I’ve stocked much of my sewing studio from local thrift stores and rummage sales. Reusing materials you find secondhand is eco-friendly and usually much cheaper than buying new. Here are my best tips for a successful shopping trip to the resale shop:
1. Don’t buy thread. Thread becomes brittle over time. Old thread will fray and
snap so you can’t sew with it. Because I love wooden spools I buy old thread,
but just for display purposes.
2. Find the “holiday décor” section. People who organize rummage sales often stick the fabric and sewing supplies in the holiday décor section. Search for the Santa figurines and Christmas ornaments. I’ve found tons of awesome fabric shoved in bins under the holiday table.
3. Look under the table. Fabric is bulky and hard to display. It often gets shoved into garbage bags or cardboard boxes and is underneath the table at the sale. Be sure to pull the bags and bins out and have a thorough look inside.
4. Head over to the “linens” section. Large cuts of fabric are often mistaken as tablecloths and may be hanging with the linens. Old linens themselves are also awesome sources of fabric. Vintage cloth napkins, linen placements, and tablecloths make great fabrics for tote bags and all kinds of other craft projects.
5. Check for stains, weak spots, holes, and smells. Items often end up at a thrift shop for a reason. Be sure to look things over carefully. Just because something has a stain or a moth hole, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it, but assess how much of the piece is usable
before making your decision.
6. Finish what other people start. Half completed needlework canvases, quilt squares that have been sewn but not assembled, embroidery kits that were never begun…these are all wonderful treasures! Don’t feel limited by the work that has already been done. You can disassemble or cut up what’s there and use the materials in a new way.
7. Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap. Having too much stuff crammed into your studio space is demoralizing. Just because the fabric is cheap doesn’t mean you need to take it home with you. Evaluate your finds and try to think clearly about them. Do you need 3 yards of zebra print canvas at a $1 a yard? Maybe not.
8. Don’t forget the books. I learned to sew stuffed animals from vintage soft toy books. Be sure to peruse the book section of any thrift store before you check out. Craft books are often shoved in with the gardening titles and cookbooks. Vintage craft books are like gems, full of crazy color combinations, antiquated language, and terrific inspiration.
9. Keep an open mind. Thrifting is a treasure hunt. If you have time, look at
everything that’s for sale. Those leather gloves could be cut up and used as teddy bear paws. That skein of yarn would make awesome doll hair. And the funky fleece scarf could become an excellent elephant. Think broadly and embrace the thrill of the hunt.
Do you shop secondhand for craft supplies? If you’ve got a story of a great find, we’d love to hear about it! And please share your tips for successful thrift store shopping.
When you are in a thrift store or yard sale ASK! Often thrift stores/yard salers don’t know what to do with sewing supplies. They look like a big mess of junk and will sometimes have a stash in the back. I once got three shoeboxes full of new coats and clark thread, zippers, ric rack, pins, etc.. for $5 all because they weren’t sure what to do with it and hadn’t THROWN IT AWAY yet!
Thats a great suggestion, and a great story, Colleen!
Rachel L. says
I love to look for the little baggies that the thrift store employees bundle together full of buttons, snaps, trims, ribbon, wooden spools, and zippers often marked at a few bucks each! Usually most of it is junk, but there is almost always enough good stuff to make it worth the price. Plus, it’s really fun to sort through it all when you get home! Like a mini treasure hunt. I usually find these near the housewares/linens or wooden decor.
My best thrift store fabric find? An entire bolt of muslin for $3!
I like going through boxes of old patterns for different designs and also sometimes in the cooking section there are recipe boxes full of recipes. Fun to look through both for the recipes and the hand writing not to mention the vintage boxes themselves.
Sometimes I like to look for old sewing patterns, especially if it’s a craft project I may or may not want to do. I am quite amazed that they are uncut and still in good condition after all these years.
There are also independent stores and art studios that were selling their materials for cheap in order to make room for their new products. A few days ago, my mom bought a big bag of fabric or $1 from an independent clothing store. Keep an eye out for them as well.
I started making aprons out of men’s dress/sport shirts for friends and family. I found many “theme” shirts that were out of style, but in GREAT shape for a dollar or two at thrift stores or garage sales. I also bought a gallon sized zip loc bag full of brand new zippers. I’ve used some in mending, and made bracelets out of some of the shorter ones with metal teeth.
Now my Granddaughter has caught the thrift store “bug”. She rummaged through a bag of old T-shirts her uncle was donating, and made cute Swimsuit cover-ups by cutting off the sleeves and adding elastic to the back
Until my local thrift store got savy (or a volunteer got savy) I got LOTS of goodies, buttons, zippers, etc by the zipper lock bag full. Now they are doing the broken and mismatched jewelry the same way.. calling them bling bags. Nice nice items for mixed media. Also look at the clothing that is in the plus size because you will find YARDS of fabric in a skirt or jumper that would be great for a bag or tote. ALSO I have many 25 cent dresses that have at least $5 worth of nice buttons !
Great tips, Debe!
All of these tips are great! Thanks so much for doing this post. I have been a long time thrift store fabric shopper. Often you can find velvets and silks for a very low price, especially among holiday type clothes in the summer 🙂 Do not discount those outdated wedding dresses either! Yards and yards of heavy satin and expensive lace for 5 bucks can’t be beat!
I also look at the clothing to get buttons and zippers, especially off the clearance racks. Thanks for the other reminders!
Now I want to go thrifting…
Debbie Reaves says
Now I want to go thriftng. We’ve got several places around here. I may have to do that tomorrow.
Thanks for your tips.
Have a great weekend.
LOVE the repurposing tips here. My main source is garage sales where I have found some “steals” in fabrics for a dollar or two. I have found a good use for used drapes . . the light weight polyester/crepe type. I cut them up into draw-string laundry bags, giving them to kids & grandkids. They will immediately have a place for laundry while traveling. Just put one in the bottom of your luggage for that next trip, also saves mixing laundry with clean clothes on your return trip. When you get home, just toss bag in the laundry room.
Thats very clever! Its so fun to read all of the comments on this post to see the creative ways people are reusing their thrift store finds. Its awesome!
Debby Warren says
I was on vacation and we were consignment store shopping. I found a white empire dress which I loved for 2.00. When I got home from vacation I put the dress in my closet. I finally realized it was so big at the top I could never altar it to look good. I got to looking at it and I thought it could be made into a dress for my grandaughter. The pattern I all ready had. I cut about 8 inches off the bottom and that was the bottom ruffle of the dress. The purchased dress was lined also. So I cut both pieces for the bottom ruffle. I left the original hem in both pieces. I cut the bottom piece and the bodice out of the rest of the dress and lined it all with the lining in the purchased dress. It turned out so cute!!! My grandaughter put it on and twirled and twirled in it. So the dress cost me 2.00.
Thats such a great story, Debby! The satisfaction of making something beautiful from something that had been discarded is an incredible feeling. Thank you so much for sharing this here!
Grace Burke says
I have purchased a white queen size flannel sheet at the thrift store
and used dye to make then the color I needed to make baby burp cloths
receiving blankets and bibs making lovely baby shower gifts on a budget .
The sheet cost me 3.00 and the dye 1.50 with plenty left over for other projects
What a great idea! I use thrift store sheets as muslins for new projects all the time. I’m a huge thrift store sheet fan!
Claire Gyurkikiss says
Although for-profit vintage stores tend to have more older (pre-60’s) patterns, I mainly shop for patterns at thrift stores run by charities. They either don’t know or don’t care about the worth of the patterns. I’ve gotten a 40’s shirt pattern for a quarter, and an extremely obscure and unusual mail-order 30’s quilted bag pattern for $2.
Great finds, Claire!
A Lindsay says
Check out Thrift store coats. They are usually lightly used, of good material ( wool?), have big buttons, and made of large pieces of fabric. All good reasons to buy. I just got a wonderful fur lining from a raincoat that had seem much better days and a plaid liner that had been orphaned, When contemplating a bigger toy, coats or if you’re lucky a cape are the things to look for. Don’t forget to look in your own closet or mending pile.
Great ideas! I love to reuse cool buttons.
I always look for silk ties – I dismantle them – the lining is usually wool. I sew for vintage fashion dolls, and the ties make great hat and purse sets – I often use a strip to make a long scarf or sash to coordinate the whole look. I can usually get more than one set out of each tie – and the linings work great for lining the purses, and wrapping the pipe clean that makes the hat flexible.
Ties often have s,all scale prints or stripes so they work great for my doll purposes. And usually are not more than $1 or $2 !