Saving the planet... one garment at a time!

... and one upcycle at a time... Welcome to my blog: A place to have an "over the fence conversation" about sewing, altered couture, upcycling, and all kinds of crafts using found objects, beads, ephemera and other vintage finds!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Economics of Sewing - Part 2

Last time we talked about free and low cost options for acquiring sewing patterns.  Today, let's look at interesting sources for low cost sewing fabrics, trims and notions.
I don't need to tell you that full priced fabrics are very expensive.  My first suggestion here is something that many of us shy away from:  harvesting fabric from items that no longer fit, or that were never garments in the first place.  Did any of you see Blast from the Past, starring Alicia Silverstone and Brendan Fraser?  One of my favorite scenes takes place on Brendan Fraser's character's birthday.  Having lived in a fallout shelter for the past thirty years, his family is running out of nearly everything.  As a present, his mom, played by the awesome Sissy Spacek, makes him a new sports jacket from old curtains.  Now, it looks quite unconventional, but it was made with love (see below) - and who wants to look strictly conventional anyway!  Dated drapes become a new dress, and old round table cloth is a new circle skirt, and an oversized dress can provide the fabric for a new blouse.  In this instance I'm not talking about item restyling, but actually using item number one's fabric to make item number two. Of course, thrift and consignment shops are a bountiful source of these "harvested" fabrics, as are yard and estate sales.  Basically, anyplace where you can see the condition of the fabric you plan to harvest, can be a great source, if the price is right!

While we're on the subject of harvesting, don't forget that this can also be a great source for notions and trims.  My grandmother, raising her family during the depression, saved everything!  Even the buttonhole twist from one coat's buttons to use on another.  Having learned from the master, when I take apart an article of clothing that I intend to either refashion or simply harvest fabric from, I always take off any reusable trims, buttons, and even zippers.  While you may not want to reuse a zipper for a high wear garment, you might want to use one in a fitting muslin rather than using a brand new one!

If you want more traditional yard goods, but want to pay a lower price, you have many options, including some of the ones we've already mentioned, those thrift stores, consignment shops, yard sales and estate sales also sometimes have uncut yardage which can be purchased at a fraction of what would be asked in a traditional fabric store.  Just this past weekend, Sue from Sewin' Steady scored a huge box of fabrics and notions for just $11! Of course, those traditional stores do have sales and extensive couponing programs which can help considerably at the register.  Online shopping is another great option here.  Many traditional fabric stores have an online presence, and coupons will usually apply to online purchases as well.  Also, many of these stores will have swatching services so that you can see what you're getting before making a commitment.  Additionally, one can obtain fabrics on Craig's List, eBay, Etsy, Freecycle.  By definition, what is offered on Freecycle is free, but when using the other sites, it helps to have a sense of what the same fabric would go for in a variety of different settings.  In other words, comparison shopping is required if you are going to come up with a bargain.

Thanks for reading this little series.  Please comment and let me know if you have other favorite sources for low cost fabrics.

Linked to The Thrift Home.


  1. Thank you for your series. Back in December a friend was going through her deceased mother's clothes. She couldn't part with them so she asked me to make a quilt from the clothing. Then all 3 sisters wanted one too! Each quilt was different but they were all using their mothers favorite colors.

    1. Nancy, that is so terrific! What a lovely way to pay tribute to someone so loved, without hanging onto things that will never be used "as is". You're a sweetheart!

  2. I scour the thrift stores for bedsheets. One sheet is about 2 1/2 yards of fabric. If you get a set, that's a good 5 or so. Pillowcases can easily be converted into skirts (assuming you're slender) or into little girls' dresses.

    If you like to be more avante garde, consider alternative fabrics such as upholstery, vinyl, tablecloths, etc.

  3. For quilting, I sometimes need backing fabric for squares. I repurpose sheets that have issues such as rips where the mending will be uncomfortable to lay on or stains in certain areas. You can purchase white sheets (or any color if it will not show on your quilt square) at Goodwill for pennies on the dollar compared to new sheets or cut fabric.

  4. Thanks for the mention, Dee! I'm all about thrifty fabric shopping. I love the idea of harvesting fabric or other notions from an existing garment - hopefully I can try it soon!