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Spend & Save

Thrifty Living: Sewing helps you save money – and work things out

My sewing craze is continuing with zeal, even though after creating two dresses and two blouses (I know, respect) for various "lucky" children, I still seem unable to break through the mighty five-hour barrier. Frankly, I found running the London Marathon a swifter task. This week, after a stint which saw me still sewing at 2am, I was so exhausted the next day I actually managed to forget to bring our dog home from the morning school run. At 10.30am, there he was, poor thing, still tied up outside the school gates. Whoops. He only forgave me after a big toy-throwing session.

Still, I'm determined to improve as a seamstress, and am off this week to construct a "tote bag" at my new club, which promises chat and nibbles alongside the bobbin-threading, so maybe when I'm chatting and nibbling at the Make Lounge, I'll pick up some advice on how to speed up my output.

In the meantime, Ms Phil Kelvin emailed me about "Stitch and Kvetch", a regular night held by the Jewish Community Centre for London which, starting with its peerless title, sounds rather brilliant – you can bring along your own projects, or learn a new one (knitting, crochet, etc), "whilst indulging in some good old-fashioned kvetching". And Sarah Bayley writes in to tell about Handmade and Found, a boutique in Islington run by a sewing "inspiration", Ruth Llewellyn, who makes her own designer dresses. I suspect such gems exist throughout the country.

The great thing about settling down with your sewing machine for a few hours (or a lot of hours, in my case) is that not only do you come out with a vaguely workable garment, but you also have time to work things out. And as Thrifty Living comes to an end (next week, dear thrift-seekers, don't start panicking yet), here is a sample of what I have worked out while hunting for dropped pins and cutting bias binding.

Firstly, that living within your means is all about being in control, and having the power to walk away from the till. I did it yesterday. Went into a shop, saw a divine dress on the mannequin. Tried it on. Was flattered to fit into a small size, but still the dress looked wrong. Mutton and lambs came to mind. Never mind, it looked great on the dummy. I took it to the till, but as the assistant was duly ringing it up, I realised how stupid it was to spend £60 on a dress just because it was small. Pathetic. And so I graciously exited from the purchase. Six months ago I would have bought it, regretted it, worn it once – you know the rest, and it involves the local charity shop.

The second most important thing I have now grasped is to wield choice. Choice to have your hair cut in a classy salon, or not. To eat out, or not. I used to wander around shops like a sort of automaton, as if someone else was directing the plastic to fly out of my wallet every five minutes. I know, pathetic again. Writing a list is part of it, as is actively deciding whether you are going to buy each and every purchase. Obviously huge decision-making sessions about yoghurt in front of the chill counter at the Co-op are probably a bit unnecessary, but you get my point.

Thirdly, if you are going to spend money on something, it's best not to do it wearing a hair shirt. Living economically does not mean diving into a cave and deciding to become a hermit for the rest of your life. By all means, continue that gym membership (as long as you use the gym), invest in a subscription to Vogue (if you like reading glossy adverts interspersed with tiny amounts of writing). But relish it, otherwise it's a waste of money. I refer here to my half-price Issey Miyake £400 winter coat which I have worn for precisely six months of each year since 2004. I think this makes it probably the most cost-effective thing I have ever bought, although it hardly seemed thrifty at the time.

Fourthly, remember that people are trying to make money out of you. All the time, 24/7; the key is that the decision about whether you should give them any of your hard-earned cash must reside with you. They all have their own specially devised pester power, via advertising, freebies, spam and the like, to get into your wallet, and you must do your best to resist them.

And fifthly, can anyone give me any tips on how to sew facing on to a garment?