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Thrifting Tips for Sewing on a Budget

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that #thriftedfabric is in about 70% of my posts. I get a lot of questions about finding fabric and other sewing supplies secondhand, so I thought I would compile all my personal tips here! For most of my sewing practice, the budget was really small. Without thrifting and gifting, I wouldn’t have been able to sew. If you are in that place, I hope this post encourages you. If you have a sewing budget, and just want to try thrifting for more sustainable sewing or just for a challenge, this is for you, too. 🙂

The first thing to note is that thrifting is a hunt. You cannot really guarantee anything about the experience. Type and number of thrift stores varies greatly depending on where you live, and one person can have found a lot of treasures somewhere that you haven’t had any luck at yourself. So…

Keep an open mind. Consider all possibilities and don’t get frustrated by being too specific. I make lists for thrifting to keep me focused, but they are general- either “lightweight solid woven” or “black knit”. Things like that. Think ahead to the next season and purchase something you won’t make or wear for awhile, because chances are that fabric/pattern/notion will not be there at your next visit.

Visit often. The “stock” at thrift stores changes when there is room for more product on the floor, when donations have come in, when they have gotten to pricing them, etc. If you have a shop nearby, try to pop in and glance through when you can. This is a challenge if you do not have anywhere nearby, if you work during the typically short hours thrift shops keep, or if you have small children. These are difficult seasons for thrifting, but not impossible…my kids are coming to an age where I do not dread bringing them, and setting out some ground rules can keep them motivated to not climb the walls and trash the joint . Our favorite routine is that I can flip through the fabric rack and they can choose a new-to-them book. (They usually stand next to me shouting out excerpts, we are still working on our inside voices, but one thing at a time.) Its also worth mentioning that about half the times I go, I do not find anything. Keep going!

Look beyond fabric. Mr. S. once made the observation the “fabric is everywhere”, and he is right! Household linens, drapes, canvas drop cloths, etc can all be great sources of fabric. Other garments can be altered or up-cycled. If you love something about it, get it. Don’t forget about dyeing! The options are limitless, and the rewards can be great when you think outside the box.

Things I do not thrift. In my experience, there are items that just don’t work after an amount of time. This is just my experience, so feel free to decide for yourself.

  • Thread. Old thread can be brittle and has either snapped on me or snagged up my machine.
  • Interfacing. I use fusible interfacing, and the adhesive seems to have a shelf-life. (Sew-in interfacing is probably fine at any age.)
  • Sewing Machine Needles. Its hard to tell if a pack of needles has been open or used, and old needles can be extremely frustrating to sew with.

Things I do thrift.

  • Fabric! Especially for muslining patterns. Find something that is a similar weight to your special fabric, that isn’t a huge investment, to get that perfect fit.
  • Zippers
  • Buttons
  • Bias tape
  • Trims
  • Yarn
  • Patterns (Note: Used patterns may be cut in a specific size, missing pieces, or instructions. For me it depends on the price and how much I have been wanting the pattern or been able to find it.)

Finding pre-owned sewing supplies.

Google “Secondhand stores near me”. Check at thrift stores or local charities for a list or map of shops that support hospitals, non-profits, churches, etc. If you have a local sewing guild, inquire about how and where they destash. (There are also online destash platforms, but I have no experience on that.)

Finally, bring a tape measure with you to easily figure out the width and yardage, and to help you decide if the piece is worth that price to you.

I love the possibility of thrifting, and I have been blessed beyond measure (ha) with the great fabrics I have found. Stay inspired and keep looking!

2 Comments

  • Kari

    I agree. I have done especially well finding metal zippers in different colors. I can’t seem to find them in fabric/craft stores but I find them in thrift shops. They’re good with heavier weight fabric.

    The hardest thing for me when I buy thrift fabric is that there are no care instructions

  • Vanessa Grace Pritchard

    I really enjoyed your post, Cort. I absolutely LOVE thrifting, and reading your post makes me crave my quick peeks I used to make pre-covid. I had a small shop I would frequent and I’d just pop in and out post grocery shopping on my way home if I had 15 minutes to spare. It was a ritual. I hope it opens up soon to continue my guilty pleasure. 😉 Keep on inspiring us! Xo

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