Inexpensive Sewing Projects to Practice Your Skills

inexpensive sewing projects

Sewing is one of the most immediately useful crafts to learn. It can save the crafter money in household expenses and provide extra income from the production of marketable goods that can be manufactured and sold from home. It's also a very versatile skill that can meet a variety of needs to adapt to changes in circumstances and market opportunities. However, as with most skills, it takes practice to gain competency and comfort with the endeavor. New sewers can become frustrated if they expect too much from themselves too soon instead of enjoying a more relaxed, natural progression rate.

One potential hindrance to this practice phase can be the cost of materials. While a sewing machine and other tools used are a one-time expense for the beginner to accommodate, materials are consumed with each use and cannot be easily restored or reused if mistakes are made. This can put a lot of pressure on the sewer to get things exactly right the first time to not lose what they've invested or even push themselves to achieve professional quality, marketable goods right from the start to be able to purchase more materials to continue in the skill. This doesn't have to be the case, though. With a little creativity, cheaper alternatives can be found for practice materials to delay your need for commercial quality sewing supplies until you are comfortable enough with your skill level to invest more without feeling stressed.

Using What You Already Have

The cheapest option, of course, is the free one. Look around the house for projects you can do with things you already have, especially items that are already well worn and near the end of their lifespan or that aren't very desirable to you so that mistakes won't feel like a big loss.

Start with tasks that only require a simple, straight stitch, such as shortening skirts, pants, or sleeves. Once you feel comfortable with the straight stitch, try some projects that will give you practice with zigzag stitching, such as adding decorative elements to garments or home furnishings.

If you have children, you can cut out favorite designs from clothes they have outgrown to transfer them as appliques to clothing in their current size, or you can cut shapes out of scrap cloth to make your own appliques from scratch.

Inexpensive Sewing Projects

Focusing on the straight stitch and the zigzag stitch first will give you the foundation you need for the majority of future projects. Your zigzag skill can also be expanded to making buttonholes, either functional or decorative, wherever you see opportunity.

Take your time with this, remembering that the purpose is to learn and gain proficiency and not just to get things done. The mastery of these skills becomes an asset you keep, so it is worth the patience and effort.

Thrift Store Projects

Inexpensive Sewing Projects

When you're ready to move on to new and more exciting things, shop around a bit at some thrift stores. Look for discounted clothing you can envision being able to do something with. For example, you could take a dress and cut it in half, add an elastic or zippered waistline to make the skirt a standalone garment and then do some creative experimenting to make the top into a unique blouse or vest.

Also, try out getting some garments a size or two large and then turn them inside out, cut them apart following the seam lines, and resew the seams 5/8” from the new edge. This will teach you a lot about garment construction so that you'll understand patterns better, and it gives you the opportunity to try out a variety of new fabrics to see which ones you like best and gain practice with them before buying them on your own.

Practicing with New Materials

Inexpensive Sewing Projects

Eventually, you will be ready to start making items from patterns and will likely need to acquire new materials because most existing garments won't have enough continuous areas of fabric available to cut entirely new shapes from. However, you don't have to start buying commercial quality fabric yet. One often overlooked option is to look for sales on sheet sets in general merchandise stores.

A king or queen size sheet set can offer a lot of yardage of fabric at a pretty economical price, especially after holidays when seasonal prints need to be cleared out. Because this fabric is meant for bedding rather than wearing, you shouldn't rely on it for making garments you want to be durable or crisp-looking, but it works great for practicing and testing the fit of a garment made from a pattern before committing to more expensive materials for the final result.

Trying out these inexpensive sewing projects should go a long way in improving your sewing skills while still being able to creatively experiment and have fun in the process without stressing over material costs or perfection.

By the time you have mastered them to your satisfaction, you should feel much more knowledgeable and confident in beginning to work with higher quality supplies so that your continued progress will be more productive and just as enjoyable.

If you have other ideas for inexpensive sewing projects that would help other readers build their sewing skills while on a budget, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I know they would be very much appreciated.

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33 Responses to Inexpensive Sewing Projects to Practice Your Skills

  1. VickieP says:

    I, too, have been sewing for a long time, learning from my Mom while a teen. Whether sewing or quilting, it is my happy place and where I escape to. Slow and steady is what I tell all I meet when they tell me they are new to sewing. Even though I can afford new fabrics when I need or want them, I still use thrift stores and coupons whenever I can. It NEVER hurts to save money. I can’t remember when I last paid full price for a cut of fabric. It is always on sale or I have a coupon or both. Gotta love Joann!!! The same with patterns. Why pay $15-$20 for a store-bought pattern when there are so many places online where a pattern for that same style piece is half that price….or free. Your website is one of my favorites! Indie designers like you two can be some of the best sources of nice, easy to use and more affordable patterns for everything clothing and household. Thank you!!!!

  2. MaryBeth says:

    Thrift stores are also great places to find fabric (as are yard sales). Also. when people know you sew (or are learning to sew) they can be very generous. Let your friends know and you will find they have fabric they inherited from there mother-in-law or grandmother, or something they were going to make, but never got around to.

    I love the sheets idea. I am going to look at after Christmas sales for flannel sheets for jammies! Thanks for the grat article!

  3. Sharon Baker says:

    Thanks for this! I am a thrift store garment junkie, and I have decided to upcycle most of my clothing this year. I find tailored shirts made of beautiful cottons (usually still with the tags on), and as you suggest, in a couple of sizes too big. I usually don’t have to change the collar, and am playing around with different sleeve lengths, wrapping and tying (rather than buttoning), pleating at the shoulders and down the princess line, etc. At $5 – $10 a shirt, I can experiment without worrying. It would be great to see some more ideas for doing this.

  4. Muriel says:

    Great for beginners: use lightweight jeans to make simple tote bags. Just use the legs in the beginning. Light weight denim is best for beginners. As you gain skills and confidence your imagination will guide you to utilize more of the garment and you can use heavier denim.

    After some practice You can remove the waist band* to make bag handles and once you’ve had some practice you could also remove and recycle jeans zippers.
    One thing a beginner sewer should invest in is a quality seam ripper. Spend $5,-10 it’s worth it.

    *To remove a waistband from jeans start from the right side where the buttonhole is. Begin after the button hole. Rip an inch of stitches on the back of the waistband. You will find it’s like a chain stitch and you can find the main thread and unravel it very fast.

  5. Catherine Monty says:

    Thank you for the tips. I would add yard/garage and estate sales. I just found a set of Fasturn turning tubes in like new condition (with instructions!) for $5. Most sales are now listed on websites where you can search for “sewing”.

  6. Ash says:

    Thrift stores and garage sales often have yardage of real commercial fabric. They are usually tucked back with sheets and bedding and a STEAL if you know what to look for. For US sewists, ALWAYS ALWAYS check the online coupons for JoAnne Fabrics. I only buy my high end fabrics when I can catch a good deal. $7.99 a yard is much more attractive than $15.99 a yard. No one has to know you got it on sale (or out of the discontinued bin)

  7. Jacky says:

    Such a great article with helpful ideas during the learning stage of machine sewing. I’m finding that regardless of age 16 or 60, support is still needed. I remember my late Mum encouraging me to use whatever fabric was available & affordable, rather than expensive fabric. Like many women I started sewing quite young, learning by watching my Mum. I sewed with Mum’s patient support throughout my teenage years and motherhood, then I stopped. Kids have now grown up and left home so I’ve come back to handcrafts and now want to get back into machine sewing, but it’s daunting on a new machine. It’s time for me to feel the fear but do it anyway!

    • Deborah Atulomah says:

      I am in the same boat- very keen to get sewing again after having no time in the last 20 odd years to do much more than the odd school play/history activity costume or mending stuff. I am working on freeing up time to take up dressmaking, embroidery etc again and I am currently re-skilling my rusty crochet skills-unused for about 50 years.

  8. sblessinghww says:

    Thank you very much for writing this. I know all this, but keep forgetting it seems…or rather, I get in my own way with ambitions and expectations. It is great to be reminded that slow and safe is good when exploring new things. I also want to thank some of the people for sharing their hit especially close to home. When we grow up and perfection is expected and demanded, we seem to copy that, even when we know that this is nonsense…but it ends up getting in the way over and over, until we can root it out like a bad weed. Thank you all. Have a very merry Christmas and very happy Holidays.

  9. Kitty Austin says:

    I think I needed this article as well, even though I have sewn for 50+ years. I got a fantastic electronic sewing machine from my husband for Christmas this year and since I have been sewing on a vintage mechanical all this time, there is definitely a learning curve to get the hang of this new machine. I have only had time to sit down to it for about 2 hours and all I’ve managed to do so far is wind the bobbin-took me 45 minutes to figure out how to turn it on-LOL! I will begin with simple projects just as you suggested until I’m comfortable to sew something more complicated. I think started with some mending might be best then I’ll hit the thrift store near my house. Thanks for the ideas!

  10. Carole Dufort says:

    My mom was a professional seamstress, and did things to perfection. So when she taught me in my teen years, our ways clashed and I opted out. Years later and on my own after having my first baby, I decided I would start sewing. I started with small , ”easier” projects, and gradually went for more complicated items. I had my third child and I was sewing for my three young boys. But time was very limited. I remember getting tense and upset when the kids wanted to get my attention. So I came out with my own rule: 2 hours a day, not more, not less, while the kids were ha ving their nap. With this rule, I developed my patience, and enjoyed more the atime alloted for sewing. YEARS later, I could sew coats and whatever I fancied. I even learned how to modify patterns. Sewing takes time, and patience. And you have to keep trying.

  11. Viki Shaw says:

    I agree that sheets are a fun way to go. We all upsized our beds here & my son went from a full to queen. He’d had some of the sheets since he was younger & adored them. So, I kept the pillowcases for him & hope to make him more, but kind of different, cases for later on. Also, other sheets will become “pillowcases” for our dogs’ big beds. Hoping to not have to clean the covers as often.

  12. Christa says:

    Such an uplifting article! I like to make bags out of old jeans or shoppingbags out of old sheets. This way I reuse fabric straight into something usable.
    And the scraps can be used as fillers for stuffing.
    So thank you Mayra, the idea of getting new fabric from bedding on sale is very useful!

  13. Bethany v Thompson says:

    One additional help I’ve found is that when testing a pattern, cheap thrifted sheets can be used and “issues” worked out before cutting into that more expensive fabric. I also look for extra large clothes and men’s shirts with very few darts and these offer large inexpensive fabric pieces to practice with. My latest project was making pillow covers for some thrifted pillows that I covered in sections cut from a washable cotton tablecloth in the exact colors for my living room. Cheap, quick, washable and kitty proof! Love your take on sewing and I agree–knitting is the best!!

  14. lifegetsinthewayofliving - Mea Cadwell says:

    I go to yard or garage sales looking for old sheets or curtains for fabric. I look for extra large clothing too. This can get you plenty of practice fabric as well. I also ask friends/relatives to donate fabric/clothes/blankets/curtains they no longer want.

  15. Chris says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words. Your point about not expecting to be an expert right out of the box is very useful to me – I tend to get frustrated easily. I’ll keep your words in mind. Maybe I’ll even take the cover off of my sewing machine and give it a whirl this week! 😉 😉

  16. Barbara Love says:

    Great article, I really appreciate the section about giving one’s self time to master the skills while enjoying the process rather than expecting perfection from the start!! Something I needed to hear! Thanks!

  17. april says:

    EXCELLENT article!!!!! My 18yr old daughter enjoys sewing as a beginner but the frustration level amps up all too quickly. Thanks for the tips to help her through the newbie stage.

  18. DIAN HOLDER says:

    Well written and informative article.

  19. margaret reid says:

    I’ve been quilting for only 2 years now and just started sewing. My stash from the thrift store is enormous. Big enough to do whatever I need without much new fabric required. Lately (with my sewing a blouse or making slippers etc. I have been using muslin. Wow, less than half price than my normal quilting fabric and a dream to work with. I’ve actually begun a quilt-as-you-go project and I’m using muslin not only for the backing but for the background as well> You should see how the white thread quilting shows up on it. Beautiful!
    Thanks for the article good info and thanks for the encouragement.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Margaret, my curiosity is always tickled when I see someone using an unconventional way to do things. I really would love to see your work.

  20. Denise says:

    Great advice. I have told my quilting students that if it becomes stressful then the joy is gone. My advise is to set it down and go back a little later.

  21. Guylaine says:

    I totally agree with you. I always tell family and friends to give me garments they don’t want anymore. First, if the garment is in mint condition,I’m offering it to someone I think it might fit. From the rest, I make bags and bag linings. With stretch knits, I make baby sarouel pants. From socks (containing merino wool, but having holes in it) I recently made warm mittens lined with fleece scraps I’ve been keeping in my stash for the last 20 years I think! As you might have noticed, I’m a “treasure keeper” kind of person, so I have to go over my stash once in a while to remember what I own and what I can sew with it. But upcycling is fun and you don’t stress if your sewing project is not as perfect as you want. Happy new year everyone!

    • Carol Bellin says:

      I so admire you! Silly me, I keep on buying fabric! I love to think of a beautiful gift made from a fabric with history. I think I’ll start hitting the thrift and consignment shops for fabric after I spread the word through the family.

  22. Great ideas! I started with doll clothes when I was 5… which would be 1951. Most were sewn on damaged architect’s linen – a very fine linen that was heavily starched to used in rendering designs. I don’t know where my dad found it but I used that roll for years! I would cut pieces off and soak it in water for a couple of days, rinsing once in a while, to make it softer, and with some ironing, I had free fabric. I started off turning the wheel by hand (so my mother didn’t know I was using it. 😉 It was just a straight-stitch sewing machine so it was simple to learn on. I need to dig my doll box out of the closet and photograph my things.

  23. KMaldonado says:

    Thank you for this article it was very helpful

  24. vijoi Bhat says:

    ideal for a beginer

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