3 eventually!

My questions for you…. What are your thoughts on the DIY approach?

Do you consider yourself a Do-It-Yourselfer? (I know some very creative people who are not remotely DIYers!) Where do you take your Do It Yourself inspiration? Do you find it’s less expensive to DIY (not taking into account the time spent)? If you are a DIY-er, why do you Do It Yourself? Any thoughts?


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(15) Comments

  1. Mary, I tend to be a DIYer. I don’t think it is cheaper, unless I can recycle materials or use some that has bee in my stash for ages, but I do think the quality is better, and for clothes, they do fit better as I’m rather short. And there is the fun of doing things.

  2. Good for you Mary! I am a big DIYer =) I took the handmade pledge last year for Christmas and did make *every* one of my gifts and cards. I was a bit worried about what people would think. But when it was all said and done everyone really appreciated the gifts because I had tailored the items to them and it was much more rewarding for me to know that every thing was made with love.

    As far as expense, yes, I feel on the whole you can do it yourself for less. Unless you have to invest a lot of money initially in equipment or supplies. However even that cost seems nominal if you use them and create lots of things with them. If you can use things on hand, recycle and repurpose it’s just a matter of your time. And sometimes that can be a little costly due to trial and error if you are figuring out how to do something. Either way you learn and end up creating something wonderful. Which to me is a big reward.

    I DIY because I am a maker of things. I love the process of creating. Coming up with an idea or modifying something that exists and the pure joy of actually watching it unfold and become something beautiful and/or useful.

    Good luck with your handmade Christmas!

  3. Omigosh, I NEVER save money DI myself ’cause I take twice as long, make twice the mess, and use twice the materials needed! But I also have twice the fun. Bubba’s Mom

  4. Ahh, my secret is out of the bag, VBG. DIY is where I started my sewing career. At 15, with a poor family background, DIY was the only way I could avoid being dressed in op shop clothes by my mother. So she taught me to sew properly and the rest is history, as they say.

    Then when my kids were little, I was a SAH mum, so poor again. Christmas sewing was a tradtion in this house, and I often made gifts for the extended family too. One year I tried homemade sweets. After I purchased the raw ingredients, thermometer, sealable jars etc. I think I actually spent more money. But gosh I had FUN!!

    Now we can afford store bought gifts, but I’m starting to make a few small gifts for friends who appreciate them.

    And there’s the whole point I think! There are certain people in my family I KNOW will look at my hand created gifts and say “that’s NICE” through a false smile. Then there are fellow crafters who LOVE getting a piece of my handmade work. I always try to create something unique so it’s obvious I made it. I get a bit miffed when I see ready made quilts on sale in the department stores which say “handmade”! You just know they’ve been made production line fashion in a foreign 3rd world country and paid a pittance for them.

    I envy people who start their Christmas gift and decor sewing straight after the previous Christmas when all the fabrics are still on sale!! In this house I’m often still sewing on Christmas morning for gifts to give later in the day!!!! It’s a TRADITION, don’t you know? LOL!!


  5. LOL – Funny, Christine! “That’s NICE” … you have rellies like that, too? Maybe we’re related. And the Christmas Morning Finish is THE tradition worth keeping, trust me. If I didn’t experience the Last Minute Panic, how could I possibly be in a holiday mood??!

    Your comment cracked me up! Thanks for the laugh!

    Bubba’s Mom – I think, you know, you are quite right. There are very few DIY projects that I save money on, unless I’m taking stuff out of my stash, which is the case this year. I thought about a nice Irish Linen whitework tablecloth for my sister, but the linen (if I used good linen) would have broken the bank. So … I’m using cotton towels that I already have in my stash, and making her several “tea cloths” (or she can also use them as big breadbasket liners – she entertains large groups of people often). I’m still stuck on what to do for the kiddos, but I’m thinking, I’m thinking….

    Verobirdie – yes, I think that’s the biggest attraction to me – better quality and customized to my exact liking. What could be better?

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. My brother gave me his first ever handmade gift last year for Christmas. It was a CD of him playing the guitar and singing his own arrangements of a couple of Dylan songs he loves, and two of his own original compositions, too.

    He was so nervous and “vulnerable”, he said, in giving it to me…but it is a gift I will cherish for the rest of my life.

    So it doesn’t even have to be fiber related! *VBG*

  7. Well, I began making my Christmas gifts just three years ago for all the family! This is the year of the linen towels with crochet and monograms (i’m thinking to use some of your celtic letters, can I?) the big advantage of this is that with two letters you can include the couple man and woman! Everytime the gifts for men are a problem. This year I’ve tried to make travel slippers and I’m glad with them.
    Any other idea for DIY man gift??? besides camera case, ipod case, keyholder,…

    And I really think that I save money and everybody appreciates much more the gifts.

  8. I look at everything in catalogs with an eye on how easy it would be to make myself.

    I’m making a lot of gifts this year, including shopping bags (see my post today), and coffee cozies for my starbucks possee. Just google coffee cozies to get patterns to knit/crochet/sew these little sleeves.

    I think handmade gifts show you care, as long as you don’t get too invested in whether the recipient loves the item or not.

  9. I think a lot of people forget to pay themselves for their time when they do DIY. Materials may be less expensive, but the time that goes into it isn’t… and I think that makes handmade gifts the way to go! Also, is it really more expensive if your quality handmade item outlives the storebought one (which they generally do)?

  10. Mary and other happy DIYers, I think you are spot on here. As a very small child I was indoctrinated with two life principles: seige mentality and DIY. Seige mentality was taught by my mother, springing from WWII rationing in England where I grew up, and which affected our family long after it ended. DIY was our way of life, my father made our first TV set from a kit and we watched the first moon landing on it. My one and only “party frock” was made out of recycled parachute silk and one of our prized family posessions was a lamp stand made from a Spitfire propeller by my father. The seige mentality has had to be toned down over the years because it makes me hoard stuff that according to my DH I really, really don’t need (apparently!), but DIY continues to reign supreme in our house and garden. I agree on cost; often it is not possible to do it cheaper and in many cases it can cost a little more, but it can be done better and with so much more satisfaction. I recently got hooked on making dog biscuits for our canine companions and although I know I could go and get a great big bag of them from Wal-Mart for a couple of dollars, at least I know I am not feeding them melamine and judging by the speed at which they disappear, it seems the dogs like them too.

    We have nephews and a niece in their 20s raised in the consumer generation who recognise the value of something only because of it’s designer label and it saddens me because I believe they are missing so much from life. I was recently told that “only poor people” grow vegetables (my other passion), yet I rarely hear the same complaint around the table when they are tucking to to pesticide-free, non-GM food!! In my world DIY rocks!

  11. I go back and forth on the DIY concept. It is almost never cheaper than just going to the store and buying the gift. And often it ensures that everyone I know gets the same thing as I usually had to invest in a large quantity of something or other to make even one gift.
    Every few years I swear off DIY, and two years later, there I am, making the gifts again. I can’t help it. I MUST make things. I do get disappointed sometimes when people don’t seem to notice or care that it is handmade, or assume it takes me no effort because I am “good at this stuff” (these are the years that I swear it off again.) But it brings me joy to think about the people I am making gifts for.

    I am slowly starting to think of my need to create as less of a gifting opportunity and more of a business potential. It has taken years but I now see the things that I make as worthy of more than being gifts, they can be worth money. And that has made DIY much more interesting to me…because now I get to buy in bulk.

    And if you thought making stuff was fun, it is nothing compared to the joy of buying fun stuff in bulk. The shear happiness of opening that package when it arrives makes everything in life good.

    Oh, and the extras then make the DIY projects cost effective again. A beautiful life circle.

  12. I have too many thoughts on DIY to say them all here and some are probably too political anyway! So I’ll limit myself to two comments;

    I feel strongly that DIY ought to be less costly than store-bought and it is sad that it often is not.

    I became disabled ten years ago and because I could no longer work, I had a huge cut in my income, with “disposable” income, as often as not, nonexistent. Because of this, I have found that the best thing I can give as gifts to my children and friends is my time, labor and skills put into something I have done myself. With the help of a sizable stash left from more prosperous times and a delight in reusing beautiful things I find at thrift shops in innovative ways, I can satisfy my desire to create and give nice things to those I care for by DIY.

  13. Hi, All! Thanks for your comments and reflections on Doing It Yourself!

    Kirsten – those are REALLY cute! They’d be so fun and festive on a holiday table! I’ve bookmarked the site so I can contemplate the possibilities!


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