It’s not been a secret that I have zero budget for sewing. We live on a very tight income and if I want to buy fabric or patterns I basically have to sell stuff on eBay to make a bit of spare cash for my hobby. Please don’t think I am complaining, we have made our choices, we are good at budgeting and don’t go without much. That does mean however, that I’ve learned a thing or two about sewing on a shoestring and in these times where a lot more people are facing financial struggles I thought I’d write down some of the ways I manage to sew cheaply.
1. Free PDF patterns. A lot of great, well-respected pattern companies offer a free PDF pattern so that you can try out their brand and see if you like their drafting/instructions. There are also lots of dodgy patterns out there too so I have compiled a list of what I think are good free patterns. There are so many good options that you could do a lot of sewing without paying for a pattern! I also have a list of free bag patterns if you want to look at that too.
2. Sew with fabric you already have. Do you have lots of duvet covers and bedsheets but find you only use a couple of them on your actual bed? Why not make a dress out of a pretty duvet cover, or a top out of a pair of pillowcases?! I’ve made some lovely things out of bedding and tablecloths, and if you already own them then there is no cost involved!
3. Charity shop shopping. I know this one doesn’t work right now as all the shops are closed but I have bought some absolute GEMS from charity shops. Not just fabric, be sure to pop in to look for buttons, zips, threads, I’ve even bought interfacing and pattern paper from charity shops. Definitely one to remember when the world goes back to normal!
4. While the shops are closed it is definitely worth scouring eBay for some bargains. There are tons of fabric sellers on there selling lengths of fabric for bargain prices as well as regular people having a clearout. I’ve had some serious bargains off eBay so it is definitely worth a look.
5. Consider volunteering for pattern testing. This is obviously dependent upon your time and resources. If you don’t have a lot of money for fabric then you might not want to volunteer to test a pattern that may need drafting tweaks or have instruction errors. BUT if you do have fabric and spare time at your disposal, it is a fun thing to do, you get the finished pattern for free and some pattern companies also give you a voucher for another free pattern/a printed copy or other incentives. If you are interested in pattern testing then I thoroughly recommend following all your favourite pattern companies on social media and keeping your eyes peeled for testing calls.
6. Unfollow fabric shops. If you are on a strict budget and know you will struggle not to buy fabric then I highly recommend going cold turkey and unfollowing all the fabric shops you follow on social media and unsubscribe from newsletters. I know this feels harsh, but if you weren’t going to buy from them anyway then it doesn’t harm them too much for losing one follower and your mental health might really benefit from not being tempted all the time. You might find you miss one or two and you can always add those back in!
7. On the other hand if you don’t want to unfollow fabric shops then make sure you enter their competitions! This one directly contradicts the tip above, but if you do continue to follow fabric shops, then enter competitions and join in with challenges! It is great fun and you might find that you win free stuff! I have won some wonderful prizes and sometimes it’s been because I was the only person who entered, so keep your eyes peeled because those few minutes of effort entering could really pay off!
8. Fabric strike offs. This is one that I haven’t done before because they are often run through Facebook groups and I don’t use Facebook, but some indie fabric companies order strike offs (small batches/samples) of their new prints to check the colours etc and they want volunteers to sew up the sample fabric so people can see what it will look like. If you join some fabric groups on Facebook I am sure you will be able to find out which companies use strike offs in the hope that you may be able to volunteer for them one day.
9. Attend sewing meet-ups. When we are finally safe to be together again, I highly recommend attending some sewing meets. They often involve fabric and pattern swaps and allow you to exchange some fabric and patterns you don’t want for some things that you do. Last year at Sew Up North 2019, I took a backpack full of fabric and patterns with me and came home with those beauties pictured above! Both the tablecloths for the dresses below were from the swap in 2017!
10. Volunteer to join a blogger network. Some fabric shops send out free fabric in exchange for a blog post, the requirements for these are all different and so all I can recommend is follow your favourite fabric shops and keep your eyes out for open calls for contributors. Again, for this one you need to be following fabric shops so it depends whether that’s worth it for you.
11. Keep your eyes out in the supermarket, we do our shopping in Aldi and every so often they run sewing events where I’ve been able to pick up cheap overlocker cones, threads and other accessories while staying within my weekly food shopping budget.
12. Refashioning! Have you thought about making something new out of clothes you already own? I’ve just made a pair of dungarees out of a pair of linen trousers and it’s definitely my proudest refashion yet. I will write how I did that in a blog post coming soon so make sure you are following the blog for news when that goes live! There are lots of ways to refashion clothes, I recommend checking out the hashtag #refashioners for lots of inspiration!
13. Sew with your scraps! You might be surprised just how much you can make with fabric scraps. You could piece together different scraps to make a patchwork garment like my jacket above OR you can make smaller things that are perfect for using up scraps – I have made a perfect list for projects that are perfect for scraps here.
I hope you found this list useful, what are your best tips for sewing on a budget? I’d love to know if there are any good ones I’ve missed!
5 thoughts on “How to Sew on a Budget”
These are all excellent tips! When charity shopping, be sure to check their curtain, tablecloth and bedding sections too for potential dressmaking fabric. It pays to make friends at charity shops; many are run by volunteers, so say hello and have a chat while you’re there, and if you’re a regular and they know you sew they will remember you when they put out new stock. Also, if the charity shop sorts donations on the premises, they might put aside stuff for you that they would normally throw out. I ended up with a huge (free) bag of torn denim jeans this way, which I used for an upcycling workshop.
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Here in the US, there is a thriving estate sale industry, where the entire contents of a person’s home are up for sale either due to downsizing or death. I am on an email list describing estate sales in my general area and have picked up plenty of fabric and supplies. Probably the best I ever attended was the estate of a man who worked as a tailor. Oh my, I came home with so many notions and specialty equipment! It will be a while before I am comfortable going into strangers homes and jostling with other people, but someday it’ll happen.
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Absolutely love all these! I have a pile of clothes to be “up cycled” and I’m honestly so excited to get started!! Also, can’t wait for your post about the dungarees – definitely a fave of mine during this lockdown!
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The top i wear most from all my makes is a lovely simple blouse I made from vintage curtain fabric I got in a charity shop. The colours are beautiful and the design unique. It took some pressure off as well, as I hadn’t spent that much money and knew it wasn’t a waste if it turned out not to be a successful fit. Thanks for the post. Very useful!
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Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!