Sewing and Saving

There are inarguably many benefits to be enjoyed by sewing a garment yourself rather than buying one from a shop. However, with the accumulative cost of commercial garment patterns, fabric, mock-up fabric, linings and notions compared to the relatively low cost of many retail garments, saving money is not often one of those benefits. So, is sewing a pastime only to be indulged in when you’re feeling flush? HELL NO it isn’t!!! With some creative shopping with a keen eye and open-mind, there are many ways to potentially cut some of those sewing costs because, ultimately, less cost equals more creations!

Doing the rounds of your local charity shops is likely to be second nature for the creative and resourceful people likely to be reading this, but it can sometimes take a few trips to realise the full potential of what is hopefully waiting for the sewers among us.


Commercial sewing patterns can be off-puttingly expensive, either new or vintage. Somewhere in your local charity shop, possibly in an old basket hidden under a clothing rack mixed in with some aged knitting patterns, there may be a score of donated vintage sewing patterns awaiting salvation. This is the Holy Grail for many charity-shopping seamstresses, and if you find some you have truly been blessed! However, as many vintage pattern lovers know from heartbreaking experience, older patterns are usually single sizes, so it’s a real possibility that your thrifted pattern may not be your size. However, if the size difference between yourself and the pattern isn’t too great and if you’re up for it, a touch of pattern grading and altering may be all that stands between you and a successful project.

Another oft-overlooked source of sewing patterns to be found in charity shops are the second-hand garments themselves. Want to make some new trousers but don’t have a pattern? Trawl through the trouser rails and find some in your size and try them on to find a pair that fits you well, irrespective of the how nasty/inappropriate/dated/cheap the garment fabric is. Have a good look at them to check the construction techniques required to make them are either within the capacity of your skills, or are ones you are willing to research to add to your repertoire. (Don’t forget, if you don’t fancy making a fly-front for example, could substitute it for a mock-fly front or even a side zip instead? ) If all looks well, once you get them home you can use one of the many how-to’s on the internet for tracing a pattern from an existing garment, or unpick the thrifted garment for even more ease.

Garment fabric

This may sound obvious to many, but your creations are not limited to the dress fabrics prescribed to you by, sometimes over-priced, fabric shops. Some charity shops sell donated lengths of fabric, but often you need to look to less obvious sources to find the garment making options. Thriftable curtains, bed sheets and table cloths as well as large existing garments can also provide a wealth of low-cost alternatives. It can sometimes be a little difficult to see the potential through the item’s present form, but once this sixth sense has been developed, hunter-gatherers are often frequently rewarded! Curtains are often a good heavy weight which could translate well into a jacket, coat or crisp A-line skirt. The qualities of many bed sheets and table cloths are be begging to become a summery dress or sweet blouse. And if you have found a large garment, maybe some clever cutting could utilise an existing collar, pockets, shoulder seams or some such, saving you some work further down the line.

Toiling/muslin fabric and Lining

Making a toile or muslin of a garment before steaming into your preferred fabric is obviously the best way to ensure a successful garment sewing project. But buying calico or muslin to sew something that, by its very definition, is not meant to be worn outside the house can seem a massive waste of money and resources. Enter the aforementioned thriftable curtains, bedsheets, table cloths and large garments! The most important quality of a toiling/muslin fabric is that is its weight and handle is similar to your intended final fabric. Perhaps you’ve bought a length of pretty printed cotton with plans to make a summery dress. Making a mock-up of your pattern from a thrifted faded bed sheet that you picked up for 50p that is a similar weight to your fabric before you go hacking into that pretty cotton may save that project’s life!

Similarly, don’t go forgetting that garment lining needn’t be the standard poly taffeta fayre every time. Think about what thriftable alternatives might work to the project’s advantage. Once I bought some curtains in a charity shop that were lined with the nicest softest cotton sateen. Due the enormous size of the curtains, I had enough sateen to line about ten large bags. Now I think about it, I regret not using it to make a blouse instead. Damn.


As with the sewing patterns and fabric, you might be lucky to find a charity shop that sells donated zips, buttons, buckles and so forth. If you are lucky enough to find such a shop with a range of haberdashery my advice would be: GRAB THEM! Even if you can’t envisage using them over the course of your next few projects, they may very well prove just the ticket further down the line. And if they don’t, then you can just donate them back.

Finding cheap second hand clothes with interesting buttons, dress zips, appliqués, lace sections, buckles etc. which can be removed may prove cheaper than the new store-bought equivalent.

Obviously, relying solely on thrifted fabric and notions for your sewing projects may prove impossibly frustrating (although I must say I’m strangely drawn to such a challenge). And if you have a specific idea for a garment you wish to create, the wait for the right materials to drop into your local charity shop will most likely out-last your initial desire to make the garment in the first place. As with most thrifting experiences, you’re rarely going to walk out of the shop with the thing you were hoping to find when you walked in. But if the thrifting gods are with you, you just might find the ideal item for a fantastic sewing project. Not to mention the fact that by recycling, reusing and repurposing rather than buying brand new, you are helping to cut the cost to more than just your pocket. 
Happy creating! Zoe xxx

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