Sewing on a Budget

I was tidying up my sewing space this morning and started thinking of all the tricks I do to keep costs down for sewing. Here’s a few:

1- The most obvious- look for sales.

Sign up with your sewing store’s mailing list and get coupons to keep down costs on larger purchases. I get Joann mailers quite frequently and my favorite is when they have the 40-50% off clearance fabrics sales. It’s a great time to pick up solids and staples that others might have passed by because they’re “boring”.

2- Do your homework- see what colors and styles work for you and are appropriate to your project.

Study up on vintage styles, fabrics, and prints to see what will really work and what won’t. When I started vintage sewing I purchased fabrics on sale that looked sort of vintage, but years later I hated them because they were synthetics or the prints looked too modern. Don’t waste your time or money on fabric purchases you might regret later, no matter how good the deal at the time.

3- Don’t buy notions at regular price (if you can help it).

Places not to skimp are needles, thread, and machine oil- using good quality thread and changing your needle frequently make your machine happy, and a happy (and well oiled) machine produces better quality garments. I do, however, buy most notions and fasteners on sale or secondhand.

4- Get supplies at garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores.

A great thing for seamstresses is that this is becoming a dying art. Home sewer’s children, who are now adults, didn’t always pick up the hobby so when they’re cleaning out homes or moving them to retirement will empty the sewing room. I often see patterns, fabric, trim, and fasteners at thrift stores. When you’re looking in the paper or online for garage or estate sales look for the key words “craft” or “sewing machine”. More often than not these come with little tools you can use. I’ve got a well stocked sewing room of supplies thanks to these sources.

5- Get enough of your fabric to complete your project.

I always pick the wrong times to be cheap. I’ll be making a fabulous gown and realize I’m a yard or two short, so I spend the time driving all over town looking for extra fabric. If you know you’re doing a big project get a yard or two to be on the safe side. If you have left over fabric use it for accessories or sell it online. People even buy scraps (I know, I’ve sold them) for making doll clothes and crafts. Not at high prices, but even a few bucks is better than throwing nice larger pieces away.

6- Investing in good tools will save time and money later.

I know this technically isn’t “on a budget” but there are some things that are totally worth the expense because they’ll make your product better. Don’t get caught up on hype, though, and buy something just because it’s the cool new popular thing. How often are you really going to use that battery powered bobbin winder or embroidery machine? But nice rulers, skirt markers, loop turners, and sharp seam rippers, and a good quality basic machine are totally worth it.

7- Don’t buy on impulse.

If at all possible, hold up fabrics to yourself for color and drape. There’s no use in buying that fabulous steal if the color will look rotten on you. And there’s no use in buying that floral print if you’ve got nine lengths of a similar one at home already.

8- Know when it’s best to buy ready-made.

If you’ve got an event in two days and you’re a slow sewer don’t kill yourself making a dress you’ll hate because your seams were crooked. Sometimes buying new or vintage is actually a time and money saver.

9- Shop ahead of season.

If you’re shopping for vintage patterns or materials buy your supplies for a suit, coat, or fall or winter wardrobe in summer. Likewise, buy your swim/summer wear in winter. Fabrics are on sale and patterns aren’t as popular. Know when the big events are. Don’t look for the to-die-for sarong or circle skirt pattern when people are getting geared up for Viva Las Vegas. Don’t buy your 20s or 30s wear a month before an Art Deco Festival. May sound obsessive, but prices actually do get higher leading up to big events.

I guess that’s all I can think of. Do you have any tips and tricks to share?

11 Comments on Sewing on a Budget

  1. Marie-Noëlle
    July 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm (15 years ago)

    >Thanks for these very useful tips

  2. AvaTrimble
    July 10, 2009 at 10:21 pm (15 years ago)

    >I'm taking notes! This is excellent advice. Of course, at the moment I don't really have -any- money to spend, but I can contemplate! I'm new-ish to vintage (after 10 years of Civil War!) and hadn't really thought about notions at whatnot from thrift stores and garage sales. Going to have to investigate…well, after I move to Massachusetts in eight weeks. I don't really need to be shipping anything else!Random note: my confirmation word is xylizzl. That's an awesome word.

  3. Angie
    July 11, 2009 at 4:17 am (15 years ago)

    >I have one to add! Consider buying in bulk, especially for things like notions, boning, etc. You can save a pretty penny AND guarantee that you'll have what you need on hand.

  4. Meg
    July 11, 2009 at 6:57 pm (15 years ago)

    >These are great! I have a few to add:1. Measure twice, cut once. Seriously. Once you cut into your fabric, there's no going back…especially if you've bought *just* enough for your project.2. Make a muslin, if there is any question about how the thing goes together or the way it will fit. I used to think making a mock up was a huge waste of time and fabric, but if you really want to be happy with the way your finished product turns out, it's false economy to skimp here.3. Don't stash fabric. Since it's probably too late for most of us, don't keep adding senselessly to your stash "just because" — I used to do this and now I have several footlockers crammed with beautiful fabrics and no clothes because I either get tired of looking at the yardage or I forget what I have. Rather, I suggest "shopping your stash" rather than heading to the store when you get the urge to sew. You'll probably be surprised at what you have already and can actually make a dent in what is otherwise very expensive clutter.4. Keep a swatch book. Those soft-covered pocket moleskines are great — you can put them in your purse or even your jeans pocket or let it live in your glove box. Take a swatch of every fabric you have in your stash, write down the yardage (I also try to write where I got it, how much I paid, and the date), and any ideas you might have for what to make with it (pattern #s, notions needed, etc). You can easily see at a glance how much a project is costing you (I write down how much I paid for notions/trim, too), what you still need to buy, and lets you easily match colors for coordinating fabrics, zippers, buttons, trim, etc. I think this saves time *and* money in the long run, and it's so easy.

  5. Amy Jeanne
    July 12, 2009 at 2:15 pm (15 years ago)

    >The previous poster's #3 is so very true! I ALWAYS buy too much fabric — usually a yard. SOmetimes two. Last time I raided my stash I managed to make a new blouse with some leftover black linen and made myself some way awesome pillowcases with some scraps. It really got rid of a lot of stuff!

  6. casey
    July 15, 2009 at 11:11 am (15 years ago)

    >Fantastic tips! :) I think between you and Meg's comment, everything that I know (learned the hard way! lol!) has been summed up already. ;) – Casey

  7. brownkate
    July 16, 2009 at 7:20 pm (15 years ago)

    >Great tips. But I rally NEED a battery operated bobbin winder! I mean, the bobbin winder on my 1920 Singer Treadle doesn't work well, so the Kenmore electric sits nearby ready to wind my bobbins. I really have no other use for it. So, yeah, bobbin winder…

  8. J.
    July 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm (15 years ago)

    >Great tips, thanks so much!!

  9. americanduchess
    July 25, 2009 at 6:21 pm (15 years ago)

    >Great article! I just wrote a post on costuming on a budget as well, but it wasn't as in-depth as this. It looks like you're already taking the "Depressionista Challenge."Your work is fabulous. I will certainly have to order some of your patterns!

  10. Betty Boogie
    July 31, 2009 at 6:52 pm (15 years ago)

    >I think the only thing I would add is ~ The 2 most important things I have found are: 1. a sturdy sewing machine. I would rather hand sew button holes and have a good vintage straight stitch (only) machine than have a poor quality modern machine that is "supposed" to do lots of fancy stitches but fights me all the time. Vintage machines are often cheaper than a new machine (many have zigzag too)and you'll likely get wayyy more miles out of them. Look for one on craigslist, thrift stores, yard and estate sales, or even ebay. Don't forget to put out the word if you are looking for one, you never know who has one stashed in their basement. If the price is right don't be afraid of a bit of clean up.2. Invest in a really good steam iron. All the people I know who's sewing turns out nice iron as they go, those who try to skip this step are not ususally successful, especially on fitted garments. I was super lucky to find a top quality Iron with a steam tank at at thrift shop, and I don't know what I ever did without it. I had an iron before but it just wasn't great, my new one is though.These might not really sound like money saving tips, but having things turn out well saves a lot of money. :-)

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