Being in the great outdoors is always much more enjoyable
when you have the proper clothing and equipment, but
quality goods command premium prices at the local sporting
emporium or department store and such expenses aren't
always easy to squeeze into most people's already tight
budgets. Furthermore, while MOTHER EARTH NEWS thinks it's great that
some people can whip up a hooded parka or sleeping bag from
scratch, not everyone has that kind of sewing ability.
The answer to the problem of obtaining moderately priced,
quality outdoor gear may be the "sew-it-yourself" sewing kit,
which is made up of premeasured and precut fabric
(including all the thread and fasteners you'll need to put
the project together), and contains step-by-step stitchery
instructions. Besides saving you between 30% and 50%
compared to similar ready-made's, such custom construction
packages offer the satisfaction of doing-most-of-it-yourself; allow you to add personal touches like fur trims,
appliques, yokes, embroidery, and contrasting colors;
and even help you develop the kind of sewing skills you'll
need to start from scratch in the future!
Time and Space
But, while "prefab" kits will definitely save you money
and—in the end—probably provide products that are better
constructed than their factory-made counterparts, they
can be time-consuming projects to assemble. Also, though
there are a number of "sew-easy" items available, some of
the more advanced kits require a great deal of stitchery
Then, too, unless you're making small items (such as
bicycle or tote bags, booties, or mittens) you'll need
plenty of room to work, because considerable
quantities of material are involved in the construction of
a tent, comforter, sleeping bag, or long coat. And, despite
the fact that some companies enclose their pre-measured
down in convenient plastic pouches, you'll likely still
have a small blizzard on your hands when you actually pack
your garment with insulation.
One time-consuming job you'll encounter when working with a
great many kits is "searing the seams." You see, many
sew-it-yourself items are made from rip-stop nylon or nylon
taffeta, and it's absolutely imperative to apply heat to
the cut edges of such materials to prevent their
unraveling. This means that—before seaming 'em together—the
pieces of fabric have to be fused all around with a candle
flame (and then re-seared if you're working, for example,
on a curved seam that has to be clipped in order for it to
lie flat). This sealing process must be done slowly and
carefully in order not to burn your product or yourself.
An In-House Test
We decided to find out just how much work and talent it
takes to assemble some of these attractive items from
moneysaving kits. Using four different packages from
Frostline (one of the leading manufacturers of
sew-it-yourself outdoor clothing and equipment), a quartet
of MOTHER EARTH NEWS's helpers-folks with varying degrees of sewing
skill constructed four items: a small (16 1/2"
X 9 1/2") duffel bag, a "High Country" down vest, a
"Decorator" down-filled twin size comforter, and a
fashionable "Down Around" maxi coat.
Babs, who made the duffel bag, knows the rudiments of
sewing, but doesn't claim to be an expert by a long shot.
Though the kit took three "spare time" evenings to put
together, she found the bag quite easy to make and was
pleased with the results!
Johnnie, on the other hand, is an experienced dressmaker.
Yet she had to spend a number of evening hours—plus the
good part of one weekend—working on her fairly complicated
down vest with its "hand-warmer" pockets. The cozy, solidly
constructed end product, however, seems to confirm that it
was time well spent.
Pat assembled the comforter using her 1911
hand-operated Pfaff sewing machine in approximately eight
hours. Since the bedcover's fabric (Trinyl) didn't have to
be seared (though Pat did turn in all the edges twice to
prevent any chance of ravels) and involved straight seams,
her "just basic" sewing knowledge was quite adequate. The task of getting the down into the comforter's
"tubes" did take a fair bit of patience. (Pat claims to have
absolute proof that the kit's down is "the real thing": When she brought the package home, her bird dog
immediately "pointed" it!)
Our fourth stitchery "guinea pig", Celeste, had made a
Frostline down jacket some four years before, and—since
she sews most of her own clothes—didn't hesitate to take on
the myriad complications of making a down-filled maxi coat.
Even so, she was a little taken aback by the sheer quantity
of material and complexity of parts she had to deal with, the more than two hours it took just to sear the taffeta
material,. and the patience required to get the proper
amount of down inserted and distributed evenly before
machine-quilting the garment.
Though she found the instructions "pretty good," Celeste
thinks some important little details (that wouldn't be
"common knowledge" to any but a very experienced seamster
or seamstress) were left out. However, after almost 30
hours of work, she had a gorgeous down coat for less than
half the price she'd have paid in a store.
The Perfect Winter Project
Our conclusions? There's no doubt that -if you pick a
project to match your skills -the do-it-at-home sewing kits
can give you a sturdy, stylish piece of clothing or outdoor
equipment at about half the price of its ready-made
equivalent. Of course, the stitchery will occupy a number
of hours of your "spare" time. But there's a big stretch of
long winter nights ahead . . . and these practical and
personalized outfits, packs, and camping-gear pieces could
be the perfect way to fill up those evenings with some
projects that will make you "right proud" of yourself!