Earth Day is a perfect time to talk about fabric thrifting and reuse. One of my favorite sources of fabric is houseware items like tablecloths and curtains, although I’ve used sheets, blankets and bedspreads too. They are often just big rectangles with plenty of useable fabric and few seams.
There are a few things to consider when reusing an item for garment sewing. First of all, I consider fabric content. Can you guess what it is? Is there still a label? Is this fabric washable? Burning a small piece of your fabric can help determine content. This burn test guide from Threads can teach you how different materials react to burning.
Most of my reuse fabrics have been cotton or mostly cotton. I always prewash to check for shrinkage and color fastness. While a tablecloth may have been washed many times, a curtain might not have been. If there are trims, pleats, or hooks, carefully unpick and remove them before washing.
Now that your fabric is washed, what is its condition? Check for sun fading and small holes. In a big piece of fabric, it is easy to cut around small areas of damage, but make sure you mark them before you lay out your pattern. I cut two shirts out of a damaged bedspread, so don’t assume that a little hole means the fabric is ruined.
Because you can’t control the size of a reused item, lay out your pattern carefully before cutting. Be flexible about cutting on the cross grain or using a different fabric for facings. Sometimes you may have to include a seam or other detail from the original item. Making it work is part of the fun.
There are lots of great reasons to reuse and thrift. I like to give new life to something that is no longer being used. It is also a great way to save money. Most of my reused items have been gifts from people who knew that I sew. Sometimes an older item is something unique that you would never find in a fabric store. I currently have a tablecloth that’s just waiting for the right pattern.
Thrifting and Buying Vintage Fabric
by Tanya Hughes
Over the past few years I have got into collecting and using vintage fabrics. Not only do they often have more interesting prints than new fabrics, but they are usually better quality. These are fabrics that are already out there, so they aren’t causing any harm to our environment to produce. Vintage fabrics are often forgotten or unwanted, so you are giving them new life when you transform them into garments.
Vintage fabrics can be purchased online or in person. My favorite place to buy vintage fabric is on eBay, as I can often score a deal on these beautiful pieces. I also buy vintage fabric from sellers on Instagram, on Etsy, at estate sales and antique and thrift stores.
Along with being cost-effective and earth-friendly, with vintage fabrics you can find fabrics that are no longer produced today. I can’t imagine buying new sheer wool or cold rayon in 2019.
You do need to be aware of fabric condition as you’re dealing with textiles that are 50+ years old. Vintage fabrics are often lovingly stored by their former owners, but you can sometimes see problems with fold lines, moth holes or dye bleed. These are things that you can often deal with by cutting around the “flaws”. Dirty fabrics can be soaked in different solutions, which will usually remove any dinginess or debris. I start by soaking in water and ivory soap and then move on to oxy clean or retro clean depending on the fabric and the severity of the staining. Sometimes it just takes a round in the washing machine, which is why my favorite vintage fabrics are cottons.
You can also re-purpose vintage fabrics from things like drapes. A couple of years ago I looked through some old trunks that were my grandparents and found a bunch of curtains from the 1950’s. I soaked the usable fabrics and made two dresses out of those curtains. All it took was some time spent with my seam ripper and I had unique fabrics ready to be cut into dresses. A lot of sewists like to use sheets, duvet covers and tablecloths as well as curtains.
When I’m searching for fabric “in the wild”, I don’t just look for vintage fabrics. I am also on the hunt for any usable pieces that suit my fancy. A few months ago I came across the “mother lode” of newer cotton fabrics that were all 3-6 yards and perfect for summer dresses. You never know what will be hiding in a box of fleece and quilting scraps at a thrift store. In addition to fabrics, I also pick up sewing supplies when I’m thrifting and thanks to my obsession, I have quite a stash of vintage notions in my sewing room. My goal has been to purchase less “new” things and use more vintage fabrics and notions that are usually unwanted and often discarded.