Thrifty Sewing

These days, at least in the US, it is difficult to save money sewing your own clothes. It’s usually cheaper to buy clothes on clearance or at thrift stores, even if you buy fabric on sale. For me, a big part of the fun of sewing is the idea of saving money, so it makes me kind of sad that I can’t really save money sewing quality clothes for my family like my grandmother did, but I do still love sewing just for the sake of it, and to make clothes that actually fit.

Here are some ideas for things you can do to save money sewing:

  • If you need a sewing machine, look for one at thrift stores and garage sales, or ask around to see if someone you know has a sewing machine they never use. A vintage sewing machine will probably serve you better than a cheap new one. Often older sewing machines just need a good cleaning and oiling to sew well. Older machines tend to be heavier, which I’ve found is something I require in a sewing machine. I have a newer light-weight sewing machine with a few fancy stitches that my older machines don’t have, but I almost never use it because it vibrates so much, even on a sturdy table. Also, in my mind, a fancy computerized machine just means higher repair bills. A straight stitch and a zig-zag stitch are all you really need.
  • If you are trying to decide whether or not to buy a serger, maybe all you need is an inexpensive overcast foot so you can finish your seams with zig-zag stitches without puckering the edges. Or maybe you just need a decent pair of pinking shears. I’ve been quite happy with my inexpensive Fiskars pinking shears.

overcast foot and pinking shears

  • Instead of buying buttons at the fabric store, save buttons from worn out clothes or buy used garments just for the buttons. Ready-to-wear clothes often have neutral colored buttons that will look good on a wide variety of fabric colors. I waited until there was a sale at a thrift store and bought several shirts and dresses with nice buttons for the price of one set of new buttons. Also, the buttons at my local fabric store are such poor quality I’d probably re-use ready-to-wear buttons even if it didn’t save me money. I store matched sets of buttons on paper clips that have been straightened, then coiled on the ends with needle nose pliers. These bundles of buttons take up very little room and don’t get tangled up.

buttons on bent paperclips

  • When garments are worn past their usefulness, save the zippers. I mostly do this with jeans. After buying a new jeans zipper that didn’t slide smoothly, I decided not to buy new ones from the fabric store. It takes a while to unpick the zippers, but you can do it while watching TV or something.

save jeans zippers

  • Upcycle clothing. Alter thrift store garments to fit, or use the fabric from adult clothing to make children’s clothes.
upcycled jeans

Kids’ jeans made from two pairs of Dad’s worn out jeans.

  • Sew your own shopping bags from used clothing. The bags I bought at the grocery store didn’t last long enough to pay for themselves (with the 5 cent reusable bag credit each time I used them), and probably used more fossil fuels over their lifetime than if I’d just gotten plastic grocery bags. Another benefit is your shopping bags will be washable, which is a necessity for grocery bags.
  • Mend your clothes.
  • If you have a stash of fabric, use it! All that fabric you bought because it was on sale doesn’t save you money if it just sits around taking up space. Be creative figuring out how to use the fabric you already have. I’ve been making underlined pants with fabric that is too thin to use on its own (Thanks to Lene at Ozviking Sews for reminding me of this idea).

fabric stash

  • Make quilts from old clothing and fabric scraps. For me, a lot of the fun of making a quilt is the creativity it takes to make all those scraps work together, and part of the charm of a quilt is remembering where the fabric came from. For example, the quilt on my bed has pieces of fabric from the first dress I ever sewed as a young teenager. Buying fabric just to make a quilt has always struck me as so artificial and wasteful. Plus the low quality of commonly available quilting fabric these days is a turn off.
  • Washable glue or glue sticks are easy alternatives to basting while quilting or sewing on pockets, but don’t use expensive fabric basting glue or fabric glue sticks. Regular washable glue stick or washable school glue work just fine. I put some washable school glue in a reused nasal spray bottle (with the inner tube removed) so I can apply small drops of glue. I store it upside down with a drop of water in the cap, and it hasn’t clogged up. Apply a little glue or glue stick, then iron it dry. Or you could even make your own cornstarch paste to substitute for glue or glue stick.

washable glue and glue stick

  • If you have a serger and you want to have lots of thread colors, just buy one spool of each color and divide it up onto your own thread cones.

Here they are, finished! And I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

  • Use cones of serger thread in your sewing machine. Although serger thread is a little thinner than regular sewing thread, it works fine for general sewing. Just don’t use it for high stress seams, especially the crotch seam of pants. You can buy thread stands to use with serger thread spools, or make your own stand. If you are going to buy a thread stand, I suggest getting a decent quality metal one. My flimsy plastic thread stand falls off the edge of my sewing table every so often if I don’t attach it to a weighted base or clamp it to my sewing machine table. You don’t have to spend money buying a thread stand, though; it’s easy to make your own. Here are some ideas for making a thread stand:
    CD case
    Coat hanger and pencil in a block of wood
    Coffee mug
    Jar and a hook on the sewing machine

serger thread cone stand

Do you have any money saving ideas you’d like to share?

Posted in Sewing

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