Sewing a dress or bag can usually cost more than if you bought it at the store. But, it doesn't have to be that way. Sewing can be budget friendly and I've compiled this guide to help you.
Hobbies are good to have. They give our hands something to do and can keep our minds active. Some hobbies can empty your wallet, while others only cost pennies. Sewing can be an expensive hobby. There are so many gadgets and fabrics, and machines, Oh my! But, it can be inexpensive too. I'm here to tell you, you don't need to empty your bank account to sew or advance your skills.
You might think you need that ultra-fancy dress form from a New York store. You don't. You won't need a fancy sewing machine that sings to you either. Let's take a deep dive into the world of sewing on a budget.
When I first started sewing, the craft stores weren't half of what they are now. They offered one rotary cutter, a few boxes of pins, and 1/3 of the fabric selection they have now. Times have changed and the variety has grown tremendously! Hooray! Sales are more prominent now along with budget sewing items. You can get everything you need to create your masterpieces, without breaking the bank! Do you really need 6 different pairs of scissors? Not really. Think needs vs. wants. Ask yourself what a minimalist would do, and you'll be good. ;)
Grab some coffee and a snack, this is a long one.
What You'll Learn
Find Fabric for Less
1. Garage Sales
Get up early, grab some coffee, and hit those garage sales. Friday and Saturday mornings are your best bet. Oftentimes yard sales are a sewist's goldmine. They can have boxes of fabric that someone gave them from who knows where and when. If you're a vintage fan, this is where to shop! They'll usually have sheets too. Sheets yield a lot of yardage in sewing terms. Garage sales are the best places to "wheel and deal" as well. If you show interest, they may even pull out more stuff that's hiding in the back of the garage.
2. Thrift Stores
People start hobbies and realize it's not their cup of tea. They donate everything and we reap the rewards! Thrift shops get bags of fabric and sheets (again, yardage) donated every week. Take note of where your local thrift stores are because they are mentioned throughout this post. They usually have formal dresses that you can use fabric and appliqués from. Want to make a pair of PJ pants? Thrift stores have fleece blankets that you can make Pajamas out of. Use a vintage sheet to make a summer dress. Think outside the box and the sky is the limit.
3. Friends & Family
There's always a family member who used to sew, just ask. Chances are they have a box or a few bags of fabric stored away somewhere. They planned on making little Suzie's whole wardrobe but, now little Suzie is 23. Free fabric for you!! Ask around, there's always fabric being stored somewhere waiting to get used. It might look a little dated or isn't a modern print. But, if you're learning to sew and are on a tight budget, free is the best kind of fabric. You can also use the dated fabrics for linings and muslins.
4. eBay, Etsy, Amazon, & other Online Shops
Look online for clearance fabrics. The sky is the limit here but, it'll take some legwork or finger work. Ha! Check eBay for fabrics sold by the yard. Etsy has tons of fabric too. I have found some good prices and some not-so-good prices. They're good for other things too, such as elastics, ribbons, and specialty fabrics you can't find in local stores. Lingerie fabric, elastics, and swimsuit fabrics are easier to find online. If you need knit fabric, I love Girl Charlee. They have great prices too. Amazon has been hit or miss for me on fabric. But, they do sell interfacing and zippers at good prices. There are online shops that specialize in fabrics but, I've not found spectacular prices at any. But, if you're interested, just do a quick Google search.
5. Big Box Stores
Check your local stores for deals. Walmart has a whole sewing section including fabric. Hobby Lobby, Joann, Hancock's, etc. all offer fabric too. To start, they might not have the cheapest options. But, if you sign up for coupons and go when the they offer sales, you'll get great deals. You can walk out with fabric you paid $3 a yard or less, for. Check the remnant bins and clearance section too. Sign up for emails and mailers for more discounts as well.
6. Fabric Swaps
This one is a hidden treasure. Join online fabric swaps through social media. Search for them by using hashtags. Call local churches and ask if they offer them as well. You'll have to do your own research on this one though. Look for groups on Facebook and see if they offer fabric swaps. I went to a Sewcial and they offered a pattern and fabric swap. Such a fun idea! I have done fabric swaps online and have made so many friends through them. Need to figure out how to store all that fabric you just found? Read this post on how to store fabric.
7. Wholesale Stores
If you live near a big city, there will be wholesale shops nearby. These shops have the best selection for the price. If you're like me and live in the boonies, you'll have to drive to find them. Wholesale fabric stores are full of fabric and notions on the cheap. You have to dig to get a deal but, the deals are there. I have bought many novelty fabrics for $2 a yard. They also sell a variety of home decor fabrics. Looking for faux fur? They sell it by the pound and it can cost 1/3 of what you'd find it for, in your local craft store. So, grab a friend and take a road trip to find the wholesale fabric shops. They're my favorite places to shop.
Patterns with Small Price Tags
If you're searching for a PDF, DIY, or inexpensive commercial patterns, this list gives you a good start. Whether you're on a micro budget or need all the freebies you can get, there's something for you below.
This is my most favorite pattern search engine. Think of Pinterest as a crafter's bestie for searching the interwebs. No, it's not as wonderful as it used to be. It has way more ads nowadays however, it is still useful. Scroll past the ads and it's a goldmine. Need to find a Childs dress pattern? Search there. Looking for a few apron options, look on Pinterest. I have a few sewing-themed boards with tons of patterns, how-to's, tutorials, and more. Follow me. I can almost always find a free pattern for what I'm looking for.
If you need a vintage-style wide headband pattern, I created a PDF. Grab it here.
2. Garage Sales & Thrift Shops
You're going to see these two options mentioned often. You can find patterns galore at garage sales along with fabrics. Thrift stores have them too. They even have vintage patterns that are coveted in the vintage sewing community. The recent surge in sewing interest may make it harder to find patterns as easily. But, these are both great places to start. Prices are good too. Garage sale prices will usually be cheaper at $0.50. ea or 10 for $1. Sometimes you can get lucky if a seller wants to unload their family members pattern stash. The downside with buying used patterns is the envelope might be missing pieces. Open them up to make sure all the pieces are there if you're allowed.
3. Online Search
A quick Google search will give you free and inexpensive patterns. Sewing bloggers usually have a few free patterns and most are fairly reasonable. I offer free patterns here, here, and here. Some bloggers give you access to their whole pattern library if you sign up for their newsletter. Melly Sews has a large sewing library. Sign up for her email list and you get access to all of her free patterns. Craft stores have free tutorials on their websites too. This takes a little legwork on your part, but if you want it for free, it's probably out there.
A little disclaimer: free patterns might not be 100% fool proof. So, if you're making a gift or special dress, start the project early. You may need to get more fabric or find a different pattern. ;)
4. Borrow from a Friend
Borrowing patterns from friends is perfectly fine. If a friend is particular about their pattern collection, ask them to trace a copy or if you could trace it and make a copy of the instructions at their home. I've done this. I've even mailed a pattern to a friend here and there. They mail it back and usually include a little goodie as a thank you. :)
5. Joann Store Sale
This one is huge! I repeat, HUGE!!! This is my most favorite way to get new patterns on a budget. Every so often, Joann Fabrics runs pattern sales. They sell patterns for .99 ea or $1.99 ea, depending on the brand. This little piece of information could save you hundreds of dollars. First, you must sign up for their mailers. They share when and what patterns will be on sale inside the mailer. I never know when this happens until I get my mailer in the mail. It's usually a couple of times a year. Yay!! There's a whole method to the madness and I'm sharing my secret tips with you below.
This sounds silly but, if you buy a sewing book, they usually have patterns inside them. You can buy new and used sewing books online, at thrift shops, garage sales, or borrow from a friend/family member. I have a list of my favorite sewing books here. They all have patterns inside. Books make nice gifts too. If you have a birthday coming up, ask for a sewing book. They walk you through their patterns as well. If you order one online, read the reviews and comments. I've bought a book or two in the past that were complete bombs, unfortunately.
Learning to Sew
We all start somewhere and each of us learns differently. I learned to sew from a sweet little old lady, above a vacuum and sewing shop over 20 years ago. I signed up and paid $60 for a month-long weekly sewing lesson. Nobody else showed up so, I was lucky enough to get 4 one-on-one sessions. I borrowed my mom's sewing machine and learned all the basics. She taught me everything about the machine, how to make and sew bias binding, insert elastic, read a commercial pattern, make a skirt, a potholder that I turned into a scissor holder, and tips on choosing fabric. She also told me to always wash fabric before you sew with it. Although, I don't always follow that order. LOL
had a binder where I kept all the info and still have those papers today. I'd like to say I'm self-taught but, I had a great start from a great teacher who taught me beginner basics.
1. Family member or Friend
I keep mentioning this option because it's a good one and free. Ask an aunt, cousin, neighbor, or friend to teach you to sew. They don't need to teach you how to make a wedding dress, just the basics. They can show you how the machine works, how to read a pattern, basic seam and fabric construction, and why you need to "sew with your iron". You only need an afternoon or evening. I've taught quite a few friends to sew within a few hours. In fact, a couple of friends and I used to get together once a week and sew. We'd make a whole thing out of it. Wine, snacks, and sewing. I really miss this evenings and summer afternoons. If you're a hands-on learner, this is the best option.
2. Sewing Blogs
Blogs are great for teaching sewing. They all teach different things as well. I share easy patterns along with garmet sew-a-longs. Some bloggers teach the very basics and others are for advanced techniques. Two great blogs that comes to mind are Made by Dana and Sweet Red Poppy. I love both of their sites. They're fun and bright. They both share tons of beginner-friendly patterns and have YouTube channels. There are hundreds and hundreds of sewing blogs out there, and there's something for everyone.
3. Online Sewing School
The sewing queen, Mimi G has recently launched her sewing school. I am not sure about the price or levels (if there are levels) because I haven't joined although, I'm sure it's worth every penny. She was the first sewing blog I came across back in the day so, I wanted to include her.
Craftsy is a great place for learning to sew. I have taken classes on Craftsy for sewing and other things. It has changed over the years but, I still prefer it for online teaching.
This is a different option because it's a listen only one. Not everyone loves podcasts and that's okay. But, for those who do love them, I want to share with you my faves. I've learned quite a few things from sewing podcasts. And, if I'm not learning, it feels like I'm sewing with friends.
5. Craftsy and National Sewing Circle
I'm mentioning Craftsy again in more depth.
These paid membership sites are great for beginners or those who want to learn new skills. If you don't have access to a friend, you can pay an annual fee and take the classes online. Craftsy has tons of videos and you can choose what works for you. I have taken the bra-making class and love to make my own bras. I started pattern drafting for my own body through their classes as well. They run sales occasionally so, look for those as a budget-friendly option. Craftsy has changed hands recently so, their payment method might work differently than before.
I'm not familiar with the National Sewing Circle, so choose that option at your own risk. ;)
Stocking up on notions can be pricey. If you follow these tips and check these places listed below, you'll save money. If you decide sewing is your jam and want to buy all things 10 years down the road then, by all means, do it. But, for now, let's get the biggest bang for our buck!
1. Garage Sales & Thrift Stores
I know, I know, you're tired of hearing me repeat these two places. But, they really do have a lot to offer for the sewer on a shoestring budget.
Look for these used items:
Do NOT look for these used items:
2. Big Box Store
This is where you'll want to splurge on a new pair of scissors, a pack of pins, threads, and elastics. You don't have to break the bank for these items either. Walmart has a great sewing section in most stores. They sell everything your craft store sells at a fraction of the cost. It's best to have 2 pairs of scissors. One large for cutting fabric and one small for snipping threads. You can even find a pack of both. They sell limited thread colors but when you're starting out, just buy a spool of black and a spool of white. Grab a pack of new pins while you're at it.
A spool or two of thread, a pack of pins, a seam ripper, and scissors should total out to $30 +/-. If that's too much, hit the .99 cent store for scissors. Yep, they sell full-sized scissors and will work just as well as scissors from the craft store. Heck, they might even have a pack of fabric pins and a sewing measuring tape too.
You can purchase new notions online as well. Amazon is a great place but, the prices aren't as low as a big box store. I do prefer to order hardware online. It's less expensive than buying inside the store. If you're learning how to sew, you won't need hardware just yet. But, keep it in mind for down the road.
4. Sewing Swap
This is an unusual place to get notions but, it happens. Every sewing swap and fabric swap I've ever joined is filled with sweet, thoughtful women. They send fun notions with their packages. I do the same as well. One time I sent someone something and she sent me the same thing. Great minds think alike. :) As a reminder, you can find these through Instagram hashtags and Facebook sewing groups. You will need stuff to swap first, so maybe this is a "down the road idea" for beginners.
5. Friends & Family
Same as boxes and bags of fabric, grandma might have all her notions still. And, she may be willing to part with them. It never hurts to ask. Go back and read number 1 for items you don't want. No offense grandma.
6. Random Shops
In Southern California, we have a store called Daiso. It's a Japanese store and it's filled with kitchen items, snacks, crafty things, and much more. It's a fun place to visit and you never know what trinkets you'll take home. They have a cute little craft section and everything is budget-friendly. I've bought scissors, pin cushions, hand-sewing needle packs, and other fun things from there. Think Hello Kitty on an adult level, sorta. Maybe your area doesn't have this same store, but it gets you to think outside the box. A lot of place will sell random craft items in them, you just have to look.
You don't need to buy everything for top dollar at your local craft store.
1. Local Marketplace
I bought all 3 sewing machines in the photos above on Offer Up. Yep! Offer up, Let Go, and Facebook marketplace have folks who are selling sewing machines. Some are new even but, most will be used. I have quite a few sewing machines that I've bought going that route. All of my vintage machines have been purchased through people I found on Offer Up. A newer machine was purchased through there too. I have also bought several vintage machines that came with a sewing machine cabinet too for around $50. Crazy, right? Grab the apps and start looking.
2. Black Friday Sales
Ever since I can remember, I've seen sewing machines for around $99 on Black Friday Ads. If you are willing to get in line to grab one of these bad boys, do it! They are usually base models but, you can't beat that price.
3. Vacuum Shops
Vacuum and sewing repair shops usually have a dozen or more sewing machines for sale. They're used and perhaps never got picked up after service was done. You can probably pick up a better machine for the price you'd pay at a Black Friday sale. Never hurts to look. And, a lot of time, these places have lessons and classes.
Hot Tip: these places offer machine maintenance and repairs at more affordable prices than sewing shops do. You're welcome. ;)
4. Garage Sales & Thrift Stores
Don't hate me, LOL. Yes, these places are mentioned again because they have sewing machines. A lot of times they'll let you plug one in to see if it works as well. Just be cautious because it may have underlying issues and need service. Someone did donate it after all. But, it's no different than buying one from Offer Up.
5. Friends and Family
And, last but not least, ask a friend if you can borrow one. I learned to sew on a borrowed machine and found that I loved sewing. I ordered one online for around $150 after borrowing my mom's for 6 months. If you know someone who sews and has been sewing for years, chances are they have an extra machine lying around. Bonus, they can show you how to use it and perhaps teach you a few things. And, maybe they'll even have some extra fabric they're willing to part with. Win-win-win!!
I hope you can walk away from this super long post with a new outlook on Sewing and how you can do it on a budget. Sewing can be very pricey but, this list gives you a great head start on how to do it with limited funds. Ask around, check garage sales and thrift shops, and get a start on your new sewing journey.
Want to read more sewing stuff? Check out these 7 common sewing myths. Or, looking to sew some masks? Click here.
Share in the comments below a budget-friendly tip that you find useful.
Happy sewing shopping!
Hi there, I'm Annette and I love eating and sewing. I usually have a cup of coffee or tea with me, but not next to my machine because I'd probably spill it. I am the reason we can't have nice things.
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