Last Updated on February 13, 2021
Secondhand fabric is one of my favorite things to hunt for in the thrift store. It not only saves money on sewing projects, but also provides me with unique materials to use. Plus, buying secondhand fabric is a way to keep materials in circulation rather than in a landfill.
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I am an amateur sewer and a serious cheapskate. Knowing that my sewing skills are not great makes me so hesitant to buy expensive fabrics. I know that I will make mistakes and I hate the idea of spending money on something that I just might ruin as I struggle through learning new skills.
So for quite a while my sewing projects were limited until my mom would send me some fabric from her neverending quilting stash. Then I would sew, sew, sew and wait until she cleaned out her sewing room again.
Then, on one of my weekly thrift store trips I had an “aha” moment. More like a “Duh Emilee why didn’t you think of this before?” moment.
Nearly everything else in my life I purchased secondhand so why wasn’t I buying secondhand fabric?
I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out, but I’ve been running with that idea ever since. And now my discovery of secondhand fabric has my fabric stash growing and growing, along with my project list.
The sweet little banner on this wooden USA map was made with fabric scraps and a $1 thrift store table cloth.
Buying Secondhand Fabric
You can totally buy secondhand fabric at the thrift store, you just have to be a little creative with where you look. I’m sharing with you all of the ways I’ve filled up my fabric stash with secondhand fabric, plus a few extra tips along the way.
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Need some more thrift store tips? Check out 5 Quick Tips for Thrift Shopping Success.
Inspect Secondhand Fabric
Oftentimes the fabric items you find at a thrift store will be folded up. Always, always unfold secondhand fabric to check for stains or holes in the fabric. If the fabric is damaged in some way you may decide that it isn’t worth the purchase or you might be able to barter for a lower price.
In addition to visual damage to the fabric, check for smells. Yep, smells. Light smells can generally be washed out, but if the fabric smells strongly of smoke or pets I usually pass.
Lastly, be on the lookout for pet hair. I recently purchased some flannel from my thrift store that had clearly been a napping spot for a cat. It was clean other than a bit of cat hair so it wasn’t a big deal to me. I had no problem washing the fabric at home and it was good as new. But, if you have pet allergies just be extra aware of the presence of pet hair.
Clean Secondhand Fabric
Always wash secondhand fabric before using it. I recommend washing for the first time with a Color Catcher to prevent any potential color bleed. I have no idea how these things work, but they totally do!
If you haven’t used a color catcher before, it’s a little sheet (like a dryer sheet) that goes into the washing machine with your items. While things are being washed the color catcher soaks up any colors that bleed and prevents the color from staining other items in the wash. It’s pretty amazing!
Where to Find Secondhand Fabric
Fabric Scrap Bin
My favorite thrift store actually has a small bin where they keep fabric that has been donated. Sometimes there are ziplock bags full of pre-cut squares. Sometimes I find large pieces of fabric. And, sometimes there are bags full of coordinating fabrics that are clearly leftover from someone else’s project. I’ve even found some vintage fabric in that bin.
This is clearly the obvious place to look for secondhand fabric. If your thrift store has an actual fabric bin, don’t overlook it! I find lots of great deals in there. But if your thrift store doesn’t have a specific area for fabric, don’t worry, pal. There are lots of other ways to score secondhand fabric at the thrift store.
Need a large piece of thick, good quality fabric? Look at the curtains! I have bought so many thrift store curtains just for the fabric. The thicker fabric is great for pillow covers and bags.
Pillows made from $2 thrift store curtains.
My thrift store has a bin full of fabric napkins. They are often new in packages or in perfect condition – people just don’t often use fabric napkins anymore. The smaller napkins can be used as pre-cut squares in sewing projects. I’ve even used some larger napkins as the front piece for a pillow cover.
Table cloths are another great source for large pieces of high quality fabric. I’ve used table cloths for many projects.
This fall rag wreath was made using a thrift store table cloth.
Flat sheets are perfect for backing a summer quilt. When buying secondhand sheets it’s a good idea to check the tag for the thread count. The higher the thread count the softer the sheet and the more likely that it will continue to soften the more it is washed.
If you’re making a project that requires terry cloth, the towels are the obvious place to look. But, I have also found handpainted hand towels and embroidered fabric mixed in with the towels.
If you’re looking to use clothing as secondhand fabric you’ll need to be extra careful to check the clothing for stains, pilling and holes. Look at the larger sizes to get larger pieces of fabric to work with.
Other Secondhand Sewing Supplies
You can find more than just fabric at the thrift store. Here are some other sewing items that I regularly purchase secondhand:
- Pillows to use as pillow forms
- Embroidery hoops
- Ribbon & trim – look for trim on pre-made items that can be reused
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Buying Secondhand Fabric
Sewing can be an expensive hobby and the most expensive part is often the fabric. But it doesn’t have to be! Buying secondhand fabric can curb your sewing expenses and also help the environment. Knowing where to look for secondhand fabric will make you a money-saving sewing pro with an ever growing fabric stash.
I hope these fabric thrifting tips help you to find some amazing secondhand fabric deals!