Subversive Sewer

{August 3, 2009}   The Subversive Sewer’s Money-Saving Tips for Sewing on a Budget

How’s that for a title?

Here is a list of things that I do to keep sewing an affordable hobby for me, and also a way to have a great wardrobe that’s in my budget.

  • sign up for the mailing lists of your local fabric stores.  For me, those are Joann Fabrics and Hancock Fabrics.
  • make a list of the patterns you want, and wait for the 99 cent (or 1.99) sales to buy them
  • stock up on staples, such as basic color thread and zippers, while they are on sale
  • …. but don’t hoard stuff!  Don’t buy every time of notion “just in case” you might use it.  If you’re not using it, it’s money wasted.
  • if you have trouble remembering what supplies and patterns you have and end up buying doubles, consider keeping an inventory and bringing it to the store with you.  If you’re a paid member of Pattern Review, you can use their pattern stash feature to keep track of your patterns.
  • before starting a project, check for reviews of the pattern on Pattern Review.  You can avert disaster by heeding the warnings of others.
  • don’t forget the bargains that can be had by buying secondhand!  Check Goodwill and other thrift stores, estate sales, Craigslist, and put the word out that you sew… you will inevitably be offered sewing supplies by people who no longer sew!
  • this is commonly known but bears repeating: make a muslin!  You can test the garment using cheaper fabric, and tweak the fit at the same time.
  • track the sale intervals at the chain stores.  For example, I’ve found that the notions wall is 50% off at Joann’s every quarter.  I hold off on notion purchases until the next sale if I can.
  • You may not be able to find suitable fabric at the chain stores.  This leaves 2 options:  independent fabric stores or online.  If you’re lucky enough to have an independent fabric store nearby, lucky you!  If not, online shopping is for you.  The caveat: you can’t touch the fabric, and shipping is expensive.  However, some sites’ shipping charges are more reasonable than others.  For example, offers free shipping on orders over $35.  They also have frequent sales that they’d be happy to email you about.  Fashion Fabrics Club‘s charges are lower than most that I’ve seen and seem less aribitrary.  And the fabrics on both sites are affordable as well.
  • Think twice before stashing fabric.  On the plus side, if you find a good deal on a fabric you really like, it can be prudent to buy it if you don’t have a specific project in mind for it.  However, if you do this a lot, you’re going to end up with a fabric store in your house!  Obviously, this is not a cheap investment, and it’s not benefiting you financially.  The line between keeping a reasonable supply of fabric on hand and SABLE (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy)  is a very fine one!
  • Only buy the amount of fabric you actually need.  I’ve heard quite a few sewers state that they always buy extra fabric.  However, in my experience I’ve never found that to be necessary.  I buy that is recommended on the pattern envelope and have never run short as long as I follow the suggested cutting layout.  If you buy extra, chances are high that you’ll be left with lots of remnants that you won’t have any use for.
  • Instead of buying a new pattern, take a look at the ones you already have and see if you can modify one of those to look like the one you want to buy.  This is particularly beneficial if the pattern you want is pricey.
  • If you have to do a lot of basting, consider using up almost-empty spools of thread left over from past projects.
  • When buying a machine, iron, or other expensive items, consider what is the cheapest model that will meet your needs.  Don’t buy a machine with features you know you’ll never use.  Features like embroidery and novelty stitches look fun, but would you actually use them?  And don’t forget to check for reviews of the machine and do some comparison shopping.  And don’t pay extra for lessons unless you really need them.  Remember that machines pretty much work the same, and most come with instructional DVDs.  Regarding irons: I’ve found that the $10 iron actually worked better than the $100 I used to have!
  • Buying the cheapest fabric doesn’t always mean you’ll save money.  If you’re making an item you plan to wear regularly, a more expensive fabric may indeed last longer, which means you’ll save money by not having to make a replacement!

Well, that’s it for now.  Let me know if these tips are helpful, and if you have any to share!  I’ll post any reader-submitted tips in a future post (of course, you’ll be credited!).


Christy S says:

I think you have it pretty well covered. I have found that Atlanta Thread Supply is a good source for Gutterman thread and zippers. Much cheaper than JoAnn’s 50% off sale, which is where I used to buy. Of course, if you’re matching colors, then yes, Jo’s sale, but for the basics…black, white, cream, them Atlanta. The thread is $2.95 for 1,100 yard tubes. Zippers (22″ for instance) are 63 cents each for regular and $1.46 for invisible. The also have quantity discounts per dozen and allow you to mix colors to get that dozen. There’s no fancy packaging, but who needs it? I also consider vintage linens to be a good source of fabric — I use if for purse linings, linings for dresses, light weight tops, dresses, kids clothes and it’s a cheap fabric for a muslin if your fashion fabric happens to match the weight. Zips, buttons, fabric, etc can also be “harvested” from vintage clothing at the thrift store. Old soft blankets — stuffed animals. Belts are great for purse handles, old jeans can be refashioned into aprons, skirts and bags. One of the things I always do is comparison shop. Now, I have more fabric than the man on the moon, but it was all purchased on sale, mostly from I’m a lifetime wardrobe refashion, so no retail for me. Plus, I don’t have a brick & mortar store except JoAnn’s and I don’t care for their fabric, but I love pattern sales. Never buy a pattern that isn’t on sale. I keep everything I need at home, so I never HAVE to go shopping, which is nice. If I feel like sewing, I sew. But that’s not for everyone. I have a house with old curtains, blankets, etc. and I intend to make them as well. I would say anyone sewing for simply a hobby, then no — no need to stockpile a lot of fabric. Once mine is depleted, I’ll return to buying what I need when I need it. I do tend to buy an extra half-yard, but that’s because I make mistakes (Ha!) in cutting sometimes. Okay, I think that’s it from my end. I do go on and on. Oh yeah, old tablecloths (cotton) make the best dish towels (no lint on your dishes) and napkins.

umjudis says:

Good points. Here’s my additions: I also check out the Wardrobe sections of pattern books. These are patterns that contain usually a jacket, pants & dress. When patterns are on sale, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Not only are you getting 3 different pieces, you can get a top by cutting off the skirt portion of the dress. Pants can be cut down to capris, shorts. Sleeves can be left off jackets to create a vest. And if the pattern is classic, you can use it for many years. Check out the blog of Diary of A Sewing Fanatic. She used the same dress pattern in many, many ways.

Think outside the box for notions. For example, a chopstick can be used to help turn out corners and can even be used as mini-pressboard for small areas. Large washers can be used for pattern weights. I use a nut pick when quilting. The indentation on the handle helps open & close safety pins since I use alot when I am quilting. There are many more. Just look around!

And lastly, if you can find a sewing buddy, that’s an immense help. The two of you can share info, equipment, trade supplies and just support one another.

Bunny says:

This are wonderful tips and congratulations on the new slant your blog is taking! I really appreciate your sincerity. Luckily, at this stage in life I am more comfortable financially with my sewing expenses but I spent many years where the fabric dollars were close to non existent. I am petite, and you look slender too. Hit the Good Will or Salvation Army. I would go straight to the size 24 clothing and purchase. I purchased beautiful suits of silk that I could then cut down and refashion. Just think, every pattern piece will be way bigger than you need so you just cut it out at the seams and lay your pattern piece on top, taking care with grain. Its and awesome way to get some great fabric. I also would look at garments for buttons. When you can buy a tacky, dated, originally very expensive dress for three bucks, it makes sense to buy it for just the buttons. I have done that many times. Once home I would take off the wonderful buttons and chuck the dress. The local thrift shop should really be your new best friend.

I will stock up on basics when on sale. I have been shopping Joanns for years and they do get in some great buys in real linen. These will go on sale for 60% off every year right after fourth of July. I will buy all I can of white linen, beige, and other basic colors. This has paid off tremendously for me. Linen is wonderful to sew and can be turned into a gorgeous dress for a child or an heirloom blouse for an adult.

Buy your basics when they are on big sale, 50% and more. By that I mean white and black thread, interfacing, etc…..

Try out all your sewing books thru the library first. They are all not wonderful, despite their authors. Watch out for sewing books at yard sales and antique shops. I have done well with this hint.

I wish you the best of luck in your new focus on frugality. No matter how much one has, frugality is always a great quality, even in sewing. I do think frugality requires knowledge and thoughtfulness to work. I know you have both qualities and will do wonderfully thru this stage of your life.


Lucy says:

Now that I’ve realistically got most things that I need to wear, my rule with clothes (and fabric/ patterns) is simple: Don’t buy it if you don’t love it. If possible, don’t buy it at all the first time and see if you still want it when you go back a second time. I find it works startlingly well…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: