Thursday, January 29, 2015

6 reasons why the thrift store should be your fabric store

It's no secret that my favorite fabric store is the thrift store!  Thrift stores offer a relatively untapped source of materials for sewing, craft and art projects.   While there are thousands (millions?) of Pinterest pins for repurposing everything from old picture frames to luggage, and entire blogs for refashioning clothing, I'm going to focus on general sewing with thrifted materials.

Why sew with thrifted fabrics?

1.  It's cheap.

New, quality fabric is expensive.  You can expect to pay at least $10 per yard for quality cotton fabric, both online and in brick-and-mortar fabric stores. However, let's consider a well-made, name brand (or even designer) men's cotton shirt. . . .

men's shirt, $2.99 at Goodwill

It's made up of about 1 1/2 yards (give or take) of high-quality fabric.  Granted, the fabric isn't continuous yardage, but for most medium to smaller-sized projects, a men's shirt offers quite a bit of fabric to work with.  You might pay $5.00 for the shirt at the thrift store, but usually, you'll pay much, much less.  Now you have high quality, designer fabric at huge cost savings.

Even after removing the sleeves, 
there's still plenty of fabric available.

Sometimes, you can find yardage and fabric bundles at thrift stores.  Those can be excellent bargains. . . .

$4 for 3 yards of new Amy Butler fabric, found at a thrift store

Fabric shopping at the thrift store is also great if you're on a tight budget.  You can sew beautiful things for your home and loved ones, without a huge outlay of cash.  It's also helpful if you are a beginner sewist, and don't want to spend a lot of money on materials on which you're learning and practicing.

2.  It's unique.

You see the same popular prints on sewing blogs and pinterest, over and over again, and that's fine. . . .

I personally like love the Amy Butler, Michael Miller, and Alexander Henry collections, and I like sewing with their fabrics.  But if you want to sew unique items with prints and fabrics that almost no one else will have, sew with thrifted materials.

3.  It's eco-friendly.

By taking an item from the thrift store, like a skirt, and turning it into something new, like a tote bag, you are renewing the material, and extending its life and usefulness.  That skirt was saved from the landfill, at least for a little while longer, and now serves a new purpose.

You can also look at the eco-friendly benefits in terms of less pollution, natural resource expenditure, worker exploitation, and manufacturing costs that new fabric entails, simply by not buying new fabric.  That's going to get a little out of the scope of this post, but it's definitely something to consider.

4.  It's good stewardship.

Good stewardship is about using what we've been given, without being wasteful.  It's using what is so readily, inexpensively available to us, for a new purpose.  It's being a good steward of the already-overflowing thrift stores and putting those discarded items to use... again.

I don't always sew with 100% thrifted fabrics, but I try to whenever I can.  Sometimes an item's design just screams for a new print, or I need a lot of yardage or a specific type of material, so I'll buy some new fabric.  And I think that's OK.  It's about baby steps, and everyone doing what they can.  Everyone doing a little equals a lot.  A lot of saving, a lot of change.

planning a messenger bag, with thrifted pink ticking curtains, 
a Heather Ross print, and some thrifted raspberry corduroy yardage

5.  It's a challenge.

I'll be the first to admit -- it's much easier sewing with fresh-off-the-bolt yardage.  Slap your pattern down on nice, flat fabric, and cut and go.  Sewing with thrifted fabrics takes creativity, some puzzle-solving skills and a little patience.

You have to plan your pattern layout carefully, working around buttons and seams and rivets.  Sometimes you have to plan around stains or holes, or oddly placed prints or designs.  It can be frustrating, but it's almost always very rewarding.

6.  It's FUN.

I enjoy the challenge, the puzzle.  I love seeing an ugly skirt morph into a beautiful, unique purse.  I like knowing that that new purse will be used and enjoyed for a long time.

I enjoy seeing people's faces when I tell them what my sewn items are constructed from!  It gives me a sense of pride, knowing that I repurposed a something old into a something new and lovely.

Coming later. . . .

HOW to sew with thrifted fabrics!  I'll cover what to look for in thrifted items, what makes them suitable for sewing, how to care for them, and how to use them appropriately.   And by the end of this series, I hope you'll love sewing with thrifted fabrics as much as I do!  If you have any questions at all, please leave me a comment below and I'll be sure to answer as best I can.

UPDATE!  Here are my tutorials for sewing with thrifted clothing, with more to be added soon. . . .




Talk to you soon!


  1. This is wonderful! You have such a creative point of view, and I love the way you mix old and new. Your creations are truly one-of-a-kind and an elevation in the upclycling world.

    1. Thank you, sis! You're always so encouraging... love you! <3

  2. I've been using thrift store fabrics for a while now, but never told anyone for fear that they'd think I was a weirdo. Thank you for showing me that I'm not! :)

    1. Well, *I* happen to think you're pretty awesome. I love your work! And I love it that you use thrift store fabrics, too! :)

    2. Ha ha, I've been doing that too! Now maybe I'll 'fess up.

  3. This is an important post.
    I´ve been doing this for 8 years. I started to use thriftstore finds because I was new in sewing. It´s cheap and you don´t cry if you make a mistake. But the biggest reason then was that the thriftstore can offer uniqe patterns. You never know how a new fabic turns out after a wash but thriftstore clothes are already washed so you would know what you get.

  4. That's fantastic, Klockarbarn! And that's one of the reasons I first started using thrift store fabrics, too -- and also where I made the greatest strides in learning and advancing my sewing skills -- because I wasn't too afraid to mess up expensive fabrics by trying new techniques and designs!

    And that's a great point about using new fabrics vs. thrifted clothing/fabrics! Just one more bonus for using the thrift stores as our fabric stores!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, and for stopping by! :)

  5. My husband thinks I'm crazy for saving old clothes in my craft room for their fabric. I'm so glad I'm not the only one that sees the re-usable value in a fun fabric that I may not want to wear as a shirt anymore! So glad I found this post. I love to save up ideas for reusing fabric!

    1. My husband thought I was crazy, too, at first... then he saw all the neat things that I could do with an old shirt and a pair of jeans. Now, everyone in our family asks if I could use a cast-off article of clothing before they put it in the "donate" bag. ;) They know. Lol...

      So glad you stopped by! Thanks!

  6. I love that you recycle fabric from thrift store clothing! My ventures into recycling fabric have been simply deconstructing a men's cotten robe (one that appeared to have been purchased at a spa or a hotel). The cotten was beautiful and I made some very nice absorbent dish towels. I love them, all for a little time and $1.

  7. That's an AWESOME repurpose project! Love it! Thanks for sharing your project! :)

  8. Not to mention the buttons and zippers at no added cost.

  9. My mother and my grandmother taught me to recycle buttons and zippers many many years ago...I usually donate usable items (unless really LOVE the fabric)...but when things are ripped, stained or cannot be worn by anyone I cut out the zippers (especially metal ones) and cut off the buttons and add to my button tin. I am glad to see so many recycling from thrift stores...I too will buy for cool dresses out of sheets etc..

  10. I learned to upcycle from my mom. She sewed for others and the left over fabric was usually ours. we had fun and no actual cost. We also hit the second hand stores. I thrifted most of my cloths while still in school.I loved the school o sewing much better than the other school. we also saved the buttons and zippers etc.

  11. I absolutely love the idea of recycling old clothes for fabric. So this morning I went to two popular thrift stores where I live. I need to make little summer rompers for my 9 month old. They sell men's shirts or extra large items at 10$ minimum so it's a big disapointment. At that price I can get new nice fabric at the fabric store. I'm kinda sad...


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