Buying Fabric on a Budget

Fabric can be very expensive. Even the most basic cotton – it does not have to be a silk, wool, or velvet, etc. The fact is, it is often cheaper to buy a product ready-made than to buy the fabric and notions it will take to sew something together. Who came up with the idea that making a garment or a set of curtains was cheaper than purchasing them? Tell that to someone who lives on a shoe-string budget where every penny must count for something meaningful. In this case, hand-me-downs are usually the option of choice when it comes to the necessities, and even the smallest luxuries must be forsaken or forgotten for more pressing items, like clothes, etc. Yes, there is the option of buying wholesale, but you must have a vendor’s license and there is a minimum yardage purchase per fabric (a “put-up”) – if you are the average sewer, what will you do with 50 yards of black denim or 120 yards of turquoise cotton? Right! Despite these issues, there are some clever tips and resources to help those of you on a tight purse to find good quality, inexpensive fabric that you can use to brighten up your home and wardrobe.
1). Buy fabric off-season. This may require you to plan your fabric shopping based on sales at your local fabric store and designate some household space (like a closet or plastic bin) to store it until it is used. Buy holiday themed fabrics after the holidays, buy wool in the spring, and cotton in winter. Buy last year’s or last season’s fashion fabrics – no one will know but Tim Gunn that you are being fashion frugal, so go with it and “Make it work!” to your advantage.
Use store coupons, which usually offer 40-50% off of a single cut of fabric (and if that single cut of fabric happens to be a whole bolt or more of the same fabric, then you get the discount off the whole shebang!) – what a deal!
2). Take advantage of the fabric clearance bins. I do not know how many hundreds of clearance or bargain bins I have scoured over the years, but my goodness have I hit the jackpot at times!  A few years ago I found a black and cream coating tweed (100% wool of course) for $1.95 a yard at Hancock Fabrics – I bought all 12 yards, made ladies dress capes out of them (lined them in black matte satin, gave them black velvet collars, and welt pockets) and sold them in my shop for $75 a pop – they all sold in a couple months! Recently, my sister-in-law happened to be milling around a fabric shop in northern Ohio when she ran across a heavy brocade striped navy satin – for less than $3 a yard (retail, this would have run $12-15 a yard easy) – I believe she bought 18 yards for her wedding gown.
Yes, some of the bargain fabrics are cheesy and cheap, but not all, and if you know what you are looking at (Is it silk? Is it linen? Is it poly, etc.?), or what you may need for future projects, you will get lucky, and find the fabric steal of the century!
3). Fabric is everywhere! Get it where you can – there is no shame! Who says you have to buy fabric at a fabric store? Who says you have to buy fabric off a bolt? Who says that you have to purchase fabric at the craft section of any particular store? Silly Willies, that is who! Fabric is everywhere – get it where you can! For example, I bought two beautiful heavy brocade shower curtains on clearance at Lowe’s for $3 a piece, and they became elegant dining room curtains. On that same shopping trip, I snagged two retro themed shower curtains, also on clearance for $3 – I used one for its intended purpose, and the other I made matching bathroom curtains and runners for my shelves. Six-whole-stinking-dollars!
Table clothes, shower curtains, blankets, throws, sheets – these can all be transformed into an endless number of garments or home projects – better yet, they go on clearance all the time; AND, for the quantity and quality of fabric you are purchasing, the cost per yard is often significantly cheaper than what you would pay for a comparable fabric off the bolt at your local fabric store.
Remember, too, that thrift stores and hand-me-downs, if in good condition (no matter how old) can be cleaned up and transformed into something glorious and new! I have bought thrift store prom dresses for all sorts of elegant projects, wedding gowns for the lace and beading, and jeans for satchels and duffel bags. Even Scarlet O’Hara had the good sense to know fine velvet in her mother’s portières – and she wore them with grace, I might add!
*Shop smart – buy off-season, use coupons, take advantage of clearances, and remember that fabric is everywhere and not just the fabric store!