Frugal NationFrugal Nation

A savings skill everyone needs

Basic sewing can save you a bundle. Why pay $5 to have a button replaced?

By Donna_Freedman Apr 3, 2012 4:11PM
Image: Tailoring a dress (© Vico Collective/Alin Dragulin/Getty Images)Have you stopped wearing a favorite shirt or pair of pants because a seam opened up or a button popped off? I see two other options: 
  • Take it to a dry cleaner. Many offer repair services.
  • Learn to sew, and fix it yourself.
I'm not suggesting you become the oldest member of a 4-H club. You can easily teach yourself the basics with how-to videos online. Being able to fix a ripped seam or hem up those 50-cent yard-sale khakis is a reliable way to save money.

The manager of a Seattle dry-cleaning business told me that minor repairs are a steady source of income. Sometimes that's because the customers can't sew. Others just don't want to take the time and are willing to pay $5 to have a button put back on.

How much time do they think it takes to thread a needle? I'm a pretty mediocre mender, but I can replace a button in about 90 seconds. (Post continues after video.)

(Tip: When you're done, re-thread the needle before you stick it back on the spool of thread so it's ready for the next job.)

A useful life skill

I do understand that some people's lives are extraordinarily hectic. Mine certainly is. Or you may make enough money so it really isn't a big deal to pay $5 or more to put a dozen stitches into a split seam.

But if you're determined to hold on to your dough, YouTube is full of how-to videos that teach everything from simple repairs to custom drapery. For beginners, I'd suggest "How to sew on a button" and "How to use a hand-sewn blind stitch to fix a tear."

As a kid, I picked up a couple of basics by watching my grandmother and my aunt. I resisted learning advanced techniques, though, determined not to learn "female" skills that I would then be required to perform.

In hindsight? Not the smartest move. The adult me would love to be able to make clothes, toys and household items like curtains or throw pillows.

Keep your money in your pocket

Almost three years ago, I paid $2 for a sewing machine at a rummage sale. I intended to teach myself to use it with help from a how-to-sew book bought for a buck at a thrift store.

Work and extensive travel have kept me too distracted to try. The next six months look pretty hectic as well, with four more trips ranging from two weeks to two months. But I do have a plan in place to give machine sewing a whirl in mid- to late fall.

Even if I never learn to make drapes or pillows, at least I'll never have to pay someone to close up a seam or replace a button. You don't, either. Keep your money in your pocket -- and keep that pocket hole-free -- by learning some basic stitches.

More on MSN Money:

Apr 5, 2012 8:07AM

This is a great skill. DW is an avid sewer/seamstress and has actually made money creating costumes. Her latest creation was an "old time" Santa outfit for a "professional Santa". He wanted a very special suit with attention to detail and she delivered. Unfortunately this seems to be a skill that is vanishing. ...with $5 fees to sew on a button maybe there will be a revival.


Apr 9, 2012 11:16PM

I have never paid $5 to have a button sewn on.


That's what my mom is for.   Tongue out

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.