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How to Save Money By Sewing Your Own Clothes

Updated on August 21, 2014

Frugal Sewing Ideas

Yes, you can still save money by sewing clothes at home! Even though the prices of fabric, notions, and patterns have made home sewing feel more like an expensive hobby than a frugal activity, you can still find many ways to save.

Some people can buy everything they want on sale at a department store, but I'm very hard to fit and picky about color and style. The only way to get clothes that suit me is to sew them myself, which is a daunting prospect when decent fabric starts at ten dollars a yard or more.

Whether you're sewing to save money, or because you want to be socially and environmentally responsible, you'll like these thrifty ideas.

[Images by Valerie Proctor Davis]

Finding Inexpensive Materials

Here's the fabric I bought for my next sewing project. It's 14 yards of 90-inch-wide dress-weight cotton, prewashed and wrinkle free. Total cost? Only 12 dollars! I might pay that much for one yard of narrower cloth at a fabric store.

These are sheets that I bought at local thrift stores. I scouted several stores to find what I wanted, and examined them carefully for stains, holes, or pilling. There were many more good sheets than I needed: light florals that would have made pretty summer dresses, high quality white cottons that would have been perfect for soft tailored shirts, and so on.

What to look for at thrift stores:

Drapes: Use them to re-upholster chairs, cover decorative cushions, or remake into other styles. Soft cotton curtains can be used for clothes.

Notions: Check the craft and sewing bin for trims, thread, buttons, zippers, patterns, and fabric.

Clothes: Refashion into new styles or cut down for children.

Sheets: Great for dresses, blouses, shirts, children's clothes, table skirts, cushion covers, or curtains.

Free Online Patterns

Sew Free! Where To Find The Best Free Patterns And Tutorials Online
Sew Free! Where To Find The Best Free Patterns And Tutorials Online

Patterns can cost quite a bit, especially if you like to try a lot of different styles. Save money with these online freebies.

 

Used Fabrics: Yea or Nay?

Would you sew with used sheets or recycled clothes?

Sure! It's the greatest idea since thrift stores!

Sure! It's the greatest idea since thrift stores!

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    • Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I used to have fun with these especially with cloth that have unique patterns and beautiful colours. I have a stock of cut up pieces from old things.

    • Susan300 3 years ago

      Sheets become clothes; clothes become quilts; It's the Circle of Life! :D

    • Susan300 3 years ago

      Absolutely! Thrift store are full of fabrics from worn-once-changed-my-mind prior owners. Not to mention all the well-meaning gifts that were quite what the recipient wanted/needed. New and practically new stuff at *huge* bargains! I love bargains!!!! :)

    • cgbroome 3 years ago

      I believe Maria VonTrapp did this in the Sound of Music so why not! I probably wouldn't make my best outfit out of used sheets and fabrics but there are plenty of other uses such as a shirt or an apron or kids clothes!

    • anonymous 3 years ago

      Great idea!

    • Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I enjoy upcycling. Currently I have a project on the board to upcycle my old bdu's into a purse. Also, I trawl the thrift shops for large bits of fabric to use in quilts and such.

    • BreMmkSmith 3 years ago

      Yes! It gives the piece more character! I think it great! Saving money and using things that aren't being used otherwise and repurposing them helps the environment as well!

    • RuthieDenise 3 years ago

      That is a fantastic idea. Using thrift store finds is economical and also helps the planet by reusing things.

    • Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Definitely! Just give them a nice washing prior and they are good as new! I love the idea of using recycled clothes and thrift store finds- in my experience most things you find have a TON of life left in them anyway!

    • Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      If I still owned a sewing machine, I would consider it.

    • Heather Burns 3 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I used to work in a high end boutique where we bought jeans at goodwill, bleached them and cut them up for jackets and skirts, by using strips. So yes, have and still do.

    • Amanda 3 years ago from Florida

      My mother took my old child-sized sleeping bag that I had outgrown, removed the zippers, and added a new fabric so that now I have an attractive heavy duty blanket for cold nights or a comfy picnic blanket for a hot summer day!

    • LoriMcLachlan LM 3 years ago

      Absolutely! Have done so and will again!!

    • Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 3 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      Sometimes a fabric is just so great that I have to reuse it!

    • Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I see no reason why not as kids post war we all used each others hand me downs. Some of my favourite clothes came that way.

    • anonymous 3 years ago

      I have made clothes and curtains out of both old and new sheets. Haven't recycled clothes, yet, but it is coming soon.

    • Vickie Moses 3 years ago

      Yes, I would.

    • SteveKaye 3 years ago

      Sure. I've also bought used clothes from thrift stores.

    • anonymous 3 years ago

      yes

    • marsha32 3 years ago

      I don't sew clothing, but I do shop thrift shops and yard sales for the fabrics and other things that I need for my quilt making and other sewing. I use sheets on the backs of almost all of my quilts.

    • Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      I sure would.

    • Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Sure! Great idea.

    • Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Of course I would! I've seen some gorgeous up-cycled sewing projects, clothes made from recycled clothes.

    • Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      If you need to wash before making the garment and actually some fabrics need washing for shrinkage before cutting out the pattern.

    Yuck! Only virgin fabric will ever touch my body.

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      • Donna Cook 3 years ago

        Sorry no. They might wear out too soon after the effort spent to sew with them.

      Choosing a Pattern

      Since new patterns cost so much, I chose one that made several garments both my mother and I could use. Both of us need new house dresses, but Mom wants them much longer than usual, and I'm not satisfied with the available colors and fabric quality. We can also use the summer blouse and pull-on shorts patterns.

      Buying a pattern that I'll use several times reduces the cost per garment. This pattern cost me ten dollars; if I use it for six garments, I'll save fifty dollars.

      Simple Dress Pattern

      McCall's Patterns M5640 Women's Tops, Dresses, Shorts and Capri Pants, Size RR (18W-20W-22W-24W)
      McCall's Patterns M5640 Women's Tops, Dresses, Shorts and Capri Pants, Size RR (18W-20W-22W-24W)

      A simple pattern that's good for learning to sew or getting back into making your own clothes.

       

      Two Patterns for the Price of One

      Commercial patterns usually have several sizes; you have to cut out the one you need. Since my mother and I wear different sizes, we need two patterns. So first I traced the smaller size pattern pieces onto tissue paper (remembering to mark the notches, folds, dots, and grainlines) and then I cut out the larger size.

      This cuts the price of my ten dollar pattern to five dollars for each of us.

      I'll also be doing alterations on the patterns (Mom's dress will be 19 inches longer than the purchased pattern, for instance) and adding some details like patch pockets. The resulting clothes will be exactly what we want.

      Refashioning

      Confessions of a Refashionista: Life on the Zig Zag
      Confessions of a Refashionista: Life on the Zig Zag

      How to refashion your own clothes (or thrift store clothes) into exciting new garments.

       

      A Touch of Style

      I lucked onto a couple of queen-sized sheets, one in Southwest style and one in a complementing solid rose color - a motif and color that my mother really likes. So the first two dresses will be for her.

      I plan to use each piece for details on the other, switching out the yokes, patch pockets, and hem bands.

      Check back to see the finished dresses in a few days!

      Fashion Sewing Guides

      Sew Responsibly

      Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
      Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

      Sewing with used fabric is not only frugal, but helps reduce waste and environmental damage.

       

      © 2014 Valerie Proctor Davis

      What Are You Sewing?

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        • aesta1 profile image

          Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

          Like your tip of choosing a pattern that can be used for several outfits.

        • octopen profile image

          octopen 3 years ago

          I would like to sew myself a dress this year for summer, I'll see how that goes then try other things!

        • profile image

          regilita 3 years ago

          i sew mostly silky fabric like satin, chiffon, lace,organza for making gowns and sometimes cotton fabric for any kind of dress...

        • Sylvestermouse profile image

          Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

          Sewing is definitely a real passion for me, but it can get rather expensive. While I have never purchased fabric from a thrift store, I frequently buy material on clearance at the change of seasons.

        • Wednesday-Elf profile image

          Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

          I used to sew when my children were small, but gave it up now that they are grown and concentrate on crochet crafting instead. But you have some terrific tips for saving on materials and patterns here. Besides thrift store shopping for fabrics and notions, some great sewing patterns can be found at thrift stores and on eBay - quite often unused ones (uncut and factory folded), for less than one-half the original price.

        • Snakesmum profile image

          Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

          Like you, I always buy patterns that can be re-used, or those with several patterns in them. Enjoyed your lens!

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          anonymous 3 years ago

          I don't sew but these look like great ideas. Congratulations on getting LotD!

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          ColettaTeske 3 years ago

          I love your ideas for saving money on clothes. I collect scraps from my mom's quilting projects and recycle old t-shirts. Your tips for reusing patterns is the best! Thank you!

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          Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

          This is an excellent lens. Sewing is something I enjoy doing to wind down. Many times I find the "shelf life" of my hand made clothes is a lot longer than that of store-bought items.

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          Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

          Congratulations on a well deserved LOTD

        • LSJ-88 profile image

          LSJ-88 3 years ago

          Congrats on LOTD! I haven't touched my sewing machine in a while, but when I do, I'm usually sewing stuff for my kids.

        • RuthieDenise profile image

          RuthieDenise 3 years ago

          I haven't sewn for years but I am thinking about getting a sewing machine and trying again.

        • delia-delia profile image

          Delia 3 years ago

          Congratulations on LOTD! I use to sew ...now I only stitch by hand the worn pockets of hubbies jeans...I might get a new lighter weight sewing-machine...I have lots of fabrics. Recycling fabrics has always been a good practice, especially if it was an expensive fabric.

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          TerriCarr 3 years ago

          I tried sewing a few times and finally decided that I am not well suited to such detailed physical work.

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          Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

          I still have to learn how to use a sewing machine, we never had one growing up and what little I know about sewing is by hand. With that being said, it is something I've always wanted to learn and plan on getting a sewing machine someday! Great ideas on sewing your own clothes. I especially like the idea of up cycling thrift store clothes!

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          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          P.S. Congratulations on your Lens of the Day! Well deserved.

        • ecogranny profile image

          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          I haven't sewn in years, having donated my then-long-unused sewing machine to a fundraising yard sale, but I'd love to take it up again. And what I would especially love is to find an old treadle sewing machine to do the basic work.

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          Donna Cook 3 years ago

          I would like to start again. There's a fabulous store here in Denver called Denver Fabrics (what else?) that has great bargains. My poor old Singer sewing machine is 45 years old. A new basic model would cost as much as getting the existing one back in shape. Wish I had Grandma's pedal sewing machine!

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          Heather Burns 3 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

          Curtains and draperies for my daughter's house at the moment. Lovely lens.

        • Faye Rutledge profile image

          Faye Rutledge 3 years ago from Concord VA

          I used to sew sometimes, but don't any more. My mom sewed most of my clothes (in the 50's to 70's) and also made some of my daughters clothes and doll clothes. She made my daughter's wedding dress! She loved to sew, but I have no talent in that area. Congratulations on LotD!

        • LoriMcLachlan LM profile image

          LoriMcLachlan LM 3 years ago

          My Daughter just bought her first home and I will be making all the curtains and seat cushions for her sunroom. I love to sew and it's extra nice that I can help her too!!

        • kimberlyschimmel profile image

          Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 3 years ago from Greensboro, NC

          I've got some men';s shirts under construction--needed a challenge, and tailored shirts are just the thing for practicing precision!

        • Diana Wenzel profile image

          Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

          Stopping back by to congratulate you on Lens of the Day! Wonderful to see this topic and you celebrated.

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          Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

          My Mother and Sisters all sewed as did my first wifwe and if you shop carefully it is perfectly possible to make designer original style dresses for very little. they all did this is a great lens full of useful ideas for anyone that would like to try this great hobby today. Well done on the LOTD.

        • VioletteRose LM profile image

          VioletteRose LM 3 years ago

          Excellent lens, I would love to sew my family's clothes. That can save some money and also get us what we really want!

        • Vickie Moses profile image

          Vickie Moses 3 years ago

          I am going to start making my on dresses and save some money. Thanks for the ideas on how to get inexpensive fabric and patterns.

        • mimibandy profile image

          mimibandy 3 years ago

          Great ideas! I wish I knew how to use a sewing machine

        • profile image

          SteveKaye 3 years ago

          Long, long ago in another galaxy far, far away, I took a home economics class where I learned how to use a sewing machine.

        • Diana Wenzel profile image

          Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

          I bought a sewing machine not so long ago with the hopes of getting back into sewing. When I was growing up, my mother made all of my clothes. I was hard to fit, so it was nice to have custom sized clothing. I love your creativity in successfully finding ways to be thrifty. You really found some great colors, patterns, and styles. Nicely done!

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          Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

          I'm one of the Used-to's also. Then I lost my touch for fitting things. Love the idea though, and would love to see it make a come back!

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          Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

          I used to sew most of my clothes but haven't made anything in a long time. You're getting those creative juices flowing again!

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          Kate Loving Shenk 3 years ago from Lancaster PA

          Yes this is perfect for my "Simple Living" Niche! Thanks for reaching out!

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          Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

          Nothing at the moment, but I stand behind your article, it is much cheaper to make your own. Have been a machinist and sewn for all my family, and even had my own business in sewing, worked in the rage trade for 30 years. Anyone can sew and you have given good advice here, thanks for sharing.

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          Valerie Proctor Davis 3 years ago from Birmingham, Alabama

          @Radgrl: It's never too late to start!

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          Radgrl 3 years ago

          I can't sew. I wish I could. I never had the patience for it.