Making Clothes in TEOTWAWKI

This guest post is by GaGa and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Most references to having clothing to wear in TEOTWAWKI call for buying some warm, outdoor-type things on sale, stocking up on socks and undies, and having a little sewing kit for repairs. A better way is prepping to sew clothing yourself.

I’ve been sewing for about 40 years, and in most cases, home-made items last much longer than store-bought. Sewing also gives you the flexibility to choose fabric, style, and size for particular people in particular climates. Practice now while their are people around to give advice, so you can keep sewing when you’re on your own.


The first thing to buy, and the only costly one, is the sewing machine. When my old Singer electric crapped out after thirty-some years, we got a new one. It’s a heavy-duty utility machine that doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles. I expect it will keep me sewing for another thirty years. I got it on sale, which JoAnn’s has quite often – you just have to wait for the model you want.

If TEOTWAWKI doesn’t include electricity, I might be able to keep going with this machine, powering it with batteries charged with our solar (or a wood-gas generator my husband has in the planning stages). If there’s not enough power in those dark days of November and December, I’ll turn to plan B.

Last summer when I went to pick blueberries, the berry farmers had some furniture for sale, including an old treadle sewing machine. I snapped it up for $25. My brother, who repairs treadle machines for the Amish in our area, cleaned and oiled it, put a new belt on, and I’m in business. They’re quite common at garage sales, so keep your eyes open.

I confess there’s a knack to using these things that I haven’t quite mastered. You give the wheel a little push, set your feet in motion, and sew. But sometimes in that process, it decides it wants to sew backwards. If you have someone who can teach you, I suspect they would have good suggestions on how to get past this problem. In my case, I’ll just keep practicing every now and then, and eventually it will follow my directions. 🙂

Once you have a machine to sew with, you need some other tools of the trade: good, sharp scissors, a tape measure, seam-ripper, pins and pin cushions, various styles & sizes of machine needles, extra bobbins, a tube-turner, and a thimble. A small plastic organizer for all the little doodads is very handy. Mine has 6 little drawers that keep things easy to find.

Sewing requires good light. Set up your station by a bright window, and have a good light available when needed. Because my eyes are getting old, we invested in an OttLite – pricey, but we got it on sale and it’s worth every penny.


Thread – Again, watch for those sales and stock up. Unless you want to get into spinning, you’ll need thread of various weights and colors. I advise against picking up thread at garage sales, or even the collections of various colors that they sell new. The thread tends to be older and weaker, which doesn’t make for good seams.

Patterns – These are often on sale and can be picked up at garage sales, too. Look for sizes and styles for the people you’ll be sewing for. I have some patterns that will work for lots of people. Pajama patterns, for instance, come in one pattern with various sizes and both sexes. I can make pajamas for anyone from one pattern. Again, a good plastic container to keep them clean and organized is helpful.

Buttons – Buttons are expensive, even when they’re on sale. The best way to get them is at garage sales. Sometimes you’ll find a button jar full of them that can be had for a fraction of buying new. You can also cut them off worn-out clothing that you’re getting rid of, or even buy cheap worn-out clothes at garage sales just for the buttons.

Zippers and seam binding – These can be purchased at a good 50% off sale, or again, salvage them from old clothing.

Fabric – This is the big one, both in cost and storage space. I have several large, plastic tubs full of fabric. Again, there are almost always some fabrics on sale. Find the fabrics you want, and stock up when the sale is on. For instance, instead of buying blue jeans in various sizes for the whole family, which can add up quickly, I buy a bolt of denim when it’s on sale. Some blue and gold thread, a few short metal zippers, and a handful of metal buttons I’ve pulled off old jeans, and I can keep the whole family in jeans (and jean jackets) for a long time.


If you’re a novice, it’s easier to learn to sew by having someone teach you. Watch for classes at your local fabric store, or ask around. I bet there are some older ladies who would be glad to help you learn.

If you’re more of a do-it-yourself-er like I am, choose easy patterns at first and read them! They generally have clear directions that are easy to follow. You might also want to invest in one of the many how-to-sew books available that can simplify more complex techniques.

From blue jeans and winter coats, to cool cotton shorts and shirts, sewing can keep your family covered and comfortable in any weather. Your skills will make for good bartering in TEOTWAWKI, too.

This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:

First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following;  (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of  LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.

Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.

Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.

Contest ends on August 7 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Short and simple yet packed with good ideas. Thanks! It does make me wonder if kilts and skirts might not be more common in such an environment as they are so much easier to make than pants! 🙂

  2. Decades ago, Mom got tired of repairing and repairing a pair of cowboy chaps I kept tearing. It didn’t take her long to decide I needed to know how to stitch up my own damages. Almost every time I see a needle and thread, I’m reminded of this little five year old boy. It’s a skill I passed to my son as well. He’ll never regret it. Like me, he’s sewn on buttons that outlast the shirt, put on his own patches- some that make me cringe due to subject- and modified clothes to fit him better. Knowing how to sew is definitely a skill set people will be in need of- as will seamstresses. As for the collectible treadle machine- you got a bargain at that price.
    Thanks for the encourgement to learn a very useful skill.

  3. Schatzie Ohio says:

    I learned to sew on my grandma’s old treadle machine back in 1955. I would suggest that for those multi size patterns that you get some tracing pellon (you can buy it by the yard) and trace out just the size you need. That way you can use the pattern over and over again for any size that you need.

    • farmmomwannabe says:

      Schatzie, Great idea. I have also used old waxed paper, shipping packing, freezer paper, etc. to trace patterns. Some of my favorite multi-size patterns are the old Ann Person Stretch and Sew patterns, just be sure to use the correct type of fabric for your pattern (such as: stretch knit for stretch pattern. Some of the styles are very 60’s.

      • Encourager says:

        farmmomwannabe, Stretch and Sew!! I have saved every one of those patterns. And, when our local store went out of business, bought a dozen or more to add to the collection. I love the patterns for babies and children. I have two books on how to sew for the ‘small people’. Made many outfits for my sons that were darn cute. But you are correct, you need the right type of material. With those patterns the material has to have stretch, or give. You can now buy denim with stretch which would be perfect.

        Great article, GaGa. Don’t forget all the extra stuff such as buckles and D rings, Velcro in many widths, hooks and eyes, and snaps (also the thingy that puts the snaps onto material ~~ having a senior moment and can’t remember what it is called!!) It might be a good idea to also have an awl.

        Buying some leather or heavy vinyl to make household stuff is a good idea, too. Fleece is good for outdoor-wear, blankets, jammies, and can be used as a liner in cloth diapers to last the night. Speaking of diapers, buy birds eye cloth. There is a product called PUL that if used as an outside layer, can make an item waterproof (diaper covers). Buy flannels for men/women’s shirts and baby clothes. Knit material for nighties, shorts, Tshirts, etc. Whew. I will quit now!

    • Good point that I didn’t think to mention. Another option is the brown paper that Amazon and others use for packaging. It irons out nice and flat.

  4. Sewing machines are great,but it is also worthwhile to learn to sew by hand.When I was driving truck I didn’t have room for a sewing machine.I sewed entire outfits by hand while in the passengers seat.Save you old worn out clothes for the material as well as the buttons and zippers.The good parts can be used to make clothes for infants and small children.It can also be used to make tiolet clothes and reusable sanitary pads.I used to take the pantlegs from cutoffs and make a piar of jeans for my son.Wornout childrens clothes can be taken apart and used for patterns.The old clothes can also be used to make quilts.

    • Islandgirl says:

      Great ideas Gaga! Thanks for your article, got me thinking, or as we say “plotting and scheming!” lol

      Connie, I thought about quilting also. Even if not up to making a bed-sized quilt, scraps of fabric can be made into window quilts and extra rugs and mats for use in the winter when rain and snow get tracked in. Utilitarian items could be tied with yarn or thread instead of quilted. For that matter, so can bed-sized quilts.

      If old Abe really said this or not, it’s something to think about, “a man will be about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.” Have a great week. God bless you.

    • You’re right. Hand sewing is a needed skill, as well. I just happen to hate it. 🙂

    • When I was in the service saving every penny counted, so I would sew my patches on by hand. At first Top would ask me if I was drunk when I did it but as I got better I could do them pretty fast and you couldn’t tell that they were hand done. I repaired all my utilities and sewed buttons back on too. It will be interesting to see how fast that skill comes back.

      Deo adjuvante non timendum

  5. JP in MT says:

    Sort and sweat! Thanks for the ideas. We have been saving buttons and thread when we see stuff on sale. Guess there’s a few other items to get too.

  6. tommy2rs says:

    Taught my kids how to do minor repairs and button replacement as well as the basics of leather work. Places like Sportsman’s Guide sell bundles of wool blankets that make good winter wear or coat linings. I even found a pattern online to make a hooded wool cloak out of a blanket…lol.

  7. Well I figure sewing will indeed be a trick if it gets that bad.
    Mother and Aunts sewd and I can with a degree of success. My mother learned to sew on an old treadle. She had an old Mercury machine that I learned on. Strait stitch was all it would do, oh it did have one of those huge button hole contraptions. She used that machine for years and years.
    She could do finger work. She showed me how to do buttonholes by hand. Hers were wonderful, mine not so much but at least it will keep the hole from raveling and getting bigger.
    If things get to where all is back to the 1800’s we will be using drawstings and such in our clothes as elastic will give up its stretch. Our clothes will be more on the simple side other than if we are able to have Sunday best.
    But anyway this is a needed discussion as things will indeed wear out.

  8. sw't tater says:

    Good job..on the article.
    another idea for material… flat sheets make good material for slips and a nightgown.Just need elastic, scissors and thread. sewing machine makes it easier, but I taught my daughter to make them by hand and I have done some myself that way….Hint, start by cutting material to three times the waist size for a gathered-half slip.
    I saw one lady make a shift / sun dress out of one, she said it was cool and comfortable.

    • Sheets are good for a number of things, sw’t tater. I once got a large boxful at a garage sale, and I’m still using them. Thanks!

  9. Great article. Thanks so much. Yes, folks (I’m addressing BOTH genders), NOW is the time to learn to sew.

    Another consideration is that all our current clothing might not fit should TEOTWAWKI occur. Gone will be our sedentary lifestyles; we’ll become much more active. Add to that any food shortages (or at least no trips out for fast food) and it won’t be long before our clothes are hanging on us. It’s good to know how to take in seams. Along with a more physical workload goes rips and tears. You can buy patches now. You can also salvage otherwise useless torn jeans for patches.

    In the US Joann’s often offers weekly 40% off coupons in the newspaper and you can sign up for home mailers. This is a terrific way to begin collecting those supplies GaGa listed. Competitors may honor those coupons, and vice versa, so there’s no need to pay full price if you shop wisely.

    This link looks cute AND practical. It’s a tutorial for turning your old favorite tee shirt into a pair of underwear. And it might not be a bad skill to learn!

    • Clothes that are too big would a real side benefit for me. lol

      Being able to sew would also provide clothing for growing children (and grandchildren.)

      And thanks for the link. Younger folks will like this idea, I’m sure. I’ve also seen old, favorite clothing made into collectible quilts.

  10. Plenty of fully functional , non electric sewing machines around in antique stores . Most I have seen are in fantastic shape .

  11. I carry a sewing awl in my belt pouch, the kind with the built in spool of thread. Prethreaded needles in my wallet, three sizes and weights of thread. Another skill along this line, holsters, scabbards, tool pouches. Start with canvas or nylon before trying them in leather.

    • Thats another good point ,get heavy nylon fabric by the yard while you can . I get camo fabric by the yard , A-TACS and German Flectarn . You can find hunting camo patterns like Mossy Oak Brush that works well anywhere , but its a bit pricy .

  12. TY for this reminder. I have sewn all my life. Nothing complicated, doll clothes as a child, my prom dress (i promise NO ONE had one like mine). Simple maternity dresses and baby bedding. Even dresses for baby dd. My fav is my denim quilt. Good to know.


  13. DW says my idea of going around in a loin cloth a la Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes is not going to cut it. I told her, it’s TEOTWAWKI who’s going to care? She said, that at that point people will have suffered enough without seeing my naked butt.

  14. I have been sewing for 61 years, and I am 65 yrs old. The reason your treadle goes backwards is because you are not keeping up a steady rhythm. When you feel yourself losing the foot rhythm, just give the hand wheel a little more spin, just enough to encourage it to keep going. I learned to sew on a treadle! I have one now, so I never have to worry about sewing.

    Don’t buy nylon thread. Buy polyester that is wrapped in cotton. Or, cotton with a polyester core. Heat from and iron or just getting to hot from being near a fire will meltthe nylon thread. Please don’t use it. Buy a good quality thread A&E will last. Cheap stuff gets tangled and makes me, an experienced seamstress who has supported herself at time, want to run screaming from the room. Thread is like many things–you get what you pay for.

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you for the tip! My mother sewed on a treadle, but got an electric when I was little so I never had the opportunity to learn. I will give it another whirl with your wisdom in mind.

      And that’s an excellent point about thread. I was once “given” some cheap thread that I wound up tossing. It kept balling up by the bobbin, and my hair got a lot thinner. 🙂

  15. Kelekona says:

    Thrift stores are a good place to find old sheets and sometimes cheap new fabric to practice on. Also troll the bargain bins at the sewing shops for fabric marked down to a couple bucks per yard.

    Styles might become more fitted sometime well after teotwawki. First we should see wild patchworks as cloth scraps become too small to make a garment out of, then everyone will start getting custom garments that fit right.

  16. Jarhead 03 says:

    Good article, I have been collecting sewing supplies over the years. Learning by watching my grandma and aunt as well as repairs in the field of uniforms while in the Marines. The goal is a sewing machine one day, until then it’s hand sewing.
    I have a huge collection of various buttons in sizes, colors, plastic, metal and wood. I’ve even taken the time when bored to make my own buttons from wood and plastic to include the old stick type for lack of knowing what they are called.
    I’ve learned to make needles from bone, wood, plastic, yucca plant and other needle type plants.
    For sewing thread a substitute could be as simple as 2-4 pound test fishing line, internal line/strands from 550 paracord, thin sting or breaking down rope or braided cord into single strands.
    I also keep fabric glue and other things I find to help.
    While not perfect I have repaired jackets, uniforms, pockets, camping gear, packs etc. saving me money.

    • Thank you all for your comments and suggestions, and thank you, MD, for the contest. As we all share our areas of “expertise,” we’re all a little better prepared.

  17. “She said, that at that point people will have suffered enough without seeing my naked butt.”

    I am convinced that if anyone ever sees me naked, I would be arrested for murder . . . because anyone who saw me naked (with the exception of my husband) would be so shocked that they would drop dead of a heart attack!

  18. Santa Walt says:

    I’m surprised that all you lady Preppers had to leave it to a man to advise you that Janome makes a modern treadle sewing machine. Just get an other treadle cabinet and install the Janome in it. You will have to buy the belt separately.

    See Janome’s treadle sewing machine at:

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