Sewing On A Budget

by Destri on February 18, 2011

Thread On Spool and Rack

I received an email a while back from Heather, frustrated with the expense of sewing.  She had started sewing to save money and has found it to be rather expensive, and wanted to know if I had any tips to bring the cost down.  I have been there too, thinking that sewing would be a thrifty hobby, but have found like most hobbies, it can hit the pocket book hard if I’m not careful.  Still, with a little creativity you can make your dollars stretch.

Tips For Sewing On A Budget

Pillowcases

They are not just for dresses!  If you shop the thrift stores you can pick them up anywhere from 10¢ to $1.00.  I have paid as much as $3 for hand embroidered pillowcases at a thrift store, which is a steal.  If you are shopping at an antique store you will pay a little more, but they are usually in brand new condition.  Often you can find a set with a high thread count and sateen cotton, perfect for pajamas.   Don’t overlook the solid and white ones, they are perfect for random projects.  I love sewing with pillowcases, the possibilities are endless!  Here are a few things you can make with pillowcases:

Sheets

Sheets are perfect for sewing projects.  They are big, so you can make just about anything with them.  You can pick them up at thrift stores for next to nothing, and Walmart has a line of inexpensive  sheets with the twin flat sheets coming in at $3.00 in a variety of colors.  Also, there are a bunch of etsy stores with a great selection of beautiful vintage sheets, one of my favorites is JaneSays Vintage.  Really, you can make anything with a sheet, but here are a few ideas:

Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose!

I could give you a ton of links here, but just go through the Sew Be It Repurposing archives and you will see a lot of my projects include something repurposed.  It’s the easiest way to bring the cost down on sewing. Everyone is repurposing, so there is no shortage on ideas out there, just go blog hopping!  Here are a few more ideas:

  • My sister takes the buttons off of stained and ruined clothing before tossing, I just started and I have a great collection!
  • Take hardware from things you are tossing - clips, clasps, d-rings….
  • Pick up shirts, skirts and pants with patterns you love from thrift stores, you are bound to use them at some point.
  • Okay, one link, because this post is buried and it is one of my favorite ways to repurpose, No Sew Onsies to Bibs.
  • Old table cloths that are water proof are great for any project you need to be waterproof, or wipe-able.  Like seat covers, make-up bags, diaper bags….

Random Tips

  • Shop the sales.  Go through the back rooms and sale tables, find the prints you love buy a yard or two for future use.  When shopping online, shop the store sale page.
  • Eyelet fabric with pre-finished edges is often on sale.  It is great for dresses, curtains, skirts..anything, and you don’t have to hem!
  • Don’t cut out your pattern pieces, trace them onto butcher paper then cut, then you can use them over and over.
  • Make use of unconventional fabric sources,  for instance I once made pillows from cloth napkins.  They were already square, all I had to do was so them up, total cost $6.00.  Or like these pajamas I made from an old blanket,   it is one of my favorite projects to date!

When Not To Skimp

As with anything, you often get what you pay for.  That is why I like thrifting for finding fabric, you can find quality at a bargain.  Keep in mind if you are spending the time to make something, it is worth using quality items to get a great finish. Here are a few tips on what not to skimp on:

  • Thread.  It is worth getting the high quality brand.  Trust me.
  • Felt.  This depends on what you are making of course, but it has been in my experience that inexpensive felt just doesn’t pan out in the end.
  • Lace, it either looks good, or cheap.  Go for the one that looks good, you won’t regret it.
  • If you are making an heirloom piece, or something you want to live through the ages, it’s worth using the expensive material.  If you are making your babies blessing or baptism gown, splurge on the nice cotton.

Okay, now in the defense of sewing.  It can get expensive, but keep in mind you are making quality handmade items.  If you were to buy handmade items from a designer…well sheesh, you could easily get into the thousands.  Don’t discount the value of what you’re creating!  I hope this helps Heather, and thanks for the email :)

So now it is your turn, what resources have you found to help keep the cost down in sewing?  Any other little tips you can add for Heather?  Do tell!

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Bonnie February 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

Great tips! I have also found that joining an online fabric co-op, and grabbing a discount to major fabric stores are great ways to save on fabric costs. (I never buy fabric at my LFC for less than 40-50% off! And that includes my notions so I can always get the good thread.) Also when you go fabric shopping make a list. I’m a bit of a nerd and made a spread sheet with the notions I need, yardage and prices to keep me on track.

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Hannah February 18, 2011 at 11:52 am

These are great tips!

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Jessica at Me Sew Crazy February 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm

it is definitely something you do for the love of creating, not for saving money. There are times I cringe when I fall in love with a certain fabric and then see the price. But there are some incredibly cost effective ways to save money while doing it, as you point out very cleverly above. And sometimes my favorite pieces end up coming from the repurposed items! Well done!

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kari February 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I’m the ultimate frugalista and typically shop estate sales, thrift stores, and garage sales for patterns, notions, and fabrics.

I routinely get my patterns for 25 cents or less (uncut, even) and rarely pay more than a quarter for a card of buttons or a zipper.

I can get yards and yards of fabric for under $1.00/yard shopping this way too.

It does require that I shop in advance and it’s less convenient than walking into a fabric store and buying everything in one swoop. I’ll take the savings or convenience, though!

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bobbie jo February 19, 2011 at 8:54 am

another very inexpensive way to get fabric is sheets & sheet sets the cheeper singles at walmart for flat or fitted twin is 4$ & the cost goes from there for the different sizes even king is under 10$ they also have sheet sets with nice design lower tc but they done pill 20$ & up under 30$ for a king set. even the fitted can be used remove elastic, which can be reused, cut down the sewed part where it pockets in on matress lay it flat out & cut off the top part, both sides, where its shorter, make sense? then the rest of ur sheet is same size . I have used sheets for backing on quilts, squares for quilts & other general sewing works GREAT. Kohls a few months back had sheet sets for $12 any size i spent like 40$ & got aLOT of fabric i could have NOT bought other wise.

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Shasta February 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Sewing isn’t cheap and worse it’s totally addicting :0)

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Meggan February 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I second the buy expensive thread. If I use cheap thread, I have to have my machine cleaned more often, which ends up at $150…I can buy a lot of expensive thread for $150. Never buy full price fabric at JoAnn’s. There is always a 40% off coupon around.

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valerie February 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Love the ideas about taking buttons off of old clothes. Ready to raid the closets. Thanks so much.

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Joan February 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Also keep a eye out for things at yard sales. Last week I bought a huge bag of red buttons for .25¢ Yes every button is red and every button is the same. But how cute will they be on display in a clear jar. Then “if” the day comes I need a red button,,WOW i have it!

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Cassandra February 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Bought my first vintage sheet on Wednesday. I hit up four stores that day. I started to wonder how I’ve seen some blogs who always show off their thrift finds, how do they do it? I was about to give up, but decided to try the 4th store, (three Goodwills and one Thrift Town) and there it was…my find; a white Bibb’s sheet with blue, green and avocado flowers.

Oh No! This is gonna fuel the fire of wanting to thrift more. :-D

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Val Payne February 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Look out for unconventional sources of fabric. I just purcahsed fabric shower curtains from Target – in their 75% off Vanentines section. The fabric is nice and thick, just what I need for curtains in my daughter’s room. The shower curtains are 72″x72″, that’s a lot of yardage for $3.75 each. Even buying a similar pattern (brightly colored pink, orange, aqua stripes) with a coupon/on sale at Joann’s would have cost me close to $70. Instead I spent &11.25!

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IlonaH February 19, 2011 at 12:33 am

Great tips! I already use pillowcovers and bedcovers from thriftstores or dollarstores to sew the cutest things.
Recently I made a handbag for myself. Crocheted the front and bag with yarn from the weekly market (which was the most expensive, 3 euro 50 a skein, needed 1 1/4 skein), fake leather sides, bottom and handles which I made from a piece I found at the thriftstore, and the lining from fabric I got at a home deco-store, which were destashing their old samples. Got 10 big pieces (read: 1,5 yard or more A PIECE) for only 5 euros. Total of the bag was 6,65 euro or something, but it looks like a designer bag which I spend gold on. Sorry to say so myself :), but others did too.
I also like to make jeans-bags… with 4 boys in the house, age 4-12, there are a lot of jeans that are ruined. Sometimes it seems epidemic, and I still have a lot of bags to sew! (lining them with pillowcases, bandanas from the dollar-store, or sheets :))

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Sue February 19, 2011 at 1:09 am

I love to re-purpose. Good post, thanks.

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Maria February 19, 2011 at 7:27 am

great tips! it makes me wnat to go to the thrift store right now!

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Jileen February 19, 2011 at 9:26 am

I recently made a duvet cover out of sheets from Walmart. So easy! I just sewed them together and made the top fold in and over like a sandwich bag. My mom also uses sheets for the backing on quilts. One big piece of material in whatever color you need. She usually buys hers at Walmart but thrift stores are a great place to buy them too for super cheap.

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Anne Voss February 19, 2011 at 9:36 am

There are also several Yahoo groups for buying/selling sewing related items between members…one that I use a lot is SewitsforSale and Quiltersfleamarket. They are a great way to save on many things from machines to fabric to notions.

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DpBluSea April 4, 2012 at 1:04 am

I love the Yahoo group SewItsForSale, have had 100% satisfactory transactions. Good deals, too.

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Deborah Warner February 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

Oh my goodness! You have no idea how perfect this post is for me. I just got my first sewing machine 2 days ago and I was going to go shopping today to start my new life as a sewer. Thank you for this post and to everyone that left such great comments.
Wish me luck!

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Mary February 19, 2011 at 11:27 am

For fabric, notions & thread galore on the cheap, try visiting estate sales. This is my new source of supplies. At a recent estate sale, I bought pieces of fabric up to 4 yards long for $1.00 a piece (flannels, cords, cottons). I understand on the Bag Sale day (last day for estate sale) you can get as much as you get in a bag for around $5.00.

I have also found people clearing out fabric/notion stashes on Craigslist. Usually it is from someone who can no longer sew and the family is clearing out the stash. Wonderful prices!

These are just some other ideas to find inexpensive fabric & notions to sew to total contentment.

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DorrieBelle February 20, 2011 at 7:01 am

Join every fabric store’s mailing list – online and USPS – in your area. Or check them online if they don’t have mailing lists. You’ll find coupons and get a heads-up on sales you’ll wanna hit. Thanks to websites and mailers, I haven’t paid more than a dollar for a brand-new pattern in years, and I use the routine 40% off coupons that Hobby Lobby and Hancock Fabrics issue to keep my supply stash well-stocked.

And don’t forget to check the remnant bins – but these are not always your best deal. One fabric store just bundles the bits up at regular price, no discount at all. But sometimes you find a perfect accent fabric there, when they’ve sold out of it on the bolt.

I also hit the second-hand venues – thanks to thrift stores, junk shops, yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales, I have enough zippers, snaps, bias tape, seam binding, and neat sewing baskets to last for the next two or three decades – cheap ! Occasionally, I find fabric, but it’s rare around here.

Sewing doll clothes can be a rewarding hobby on its own. It’s a great way to recycle your kids’ outgrown and damaged clothes, and most projects are easy to complete in an hour or two. If you’re not a doll hobbyist yourself, or have kids who love dolls, dressing yard-sale dolls for charity is a nice service project that can help you master skills in a small scale that’ll transfer easily to people-size sewing later.

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Amy February 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I started sewing last fall and didn’t want to spend a great deal of money so I discovered repurposing. I make skirts and dresses for my 3 year old from tshirts, receiving blankets and pillow cases. I made leg warmers from a scarf and another pair from sweater sleeves. I just purchased a book from Amazon called Resew: Turn Thrift Store Finds into Fabulous Designs. It’s become a game to me to see what I can do without spending any money or little money.

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Erzsabet February 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I have to say my biggest problem is buying patterns, especially since I’m trying to get into doing costumes, but I’ve found that McCall/Butterick/Vogue patterns are only $2.99 on their website, as opposed to $10 in stores, which helps a LOT since I am always looking for new patterns to sew from or base other things off of.

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Sarah February 22, 2011 at 8:03 am

Great post! I grew up with a super-thrifty Mom who did all of these things and more on a routine basis. It is interesting to see these ideas that I thought were so weird as a kid (in the 80′s – I’m young!!) are sort of in-style and “green” now that I am an adult.

Another, perhaps obvious tip – fabric never really dies until it falls apart. Once you are done wearing it or even repurposing it, cut it down to size to be used as a rag. Who cares what the piece that you clean the floor or wash the car with looks like? T-shirts or old cloth prefold diapers make the best lint-free window and mirror wipers, and you save $$ on paper towels.

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BethJ February 22, 2011 at 8:14 am

Thanks for the great tips and the different websites for ideas.

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Carlee Dynes February 25, 2011 at 9:52 am

I use all these tactics when I sew as well. One other plus to using thrifted fabric, is that the quality is often better than what you can buy in fabric stores. I recently found the most beautiful vintage vinyl table cloth and posted a tutorial for making a diaper changing mat from it here.

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Vanessa February 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm

awesome post-Thank you!

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Sue March 1, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Great post with great tips!
Not sure if anyone mentioned but online classifieds like craigslist, kijiji and freecycle are also fantastic places to find great deals or even free stuff.

My best one yet was a factory that was going out of business and was giving away free thread; not the small spools but the medium sized cones for industrial sewing machines. They didn’t care how much you took as they had to vacate asap. I scored a huge box and even with giving away about 20 cones to family, i still have about 40 left in different colours. I haven’t bought thread in a couple of years.

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Missie March 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Thrift stores are fabulous! I’ve also heard Walmart mentioned as well as Joann’s. One great thing about Joann’s is that you can double & triple up on the coupons! Another place I have gotten some great material is from my Local FreeCycle Group via Yahoo. I received yards of material, notions, buttons & even patterns. Check it out!!

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Melissa Lewis - Midwest Magnolia March 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I just took up sewing and am trying to build up an inventory of buttons, thread and fabrics. This is a great post!

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Tamara March 23, 2011 at 9:52 am

I’ve got an 11year old daughter and a 6 week old daughter. I use my older daughters clothes that she’s outgrown and convert them into my baby daughters new clothes. It works out awesome and my older daughter loves seeing her little sister wearing her old clothes. My older daughter has even started designing baby clothes for me to sew for the little one!!

Another idea to save on buying patterns is to search for free PDF patterns online. I have found tons of free downloadable PDF’s, then you can alter them as you see fit to make new patterns. I’ve bought clearance patterned and novelty socks and made leg warmers for the baby, it’s cheaper than paying $12 or more a pair for them at boutiques.

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Maureen April 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

My mom did this when we were kids before Bed in a Bags were popular– Mom ordered 2-3 flat sheets in our favorite prints from the Sears catalog. All of them were a size larger than our beds. From one or two she made curtains for our bedroom windows and a set of pillowcases. The third sheet was used as a bedspread on top of our blankets and white bedsheets. Since it was a size larger than our bed, it draped just like a bedspread and came to the floor.

Go to thrift stores and buy clothes for the fabric. Example: If you are a size 12 and you see a 4x skirt in a print that you love, buy it, take it apart and use the fabric to make something that you want to wear or something for your kids.

Before you clothes go to the rag bin, remove the buttons and if the zippers aren’t broken, remove them as well and re use them.

Flour sack tea towels are great for sewing projects of all types. You can buy them in bulk from http://www.acshomeandwork.com and depending on what size or grade you want you can get them as low as $18.00 for 10. They are a very generous size, and best of all they are made here in the USA.

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Sarah March 8, 2014 at 1:38 am

Great input! I love the idea about the sheet sets.

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Nancy April 13, 2011 at 10:48 am

I love these tips! I will add that when cutting out a pattern, it is frequently possible to use less material than stated (leaving some left over to make cute little projects later). If you look at the instructions, you might see that that some corners, for instance, will be cut off later anyway. This is particularly true on the bottom corners of skirts. Sometimes that 3/8 of an inch will let you to place pattern pieces closer together and save considerably on the fabric used. Also remember that many styles sew up wonderfully using multiple fabrics, such as a flowered design for the bodice and a stripe for the skirt. Some designs will also work with fabric that has been sewn together in large or small patches (use some caution here; undisturbed draping is necessary for some designs).

My 2 favorite good buys: A “destash” garage sale, where I got two boxes of cotton fabrics in 1/2-2 yd pieces and one box of ruffled trim for $17, and a local fabric store that was moving location, where I picked up 47 commercial patterns for $14.

Note to new sewers: There are many wonderful patterns available on the internet, and they are often way more clever and forward-looking in their use of fabrics and trims than you would see in patterns from the big pattern companies. However, they differ drastically in the coherence and detail of their instructions, and sometimes it takes an experienced sewer to interpret them. It may be worthwhile to start with some commercial patterns marked “easy” to become acquainted with sewing-construction jargon.

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Reine May 6, 2011 at 6:20 am

I keep old clothes, table clothes, curtains, sheets, pj’s, towels, whatever really, (mine & those of close friends) that might be considered unwearble/unusable because of stains, big holes, stretched or so out of fashion & daggy that no one would wear them. These are perfect for things like toys for children, adults and pets alike. You can also cut peices for quilting and keep all the buttons and zips for other projects.

I have a tendancy not to cut anything that I throw into my stash as when it comes to repurposing, u may be better of having that pocket attached, or perhaps that sleeve that is still in one peice would make a great doggy jumper.

Cheap stores are also great because you never know what you will find in there. I once found a heap of feathers that are perfect for cats toys!

I have a habbit of looking at everything with a “what can I make with that” eye and really, thats best advice.

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Josée July 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Great tips! I use almost all of them! :))
Can I add another one? I use thrift store bedsheets as sew in interfacing and as interlining… It’s working great and it’s cheaper and eco-friendlier than buying the “real” stuff.

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Sandra Thomas September 18, 2011 at 5:26 am

Several years ago I wanted some new curtains for my living and dining room, shopped several places, couldn’t find what I wanted.
I went to Wal-Mart to get sewing supplies, and went to the bed/bath/kitchen area, and wa la, I found the sweetest tablecloths, stripes on one side and flowers on the other, this is it, you know it when you see it right girls. Well I proceeded to look at table runners for the valance, my sewing mind was working faster than I could get to the check out, lol.
The next week I had an appointment in Chattanooga, went to Hancocks and they had lots of trims on sale, I dove into that like raisins in chocolate. Got some beautiful trim for my table runner valance and even the curtain rods and rings were on sale. I did not have to make rod pockets and I let the curtains puddle on the floor, so designer looking if I say so myself, the Lord just blessed me so good that day.
So yes ladies and fellow sewers(men sew too) always look in other departments for your fabric. I spent around $200.00 dollars for all the things I needed for my hugh windows and if specialty shop did this for me, it would have been $2000.
Happy sewing everyone !!!

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Heather Grow June 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

Great tips. Thanks for the shout out. :)
Something I do: I use wrinkly or ugly Christmas wrapping paper to make my own patterns. I buy vintage fabric and sewing goodies at estate sales. If I see a photo of a sewing machine in the preview pictures, I’m pretty sure there will be sewing stuff available.

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Destri June 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Hey Heather! Yes, I love those tips – especially if a picture of a sewing machine is there, genius!

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Claire January 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I’ve only recently started sewing, and I have only sewn projects I could make with unwanted items I already have. I bought one spool of thread and then explored my closet for things I don’t wear anymore. It’s really got me to be creative with repurposing and honest about what things I don’t use anymore.

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Cornerstone January 16, 2013 at 9:48 am

Here is another random tip: Hairspary removes ink from fabrics. Instead of throwing the fabric away, use this tip and it will look like new again!

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Destri January 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Great tip! Thank you for sharing!

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