Recently in Household Management Category

One of the goals of the Farmhouse Finishing School is to help people learn better household management skills.  Keeping your spice and dry-goods shelves in your kitchen organized and cleaned out may seem a little too Martha-Stewart-perfect for some people but there are excellent reasons why you should periodically look at the food and spices you're storing on your kitchen shelves and exert some effort to organize and clean it all up.  This is a primer on pantry management.  Some people have actual pantries, big enclosed rooms in which to store their canned and dry goods for cooking with, but most people have only a few shelves in their kitchen to use as their pantry.  In either case, the place where you store all your bulk long-term storage goods needs to be periodically inspected and cleaned.

Here are a few reasons to do this:

  • Inspecting your dry-goods closely allows you to identify any pantry pest infestations.
  • Discover what dry-goods you don't use and don't buy them in the future.
  • Organizing what you have allows you to remember things you could be using that were hidden from view.
  • Storing your dry-goods properly will allow you to prolong their shelf-life.
  • When you can see what you have on hand you are less likely to buy doubles of anything.

A view of my kitchen cabinet before the clean-up.  Please observe that many things were shoved on the shelves in plastic bags.  Goods stored in plastic bags are hard to see, vulnerable to pests, and more likely to go stale before being used, and there are health issues to consider as well.  What a mess!

Over a period of several months I have been negligent about storing my pantry goods properly and this has caused several problems.  I finally got tired of not being able to see at a glance what was on my shelves and I decided to tackle the mess.  It took six hours to tame my spice cabinet and my food shelves, a task which would have taken a lot less time if I had been in a habit of storing things properly in the first place and cleaning my cabinets out more often.  It's a good idea to do a thorough clean-out at least twice a year.

I discovered that I had three boxes of powdered sugar, about six packages of mustard seeds, old grains that were stale, and spices with no integrity left they were so old and grey.  Because I have to be careful with what I spend on groceries I see that I have been exercising poor household economy.  If your kitchen cabinets look at all like mine did, then you need to clean them out too.  Where to begin?  It can be a daunting project.  I understand a reluctance to dive in but the rewards are worth it.  Be prepared to clean out a lot of jars.    If you have a working dishwasher this may save quite a bit of time.  I don't, so I had to wash a ton of them by hand.  The first concept I want to discuss, before you dive in is proper storage containers.

Out with plastic- in with glass!

I can't stress this enough: storing anything long-term in plastic is a practice you must wean yourself off of.  Plastic is an unstable material.  It emits, at different temperatures (most notably in heat) and in reaction to certain foods, molecules into your water and food.  Please feel free to do some research on the subject as I have done. Food kept in plastic containers can take on the smell and taste of plastic.  All plastics off-gas chemicals when new and many plastics off-gas from the time they're made until they completely biodegrade which could take a few hundred years.    Once plastic molecules enter our water and/or food and we ingest them, they build up in our bodies and studies have shown that these plastic molecules are shared with babies through their mother's breast milk. Plastics have been implicated in many health issues and continue to be studied.

If you insist on continuing to use plastics to store food be sure that the plastics you use are Bisphenol-A free, don't reheat food in plastic in the microwave even if your plastic containers say they are "microwave safe", and don't store sauces in plastic as it has been found that the wetter your food the more likely a transference of plastic molecules to your food is.

Glass is generally more expensive than plastic storage containers but well worth the investment.  Glass is a completely inert material and therefore doesn't off-gas chemicals into the air or into your food or body.  Cared for properly it can last indefinitely and is therefore will save you money over plastic in the long run.  Glass will never give your food an off flavor.    The number one best pantry container to store your dry-goods in  are swing-top jars.


Swing-top jars, also called wire bale jars, have a replaceable rubber gasket and a metal clamp which secures the lid tightly onto the jar with and airtight seal.  The gaskets will dry out and crack with age so a part of your cabinet clean-out is to replace old gaskets.

The disadvantage of swing-top jars is that they can be costly to buy.  If you have a "Cost Plus" near you,  see if they have any on hand.  I have, in the past, found their prices to  be reasonable.  You can also find these at most well stocked kitchen supply stores.  Sometimes you can find them in thrift stores.  If you find them used just be sure to sniff the interior before buying.  It is extremely rare for glass to take on a permanent odor but I had it happen to one jar.  Look for scratches on the interior, scratches compromise the usefulness of a jar rendering it much more likely to break.  Be sure to replace the gasket (if it even has one) with a new one when you get it home.  If you can afford to invest in a larger quantity of these jars at one time you can buy them from manufacturers online.  The best deal I have found so far is from Freund Containers, by the case.  They have a minimum order amount so be sure you are prepared to meet it.  You don't need a special license to buy from them.  (Just to be clear: I have no affiliation with them at all except as a customer of their goods.  If you buy from them I receive no compensation or benefits.)

The next best storage container for your pantry goods are canning jars.  These come in many different sizes.  They have a two piece lid which creates a good seal if you screw it tightly.  These jars are much less expensive to buy than the swing-top jars.  The disadvantage of these is that it is impractical to screw the lids tight enough to get an airtight seal because if you manage to get the lid on that tightly you may not be able to unscrew them later.  While I have never had a pest invasion in my swing-top jars I have definitely had a breach of my canning jars by pests.  But with good cupboard management you can keep this problem at a minimum.

Getting Started:

  • Clean up your kitchen before you start this project.  You will need all the counter space and dish-rack space you have.
  • Have a stack of clean dry dish towels ready.
  • Be sure you have a sharpie pen on hand for labeling jars as you go along.
  • Pick one shelf to start working on.

How to clean and organize the shelves:

  • Pull everything off the shelf you've picked to start with.  Everything.  Put it all out on your counter.  If you don't have enough counter space you may consider dragging a small table into your kitchen temporarily to give you more space to lay it all out.  (If your kitchen is too small for this then even bringing in a chair can give you extra surface space.
  • One jar at a time, examine what you have.  Open each jar and look closely at the contents and give it a smell test.  If you haven't used the contents in over a year you probably aren't going to use it this year either. Throw it out.
  • Any herb or plant matter can be dumped on your compost pile.  If you have a hot composting system you can dump everything on the pile.  If you have a cold composting system you will want to avoid putting grains or proteins in it.  If you have hens some of your old grains may be enjoyed by them.  (But don't give them rancid food.)
  • Clean the jars you empty as you go so they'll be available for anything that's been left in plastic bags and needs to be jarred.
  • Any goods still in plastic bags: transfer to jars and label the jars with your sharpie (directly onto the glass).
  • Wipe the empty shelf clean with a damp  dish towel or sponge.  Any spilled food, especially grains, will attract pests.
  • Put everything that has passed inspection back on the shelf.

Repeat these steps for all of the shelves you need to go through.  Once you have finished throwing old food out and cleaning up what you have you can spend a little time organizing the shelves to make more efficient use of them. Here are some guidelines for deciding what to keep and what to toss:

  • Herbs and spices are generally at their best for one year.
  • Herbs and ground spices should have a pleasant strong odor on opening the jar.  If you can't smell them or if the smell is weak, they are most likely too old to do your food any service.  Toss them out.  Save any glass spice jars and soak them in warm soapy water to remove the labels.
  • Turn the contents of jars around and upside down.  If you can see any webbing the contents have been compromised by a pest and should be thrown out.  If the contents (especially with regard to spices) don't shift and move when you shake the jar around then they have probably settled from disuse and compacted- this is generally an indication that they are very old and should be discarded.  In some cases this will mean the contents got a little damp and should also be tossed out.
  • Look for any visible weevils or moth larvae.  Toss anything that has them.  (If the item is something your chickens might safely enjoy - give it to them.  They love to eat bugs!)
  • Everything should get the sniff test.  If you don't have a great sense of smell then have someone in your family who does perform this test.  Flour, nuts, oils, nut butters, and grains can all go rancid.  The smell will be slightly sour and musty.
  • Canned goods, whether made at home or bought from the store, may be capable of lasting 10 years but they don't actually improve with age and their nutritional integrity, like all stored foods, declines incrementally starting from the moment they are first canned.  In most cases you shouldn't hold onto canned goods for more than two years.  If you haven't eaten it by then, you won't, you're just hoarding it.  My personal rule of thumb is that if I haven't eaten it in a year I toss it out.  You can put the contents of most canned goods on your compost pile so that they really aren't going to waste but will add to your soil.  (Recycling at its best!)  The exceptions I make to my one year rule of thumb is if I preserve way more of something than I need one year and I have lots left over the next.  If I'm making my way through the jars of that item I will keep it, knowing that I'm actually eating it.  This is true of the pickles I made the year before last.  I made twice as many as we could eat in a year and we have been steadily working our way through them.  I still have some left and we're still eating them.*  On the other hand, I have some jalapeno jelly that I made a year and a half ago that didn't have any heat to it and so I didn't really enjoy it and haven't been eating it.  It's time to toss it out.
  • Cabinet items that have been stored in their original packaging, such as crackers and cereals, should all be checked for freshness.  They go stale surprisingly fast.  One way to prolong the shelf life of cereals and crackers is to transfer them to swing-top jars when you get them home.  I now do this automatically with most boxed items.
  • Baking soda and baking powder don't necessarily go stale or rancid but they will become less effective.  It is wise to replace them every six months or so.  You can often buy them from bulk bins and transfer them to permanent jars in your cupboard.  Buy small quantities to reduce possible waste.

Now that everything is clean and all your food is in labeled do you organize it all?

There isn't one answer to this because how you use your kitchen is highly personal.  You must think about how you cook.  What things do you reach for the most?  Those things should be on the lowest most accessible shelves.  Reserve the top shelves for bulk goods you don't use as often, or for back up bottles of condiments you buy or make in multiples.

I have organized my own cabinets so that my son's snack foods are all in one place on a low shelf.  My other lowest shelf has my baking goods on it (sugars, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips) and the next shelf up has the flours and grains I use the most.  The top shelf has my dried legumes which I only grab for once or twice a week to make big batches of them.  My spice rack is loosely organized by my use of them.  I have all my sweet  baking spices, including baking soda and baking powder, on one shelf.  I have my spicy and savory herbs on another shelf together.  I have all my bulk spices (like black peppercorns and mustard seeds) in large jars on the two shelves they will fit on.  This works for me but perhaps you cook differently and so you need to think about how you grab for things and group your jars together accordingly.

Pantry organizing tips:

  • Group like things together: it is much easier to make shopping lists when you can easily see all like-items next to each other.  If you know you need more olive oil and you're looking at the shelf where you keep it but you don't see any vegetable oil (because you put it somewhere else) you may decide to buy some because you think you're out.
  • Put the things you use the most on the most accessible shelves.
  • Spices and herbs should be close enough to your stove to be easily grabbed without being stored right above it where the heat and moisture from the stove can degrade them quickly.

Don't be afraid to try different ways of organizing your pantry.  Once you've already cleaned and sorted through your supplies it is much easier to move them around and play with how best to arrange them all. Now, go put on some motivating music, crack open a festive beverage, and get those cabinets looking shiny and fresh! *However, they are softer now than they were when under a year old.  They are not getting better with age.  I'm just not going to waste them because they still taste good and we're still using them up.

How To Replace Weather-stripping On Doors

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old weatherstripping 2

If the weather-stripping on any of your outside doors looks like this, you need to replace it and now that the cold weather has arrived, if you haven't already done so, now is the time to tackle this easy project.  That gap between the door and the floor is big enough to let a lot of warm air out of a house which wastes energy and makes it harder to be comfortable inside.  It may seem that a little detail such as this can't make a big difference but the truth is, all the little ways your house lets heat out adds up to a big expensive picture.  Big gaps under doors is a great place to start sealing your house against the cold.

 tools for the job 2

The tools you will need: Power drill (or screw driver and hand drill)*, hack saw, metal file, scissors, pencil, replacement weather-stripping (door sweep) for doors, and possibly a tape measure.

 pencil marking 2

First Step: Using the reverse mode on your power drill with the appropriate sized screw driver bit, remove the screws from the existing weather-stripping and pull it off the bottom of your door.  Carefully line up one end of the old weather-stripping with the new and if they aren't the same size use a pencil to mark the difference in the size.  In my local farm store there was only one size of weather-stripping available ("standard") which fits a standard sized door such as a front door.  My kitchen door is narrower than a standard door so I had to cut my weather-stripping down.  If you don't need to cut yours to size, skip to the last step!

 cutting rubber 2

Second Step: Before you cut the metal part of the weather-stripping with a hack saw you need to cut the rubber sweep with scissors, as shown above.

hack sawing 2

Third Step: Use a hack saw to cut through the metal part of the weather-stripping.  I balanced mine over my sink but you can also use two saw horses to do the job if you have them handy.  Start sawing slowly and straight, once your cutting line is established you can go more quickly.  The main thing is to saw in a smooth straight motion, if you angle your saw at all it will get stuck.  When you've cut all the way through the metal, carefully feel the edge- if it's rough and there are any jagged bits, use a metal file to smooth them out.  You don't want to have anything sharp protruding from the bottom edge of your door where it can catch on socks or skin!

 marking the spot 2

Fourth Step: weather-stripping comes with pre-drilled holes, if you cut it down you will almost certainly need to add one to the cut end so that both ends of the weather-stripping are securely screwed to the door.  Use your old piece of weather-stripping to determine where the end hole should be.  Line it up evenly with the new piece and using a pencil, mark where the hole needs to be.

drilling 2

Fifth Step: Use a drill bit that matches the size of the hole.  You can figure this out by fitting drill bits into the pre-drilled holes until you find the right size.  Start drilling the hole.  Be sure to hold the drill with a steady hand because the metal will give some resistance at first.  Put some downward pressure on the drill but not so hard that it can bend the metal you're drilling through.

 drilled hole 2

Be careful to clean up the metal dust because it can be sharp!

weatherstripping 2

Sixth Step: Position your weather-stripping on the bottom of the door so that the rubber sweep just touches the floor.  You don't want the rubber to be low enough to bend or drag on the floor because it will be ruined quickly with all the opening and shutting of the door.  You want it to just make contact.  My floor is uneven, being an old house means many surfaces are not even, do the best you can.  Screw it into place using the holes provided (and the one you drilled if you had to customize the size).    That's it!

Project Notes: As you can see, if the door your working with is standard size, replacing old weather-stripping is unbelievably easy.  You just remove the old and screw on the new.  You may notice I didn't include any uses for the tape measure- yet it's on the list of tools.  This is because there may be rare instances where you are putting weather-stripping on a door that doesn't already have it.  In this instance you will need to carefully measure the bottom of your door to determine if you need to cut down your weather-stripping or not.


*We are a family who appreciates old  hand tools but having a power drill was one of the best home investments we've ever made.  If you don't have one, you can still do this project, but it will simply take more muscle power.  (Not that that's a bad thing!)
wild spoils 2

What Autumn means to you is probably influenced by your climate.  Some people are already getting snow while others are still fanning the sun off their faces.  Here in Oregon it's turning cold and rainy.  While Autumn is not my favorite season (winter is) I do love this time of year.  The past several years I spent most of my autumn canning apples, pears, and the last of the summer tomatoes.

I love the change in seasonal produce, seeing the winter squash get piled in my local produce sections and in the farmer's market stalls for the last couple weeks of market.  I love cooking with potatoes, celery root, and cauliflower.  Soon my local market will have giant stalks of locally grown brussels sprouts and I'll want to buy more than I can cook.  My CSA will have them too.  Soup is my favorite food and there are endless varieties of soups to make with the produce on hand.

In your garden you are probably harvesting the last of your tomatoes, squash, and beans.  What now?  Here are some things you might do in your garden:

  • Spread compost on your vegetable beds to overwinter.  The fall is the best time to amend your soil because then it is ready for you to use in the spring.  If you have chickens and some beds you won't be planting in until spring, cover the beds with the hay you clean out from your chicken run.  Chicken manure is excellent for the garden but needs a few months (preferably six) to mellow because it 's a "hot" manure and spreading it on a bed with plants could cause the plant roots to burn.  Overwintering your chicken waste gives it plenty of time to mellow and will be safe to plant in by spring.
  • Rip out all the dead vegetable plants from the garden.  I never do this because I'm too lazy but fall is a great time to tidy up your garden and tuck it in for the winter.  Just be sure not to prune anything unless you have extremely mild winters.  Prune in the spring when most of the winter frost damage is done already and you can prune to the undamaged parts.  If you prune now you could lose more of your plants.
  • Winterize your more tender perennials if you live in a climate with a hard winter such as wrapping your roses or your potted fruit trees in insulation or with burlap stuffed with mulch to keep them warm.  In my climate the winter damage is usually pretty mild and fruit trees don't need to be wrapped.
  • Bring in any tools or garden furniture that might get ruined by the weather.

I don't do a lot with my garden during the fall but I live in an old house and one of my concerns right now is winterizing my house so that it will retain heat longer and use less energy to keep comfortable.  Last winter we had our kitchen door constantly opening and closing for our dog and cats and often it was simply left open for hours at a time.  We don't mind a fairly cold house but every late afternoon the temperatures would drop and we'd put the heat on.  This summer my husband installed a dog door and we've been training our cats and dog to use it.  It's harder for the cats to use it because it had to be installed fairly high off the floor level, yet they learned to use it faster than the dog.  Chick was really frightened of it for the last two months.  At last, just this week, all the animals are using it without coaxing and we're practicing keeping the kitchen door shut. 

Just in time too because this morning was so cold I had to put the heat on for the first time in months! One of the things people with old houses often do is replace old windows with new ones.  Unfortunately the old wood windows are almost always replaced with vinyl or aluminum windows and though these supposedly come with a warranty far exceeding wood windows I have known fewer old wood windows to leak than vinyl or aluminum.  If you have to replace your windows, consider replacing them with new wood windows.  They cost a lot more but look a million times better and with just a little care I promise they will last longer than your other choices.  I believe in maintaining the integrity of the old homes in our country so I'm passionate about this. There are other things you can do to reduce the energy use in your house during winter:

  • Curtains.  A lot of people have thin curtains if they have curtains at all.   Consider making or buying lined heavyweight curtains to put up during the winter months.  Even a sturdy cotton will keep out a surprising amount of cold.  Just be sure the curtains completely cover the window when they're closed.  You can open them during the warmer hours during the day and close them near evening as the temperatures outside drop.
  • Storm windows.  Around my town many old homes have storm windows as an alternative to replacing antique windows.  If installed correctly they serve to make your old single paned windows double paned.  It creates an extra barrier between the wet weather and your windows as well.
  • Weather stripping.  Check all the outside doors for gaps near the floor.  Weather stripping is inexpensive to buy and easy to install.  Our kitchen door which leads outside has gaps so big at the floor that light can be seen to flood through the openings in the morning.  I bought some weather-stripping  for it.  The door is fairly narrow so I'll either need to cut it down to size or see if my hardware store carries the correct size.
  • Put insulation around any exposed water or sewage pipes if your area gets cold enough to freeze water.  It doesn't always get that cold here but last winter it got cold enough to freeze one of our pipes and we were without kitchen or bath water for two days.  (This won't actually reduce your energy usage but is simply a good thing to do before it's too late.)
If you have the time, now is also a good season to clean your house and get it really well organized.  During the wet and cold months all the little things that irritated you all summer will become more irritating when you're also having to worry about mud, coats and scarves everywhere, the holidays looming up, and when so much more of your time is centered around indoor activities.  This week end my husband and son agreed to clean up our living room and put everything away.  It was such a huge relief!  We have so far to go getting things around here running smoothly but that is what I'm thinking about now.  Putting things away, making more counter space, cleaning off high piled surfaces, solving little house problems that aren't a huge deal but add a little constant irritation to my life.

What I am going to do today,  right now,  the second I get done posting:  Our under the sink cupboard, where we keep our kitchen garbage can, doesn't latch shut.  For months now our dog has been rooting around in it daily for any tasty little crumbs she might find.  She drags empty cracker bags to the already ratty looking lawn and shreds them up and comes back for whatever else she can find.  I've been in such a flurry of work and scrambling to get other bigger things taken care of that I have continually put off taking care of this problem.

The funny thing is that it's a simple fix.  I bought the magnetic hardware already.  It is ridiculous that it's taken me this long to get around to it.  So I will do that today and not have to get angry when I see this week's trash spread out across our yard.

What are you doing to winterize your home and garden?

Is Making Your Own Clothes Economical?


Twenty years ago most fabric stores carried a large variety of fashion fabrics  so that the home sewer could, without too much effort, make clothes for herself/himself and the family for less expense than buying the same ready made clothes from stores.  Since that time most fabric stores have converted themselves into craft stores that carry mostly printed cottons for quilting with much less stock in fashion fabrics.  Another big change is that the price of good fabrics has risen while super cheap ready made clothing discount stores have proliferated to the point where asking if making your own clothes is worth it is a damn good question.

I would like to point out that whether it is economically worth your while to sew your own clothes depends on quite a few factors.  It is possible to save money sewing your own, but these are the main factors which must be considered:

What do you spend on your clothes now?

What is your sewing skill level?

What fabric resources do you have available to you?

What do you spend on your clothes at ready-made stores? If you are buying designer clothes (and most people I know are not), whether at full price or discounted price, you will obviously be able to save a tremendous amount of money making your own.  Designer patterns are available to those with the sewing skill to use them.  Most of us, I'm willing to bet, buy our clothes from more mid-range companies from department stores (looking for sales), or we scour the racks at places like Ross hoping for $5 shirts that fit.  If you are buying from heavy discount stores you are the one most likely to be saying that there is no way that sewing your own clothes can save you money.

Pricing it out (the average cost of a home made shirt):

Most decent fabrics cost between $7 and $15 per yard.  The average shirt takes between 2 and 3 yards of fabric.  Working with averages we can estimate the cost of making your own shirt: 2.5 yards x $11.00 = $27.50.  You must also figure on thread.  An experienced sewer generally has enough thread that it doesn't need to be included in the price of every project, but let's say you need the thread.  That's going to cost you between $3 and $5, depending on the brand and spool size.  So let's just stick with averages: $27.50 + $4 = $31.50

A lot of shirts require buttons and not everyone has a huge collection of them on hand, so you must figure the buttons as well.  You're likely to spend between $1 and $10 on buttons (depending on whether you go for the discount type of simple button or fashion buttons) so let's say you're going to spend an average of $5 on buttons.  That brings your average home sewn shirt up to $36.50.

However, unless you've been collecting patterns for years in all different sizes (or know how to make your own), you will need a pattern too!  Patterns vary widely in price from $1.99 to $30.  So let's add that onto our average home sewn shirt cost: $36.50 + $16 = $52.50  Wow, that doesn't seem like a bargain when most of the shirts you can find at Ross cost less than $20.  So why would you spend your time and resources sewing your own if you're not saving anything, and might in fact, be spending more to make your own than to buy ready made?

Cost cannot be looked at solely from the dollar perspective. This is true for many things.  When you're considering home economics you have to consider quality.  The reason why designer clothes are so expensive is not just to gouge label-loving losers (a common belief, not shared by me) but because the quality of the fabrics, the care and time taken to make the fit of the clothes exquisite, and the attention to details in construction which make a garment last for years longer than their cheaper counterparts all go into the cost of designer clothes.

If you haven't ever tried on or touched a designer garment, you should do so just to understand the difference.  I have rarely bought designer clothes but I have tried them on and examined them closely.  Details such as bound button holes, linings, tighter stitching, and enclosed seams all contribute to a garment that you can pass down through generations if it's taken care of.  You will not find such care in design and construction in any shirts that cost less than $50.  Either the fabrics are cheap and will pill up quickly (or tear), or the stitching is shoddy and comes undone with too much wear.

The home sewer has control over many of these factors through her/his skill level.  Using shorter stitch lengths, back-stitching, seam treatments, and fabric quality are all factors that you have control over.  You can also custom fit a garment at home if you take the time to take your measurements and adjust your pattern accordingly.  If you do fittings before you're finished you can make the waistband fit properly which is not a service you get when shopping at J.C. Penny.  You can make a $52.50 shirt seem like a bargain if you make it something that will last like a designer investment.

Although I have used average prices to illustrate the cost factor here, there are many ways you can cut down on the cost of your home sewn clothes.  It depends on what resources you have available to you in your area, or what you can find on line.  Shopping for fabrics on line is not always wise when you are buying fashion fabrics unless you are buying from a familiar seller whose quality (in general) you have confidence in.

Here are some ways you can cut down on the cost of making your own clothes:

  • Use coupons: I am generally not a big fan of coupons but JoAnne's Fabrics frequently has 40% off coupons available for non-sale fabrics.  This can be an incredible boon for when you wish to buy costly wool blends, linens, or knit fabrics.  I sign up for their flyers and have used their coupons many times.
  • Locate a discount fabric store: bigger cities often have fabric stores dedicated to "end of run" fashion fabrics, or "end of bolt" fabrics.  These are often at a good price.  Smaller towns lack the industry that makes these stores likely to crop up, however, if you are visiting a big city near you, do a little research and see if you can find one.
  • Buy by the bolt: this is not generally possible to individuals but always ask if there is a whole bolt discount.  A bolt comes with 15 yards, generally.  This is worth buying if you buy something like a heavy cotton twill for making shorts, skirts, pants, or jackets.  You can probably get 5 garments out of a bolt.  One example of an online store that sells fabric to anyone by the bolt for a 40% discount is the Fabric Depot in Portland Oregon.
  • Buy undyed fabric. I know of only one source for this: Dharma Trading in San Rafael California.  The quality varies on their fabrics from decent to excellent.  The catch is that they come only in white/natural (a couple of them come in black) which means you will have to dye them yourself which is a cost, to be sure, and takes more time, but the price of their silks make it worth considering as an option.
  • Buy patterns on sale: most pattern companies such as McCall's, Vogue, and Simplicity, have periodic sales on their patterns- often for 40% off.  Most of the stores that carry them will have at least one of those three on sale at any given time.  Sometimes you will see patterns on sale for $1.99.
  • Copy patterns from friends: copying patterns from friends is a great way to save money on patterns.  You will need pattern paper to do this well, but it's worth it.  Do not cut out the pattern size you need, just lay the pattern pieces underneath the dot paper and trace the size you want including all the piece numbers and markings and notches.
  • Thrift stores: you can find good fabric, notions, and patterns at thrift stores but you need to be aware that patterns are often not complete and are already cut out to a specific size.  Sometimes it's worth taking the chance for the huge cost savings.
  • Save buttons from old clothes: Buttons used to be so costly that no shabby garment would meet its resting place in the hearth until the buttons were removed and saved.  If you find you have to retire a favorite shirt or coat- save the buttons.  You can use them again!  I have (thanks to a favorite online friend and a local antique store) a very nice button collection.  I also buy buttons I like in different sizes when they are on sale.
Using the tips I've shared above I can make shirts for myself for as low as $10 a shirt,  but at a higher quality than I can buy from a store.

When it comes to home economics it is important not to find yourself unnecessarily spending $10 just to save yourself $1.  It is easy to get swayed by cheap prices of products and services offered by stores like Walmart.  I once bought a pair of pants at K-Mart for $15 which seemed like a great bargain at the time but when I put them on the next day they ripped within the first two hours of wear!  The fabric they were made of had no tensile strength which means that it was probably made of cheap short fibers.  I didn't save myself $20 by not spending $45 dollars on a better pair of regularly priced pants, I WASTED $15.  Period.

It is telling, in my opinion, that while cheap clothes from deep discount stores have come and gone through my dresser drawers and closet ruthlessly fast over the years, the clothes that I still have, that are still in perfect wearing condition, are the ones I have made for myself.

We encourage questions here at The Farmhouse Finishing School, so if you have any, please speak up and we will do our best to answer them!

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