Make It or Buy It? {A Handy Flowchart and Visual Guide}

Make It or Buy It? {A Handy Flowchart and Visual Guide}

Recently I’ve been having two kinds of crafty thoughts.

After spending tons of time writing these past few months, I needed a therapeutic creative outlet. And I got it. I’ve been cooking and sewing and painting, and it’s been great.

But in addition to the here-and-now, the holidays are coming. Not for normal people, but for crafty ones–the ones who like to make their gifts–December is not that far away.

I don’t like to make gifts just for the sake of making them. I want them to be worth my time and trouble. But it’s hard for me to tell in advance which projects are going to be worthwhile, and which ones are going to give me headaches. Because if a handmade project is going to give me a headache, well–I’d rather just buy it.

With that in mind, I’ve created this handy flowchart that helps me decide whether a handmade project is likely to be worth it–or not.

Click here to download a printable flowchart.

Here’s a sampling of some of the projects I’ve made recently. Some were worth making; some weren’t. Let me tell you why.

Buy or DIY?

Buy or DIY? Here's how to decide.

1. My sister-in-law is a Mary Kay consultant, and I thought cheerful nesting bags would make a fun and practical gift. I used the zippered pouch tutorial in Bend the Rules Sewing as a jumping off point. It was way more time-consuming and expensive than I expected.

I was torn over whether this project was a “make” or a “buy.” Since I made 3, I decided it was worth making, because I was able to customize the colors and the sizes, save a little money, and put some extra heart into it. But if I only wanted to gift one pouch, I would say “buy” for sure. Verdict: Make (barely).

2. I thought this She Carries Flowers purse tutorial from Tea Rose Home sounded fun, but turned out to be a poor fit for my personality. I don’t enjoy fine detail work–and this project is full of it.

The good news? My grandmother loved the bag, which I made her as a gift. But it still wasn’t worth it. Verdict: Buy.

3./7. This is the “Flower Girl Dress” from Heather Ross’s excellent book Weekend Sewing. Make no mistake: girls’ dresses like this are cheaper to buy on a good sale at Old Navy or Target, when you can scoop them up for $8. I think the supplies on these dresses cost me $12.

But my girls and I had so much fun making these. They helped me choose the fabrics and cut out the pattern pieces; my 7-year-old even sewed some of the seams on hers. Sewing each dress took less than 2 hours, and now they have high-quality, custom creations–right down to the extra-long hems–that they had a hand in making. Verdict: Make.

4. I’m in love with this hooded towel and washcloth pattern from the Purl Bee. It’s a little more expensive to make this than to buy it–the supplies cost about $12, and you can pick up a hooded towel at Target for $10. But this set makes the sweetest baby gift, and it’s so much more special when it’s handmade.

We made the above set last week for the brand-new baby across the street. It’s not hard to sew–it’s all straight lines–and it only takes 60-90 minutes start-to-finish. Verdict: Make.

5. I read how to dye your own play silks on Simple Kids right before Christmas last year, and knew my kids would love them. I dyed some with food coloring and some with Kool-Aid packets; both methods turned out gorgeous play silks that my kids have been playing with regularly ever since. It was fun; it was easy.

It wasn’t until last week–when we visited a new toy store in our town–that I realized just how much it costs to buy play silks. $15 a piece! I paid about $19 total to make 7 for my kids. Verdict: Make.

6. I wanted to make owl rice heating pads as stocking stuffers for my kids, who have enjoyed sleeping with tube socks filled with rice for years.

These owl rice heating pads are charming. They’re fun to make and to give. You can make them from scraps, which means they’re inexpensive, too. I’ve never seen them in stores. And did I say charming? Verdict: Make.

Have you attempted a handmade project that turned out not to be worth making? What was it?

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55 comments

  1. Pingback: A Christmas Gallery
  2. Awesome flow chart! As an Etsy shop owner/crafter I often feel like people think “Oh I could just make that, why buy from you?” They just don’t realize how much time goes into making something! And sometimes, the supplies you need just to make it aren’t worth it just to make one or two items.
    I think I even need to follow the flow chart at times….it’s even harder for those of us who are crafty to say NO to making! 🙂

  3. Beverly Kelsey says:

    I admire crafty people!
    I am a bargain hunter at heart but now I don’t have time to do it much anymore.
    So the Day after Thanksgiving and tomorrow I will shop till I drop.
    I have a simple project my oldest son and I are doing tonight a knot throw made from fleece. He is so excited. If all goes well I may make personalized pillows and a few more knot throws for Christmas. I also got some pine cones yesterday and am looking into what can I do with these. Right now they are making my house smell good for free.

  4. mary says:

    I really enjoy this idea of a flow chart. My husband is upset about the numerous projects I have lined up in the garage. I started a sewing projects with my daughter this Summer but my machine broke I took it to the repair shop and it came out of the car with another piece broke off. I need to take it back in to have it repaired again so a lot of my projects ended up on the back burner. I started refinishing projects instead and then due to have company over they ended up back in the garage. I have trouble limiting myself to projects I can finish in a certain amount of time. The quilt for my nephew’s son ended up taking me two years to finish. Partially because I cannot use my hands anymore for the hand sewn parts of the quilt. I guess I need my own flow chart and pay attention to the can I physically do it and do I have the time to finish it a realistic amount of time.

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