The Art of Thrifty Sewing: How to Save Money When You Sew

thrifty sewing

It's hard to consider sewing to be a money-saving activity when you add up your costs. After you buy a pattern, full-price fabric, and any accessories, you can easily spend twice as much as you would on the same item – already made – at a discount department store.

Occasionally, buying everything new will be the only way to create what you truly want. But most of the time, if you can be flexible and a little patient, there are some excellent sources out there for sewing supplies at next-to-nothing prices.

Buy Vintage

Thrift stores and yard sales can be a great source of fabric, patterns, notions, and tools. The best yard sales for these items are typically in older, well-established neighborhoods of mixed age demographics. Finding the perfect yard sale for sewing materials can be rewarding for the buyer and seller. While the buyer might be able to purchase several yards of fabric, a mixed bag of notions, and a handmade quilt top for just a few dollars, the retired seamstress could be thrilled to know that the items will still be appreciated.

thrifty sewing

Look Outside the Box

When you find a super sale on table cloths or bedding, consider if these items might be suitable for any upcoming projects. Cotton tablecloths can make unique sundresses. Plastic-coated tablecloths can be used to cover weathered outdoor cushions. Clearance sheets can provide several yards of fabric at a price per yard that is hard to beat.

thrifty sewing

Keep Cutting

This principle is perfect for making children's clothing or accessories. Remember your old prom dress? How many princess dresses for Halloween or the dress-up closet could you make out of it now? Those wool overcoats with boxy, outdated tailoring that have been stuffed in the back of the closet can become boys' Sunday pants. Your long, flowing cotton skirts that haven't fit in years can become girls' summer dresses. Before donating outgrown or out-of-style clothing, consider if the fabric could be useful for a pint-sized project and store it instead.

thrifty sewing

Never Buy Buttons (or Zippers, or Snaps…)

When you do begin to store some of your old clothing rather than donating it, you will also be building a stockpile of buttons, zippers, snaps, elastic, tabs and pockets. Next time you need a button, you will know exactly where to look.

By using the principles of storing what's still useful and stockpiling when you find things on sale, you can avoid the temptation to run to the fabric shop when a new project strikes your fancy. In this way, sewing is no longer an expensive hobby. It is instead just what it should be: a rewarding outlet that sparks creativity and also helps the budget.

thrifty sewing


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70 Responses to The Art of Thrifty Sewing: How to Save Money When You Sew

  1. Judy says:

    I sew purses/bags of all kinds as a fundraiser for charity projects. I can’t charge enough to make money if I buy full price materials. Thrift stores are great! I once bought a bag of leather scraps for $3.50 that made at least 3 whole purses with scraps left over. People donate many kinds of remnants and leftover or unused materials. I’ve bought several sets of bamboo purse handles, meters of interfacing, many kinds of fabric and vinyl, zippers, snaps, a variety of bag hardware, and pins and needles.

  2. Diane says:

    I grew up in a home that never threw out or donated clothing. We took off the zippers and/or buttons, and used the fabric for rags (it seems like no one has a rag box any longer). When I learned to sew, I might take something from the rag box for doll clothing, but I had lots of zippers and buttons! I still do. I pick them up when they’re on sale, and I’ve been to some great estate sales with rooms full of fabric.

  3. Claudia says:

    I have purchase fabric from estate sales, when there is quite a lot of fabric they will usually do stuff a bag for $3.00 to $5.00. I fold the fabric neatly and can get quite a bit in the bag.

  4. Susan Stevens says:

    Garage sales are great for notions. I often buy a “sewing box” laden with all the little things I need. Buy patterns on sale. Joanns almost always has pattern for as low as 99cents. One more suggestion: Pattern packets often provide for more yardage than is really needed. Some creative layouts allow me to buy less fabric than indicated.

  5. VERA E TANIER-SEBREE says:

    Yes I save buttons, zippers and such. I use old clothing to remake another garment. One place I never skimp is thread. I buy and use really good thread and my machine like it and it makes a huge difference. I teach sewing (for free)
    to women and young ladies. The first thing they want to do is buy bargain thread. Nope, no, no, just no. Cheap thread causes so many headaches. So sew away on all the salvaged and saved and rescued clothing to make something new, just use good thread. 😉

    • Sandy Sailer says:

      Vera, I agree 100%. Cheap thread is awful to work with!

    • brendalynne1 says:

      this is so very true. My (now passed) was a really clever creative seamstress but how sad to see what occurred in such a short time with the wonderful bargains she found in thread. To be so clever and creative but be thrilled at the find of spools of thread that had been around so long they appeared variegated when unwinding off the spool. Also the current day machines really do not like all those funny fibers floating off the spool.

    • hannie says:

      Thanks for that helpful hint! I just got a nice machine and I remember back in high school how frustrated I’d get when the thread would keep breaking. I’m excited to learn/relearn how to sew. This helps so much.

  6. Marie Chandler says:

    I recently found fabric and scrap bags on Facebook Marketplace. People are cleaning out their sewing rooms or having estate sales. I buy local. It’s like a treasure hunt. I have also purchased men’s shirts at thrift stores to use for quilts. With the cost of fabric escalating, these are viable option to save money and recycle.

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