Sew you have a sewing machine – now the fabric


AJ new blue skirt

If you’ve read my last post, then you’ll know I’m busy sewing a few additions for my children’s Spring/Summer wardrobes. Drawers are thinned of outgrown clothes and I’m starting to sew.

I love to sew. I love making something unique. It’s my chance to be creative. I do get a bit of a kick from making something wonderful, that would cost much more to buy. I am a self professed fabric and fibre fanatic. Given the chance, I will leave fabric shops with bags of fabric and my head full of good intentions. It is easy to let the costs build up. Like any hobby.

butterfly button hair ties

One question I get asked a lot by friends is, whether sewing clothes is really cheaper. Not so much phrased as a question. More of a statement. It’s true. It can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The price of fabric varies. You can pay £30+ per metre for some fabric, but also £1.50 for others. You can get it free, or for next-to-nothing. The key is to keep your mind open to options.

How much it will cost, depends on what you are making and what you want to use. Like everything, designer fabric is pricey, but there are plenty of cheaper options too. For instance, I picked up a Ralph Lauren curtain fabric for £2 at a charity shop. Two years on I still think it looks fabulous in my bathroom. I was at the right place at the right time and saw the curtain fabric

So here are some tips on how to keep your fabric costs down:


1. Think about your choice of fabric. Last year I bought fabric for a dress. I needed 3 metres. I fell in love with a floral cotton fabric for £5.75 per metre. Further along the aisle, there was a plain cotton version for £2 per metre. One version of the dress would cost me £ 17.25 in fabric. The other version just £6.

2. Check the bargain buckets in fabric shops. Remanants are usually priced at less than they would be, per metre, on the roll. You may not find enough fabric to do a whole outfit, but if you put thought into a clever cutting out layout, you can eek it out. Where you don’t have enough, then by adding other fabric, you can achieve the look you’re after. Maybe by using the other fabric for sleeves, the hem, or bodice.

flower dress detail

3. I like buying online. Firstly, I’m less likely to impulse buy. Secondly they often have end of rolls or discontinued range for cut down prices. Usually a metre or two, which is enough for most projects.

4. Go to car boot sales. Not always guaranteed of success, but its amazing what bargains you can find. Ferret through linen boxes too. I’ve found some wonderful tablecloths in the past that can be upcycled. Big boxes of buttons for only a pound or two. Collections of reels of threads that are started, but not finished.  As ever with car boot sales, it is the luck on the day.

homemade beanbags

(duvet covers upcycled to bean bag covers)

5. Visit charity shops. Look for fabric you like, rather than the whole garment. There is a lot of reusable fabric in an extra large skirt or dress. Double check clothes that were originally cheap as sometimes they are not cut on the grain properly. Leads to less usable fabric.

Also dive into the rails to find garments with interesting trimmings. A lacey border on a terrible top, can be cut off and used to add interest to your  sewing project. Don’t forget to look at the bedlinen section. I bought two duvet covers and made covers for the children’s beanbags, one Christmas.

BL recycled skirt

(Toddler dress becomes girl’s skirt)

For free

6. Ask relations and friends. Get known as the person who sews. My mother hands on a lot of fabric, in one form or another, for me to craft. Often people are only too willing to declutter something from their collection that they will never use. If you talk about sewing, people will think of you next time they have surplus-to-needs fabric.

7. Join your local Freegle. In amongst the dead lawn mowers and oversized shrubs for rehoming, you sometimes find craft fabrics, if you are patient. Also worth putting in a Wanted notice asking for fabric. It is free, but be prepared to pick it up.

Someone, in our local one, put a repeated request for a caravan, for what seemed like a year. I really thought she was on a lost cause. Then one day she got one. Free! A towable caravan in need of a little TLC. Inspiring.

8. Check out your own fabric stash. If you are new to dressmaking, you probably don’t have one of these, yet, but most fabric addicts eventually build up a useful collection of odd bits of fabric. Ranging from several metres to the odd scrap of favourite fabric. Before you go out and buy purple fabric for a skirt, make sure you haven’t already got some in your stash.

shrunk trews

(Old trousers of husband become exploring trousers for eldest daughter)

9. Use existing clothes that you no longer need. This is a favourite of mine. If it’s in the recycling bin, its fair game, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve used many of my husband’s old trousers to cut down and make trousers for children. I have dyed old dresses to give them fresh lives. I’ve appliqued tshirts to make them wearable again. My children have all got puffins appliqued on tshirts when I went through a phase two years ago.

farm trousers(Old trousers of husband become fun trousers for youngest son)

10. Have a swap party. If you have a group of dressmaking friends. Get together and swap the fabrics you no longer want. Everyone has something in their fabric stash that they no longer want. Maybe their children will no longer wear that teddy fabric, but would gladly swap it for a neon orange fleece that your children hate. It’s worth a try.

puffin tshirt

(Not just for children. This tshirt is husband’s upcycled tshirt)

  Next time, I’ll share some ways to source ready made patterns without costing an arm or a leg.

Last note on second hand fabric. If fabric has been stored for some time, there is a chance that some unwelcome visitors may be cadging a lift. Sometimes these bugs will love your home, multiple and refuse to leave. Before I bring older fabric into the house, I isolate it and air it outside if I can. If that’s not possible, then wrap it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for a few days. All fabric is then washed. I add white vinegar and either teatree or rosemary essential oil. Maybe its over kill, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Freshens it up as well.

Over to you. Anyone got any other tips for buying fabric? I’d love to hear.

Joining in with Thrifty Thursday.

8 thoughts on “Sew you have a sewing machine – now the fabric

  • Monday 28 April, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Great advice. We went car booting on Sunday and I am hopping mad that I left behind a wedding dress that was just £5.00, I was too mean to pay the money and now regret it, there was oodles of lace and fabric and I know I could have done something with it but there you are, there’s always one that I leave behind.
    My top that I have recently finished cost me just £12.00 and for a plus size garment that is cheap. Also I know it will last a lot longer than a shop one as it is well made.

    • Monday 28 April, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I am still in awe that you picked up an overlooker for a few pounds at a car boot sale. You are my car boot hero! I know the feeling about leaving a bargain. So many times I’ve walked away convincing myself that I’ve saved money by not buying it, only to have the thought of it haunting me. 🙁

      Totally agree with you about items you’ve made yourself. They always last longer. Kind of ironic, as I have the right fabric to repair them, but seldom need it!

  • Thursday 1 May, 2014 at 10:17 am

    You have some fantastic tips there. I buy a lot of fabric cut offs from charity shops although I don’t do as much sewing as I would like to 🙁 Thanks for sharing with #ThriftyThursday 🙂

    • Friday 2 May, 2014 at 11:10 am

      It’s great if you can find fabric in charity shops. Just win-win. Also found other people’s work-in-progresses, which have been fun, as it usually doesn’t take too long to finish. Hope you find the time to sew soon.

  • Thursday 1 May, 2014 at 10:19 am

    These are great tips, thank you. Sewing is something I’ve yet to take up, but my mum does loads, and has a a brilliant fabric stash herself.

    • Friday 2 May, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Fabric stash is essential. Couple of months ago, eldest needed black leggings for next day. I was able to raid my stash and make them that evening. Hope you find the joy of sewing yourself, one day.

  • Thursday 1 May, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    These are great tips that I will be keeping in mind! I have got a great sewing machine I just lack the time to use it! I have got some funky old floral sheets that my mother in law gave me because I thought they’d make a pretty little dress for my toddler 🙂 x #thriftythursdays

    • Friday 2 May, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Time! Tell me about it! I need to fix up the craft room and then I’ll be able to keep my machine out all the time. It would be nice to grab the odd 5 minutes to do a little bit of sewing, without having to lug out the sewing machine each time.

      Love the sound of your floral sheets. Hope you find time to make them soon.

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