I used to have a rule – never buy fabric for quilts. I don’t follow that rule any longer, but for quite some time, I made all patchwork out of fabric I had purchased for another project, be it garment or craft. This was a time when I made my children’s clothing, so I had a lot to choose from. It was also a time when other mothers gave me fabric that they were not interested in using, and I had a veritable mountain of stash. My impetus at the time was necessity. I was trying mostly to save money. As a young mother, I gardened, reused what I could, and rarely bought anything that was not absolutely necessary. This was before the heyday of yard sales and popularity of thrift stores, so it was more of a solitary endeavor as well one that was shared with my peers. What I learned from my experience was how to use fabrics frugally. I also learned that there are ways other than the traditional fabric on a bolt to purchase fabrics. I also learned to reuse fabrics from blue jeans, larger garments that were no longer being worn, etc.
Did you know that you can cut out a pair of overalls for a toddler out of a pair of slacks in an adult size? You can! You can also make a small coat out of an old man’s suit jacket if you lay the pattern pieces just right. Your patience is required, but a dress or suit with a hole or that is aged beyond perfection is not a dress or suit for the junk pile just yet. Turn it into a child’s outfit! Old sheets make great, though not flame proof, pajamas. Keep the safety factor in mind when you make pajamas; flameproof fabric is often used for younger children’s sleeping clothing. Sheets make great curtains too. They can back quilts (made of scraps of clothing!) and make great placemats and napkins. There is hardly a time when a sheet should go to waste.
There are many sources for inexpensive fabrics. I often purchase boxes of fabric at yard sales without even going through them. People want to get rid of the whole box, often for a song and a prayer. I’ve ended up with some gorgeous pieces of cottons, knits, and blends in varying sizes for usually less than 50 cents to a dollar a piece. Rarely do you find fabric at a yard sale that is more than a dollar. Keep in mind that the seller wants to have the fabric leave their home and join yours, so make an offer that you feel is fair, and don’t be upset if it is rejected. There are many more yard sales to come! You won’t find fabric at every yard sale, but when you do, you have a prize. Thrift stores are another source of inexpensive fabrics. Most thrift stores have “dollar day” or a sale day during the week. Find out when that time is and stop back in. Remember to keep an eye on sheets and clothing as well as fabric. I purchased a Laura Ashley dress in a girl’s size 12 at a thrift store for $2. The dress had a gathered skirt and when it was taken apart, I had more than enough fabric to make a gorgeous yellow, blue, and green summer vest. Had I purchased this fabric off the bolt, it would have been at least $25. I used a pattern and thread I already had, so I now own a Laura Ashley vest that cost $2. Online auction sites carry fabrics too. Here, though, you need to be cautious. You may get a smashing price on the fabric, but then end up paying enough postage to not make it worthwhile. Read the small print, but do check eBay and the other auction sites for specific fabrics. Online fabric stores and fabric stores in your town run sales that are worth looking into. Keep an eye out for sales on threads and other notions while you’re there. I never pay full price for thread unless I absolutely have to. (You can find these at yard sales too!)
In order to bring you a well-rounded set of tips and hints for how to find fabrics that don’t cost an arm and a leg, as well as thoughts about using them in a frugal manner, we scoured the web for sites devoted to saving money, asked what the founders and editors of those sites thought about all this frugal sewing, and they had some interesting things to offer.
Jonni McCoy, author and founder of Miserly Moms at http://www.miserlymoms.com, agrees that you don’t want to throw outgrown jeans away! She suggests making a skirt, a purse, a book cover (use the pocket on the front of the book cover!), or even remove the seams, sew the jeans together, make a large piece of fabric and recover a sofa. We’ve found that if you cut the leg off a pair of jeans below the knee, stuff it with batting, and sew closed the ends, you have a nice neck pillow or a rolled pillow for under your knees when you’re sitting in bed reading. We agree with Jonni that jeans are a frugal sewist’s friend.
Starla Ross of Tightwad Moms (http://www.tightwadmoms.com) mentions that innovative, dramatic, and rich home decorating designs can be achieved using scraps of fabric. Cloth shower curtains or tablecloths can be used to make coordinating seat covers for chairs. Sheers that are purchased secondhand at yard sales or thrift stores can be turned into expensive-looking window scarves or valances. Starla suggests that if you are not happy with the typical white sheers, dye them with an inexpensive fabric dye (costs about $2)! How about dying a set of large sheets and making coordinating pillows and curtains? You don’t need to buy them new. On the other hand, if you would like to achieve an aged or antique look for your scraps and other fabrics, you can use a bath of coffee or tea. We at Sewing.com have long known about “tea baths”, but never thought about coffee! The antique feel can bring coordination to a group of fabrics that may not have matched perfectly before. Lastly, Starla offers two more suggestions – Use a pair of old curtains, cutting off ruffles, rehemming them, and redesigning them into a new style altogether. Tawra Kellam of Not Just Beans.com (http://www.notjustbeans.com)agrees with the above suggestions and adds that not only should we save buttons, but save ribbing too. It can be reused on a new garment. You can reuse table cloths for pillows, table runners, or curtains. Agreeing with Starla, Tawra suggests looking at the ways you can use sheets – curtains, table cloths, covering for chairs. Have you ever thought of using old lace curtains as a dust ruffle for your bed?
We also talked to Pat, the About.com Guide to Frugal Living (http://frugalliving.about.com/). She suggests that “besides recycling material from other garments, we should be sure to save the buttons, zippers and reusable snaps or hook and eye closures for other projects. When sewing jeans or pants, you can lift the entire snap section from an old pair and graft it into a new pair. Just rip the waistband seam, cut off the portion that has the snap about 3-4 inches long to give yourself plenty of material to work with. When you’re making the new pair, sew this strip onto the waistband (where you would otherwise have to make a snap or button closure) before you attach it to the garment.” This sounded like a good idea to me simply because I truly dislike putting in the snaps. I wonder if the same recycling concept could be used for the fly?
Laura Williams of Living Frugal (http://www.livingfrugal.com) agrees with Pat about rescuing buttons and other items from clothing that is going to be discarded. “Strip worn out shirts, pants, etc. for usable parts before throwing them out. When you’re at the thrift store, keep an eye out for shirts that have nice buttons. If you buy a shirt for 50 cents but use the $5.00 buttons on a project, you come out way ahead.” Laura also mentions an idea that I’ve tried several times and that is to cut out quilt squares or strips of fabric from baby clothing and other worn out clothing, make other items and “you get to relive the memories daily.” Lastly, Laura suggests buying woolen garments (yard sales and thrift stores, of course) and making strips for a braided rug!
Karen McGowin of Christian Mothers (http://www.christianmothers.org) remembers that her grandmother, who raised seven children, saved everything – buttons, lace, zippers, elastic from every garment. She agrees with buying an el cheapo shirt if it has gorgeous buttons at yard sales and thrift stores.
Both Karen and Angie Zalewski from the Frugal Family Network (www.frugalfamilynetwork.com) suggested saving the elastic band from boy’s underwear to use in another garment.
Karen also thinks it’s a good idea to ask everyone about bargain fabric stores. They often don’t advertise and in certain areas, they sell fabric by the pound for very little money. After you have your fabrics, and have cut out a pattern (use your own good sense on pattern layout), make a note of how much fabric you really used compared to the amount asked for on the pattern envelope. You might be able to use much less than is called for. You may wish to be a bit more particular if matching plaids or stripes, but most children’s garments can be made with very little fabric.
Tightwad Tess from Tightwad Tess.com (http://www.tightwadtess.com)gave her nod of approval for the ideas we’ve covered thus far.
With all of the good ideas given by others as well as some you can come up with for yourself, is there any reason to spend a lot of money on sewing if you don’t want to or can’t afford it? The answer is a resounding “no”. What are your ideas for saving money and being frugal with fabrics and sewing?