Sewing as a hobby can become expensive really quickly – especially when you want to sew with quality fabrics, and you want to create garments that will last. In fact, sometimes, the cost of fabric can be completely prohibitive.
It doesn’t have to be. I have a ton of great fabric that I love. Most of the cuts I have cost less than $5.00. That’s right, I’ve paid as little as $.50 for 4 yards of wool suiting. I’ve found some amazing patterns for $.10 and notions for around the same price. Sure, it can be a bit of a treasure hunt, but that’s part of the fun, right?
What’s my secret?
I buy most of my sewing and craft supplies second hand. There’s certainly an art to it, but I can’t tell you how many amazing fabrics I’ve found second hand for less than I can buy half a yard of brand new fabric off the bolt at the fabric or craft store. In fact, recently, I made a shirt where the fabric cost less than the thread. Unless there is a specific pattern I want to make that has a specific fabric requirement, I’ll dig into my fabric stash and let the fabric dictate the pattern I use. When it comes to choosing patterns, rather than dig through a pile, I simply use a few keywords (tweed, skirt) to search through my OneNote database. Here are some tips for buying sewing goodies second hand.
Fabric and pattern lots
I almost hate to give this secret away! Sure, you can hang out on Ebay looking for fabric and pattern lots, or you could hop over to ShopGoodwill.com. This is a great way to build up a stash – if you don’t mind taking a flyer. The downside is that the lot you win for $5.00 may also come with some hefty shipping charges. It’s still worth it, though if you see some fabrics (or patterns) that you are interested in within a given lot. I recently scored a group of about 20 big 4 patterns, fabric, yarn, interfacing, buttons, beads, and random notions for $5.00 plus shipping and handling ($20). Another box, however, came with a few fabrics I really, really liked – and then a bunch of felt. My son wound up making a mole for his chemistry class out of some of the felt, and i have plans to make some baby shoes out of some of it. It’s a lot of felt, though!
With pattern lots, you have to be willing to take a shot that some of the patterns will be things you don’t care much for or that will need to be graded to a larger size. I’ve found some fun things this way, though. It can be a good way to build a specific stash of patterns (children’s and baby patterns, for example).
With thrift stores, you really have to be open. I’m pretty picky, so I won’t take patterns that have been cut unless it is vintage and it hasn’t been altered. I have found patterns for as low as 10 cents a piece – including some of the newer release patterns from the big 4. I have found some really cool things this way. Recently, at the local Goodwill, someone got rid of a very large stash of patterns from the 60s and 70s. There were a lot of A-line dresses in that stash. I grabbed a bunch, and plan to try my hand at pattern grading. It should be a fun project.
You can also find some great notions for less at thrift stores. I’ve found rikrak, ribbon, seam binding, zippers, thread, and more that have been unopened for ten cents a piece. This can be a nice way to build up on some staples. One of the most awesome finds I’ve had notions-wise was a few packages of unopened interfacing for 50 cents a piece. Since just about everything you sew requires this, I grabbed it and brought it home.
Fabric can be a bit tricky to find at thrift stores. Sometimes it is located with the craft items, but I’ve also found it mixed in with the linens. When you’re purchasing fabric from the thrift store, check it for odor (sometimes you get a musty smell or faint cigarette smell), check it for stains, and check to see whether anyone’s already cut from it. Some stores like Salvation Army will price it so you can guess at the yardage ($1.00 a yard…though, I’ve found that often there is more there than they say – as it’s not folded with the selvage lined up). Don’t be afraid of sheets that are in good condition to use as fitting/practice fabrics. I even bought a curtain that was in amazing condition to make a great skirt out of.
You can also find items to refashion at thrift stores. I found a stretch velvet dress that, while dated as a dress, will be cut and turned into a skirt. I also found a dress with a cute print that was too small to fit as a dress, but once the top was cut off (and I’m turning that into a skirt for my daughter) it fit nicely as a skirt. I just need to sew the waistband casings for those and they are done – no hemming involved!
Yard and estate sales
Like thrift stores, yard and estate sales can be a great resource for fabric, patterns, notions, and more. Sometimes you’ll get a great deal if you want to take all of the like items, or at least a large chunk of the items, on sale. You can also try compromising on a price this way.
Freecycle and Craigslist
I’ve found some neat stuff off Freecycle. I have to say, though that it’s an adventure. Because everything is free, I tend to take a chance and then pass on what I won’t use. I’ve had mixed results. I did get a whole lot of fabric scraps. That might not seem like a major score to some, but it gives me something to practice new stitches on, fabric to use as appliques, and fabric to make accessories and small gifts out of.
Keep your eye on Craigslist. Sometimes people use the site to destash and you can find some good stuff on there. Sometimes people are moving or retiring or…and they get rid of their entire sewing stash for an insanely low price.
I’ve had a few finds in Facebook groups when people have been destashing their patterns or fabric. Where have you found great deals on fabric? Sure, most of the time we all head for the fabric store, but sometimes you can find great stuff second hand – it’s kind of like treasure hunting!