Why I sewed my underwear.

th-1Because it was torn. Duh.

But seriously, folks: I had four pairs* of underpants with tears along seams. Side seams are especially susceptible. As the holes got bigger I’d stop using the garments.

But since I have enough for only about nine days, it bugged me that nearly half of my unmentionables were out of service. Naturally I kept vowing, “I’m going to fix those,” and just as naturally I kept putting it off.

Sometimes I’d wind up wearing the decommissioned drawers anyway due to laundry-day timing, and the stressed seams didn’t always appreciate it.

That bugged me even more. But as my friend SonyaAnn would say, it clearly it didn’t bother me enough. When it did, I’d do something about it.

Saturday was that day. I got out my sewing basket and spent just under half an hour repairing those seams. That included time to rethread the needle once.

Was it worth my time?

Some would say “nope” because new underwear is (relatively) cheap. Four sets of tighty-whities would set me back about $10.

Given that my freelance rate is higher than $20 per hour, some people would consider that sewing session penny-wise and pound-foolish.

I’ve heard the same argument applied to couponing, gardening, cooking from scratch and making your own gifts. All I can say is, “Do you naysayers get paid for every single minute of every single day?” I sure don’t, and I don’t know anyone who does.


Getting full use

The argument would have some relevance if I’d been burning the candle at both ends for days on end yet decided to stay up late sewing in order to save a few dollars. It took me a long time to learn that a strategic pizza is worth it sometimes. But I did learn.

Then why sew my scanties instead of buying new ones? Two reasons:

I’m trying to keep expenses very low to compensate for less income and also to save money for a major trip. In September I’ll be speaking at the Financial Blogger Conference again, and then flying from Charlotte up to Philly to see my dad. Might also tack on a side trip to New York for face time with editors; the last time I did that, I came home with a four-figure writing assignment.

Sure, $10 isn’t that much. But a sawbuck here, a sawbuck there and I’ve spent the money that could have paid for my NYC hostel accommodations.

Besides, I also like the idea of getting full use out of manufactured goods for reasons of sustainability. Yes, I just talked about taking a plane and heaven knows that’s not eco-friendly. But the more use I can get out of clothing, furniture or even flip-flops, the further other resources will stretch.


Please don’t feed the landfill

That’s both my resources and the planet’s, by the way. You can’t beat cotton clothing for comfort and breathability, but growing the fiber takes a ton of water and pesticides. Next add in the diesel for the tractors and harvesters, the energy it takes to gin and spin the stuff and then weave it into cloth and package it.

Finally, tot up the environmental cost of transportation – likely across the water, thanks to globalization – and you’re talking a darned big environmental footprint. Thus I resist buying stuff that’s easy to throw away. A wool sweater will last a lot longer than a cheaply made acrylic ones. (And it has to be irreparably worn-out before I’ll pitch it.)

That’s the same reason I shop at thrift stores and yard sales: The more chances at usefulness an item has, the more time before it heads to the dump. (And yes, those two venues are much more affordable than retail.)

To be clear: I’m not judging those people who don’t make minor repairs to their bloomers. Bu it works for me.

I’m not much of a seamstress, but there’s something calming about minor sewing jobs. That’s probably because my thoughts focus on just one thing (the torn seam) instead of flying off in all directions. No deadline issues, no to-do lists — just me and a needle.

How about you, readers: Do you sew your underwear? Why or why not?

*Why do we call it a “pair” of underpants when it’s just one item? I still don’t get that one.


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  1. Cindy Brooks

    I’ll have to think about this one. It’s never occurred to me to sew my undies. Mine are $15 each. Expensive, but they’re comfy and I’ve had each pair over 15 years. Seriously! (Air drying instead of in the dryer increases longevity.) They are finally wearing out, but only around the waistband. There is no elastic. The fabric is just folded over and sewn. I could easily repair them and probably do it on the sewing machine. Is it worth the time??? Maybe.

    • Donna Freedman

      We air-dry our clothing as well and it does last a lot longer. Not sure how old some of these undergarments are; I know that I’ve owned some for at least five years.
      If I paid $15 apiece for underwear I’d expect it to last a darned long time — but when it started to rip along seams I’d certainly fix them.

      • Cindy Brooks

        Yes, I’ve decided it is worth it. I’ll be getting out the sewing machine…

  2. I have for my husband, but his seam issues are along the top and it seems to be only a matter of time before the separation is worse, even with mending. I’ll try once, but the second injury is generally fatal, so to speak. He hates wearing jankety drawers, so I don’t try beyond that. But I do cut up the cotton to use as quilt batting material at some point. I’m too proud to use them as a rag like socks or shirts, but no one knows the difference from inside an object! 🙂 Now I just need to get around to making something.

  3. Donna Freedman

    “Jankety” — I like that word. And you’re right: Nobody has to know what’s on the inside of the quilt.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  4. Vicki

    I do not sew anything unfortunately and I wish I did. For some reason patience and ability elude me when it comes to sewing. I would sew my underwear if I did not have a hubby who sews very well 🙂 When I was a kid my Grandmother sewed actual pairs of underwear for me and my 2 sisters every year. Brand new pairs with lace and frills. We would giggle our heads off at the sight of them. Today I would love to have some undies made by my Granny and regret how rude I was back then when we opened our presents at Christmas. I think anything you can mend or extend life on is worth the effort.

  5. Shannon

    I do repair my underwear and anything else that needs it. A stitch in time saves nine is definitely true here. But, I have found that my husband tends to wear out his undies rather than tear them, so they can’t be repaired. When that happens, I do two things. First, I harvest the elastic. Usually it is in perfect condition and of a very high quality. I use it in other sewing projects and have a laugh when I think about the fact that my pretty new skirt is being held up by my old man’s undie elastic! Btw, that elastic is wide, comfortable and doesn’t roll. I use the fabric that is remaining to make rags to use for those cleanups that make you want to throw the rag away (we don’t use paper towels), like a kitty hairball or other gross situation.

    • Donna Freedman

      Very smart! Amy D. would approve.

      • Way back 26 years ago when I was pregnant with our son, I used the elastic from a pair of my husband’s old boxer shorts to convert a regular skirt into a maternity model. It wasn’t pretty when turned inside out because it was clear that I got creative with borrowing fabric from the facing of the pockets to make the stretchy part, but it sure was comfortable to wear and looked just fine on the outside.

  6. mdoe37

    I’ve fixed them up. Like everything else it seems, they just don’t make them like they used to. If you had a hem coming down on a garment, you wouldn’t toss it. Well then again, many would. I purchased a cute high dollar spring jacket at Goodwill. A seam had separated slightly. Less than two minutes and it was fixed. Jacket set me back $2.99.

    I’ve read a couple of blogs over the years that barked about cheap imported undies and sewing your own….better quality and not supporting a sweat shop. While I sew, stretchy fabric isn’t my strong point. I’m going to give it a go.

    After purchasing a set of crappy dish towels, I started sewing those myself as well. Flannel and homespun make lovely towels. And they don’t shrink up all weird. Gah.

    For those that don’t have a machine, watch the thrift stores. I spotted an old New Home (70s green color). I turned the fly wheel and it seem to work. Took it home, oiled it up and she sews like a champ. I have other machines, but this one is fun to run. Was it a deal? $3.99. U betcha.

    • Donna Freedman

      I bought a sewing machine for $2 at the Superfluity rummage sale probably five years ago, but I still haven’t tried to run it. At the same time I bought a “learn to sew” book (50 cents) and a big box of odds and ends of sewing-machine bobbins and spools of thread ($1). DF swears he’s going to figure out how to use the thing.
      I never joined 4-H because I was afraid if I learned to sew I’d be expected to sew. Felt the same way about the shorthand my mom tried to teach me; if I learned it, I’d have to become a secretary. Both skills would have been pretty useful over the years, especially the shorthand (reporter for 18 years). Live and learn, and then teach yourself how to oil, repair and operate a sewing machine.

      • Glasgowrose

        I do know how to sew and used to make most of my own clothes before my kids were born. Your comment made me laugh, though, because it’s exactly why I refused to take typing in high school in the early 80s, unlike all my girlfriends who took typing to have something to “fall back on.” I figured if I couldn’t type, I’d never be a secretary. My English teacher in told me, “Don’t be a secretary; be the boss.” And I’ve always been an editor and writer, never a secretary, but darn it, my life would be easier if I could type better than I can.

        • Donna Freedman

          I learned to type in the fourth grade: My mom brought home a huge, heavy typewriter from work (paid $10, I believe — the factory was selling them off to get better models). She made us learn the way she’d learned in high school, i.e., pages and pages of finger exercises before she’d let us play on the damned thing (which is what we really wanted, of course).
          I was earning money for typing by sixth grade — and before I became a reporter I was a typesetter and then a newsroom clerk, which led to my becoming a reporter. Still refused to learn shorthand for the same reason you refused to learn typing: because if I knew how to do it then I’d have to do it.

          • Julie

            I took typing, shorthand and sewing in high school in the late 70s and early 80s. All have come in handy and I didn’t end up as a secretary or seamstress but a CFO instead.

          • Donna Freedman

            I didn’t say it was inevitable that I’d end up a secretary if I knew shorthand. But it sure felt that way. I had a harder time standing up for myself back then, and my mom was bugging me to get a job at the courthouse so I could stay in South Jersey. She felt (rightly) that my moving to Philadelphia with a baby and very little money would be dangerous.
            If I’d known shorthand perhaps I would have caved and gotten that secretarial job. Then I would never have become a writer, or met DF. Very glad that I did both things.

  7. Tina in NJ

    My undies tend to run rather than rip, so it isn’t repairable. I tend to mend other’s clothing rather than my own. Every couple of years I’ll purge the stuff I don’t wear anymore and maybe mend something of mine. Then I’ll feel all frugal, but I’ve really only gotten around to it.

  8. DH actually bought a cheap sewing machine at Target so he could patch his (expensive) work pants. The sewing machine was $100. His work pants are $50 each. He patched the pants from the good pieces of pants that had worn out, so you can easily see how quickly the sewing machine paid for itself. I have mended small tears in sheets and in dish towels and can sew on a button or mend a small rip. I don’t know how much actual money I’ve saved, but I sure feel good about myself! Now to figure out how to tack up the hems in those expensive bath towels that came out in the first wash cycle…

    • Pat O

      If you have a zig-zag stitch on your machine, go all the way around the towel before you ever use it. This alone will almost double the longevity of your towels and washcloths. I also did this on the diapers i used on my babies, 26 years later my “window towels”aka old diapers are still around!

  9. Melissa F

    I cant say that I have sewn any undergutchies mainly because mine tend to get holes before ripping. I am sure this is a quality issue with products made today and probably that combined with washing things in super hot water does them in. I guess if I had a seam split I would consider it. I have had my fair share of ratty looking undies that I kept for certain times of the month, laundry emergencies and other sorts of things, but we lost everything in our fire last year, so I do have all new skibbies. Not all that many, probably 12 pairs or so. I was just saying last night how cheap they seem to be because the one pair is running and unraveling a bit. I did trim it up and I hope for the best until I can splurge for a few nicer pairs.

    • Donna Freedman

      So sorry to hear about the fire. You don’t realize how many things you have until it’s necessary to replace them all.

  10. Scooze

    I couldn’t do that, as I don’t sew. Also, I can’t remember the last time my undies fell apart. I give them to Goodwill when they look worn out and I want to replace them – someone who worked at the Goodwill once told me people would buy them.

    As I think someone mentioned – I always wash my undies in the delicate cycle and hang them to dry. They last forever.

  11. Last year I bought four pairs of socks and they’re already so ratty and shabby I had to put them in with the dust cloths. So I continue to mend the decade old USA made socks and they still stay up! The better quality of older goods make thrift shopping a good idea, even aside from the financial advantage, but I draw the line at socks and underwear. I still have and regularly use my grandmother’s darning egg and treadle sewing machine. My undies don’t split at the seams, but that might be because I spend a bit more for Jockeys and dry them on a wooden rack. I mend while waiting for other things to happen, so that’s time I wouldn’t be working for money anyway. And yeah, I always look to the longevity and environmental impact of what I buy. Thanks for reminding us to mend.

    • Donna Freedman

      Our underwear (and the rest of our clothes) get dried on a rack or a clothesline. I wonder if buying those $15 underpants Cindy mentioned would mean they’d last even longer — and are those made in the USA or just made to last? Seems that the cheap stuff is just made to fill store shelves, i.e., “disposable undies.” Maybe the pricier stuff is still made overseas, just with better materials and more care.

  12. Lisa O

    I think I might mend them if it was an easy fix like yours. I will make small repairs to clothes to keep them lasting longer and looking good. I too think about our landfills and I try with everything to reduce, reuse and recycle what I can for the good of this entire world!

  13. Sheila Groleau

    Funny. Repaierd a pair of mine. Rag drawer for son’s – could see right through them. Those will be for the one use nasty and trash mess.

  14. This sounds like a post from the great Amy D of Tightwad Gazette. Thanks! I think about things like this all the time.

  15. Vicky Fox

    I Am so glad you posted this. I am going to repair anything I come across now. I’m not very good at mending, but I will do my best. I hate breaking in new chonies. I love all the ones I have now.

    • Donna Freedman

      YouTube has a ton of helpful videos, from replacing a button to creating an “invisible” stitch. I figure if Harrison Ford can teach himself carpentry from books, I can learn to sew better from YouTube.

      • Vicky Fox

        That’s great 🙂 I taught myself embroidery from YouTube and books. Thank God for left handed crafters 😉

  16. I’m learning lots of fun new words from this post and the replies!

  17. Catseye

    No, I don’t sew underwear because by the time something starts to fall apart, it’s completely worn out anyway. I wear all of my clothes until they disintegrate or don’t fit anymore. I seldom put my clothes in the dryer these days, I’ve air-dried them for years and it does make a difference.
    For instance, I still wear 20-years-old t-shirts. I’m wearing a robe that’s at least 15-years-old and I wore a nightgown last night that I bought over 30 years ago! All American made goods. *sigh* I wish we would stop importing so much cheap, low-quality crap from China.

    • Donna Freedman

      My daughter gave me a bathrobe for Christmas 1999 and I’m still wearing it. A shirt I wore yesterday was one that I bought at Value Village some time in the 1990s. Air-drying does make a difference.

  18. Amber

    A pair of trousers, a pair of scissors, a pair of step-ins all involve two parts. The scissors are two parts held together by a nut or screw, and trousers or shorts are two legs, joined by a broader top portion.

    Back in the olden days, the two legs were joined by a thin strip, and I imagine people were much more aware of the legs as separate parts. I recall seeing some old bloomers that were mostly leg, with a very thin band of cotton yoking them together. The legs weren’t joined at the back, but then they were worn under petticoats and skirt, and the lack of a join made it much easier to hoist up the skirt and petticoats to pee. Ladies would go behind a convenient bush, if need arose. Which raises the question, when did public lavatories first appear in cities? Underwear was quite different then.

    I have not sewn undies, but I have darned socks. I am considering darning some soon, because they are comfortable and it seems wasteful to stop using them because they have one hole. I don’t throw away underwear or socks, because I buy cotton ones, and they just progress to the rag bag to use when cleaning things. Still, it’s nice not to have to buy more if I can stretch the useful life of what I have.

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s darned frugal of you. (Sorry.)
      I read a book about the French Revolution and it mentioned in passing that “only prostitutes wore underwear.” Guess the rest of the ladies went commando, which sounds awfully chilly in the winter.

      • Amber

        Not under layers of petticoats and skirts! Layering really does work. It’s the prostitutes who were probably chillier, in their scanty lingerie.

        • Donna Freedman

          I got the impression that they wore the lace ‘n’ frills underneath the same kinds of skirts as other women, but still…Brrrr.
          It did make urinating in public easier, however. I once saw a British film about Queen Victoria that included a scene of the queen (Judi Dench, I think) being helped to lower herself into a squat outdoors; she remained dignified (and completely covered!) throughout the moment.

          • Ellie

            I always think of pioneer women walking along the Oregon Trail – I felt much relieved for them when I realized they didn’t wear underwear. (Pun intended).

  19. Karen

    “Was it worth my time?” YOU BET YOUR BRITCHES!

  20. Robin

    My husband is the sewer in the house most of the time. I try to mend my underwear by times and he says I don’t do them right, so I pass them over to him. Sometimes mine are sewed maybe 3 times. Seems when you sew one place, it rips out somewhere else a couple weeks later. Every now and then he will say, by god, get some new ones as these are soon going to fall off you! Thought you gals will get a chuckle out of that. Right now my hubby is cutting and stitching awnings for an auto garage. No one sees my underwear but hubby and me. If I go to a doc,etc. I make sure to keep a few new pairs for that. I try and darn socks too, but sometimes the stitching bothers me.

  21. I can do buttons and simple fixes, so I guess I could stitch up my underwear, if it were the kind that ever needed stitching, but the kind I wear don’t rip… they just wear out. And I wear them until Mr. Vega informs me that replacements are necessary (blush). Apparently, I’m not the only wife out there that needs to be told when to give up the undies!

    I will say that I spend a good amount ($60-$100) on well-made, correctly-fitted bras, which last for YEARS and still look good, unlike the cheap ones I used to go for. Well worth the investment, and my figure looks nicer in clothes, as well!

  22. Cathy in NJ

    I have sewn underwear but only if the fabric was still sturdy. I have also sewn socks, and the places where underwires poke through to get more life out of the bra. I am currently planning to sew the patio umbrella because the spokes have cut through the ends. Same sort of failure as the bra metal against fabric.
    Fortunately my mom taught me to sew as a child and I used to spend hours making doll clothes from scrapes of fabric leftover from my mother’s projects.

  23. sawyer

    I’ve heard some charities will accept your worn-out clothes and recycle them as rags or sell them to paper companies.

    Perhaps a ‘pair of underpants’ stems from a ‘pair of pants,’ one for each leg?

  24. ro in Sd

    I don’t usually sew undies because I usually pay so little for them with $10 of $10 Kohls coupons or other promotions. I have amassed a huge collection. I keep them way too long though and have recently pitched some too threadbare for rags.

  25. I do sew underwear and most recently repaired a pair of my husband’s skivvies that had separated some seams. He might not have noticed until the leg fell off, but I did! 🙂

    I’m a firm believer in “a stitch in time saves nine.” The other day, I noticed one of our 3 for a dollar nylon dish scrubby puffs — what the heck is the name of those things anyhow? — had begun to unravel. I pulled out one long thread from it, got out a rug needle and stitched the srubby back together. It look less than five minutes to fix it.

  26. Caron

    My DDs give me a bad time for darning my socks. “Just buy new ones!” But as I explained, it only takes a few minutes while watching TV to fix the holes, saves me the hassle of going shopping (my pet peeve), keeps stuff from being landfill before its time, and makes my clothes budget go that little bit further. I don’t think they buy it, but it makes sense to me. 🙂

  27. OK ladies, it is now time to SHOP and PURCHASE, and not to sew/repair your old undies.

    Walmart has a sale on Hanes panties. 13 pair for less than $15. That comes out to less than $1 a pair. You know you are worth it! And with that many pairs, you know they are good for at least two years.

    Yes, they are tagless. Yes, they are 100% cotton. Yes, the elastic in the legs is covered. Yes, there are some colors in the package, although most are white. Yes, they have the large sizes; I saw a size 13 stack. No, I do not usually shop at Walmart. But, the many pairs I bought years ago at a local Dollar Tree, at 3 for $1 (until they realized the error of that), are biting the dust (rag bag) with the elastic shredding and unraveling to the point that it is very inconvenient. And the Walmart brand I bought several months ago are pretty worthless (too thin, fall off, etc.).

    Just in case you need to further justify spending money on yourself…

    Bonus 1 – the package has 2 BoxTops for Education on the side.
    Bonus 2 – 3 of the white pairs are packaged separately, so you could: gift them, donate them, leave them in your suitcase in preparation for your next trip, or overnight visit to the hospital.

    Now get out there, and get yourself something nice to wear next to your goodies! You take care of everyone else, family, bills, etc.; time for some self-care.

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