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

thrifty sewingIt'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 Those wool overcoats with boxy, outdated tailoring that have been stuffed in the back of the closet can become boys' Sunday pants.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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28 Responses to The Art of Thrifty Sewing: How to Save Money When You Sew

  1. Jean Wiseheart says:

    I found several old jeans at yard sale and I deboned them saving the fabric, pockets , zippers. The denim is great for tote bottoms. Garage sales have been a wonderful help to keep costs down and build my stash. All my finds go to laundry first.
    Love your site!

  2. Mary Creighton says:

    One of my favorite coats I ever had was one my mother made from an old wool suit coat. I grew up with a lot of these ideas. I rip off buttons, zippers and pockets, and take hardware off old purses and belts. I even save the excess fabric cut off from pants legs to use for other projects. I almost feel like a hoarder! I save so much of this stuff, I feel guilty when I really do have to throw something out. There isn’t much I can do with fabric from old jeans with lycra or knitwear that is stretched out. But if someone else has a use for it, I’d like to know!

  3. Carrie says:

    I love these tips! When I buy clothing or fabric from thrift stores or yard sales, it seems so many times there is fragrance within from the laundry soap, dryer sheets and/or perfume that was used . I’m always so optimistic that I will be able to use what I buy but even after repeated soaking in baking soda, washing, hanging outdoors in the sun, the fragrance is still there and sadly makes me kind of ill. Do you have any tips on how to remove the fragrances that linger?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      HI Carrie, you have listed most of the things that I would have used. For the exception of soaking in vinegar and baking soda. I really have never come across this problem but I am hoping some one will post a solution. Do let me know if you find an answer. Thanks for sharing.

      • Judy says:

        I have come across lots of fabric with a musty smell. I wash it with my regular detergent and a cup or more of white vinegar. Never had a problem getting rid of it. But as far as fragrances go, I don’t know. Maybe keep at it – add it to your regular wash each time and hopefully it will eventually go away.

      • Carrie says:

        Hi Mayra! I will try vinegar too, I think that’s more of a softener but not sure, I’m learning. Like you said, hopefully someone else will know. Thank you!

        • Vickey says:

          I have this same problem, but can’t wash them with the regular laundry, or it winds up with the same odor. I’ve actually hung things out to air so long they deteriorated.
          I’ll try the vinegar & baking soda soak. Maybe the bubbling action will lift the oils that contain the fragrance.

  4. Pamela McCandless says:

    Great article. I have been doing this what seems like forever. 30 years ago, driving down the street on the way to the grocery store, I saw a guy hauling boxes in a large wheel barrow to a huge pile of “trash”. I noticed shoe boxes from Nordstrom, I recently had purchased the same brand. I did a quick U-turn, asked if I could take a look, he replied take what you want, just don’t leave a mess. I assured him I wouldn’t. The shoes were new & practically new, even style, but not my size. But there were beautiful clothes, linens, and all manner of stuff. I took as much as my little car would hold and I could really use. The sheets that didn’t it a queen, I used for making sun dresses, one double made one for me and two small ones for a girl friends little girls. I don’t have girls to sew for. I donated tons of stuff to a battered women’s shelter, yes I went back multiple times. I called friends who went, got badly needed furniture, housewares, etc. I even had a large box of new digital watches, everyone got some. I regretted not getting some of clothes and repurpossing them. I’ll never forget the man who didn’t want to mess with a yard sale.
    I still keep an eye out and don’t worry about what other people think, I think of all the people who can benefit, and keeping it out of the landfill.
    I made it to the grocery store the next day, but nothing was left for the trash man, not a single box or bag.

    • Donna says:

      We must be sisters! You sound just like me! I love to put stuff into the hands of people who need it. I help at a church thrift store and we give free clothes and housewares to people whose houses
      burned down, people getting out of rehab, people who just got custody of grandchildren, etc., etc. The items we sell are super cheap. The proceeds go back into our community.

  5. Carole Dufort says:

    I am 65 and have been sewing since the age of 14. My mom was a theater seamstress sewing costumes for plays, and she’s the one who thought me to sew. She thaught me to remove buttons and zippers from discarted pieces of clothing and to buy fabric on sale only. Also, use adult size garment and cut children patterns out of them. At times, I have gone to thrift store (dress for $1.00) and buy an oversize one. Wash and iron it, then cut a garment ouf of it. And got so many compliments out of it. If you don’t have enough fabric from that one dress, mix another fabric with it or make a new design with the added fabric i.e. chevron bodice with those two dresses. It’s a lot of work, but soooo cheap and looks to good. Also, topstitch with proper topstitch thread and choose a long stitch. Topstitching makes a garment look like a million bucks.

  6. Bonnie R in KY says:

    I love your site, and this article. I want to point out , I never ever leave a yard sale that has a freeebie box without taking a peek. Men’s clothes can become pot holders, casserole carriers, Tiny girl dresses can become fancy summer evening bags – ohh the smoking and embroideries ! If it’s orange – Halloween! If it’s Christmas – make stockings ! At the very least save smaller pieces for appliques. trims, making reusable gift bags. I always sort by type and box with labels – flannel plaids, mens shirting, table linens, etc.

  7. Sophie says:

    AFTER I took a bundle of t-shirts for donation last year, it dawned on me that I could reuse them for a pantie pattern that I found recently! D’uh! The material is soft and would work perfectly. So, this spring, I’ll sort my closets with an eye for the fabric and donate what doesn’t work. And I’ve been a notion saver for a long time too.

  8. honor14 says:

    some great ideas. Thank you.. Only found your site a couple of weeks ago and I made your 30 minute skirt

  9. Em, NSW Australia says:

    All great advice – I used to buy oversized adult clothes at the second hand shop or garage sales for fabric to make clothes for my kids. Now that am learning how to accomodate trickier adult shapes (thanks to So Sew Easy) I am practicing on old bed linen. Have been collecting buttons and zippers from old clothes for years (a habit of my mothers). Every bit helps.
    Its a shame fabric is so expensive now – tweny years ago here I found it still economical to buy some fabrics rather than an off the rack garment. Happy sewing everyone, its such a fullfilling thing to do.

  10. Goddesslily says:

    I love the idea of tearing out zippers, I’d never thought of that!

  11. Lisa says:

    LOVE these ideas! I love old sheets for mock up instead if using muslin. I also mix and match patterns so I don’t have to buy new ones.

  12. I just got two darling little girl’s dresses out of one dress of mine with tired shirring. My older daughter (just three now!) always said “you look lovely mama” when I wore it so I thought she would like such a dress. I had to trick a little bit (make a seam at the back piece for example) but they are so adorable and cost just the thread (which I bought at a discount 😉

  13. Emily Crocetto says:

    Excellant ideas and money saving tips on altering and restyling old into new clothes.

  14. Carma Buschman says:

    Really love your site and these great ideas! So glad I found you!

  15. hphobby says:

    Thinking outside the box, a friend encouraged me to look at clearance furniture covers at IKEA. I bought several pieces of sturdy canvas fabric for $1 each!! One of those pieces became a beautiful tote bag for my friend. I’ve never been so satisfied with a bargain.

  16. Deborah Sharpe says:

    Another way to save is to buy vintage sewing machines. Very solid, all metal gear machines can be found for less than $50 in thrift stores and at yard sales. I use machines made in the 40s and 50s on a daily basis and they are very dependable. Be sure to do a little research to see if parts are still available.

What do you think?