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Episode 114

10 Super Cheap Ways to Buy Fabric

In this episode, Sarai and Haley share ten tips for finding super cheap fabric. Whether you're a bargain hunter or someone who is looking for creative alternatives to muslin, these tips will help you save money on fabric for your sewing projects.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio. Welcome back to Seamwork Radio, where we share practical ideas for building a creative process so you can sew with intention and joy. And today we’re talking about ten super cheap ways to get fabric. So we’re going to cover the ways that we’ve learned to get a good deal over the years, where we save and where we splurge, and ten ideas for getting fabric on the cheap.

So our icebreaker today, “I’m guessing my grandmother’s both sewed, as did my mother. She says they were inspiring to me, and I often think of them when I sew. I am also inspired by the contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee and podcasters like you, as well as Zoe from the Check Your Thread podcast. My ice breaker question is, who is someone in the sewing world or in your own life who really inspires you when it comes to sewing or creative endeavors in general?” What about you, Haley? Who inspires you?

Haley
I’m going to be really cheesy and say that I don’t think it’s just like, one person. I think that it’s the sewing community in general is just such a constant source of inspiration and my own personal sewing and then also my role as a designer. I’m just so endlessly inspired by all of the amazing things that you all make, and it’s just my most favorite thing. When I’m having a bad day, that’s what I do is I look at things people made with Seamwork patterns, and it makes me happy. And what people made with nonsense patterns just in general, it just brings me joy, and it reminds me of why I do what I do and why sewing is so important to me.

Sarai
Yeah, and that’s a big part of what we do in the company, too. We’re always looking at what other people are making. We have a lot of rituals around that. We’re always sharing things in our meetings, and we have a whole Slack channel where we share projects people have made. It’s so much fun, and it’s so inspiring. I think for a lot of us, it’s the best part of our jobs, is just seeing what you guys are all making. Yeah, that’s definitely really inspiring. I feel like for me, this question has a few parts, because for creative endeavors in general, I feel like I have a lot of people that I admire creatively for various reasons, whether writers, musicians, designers of all kinds. So I feel like that’s one part of it and maybe the less interesting part. But I think for the sewing part specifically, one thing that really inspires me is my family members from the past who have sown over the generations, I think is something that really inspires me. My great grandfather Joseph was a very crafty man who made a lot of things and he actually made lace and made his own curtains out of lace and did all that.

Not professionally, but he was just a creative person and did a lot of stuff like that. And there are other people in my family. My Aunt Clara was a really amazing seamstress, and her son Rafi also. He did costumes for Cirque du Soleil for a while. And I think just that creativity that runs through the past generations in my family and then in other families as well is really inspiring to me because I feel like I’m sort of a link in a chain that goes beyond myself. It goes back into the past and hopefully into the future with the next generations, with my niece and other kids who come up and everybody that hopefully gets something from Seamwork, too, and passes that along to their children.

So that’s what really inspires me, I think. I think sewing can be seen by a lot of people as kind of a lost art and something people did in the past, but the idea of bringing it from the past into the future is really inspiring to me. So that’s a great question. Thank you. And if you have an ice breaker for us that you’d like to hear in a future episode, if you’re a Seamwork member, you can go to Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers and leave it there, and we’ll probably use it in a future episode.

All right, getting to our topic today. We know sewing can be expensive, so high quality fabric can cost a lot of money. It can cost you as much as buying clothing. Sometimes, depending on what clothing you’re buying, it can even cost a lot more than buying clothing. You can buy clothing relatively cheaply these days. So I think the cost of sewing can be a big barrier for a lot of people, and it’s also nice just to be able to make your money go a little further. So even if maybe the cost isn’t a huge barrier to you, it’s always great to save money. And there are ways that you can make sewing really inexpensive, if that’s the goal of yours, or maybe the goal of yours, just sometimes, sometimes you want it to be less expensive. So we’re going to share some of those with you today. Haley, do you spend a lot on fabric in general?

Haley
I don’t really think so. I’m not a real compulsive fabric shopper. I already have quite the stash. Not quite the stash. I have a fabric stash, so I don’t really buy a ton of fabric. So when I do buy fabric, of course I love a deal, and I love being able to find one, and everyone can stand to save a little bit of money. I know at least I can when I do find fabric, then if I really love it, that I’m usually not too afraid to spend a little bit of money on it.

Sarai
Yeah, I don’t think I spend that much on fabric anymore, but I have in the past. For me, I found at least in the past, I still have a little bit of this mindset, but I’m very careful about spending money on myself when it comes to things like clothing or shoes or anything like that. I really hem and haw and take my time making purchasing decisions. And I’ve always felt like with fabric, there’s something different about it. Like, I feel justified in buying it because it’s for this hobby that I love, and it’s more about the creativity and the time spent on it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or a little bit of both, because it definitely led me to spending more on fabric than I really needed to, because I just never felt guilty about it. I never really felt that sense of like, I shouldn’t be buying this, I should save my money, or whatever it is. I don’t know why. I don’t know if other people feel that way either. But I will say that over the years, I do not buy as much fabric as I used to.

I think part of it is, like you say, I have a fabric stash that’s pretty big, and I feel pretty satisfied with it. I also don’t feel like I need as much clothing as I used to, which I think has kind of trickled down to not needing as much fabric. And then I do less window shopping, and I think that’s a big part of it. I think when I was younger, I really enjoyed window shopping a lot more, and now I just don’t do as much of that. So I don’t see the fabric, which means I buy less. And I think maybe that could even be one of our tips. The less time you spend, you know, shopping, probably the less you’ll buy. But I think that’s a big reason for me. Are there certain fabrics that you’re willing to spend more money on?

Haley
Yes. I think for me, usually it breaks down to a cost per wear type situation where if I know that it’s something that I’m going to wear a lot, then I’m willing to spend more money on it. A good example is outerwear. If I’m making a coat for myself and I know I’m going to wear it probably multiple times a week, then I don’t hesitate to spend more money on it.

Sarai
I feel the same way. I think another thing for me is how much time I’m going to spend making the garment. So outerwear, like you’re saying, takes a while to make usually. And I’m willing to spend more on the fabric because I know I’m investing so much time in it, and I want it to be just so. If I’m making, like, a special occasion dress or something, that’s going to require a lot more of my time I’m willing to spend more on the fabric as well, just to, you know, match it with the time investment.

Haley
What is the cheapest fabric that you’ve ever bought?

Sarai
I bought some really cheap fabric. There is this fabric store near my hometown that I used to go to sometimes with my grandmother and sometimes with a friend of mine. And it was, like, one of these huge fabric warehouse type places that just had wall to wall fabric, floor to ceiling, baker’s racks, just full of fabric. It had this section at the front of the store that was the $1 fabric section where everything was a dollar. And it was completely random what was in there. It was totally random. But I remember buying this. I was probably, like, 17. I think this is when I was in high school buying the fabric there. That was, like it was, like, a heavy twill. Heavy twill? Almost. Maybe it was a denim. I can’t really remember. But it was definitely a kind of a heavy twill. And it was flocked with black, like, leopard print on it. Yeah. And it was one dollars a yard, and I bought five yards of it. And I made, like, this really weird it was, like, a skirt, and then it had, like, a funky lace up top that went with it.

I think it was whatever I made with it. It was weird, which, I guess matched the fabric. But I just remembered that it was, like, a five dollar outfit that I had sewn, and it used, like, five yards of fabrics, a lot of fabric. I don’t know, for some reason, that’s what sticks in my mind. The cheapest fabric that I ever bought and actually used, as opposed to just bought and let it sit there. What about you?

Haley
Oh, man. I bought a lot of cheap fabric. I used to work in LA In the garment district, and there’s just you know, you can buy tons of, like, ninety nine cents a yard fabric there. I made a Miss Piggy costume one year out of some 99 cent a yard. Kind of, like glittery knit sequins. It’s not sequins because they weren’t, like, actual sequins sewn on, but more like where, like, the sequins kind of, like, embedded into the fabric. You know what I’m talking about? I made a weird little pink dress out of fabric. I’ve also bought, like, a lot of linens and things at thrift stores and sales racks, bought a couple of panels of curtains for, like, $4 and made dresses out of them. So I feel like in a prior life, I used to be, like, queen of cheap, cheap fabric because just out of necessity, I had, like, zero money, practically. It was just, you know, I want to dress cute. Fashion is very important to me, and I have this shoestring budget, and I made it work.

Sarai
Well, that is a great segue into our first tip, which is to check the linen section at thrift stores, because I think that is a gold mine for fabric, especially if you need large quantities of fabric for something. And you can find some really cool stuff there. So you can look for tablecloths, you can look for sheets, you can look at curtains. And sometimes they even sell fabric, just pieces of fabric that have been donated or come from estates. You can find some really great fabric at the thrift store in the linen section. So that’s really, I think, a tip that if you’re not used to thrifting, maybe you haven’t thought about. I think those of us who grew up thrifting have definitely checked that section and gotten some good deals. So all of these things can really be used to make a lot of really cool clothing. I think sheets in particular, if you can find some cool sheets from the 70s or 80s, they often have a really fun floral prints on them. I’ve gotten some sheets from the made really cool dresses out of them in the past. So I think if you get to know your local thrift store, you can find the days that they have deals and also the days that they put out new stuff.

And that’s a really great way to find the best stuff in the fabric section or in the linen section for making clothing. Because when they put out new things, it’s often the best time before it gets picked over. And then if you’re looking for a special deal, if you want even lower prices, a lot of thrift stores will have a day that a certain color tag is 50% off or something like that. So that can be a great way to save a ton of money on fabric.

And also, if you’re not into making clothing from old sheets necessarily, like, maybe that’s not your style, or you don’t like those prints, it’s also great for making muslins. So if you don’t want to buy extra fabric just to make muslins and test garments, old sheets are a great way to do that for very, very little money. That’s the first tip.

The second tip for getting fabric really cheap is to upcycle the things in your closet that you don’t wear. I think this is a really excellent way to use fabric that you might like, but it’s in a style that you don’t prefer. So I have this dress in my closet that I’ve been trying to think of something to do with to recycle the fabric because it’s such a cool fabric.

I bought the dress at a vintage popup show kind of thing. It was at the North Hall, and it was a bunch of vintage dealers, and I saw it and I really liked it. And I’ve worn it a few times. And it is this, like, really pretty. It’s silk. It’s a lilac color, which I do like that color. And it has a print of little white swans all over it. It is just so pretty, and so. Yeah, I used to wear it sometimes in the spring. I don’t really wear anymore. I don’t really feel like it fits my style anymore. But I love the fabric so much, and I’ve been thinking about how I could recycle it into maybe a kid’s garment, because I just think the print is so cute.

I don’t know if silk is practical for little kids, but I want to do something with it. It’s hard when you have something that is beautiful and that you really love, but it’s not exactly your style anymore. But I think those are great candidates for upcycling. So that’s another really great way to get fabric. If you have any ideas for that, let me know, Haley, because it’s really pretty, but I don’t feel like it doesn’t fit me stylistically anymore. So that is tip number two, up cycling.

Tip number three. This one has garnered me some great fabric, which is to have a fabric swap with some sewing friends. I remember when I wrote the Colette Sewing Handbook many years ago, I did a reading at Powells, and we did a little fabric swap there at the reading so everybody could bring some fabric and just throw it in a pile and pick out something they wanted, and it was fun.

And I think if you have a few people nearby who, you know, sew or maybe even if you want to meet some people nearby, you could use the Seamwork community to find some sewing friends near you. And having a little fabric swap is a great way to get some new fabric without spending any money at all and to offload some fabric that you probably are never going to use. So I love this idea. This is a great way to get fabric for free while cleaning out your stash. So we should host one. We should host, like, a little fabric swap at our studio. That would be fine sometime. That’d be really fun. We should talk to Erica about that. All right, so that is tip number three.

Tip number four is to shop the sales section at any place that has linen. So we mentioned getting linens at the thrift store or checking the linen section at the thrift store. You can also check the linen section at places like World Market or at Target or any other home deck store, any placket that sells these things. And you can get a lot of fabric that way for a really cheap price, and it’s often very, very wide fabric.

So if you need wide fabric for certain projects, that’s also a great way to get it. And you can find things like linen. You can find really nice cotton. You can find some really nice natural fibers in these sections. So it’s a great place to look if you need a lot of fabric for not a lot of money. And it’s amazing that you can buy, you know, finished goods at a cheaper price, and you can get fabric sometimes.

Haley
That’s a whole other episode.

Sarai
Yeah, there’s a whole other reason for that, which is maybe not so pleasant, but you can get fabric cheaply that way. And you can also look in the sales sections of those stores, too, things that might need a home.

Tip number five is to look for discount fabric stores. So you’ll often find these in large cities. I know most of the cities that I’ve lived in have some kind of, like, large discount fabric store. Even suburbs. I mentioned that one growing up that’s not too far from my family’s home, and that’s in the suburbs, it is a discount sort of fabric store. They’re often this kind of warehouse style stores with a lot of fabric in them. Things just go in and out really fast and very cheap. So you often find those in cities. But your city might also have a garment district, like Haley mentioned. Obviously, there’s a big garment district in LA. There’s a big one in New York where I used to live. There’s several other cities that have garment districts in the US. And all around the world. So if your city has a garment district, that’s a great place to look for inexpensive fabric.

Sarai
So those are my five tips, and then Hailey’s going to share a few more.

Haley
Yes. So the next tip that I have to share might seem a little bit obvious, but I think that it’s very much worth mentioning, and that is that most fabric stores have a sales section, and it’s always hidden at the back of the store. So a strategy that I use sometimes, especially when I’m pinching pennies, is when I walk into a fabric store, I go straight to the back of the store so I don’t get roped in by any of the displays of shiny new things at the very front of the store. Goes straight to the back, and a lot of times you’ll end up finding a hidden gem back there. You don’t really know what you’re going to find until you look. Especially when I’m at, like, a big box store like Joann, I shop from back to front.

Our local fabric store we have here is called Mill End, and they have the annex in the back of the store, and that is where they keep kind of, like, bold ends and just kind of miscellaneous things that have probably been there for, like, 20 plus years and never sold. And I have bought some really cool things back in the annex.

That’s also where they keep, like, the really wacky faux fur, which we were talking about yesterday.

Sarai
Yeah, I love the annex. I, once in the Mill End Annex, I once went back there, and they had this table that had all these really beautiful vintage fabrics. That one of their buyers had just gone to, like, an estate sale and found all these gorgeous vintage fabrics and bought them, and they were super, super cheap. You just never know what you’re going to find at a place like that. I mean, Joann, maybe you do know what you’re going to find, but independent store, there’s always amazing stuff in the annex. I also love that it’s called the annex. It just reminds me of the office.

Haley
Totally. And the thing is that with the sales section, especially with the local stores, you just need to keep checking in. It’s kind of like if you’re a thrift store shopper, sometimes you’ll go like five times in a row, you won’t find anything. And then you’ll find this jackpot of vintage fabric that Sarai is talking about. And lots of times, like, random things are going to be helped back there, like these random cuts of vintage fabric, because they can’t very well, like, roll two yards onto a bolt and keep it at the front of the store. It might not make sense for their store. So always check out the sales section. You never know what you’re going to find.

Another tip that I have is understanding your local fabric stores coupon policy. Next time you’re in, just ask them what their coupon policy is. A lot of times they might honor coupons from other stores. I know that. Again, we’re going to talk about Mill End, which is a Portland store. They honor certain coupons up to a percentage or a dollar amount. I always kind of forget exactly what it is, but they do honor big box store coupons, which is great for them.

Sarai
It’s up to 20%. So you can bring in, like, a coupon from Joann and they’ll honor it up to a certain amount. And a lot of independent stores will do that. Or maybe if they don’t, you’ll give them the idea by letting know something you’re looking for.

Haley
It’s one of those things where, like, it does not hurt to ask. I’ve worked behind the counter in a fabric store, and it does not, like, hurt my it would not hurt my feelings if someone asked me what a coupon policy is. So just ask.

My next tip is a tip that I live by, and that is always break for yard sales. If you see a sign for a yard sale, you’re out for a walk. You’re driving to the grocery store, stop. You just never know what you’re going to find. I think that these are just great places where you can find linens, which has been kind of a reoccurring theme in this episode. Maybe it’ll be a seller’s yard sale and you’ll find, just like, all of the goodies. This also kind of goes for antique stores, antique malls, flea markets, estate sales. These are all great places to find fabric, linens, and a lot of times you can get a really great deal.

Sarai
Yeah, I need to live by this rule, every time we drive to the grocery store on the weekends, I see signs for either state sales or where I live. There are barn sales and we never stop because they’re always like, we got to get to the grocery store and back home again. So I want to start breaking for more of these barn sales. You never know what you’re going to find.

Haley
I love especially when I’m out in a more like rural area, the yard sales, they’re just better than the city yard sales because those get so picked over. Last summer when you hosted that party at your house, Taylor and Meg and I stopped in some random yard sale that we found on our way there. We were like, we have to.

Sarai
Do you find good stuff?

Haley
Yeah, I think that I know that Meg bought a dollhouse for her daughter and we were definitely shopping the linens, trying to find what’s good.

Sarai
Yeah. Great place to look for quilts too.

Haley
Oh yeah. Oh, man. I mean, just in general, I’m like, I love secondhand stuff. I will buy anything, I mean not anything, but I will buy a lot of things secondhand.

I’m all about that life. The next thing I would recommend is checking on Etsy and on ebay. A lot of times these are places where they list their fabric. You can search by specific type of fabric. So if you’re looking for linen, you can search 100% linen. You can also search by the amount that you want. So you can search five yards or five y or five m or 5 meters to find the amount that you’re looking for. For deals on Etsy, you can specifically look in the vintage section and find a lot of things, something to keep in mind, and I keep this in mind really when I’m shopping anything secondhand online is a lot of times people don’t necessarily know what it is that they have. They may not have the vocabulary for what that is. So get creative with your search terms. Someone may not know that they have vintage Liberty of London lawn. So searching those terms may not necessarily turn up what you’re looking for, but you might find like, retro, small floral print. Get a little bit creative because lots of times it’s those less obvious search terms that you’re going to find that real gems, definitely.

And then my last tip, again, coming in with a little bit of an obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning is to shop your stash. The cheapest fabric is the one that you already own. And if there’s nothing that you like, get creative. Reach towards the back of your fabric shelf or a box and find that one fabric that maybe the color is not quite right or it’s not your style. You can buy a bottle of RIT dye and dye it. You can block print it, embroider it, add some cool trim. Really? You know, you’re creative. I believe in you. I know you are. Get creative with it and have some fun. I mean, the worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to not like it and then you’re not using a fabric you probably weren’t going to use anyway. So have some fun with it and shop that stash. You bought the fabric for a reason. There’s probably something in there you like.

Sarai
Yeah, probably a reason you bought it. I agree. I have one more thing to add to that Etsy and Ebay. One just like a hot tip that has been helpful to me, which is Haley mentioned that sometimes people don’t really know what they have and so it can be hard to search for things like if you’re looking for Liberty of London or something like that. One of the things that has been helping me I’ve been looking for some vintage artwork on Ebay lately, and the thing that’s been helping me is instead of doing a search term, is actually browsing the categories and then filtering down to the section that you want and then you can filter by price or you can filter by the era, things like that. So using the existing categorization that Ebay or Etsy has, you can even sort things so that the newest listings come to the top so you can see things before they’re snatched up if it’s a good deal. So those are some alternate ways of using them that you might not think about as opposed to just doing a search term for exactly what you’re looking for.

Right now I’m also looking for some I’m looking for antique fabric to make some pillows for my house. So that’s another way I’ve been looking for it rather than searching for the very specific terms that tend to have fabric with a higher price tag because people know exactly what it is and how much it’s worth. So another little tip for your all.

Right. Well, I’m going to recap the tips that we shared today. So we had ten tips for saving money on fabric. And the first one is to check the linen section at the thrift store. The second one is to oh, sorry, these are a little bit jumbled here. The second one is to upcycle things in your closet that you don’t wear. The third one is to have a fabric swap with sewing friends. The fourth one is to shop the sales section at any place that has linens. Five is to look for discount fabric stores. So if you live in a city, maybe your city has either a discount fabric store or a garment district. The 6th tip is when you’re at the fabric store, head to the back where they keep the sale section.

Tip number seven is to understand your local fabric store’s coupon policies. And don’t be afraid to ask about their coupon policies. Sometimes they might honor coupons from other stores always break for yard sales. Yard sales are a great place to look. In addition to antique stores, antique malls, flea markets, state sales, always look for those secondhand opportunities. Use Etsy and Ebay and look for people destashing fabric. Or you can search for a certain amount of fabric you’re looking for. And we offered some tips for using the browse feature as well as the search feature. And then the 10th is to shop your stash. And if you can’t find something that you absolutely love, get creative with it and try dying, printing, embroidering it, adding surface details, just really getting creative with what you already own. So those are our tips for saving a ton of money on fabric.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this episode, Haley?

Haley
My biggest takeaway is that I need I want to go to find some yard sales this weekend. I think that my biggest takeaway is that it’s really easy to get kind of, like, sucked into the glamor of buying things new, but there’s a lot of really creative ways out there to shop for fabric that’s probably going to save you money and also yield a product that is going to be even more unique and more special. I think it adds to the fun of it fabric shopping on its own. I know people joke all the time, I do too, that it’s a hobby on its own, and these are just more ways to add a little bit of fun to that hobby.

Sarai
Yeah, totally agree. I think my biggest takeaway is how useful it is to go through your stash every once in a while and to remind yourself of what you already have, because like you said, Haley, you probably bought it for some kind of reason or some sort of project that you had in mind. You had a dream for it when you bought it, and revisiting that, I think, can really help to both save money and also kind of, I don’t know, bring out some new creative ideas. I think when you have constraints on yourself, that’s where creativity really takes place. So when you can just go out and buy any fabric in the world, sometimes that isn’t the best catalyst for creativity. Sometimes the best catalyst for creativity is, let’s see what I have, let’s see what I can do with it. Let’s come up with some new ideas, and I think that can be really, really fun. So I’m going to go through my stash this weekend. I’m committed.

All right, well, if you are looking for even more ways to save on fabric, Seamwork members do get discounts at some of our favorite indie fabric stores.

So even though we’ve talked a lot about buying less, shopping your stash, and buying secondhand, we also love to support our favorite indies. And there are some great fabric stores on there, so you can save anywhere from ten to 20% off your purchase if you’re a senior member, and a lot of people say that those discounts really alone pay for their entire membership. So you can see a list of participating fabric store at seamwork.com/deals, and we’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. But we’ve got a ton of our favorite independent fabric stores on there, so definitely check them out.

And that’ll do it for us today. I’m Sarai.

Haley
And I’m Haley.

Sarai
And this is Seamwork Radio.

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