Yes, we’re all being told to make do and mend and embrace craftiness. But actually, making stuff yourself often isn’t cheap. So let’s hear it for Regina de Búrca, who offers a guide to being crafty on a budget.
I come from a long line of women who knit, sew and crochet. My forebears’ sole purpose of making things was to saving money. My grandmother’s Aran jumpers were undoubtedly beautiful yet their main function was a practical one, while my mother was a prolific dressmaker who made everything from our ‘good room’ curtains to my Communion dress. She taught me how to sew so that I could make clothes and repair them. But by the time I grew up, culture had turned disposable and the importance of skills she taught me had dwindled.
It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 2002 that I became interested in craft work. When we had the heart-breaking task of packing away her things, I was reminded of the significant role crafting had played in her life. We found her ‘work box’ – a hand-decorated box containing a wealth of supplies, neatly stored away with a half-finished jumper and blanket. I decided I couldn’t let her legacy go to waste and so I took them all home with me.
My grandmother’s forte was crocheting; something I’d had little experience of. When I went online to find resources to teach myself properly, I discovered that the world of handicraft had changed dramatically. Once an old-fashioned, staid pursuit, the art of crafting had become subverted; reclaimed by a dynamic, sassy generation who wanted to make things for the fun of it and had set up initiatives such as the ‘Stitch and Bitch’ groups.
I have been making things ever since then. But my approach to my hobby has changed over the years. At first it was simply a relaxing and rewarding way to spend my time. But as my salary has decreased and my expenses have gone up, I couldn’t justify spending more on say, making a jumper, than it would cost to buy one, so I gave up crafting as an overindulgent hobby.
However, it wasn’t long before I missed it. The last time I moved house, I happened upon my grandmother’s work box. I thought back to the times when making things was a good way to save money, so I became determined to find a way that I could save cash while doing something I loved so much.
It has been challenging – there will always be cheaper alternatives to homemade clothes and accessories. It is impossible to compete with mass-manufactured low-price products. But what I have found is that the items I make myself endure longer than many budget items I have purchased, so in the long term they can work out cheaper.
Here are my top resources for craft supplies on a budget. Some are online, others based in Dublin. I would be very interested to hear of any other budget retailers that I don’t know about, particularly around the rest of the country!
My first port of call for wool is always The Liberties Market in Dublin 8. It is the cheapest place I have found in the City, and the best choice when looking for wool for a pattern that requires a lot of the stuff.
The ‘special offers’ section of the Spring Wools website is a treasure trove of unusual wool and knitting kits. They deliver quickly, too!
Etsy’s knitting supplies section is useful. it’s the most economical place I’ve found for specialist wool, I’ve found some really unique types here in the past.
Charity shops can sometimes stock it – a friend of mine once bought five balls of mohair wool for two euro in a charity shop on Capel Street! Granted, I’ve scoured all the charity shops in the area to find a similar deal but haven’t… yet.
The fabric wholesalers, TWI in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square is the most budget-friendly walk-in fabric shop I’ve found – . It sells an amazing range of fabrics.
http://www.fabrics-n-stuff.co.uk/ is the cheapest online fabric retailer I’ve used. The service is fast and the shipping costs not too painful, so needless to say, I’m a regular. Their range isn’t as extensive as most online sites, so often I enhance the fabric myself using batik techniques or sewing on collars or feature pieces (see vintage market in the ‘Other’ section, below).
The clearance page on Fabrics.com has some great deals. It has the best range of budget fabric that I’ve found online, so that excuses the postage costs… just.
The fabric supplies section on Etsy is an Aladdin’s cave of fabulous materials of all kinds -
The ‘Online Fabrics’ special offer page has some good deals – but with £10.99 postage costs regardless of weight of the package, I only use it for a big order no more than once a year. Don’t forget to request samples – they are 75p each for a fat quarter. Each customer gets a maximum of ten samples.
Best way to stock up on low cost fabric is to ask any backpackers you know who are jetting off – they can pick up stunning pieces in places like Morocco or India very cheaply.
My all-time favourite craft site is at Craftown. From patterns to easy to follow illustrated guides, the website is a fantastic resource for all other types of crafting.
The member-only http://www.freepatterns.com/ is a wonderful site. Once you sign up (for free) you can download their patterns in PDF format. They also have a e-newsletter service, which provides interesting tips on various kinds of craft work.
The All Free Crafts site is an amazing compendium of patterns. And with no login to set up, it’s very accessible.
K & M Evans sells supplies for teachers and sells a huge variety of paper and paint and lots of other crafting tools, for much cheaper than high street art shops
Vintage markets are great places to pick up buttons, collars and other pieces of fabric that can be repurposed. I keep track of the fairs in Dublin through Vintage Ireland’s Facebook page.
The Craft Council of Ireland has a ‘for sale’ section on its website that sells everything from pottery kilns to screen-printing frames.
The supplies section on Etsy is a super resource for all types of craft work.
Freecycle is a great place to find crafting staples such as sewing machines and dressmakers’ dummies.
DIY stores can be the cheapest places to find glue, wire and paints.
One of the main ways I save on my craft budget is by pooling resources with my friends. By sharing things like sewing machines, Lomography cameras, tile cutters (for mosaics) and bookbinding tools, we have access to far more supplies than we would normally. And it follows that we all have a shared knowledge base, so we save on tuition fees as well.
Handicraft in itself has added value because it can be so fulfilling -there is something very satisfying about making your own things. It brings me joy look at what I have made over the years, in particular the jumpers and blankets co-crocheted by my grandmother and I. I hope it’s a tradition that will be kept up through this generation and future ones.
Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB