Budget Sewing // Thrifted and Gifted

So I’d like to take a minute and talk to you about something that comes up frequently when I talk to people about sewing, and something I’ve long wanted to bring up here on mad mimmy.

How do I afford to sew? 

Many people say you know everybody used to sew back in the day because it was cheaper, but it isn’t anymore.  Why take the time to sew something when you can go out and buy it for less? Ok, this can be true. If you’re paying full price for fabric, than yeah–It can become really expensive very quickly, although there is certainly something to be said about the quality and meaningfulness of homemade versus store-bought.  But right now our family is in a place where I am sewing all my kids clothes because we can’t afford anything else.  I’m here to tell you that sewing definitely can be more affordable than buying! Even when you’re talking about Wal-mart and clearance priced clothing. I rarely spend more than $2-3/yard for fabric, and often it’s less than that.  With kid’s clothing–especially with tees and shorts–a yard goes a long way.  Many of the things I sew are coming out to be less than $1 per item.  The only thing cheaper than sewing is garage saling, which I think is great but have never mastered.

Today I want to share two of my budget sewing secrets:  First of all, I thrift a lot of my fabric. DI, Savers, garage sales and estate sales often have killer prices on really amazing fabrics.  I’ve been buying fabric and notions at thrift stores/garage sales etc.  for years, and have found some absolute treasures. Whenever I go thrifting I ALWAYS at least walk through the craft/home-ec. section, and I frequently find just what I was looking for. There are a few places to check–the sheets/blankets/curtains/tableclothes are always a good place to start. You can always use a good sheet of course (and I have), but they also often fold larger cuts of fabric over the hangers as if they are a blanket. Sometimes they roll up cuts of fabric and throw them near the place mats or dish towels, and then occasionally fabric is just shoved into a large plastic bag, and it’s kinda a lottery to see what you get.   All thrift stores are organized differently, but take a good look around, and you’ll be surprised what you you can find.  Countless times I’ve thrifted 3 yards or more for $2-3 dollars.  This isn’t even touching on all the wonder and promise of repurposing articles of clothing for their fabric (which you all have seen the potential there, I’m sure!)

My second secret is simple: just tell people you love to sew and are always in need of more fabric and notions. It’s amazing how much fabric and notions will just magically come your way once people know that you want it. Most people aren’t crazy/ passionate about sewing as we are, and many times people have that cut of fabric that they’ve had for years and will never do anything with. And then there are the former sewists who sewed for years and years (future me), but have moved to a different stage of life and don’t do it anymore.  When they find out that there’s someone out there who will actually use and appreciate their beloved supplies it’s a pleasure to give it away. I actually just made such an announcement in my church last Sunday, and had a sweet woman tell me that she had boxes and boxes that I was welcome to. Do you need any zippers?  she asked, I have a huge box just FILLED with zippers!  My heart starts pounding  just thinking about a whole box of zippers!!!

Here are a few of my favorite projects (out MANY) that I’ve done with either thrifted or gifted  fabrics:

budget sewing_thrifting fabricThis vintage floral ( for Twinkle’s floral jeans and back-pack) canvas wasn’t quite thrifted, but I did find the yard and half cut on Etsy for $5. Cost per article: $2.50

budget sewing_thrifting fabric

This polka dot slubbed cotton was a DI treasure I picked up years ago, and finally found the perfect big bow dresses to make it shine! Cost per article: $1.50

budget sewing_thrifted fabricThis lovely textured yellow cotton-blend was one of those fabric dumps from a friend who felt she’d never use it. This pleated jumper was a curtain! Cost per article: free

budget sewing_thrifted fabricAnother lovely sweater knit for a floral cardigan from said glorious fabric dump mentioned above. Cost per article: free

budget sewing_thrifted fabricThis acrylic/wool blend came from a horrible poncho that a thoughtful sewing student passed on to me thinking I could find some way to repurpose it. This little boy blazer is one of my favorite things I’ve sewn! Cost per article: free

budget sewing_thrifting fabricThis bottomweight  I spotted rolled up in a rubberband at DI was so ideal for Tito’s recent Sunday trousers, and there was 3 yards for $3. I think I used about yard, so I still have plenty for future projects. Cost per article: $1

budget sewing_thrifting fabric

This handsome ribbed sweater knit for this little button-up sweater came from an elderly friend of mine who brought me a box full of old fabrics that she’d had lying around for years. The leggings below were also knits from this same box! Cost per article: free

budget sewing_thrifting fabric

So next time someone says that sewing is not cheaper than buying, consider the fact that it can be!  I get it that sewing and thrifting might not be your cup of tea, and of course you’re time is worth a lot too.  But I LOVE to sew; it calms my nerves, relaxes me, stimulates my creative itch, and brings me an enormous amount of satisfaction. Doing it affordably has always been necessary for us, but being the real thrill-seeker I am, it’s made it even funner.

What about you guys, where do you get the best deals on fabric?



  1. Posted December 4, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    This is awesome, because people do always tell me how expensive it can be. I love thrift stores and estate sales, and any hand-me-downs from siblings. I also get TONS of fabric from people who have it lying around. Love it!
    Thanks for showing people how cheap it can be!

  2. Kristie
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    A box of zippers? How awesome is that.
    I love to sew, when I can. I am not good at sewing everything for my kids. But I have noticed that with my girls I need to make their dresses. As most ready made clothes are way too short and wide for my girls. And if I want to buy a dress for them, I have to get at least 2 sizes bigger so it will hit at the knee. So sewing their dresses/skirts is a must for me. This years Christmas dresses came from 2 skirts, one mine and one my sisters, and some velvet-like fabric she gave me. I have only had to spend on one zipper as she gave me the other one I needed.
    The other big reason why I sew is because I love to see my girls faces when they get a new item. The look of excitement and the fact that I “made this for me?” is just what I need.

    • Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Oh I agree! I love that my kids FEEL loved when I sew for them. They see how excited I am, and how much thought goes into the process, and actually, my kids love to be part of that process too. I’ll often ask their opinion on fabric choice (giving them a choices from fabrics I like:)), and details as well. Then they also have a sense of ownership in what I make!

  3. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    awesome post! I love those floral jeans, oh my gosh, so awesome! You’re amazing! great tips too!

    • Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Thanks Anna! Those jeans are some of my very favorites, too!

  4. Rachel
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I also only buy my fabric from thrift stores. I went once (only once!) to a fabric store and spent way more than intended and only brought home a few yards, so since then I vowed to always buy used fabric. I also only go on .99 cent day and will only buy if it is 99 cents. A few weeks ago I spent $9.00 and came home with about 50 yards of fabric (sure, now I have way more red polka dotted knit fabric and floral knit fabric from the 1990s than I may ever need, but now I can share some of my thrifted fabric with new sewers). I also look at curtains/cotton shower curtains, and tablecloths (yesterday I got 5 yards of a pink linen tablecloth for .99cents). Another area I frequent is the long dress area (especially the extra large sizes) this is where I get nicer printed fabrics. The pins and sewing needles and thread is where I spend all my money, and they are pricey too. Thanks for your tutorials and posts!

  5. Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I recently found out that there’s a older man in our ward that has a basement full of fabric that he’s trying to get rid of. His wife used to sew and work in a fabric store, and when the store closed down she was able to keep a TON of stuff for herself. I immediately wanted to call him and invite myself over to dig through his basement, but felt totally nervous to take the plunge. Finally one day I drove by and saw him sitting on his porch, circled around the block and pulled up in front of his house. He was thrilled to let me look through what was down there. SO MUCH FABRIC!! He brought me a large garbage bag which I filled within a few minutes. I told him I’d be back for more soon. I saw a box there that said “Denim, Corduroy, Ribbing…” that I’m DYING to dig through. Maybe that’s what I’ll do today… But you’re totally right – when people know you sew/refashion they’re totally willing to help you out and fabric/supplies just start flowing in. As my grandpa always said, “The Lord will provide.” (but he usually said it when he needed to make an illegal turn and there were no other drivers around to see it). 😉

    • Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Hah ha! Great story, and uh….where do you live?? A whole basement of fabric!!! That’s incredible!! HAVE FUN! with that corduroy and ribbing, and think of me! 😉

  6. Katie M
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Great post Mim! I love the whole thrifting side of things (as you know) but I just need to improve my sewing skills. I love the idea of sewing for your family. I just think that it’s the gift that keeps on giving…the item of clothing and the self confidence that your child receives from knowing that they were worth your time and effort. You inspire me so much. I hope you always know that. Thanks for the ideas. This gets me excited! :)

    • Posted December 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Ahh, Katie, it’s the other way around! YOU inspire me all the time, you’re a lovely lovely woman/mother/sister. I need you to teach me the garage saling ways!! I know there’s a whole world I’m missing, I just need to do it!

  7. Cathy
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Mim, I live in Utah too (met you at Sewing Summit). I used to volunteer with a friend (she volunteered for 10 years) at the LDS Humanitarian Center in SLC. It used to be THE place where fabric was donated by members, and we Monday volunteers would sort it into cottons (for quilt making), bottom weights (for book bags and pants), flannel (for pajamas), and costume (fancy fabrics, knits, etc) and some other categories. These were sorted into huge boxes (4x4x4 feet, called “gaylords”) and often shipped to other areas for teaching/sewing. Or it stayed right there at the center and we would sew quilts, pajamas, kids dresses, shirts, pants, book bags, etc. for the Humanitarian donations to third world countries. The costume fabrics were there for the taking, and I got my share of fancies back then as I was a crazy quilter, and there is no use for silk and satin in basic needs kits for kids.

    I am telling you this because I’m wondering if you’ve ever been there. Most of the donations have stopped now (or go directly to DI), but sometimes you can get good stuff. OH, and my friend who worked there for 10 years collected so much fabric, lace, trims, etc that they were just going to throw away – you wouldn’t believe it! Three of us spent two weeks cleaning out her barn this past summer.

    Anyway, I’ll write you privately to let you know about some stuff I have to share. :-)

    Great post, and thanks for educating and/or reminding us of the rewards (monetary and personal) of sewing clothes!

    Hugs, Cathy

    • Posted December 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I remember meeting you, you totally made my day that first night at the mixer!
      That sounds so awesome! I didn’t realize that people would donate there specifically instead of DI, but of course that makes sense. I’d love to find out more about it! Oh, and I’d love to see the quilts you made from “crazy” days! Fancy fabric can be so awesome in a quilt!!

  8. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    This was great to read!!
    I buy most of my fabric from op shops (what we call thrift stores in Australia) and I find it’s a good way to practice my sewing too because I don’t feel so bad if I’ve stuffed up. I’ve found some awesome things at op shops, including some vintage buttons and of course zips.
    I love the looks on my girls’ faces when they get something I’ve made just for them. It makes my day too!

    In regards to sewing being expensive compared to buying RTW, sometimes it MAY end up that way but at least what we’ve sewn is most likely to be better made than cheap stuff which is only going to last the one season.
    I’m currently reading “Overdressed. The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion” by Elizabeth L. Cline and I recommend it if you’re interested on seeing how our shopping habits have changed the way clothes are made and how jobs are now offshore etc… it just totally reaffirms my position to keep learning how to sew clothes for myself .
    Oh and thanks for the tip about telling people you sew and hopefully getting some things passed on… love that idea and am going to have to approach all the oldies at my church now! :)

  9. Posted December 4, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    MM—I say your kids are the best dressed I’ve ever seen! You’re a wonderful intelligent Mom and I’d expect your kids to grow up and be just like you some day. Gives an aging hippie like me hope for the future. Thanks for sharing all of your super inspiration.

    • Posted December 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Well, I don’t know about the wonderful intelligent mom thing, but I sure do love to sew for them:) Thanks for reading, it makes my middle-aged-hippie heart happy!

  10. brooke
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    so true that thrifting makes sewing affordable! and knitting too…..
    not that it is in my non-existent budget to shop at an actual fabric store but when i do pop in there, i find the selection OVERWHELMING. i like at thiftshops and garage sales (my hearts passion or my summertime obsession-so says my husband) for the limiting selection. i have found so many amazing fabrics. natural, vintage, super fancy. and who likes to buy new? it’s too boring! the thrill of the hunt and all that.
    love the blog

    • Posted December 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Brooke, I totally agree. Too much selection always makes me leave with nothing. And the thrill of the hunt is everything! Just don’t ask me to use a single coupon while grocery shopping, because I can’t get out of there soon enough!

  11. Posted December 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    What a great post. I’m completely with you about making your own. You make things to keep forever and make sure things are made to your size. Win win really.

    x Elena @ Randomly Happy

  12. Posted December 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I wish we lived closer, i just gave away 3 bag full of fabric. i made a vow to buy fabric for projects. Not the other way around! you have inspired me to repurpose my old dresses to make my little one new ones.
    Beautiful pieces! I love how you made old fabric look fresh and modern.

  13. Posted December 6, 2012 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    The jeans in the first image are awesome! I usually only buy fabric at sales and get old/new -vintage stock off ebay and etsy. The op-shops here aren’t that great with fabric unfortunately.. It doesn’t really matter to me if my sewed garments cost more than walmart/ target made ones because I don’t buy walmart/ target made stuff. And compared to non-sweatshop goods, my sewn stuff is hands-down way cheaper.. Wow-it’s so late but I couldn’t stop scrolling through your beautiful makes-thanks for sharing and advance apologies for bad grammar/ typos XD

    • Posted December 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! I’ve actually never looked on ebay for fabric, so thanks for the tip I’ll have to try that soon!

  14. Posted December 7, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post. I am definitely not as thrifty about my fabric purchases, but even with “fabric store” fabric purchases I can make a dress for myself for $30 and it fits me perfectly – better deal than I’d find on a sale rack! Anyway though, I have a pile of the husband’s discards I keep meaning to sew with, and you’re inspiring me to try harder to work them in! :)

  15. Posted December 8, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Love this! There really aren’t many garage sales around here and I have to drive 30 minutes to a thrift store but I really should start trying to find them more.

  16. Tami
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Mim, my dear! I’ve missed you! So, I’m glad you posted about this cause I always wondered how you afforded it all. Now that you’ve indulged the goods, I will continue my fetish for DI fabric shopping. Now I’ve just got to get some technique down. Sometimes I find fabric and have no idea what it is or how it would best be used. I’ve got some now that I’m making my very first ensemble for myself and the fabric doesn’t drape like I was hoping. I’ll make it work though. You completely and utterly inspire me! Much love.

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