How to Find Free Fabric for Sewing

People often think sewing their own clothes will save them money. But once you add up the fabric, the patterns, the notions, the thread and all the other miscellaneous items you need just to make something simple–well, you can wind up spending a lot. Not to mention the fact that beginners often make mistakes during the learning process and can spend lots of money on projects that just don’t work out. In fact, that’s a major concern for non-sewers. “What if I spend a lot of money on a sewing machine and fabric just to find out I’m no good at sewing?” Whether you’re that beginner or an expert who just wants to save as much as possible, the answer is to find free sources of fabric. They’re everywhere, if you know where to look. And we have lots of easy projects to get you sewing.
The trick is to realize any garment is potential material for your project. Old, worn-out, stained, ill-fitting–none of that matters. All that matters is if your pattern pieces will fit onto the garment when it’s cut up. Say you have several old pairs of jeans that don’t fit anymore. I had a closet full, and decided to make something out of them. Because pants are fairly narrow, I went with a princess line jacket. Slim pattern pieces that fit easily onto the denim once I cut the leg seams open. Easy peasy–and free.

How do you prepare the garment to become something new?

When you recycle an old garment, all you have to do is cut it open at the seams until it lies flat. Then arrange your pattern pieces so they fit. Sometimes you have to mix and match grains and patterns and colors, so this method isn’t ideal for every sewing project. But it works fine for most. Do be aware of things like stretch, bias, and grainlines when laying out your pattern. Also, be sure to mark any major stains or flaws you don’t want in the final piece, so you can avoid them when laying out the pattern.
So, where do you look for free fabric?
Start in your own closet. What’s in your closet that you haven’t worn in a long time? Could you turn it into something new and fun that you would actually wear? While you’re at it, check your kid’s closet and the linen closet, too. Sheets, blankets, old drapes–all of it can be useful. As can old sweatshirts that can be made into fabulous cushions or cosy hotwater bottle covers.
Next, ask your friends if they’d mind cleaning out their closets for a good cause. Everyone likes to declutter, but then we feel guilclothes railty for throwing away perfectly good clothing. Sure, we could donate the clothes to a charity shop. But often those bags just end up in the back of the car, taking up space for long periods of time. So, suggest they clean out their unwanted clothing and give it to you! You might even bribe them with a new handbag or skirt out of the haul
Now, let’s turn up the volume a bit. Hop on Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social network and let everyone know you’re looking for used clothing for a project. And be sure to let them know that the size, wear, or condition doesn’t really matter. You can end up with some really great stuff this way–bridesmaids dresses, fur coats, leather gloves–all sorts of stuff.
Don’t forget your other social circles like your church, school or hobby clubs. Chances are good there are lots of people around you who would love to unload this stuff. You could even offer to help them with the clean out in return for the unwanted clothing. Why not hold a swishing event – it’s a great way to get some new fabric.
Finally, if you only need small pieces of fabric, for quilting or making baby clothes, you may be able to score some lovely material from other people who sew. Ask for scrap donations from your friends or relatives who sew. Often they just end up throwing away perfectly good scraps big enough to use. Scraps can make fabulous patchwork quilts.
Got any more great ideas for scoring free fabric? Let us know in the comments!
Julie Anne Eason is an independent web publisher and writer. On her website,, you can find all sorts of articles including help with buying sewing machines, dress form and sewing tables.
Never sewn before? Check out Easy sewing projects for beginners

There are 8 Comments

  • fairynuff27

    Great blog! My tips include:

    Our sewing club are shortly to hold a stash swap – a great way of getting rid of anything you don’t want and getting your paws on something you might actually use in the future.

    Consider befriending fellow sewists with similar taste in clothes – it’s cheaper to buy pattern paper and trace a friend’s pattern than to buy patterns new, and cheaper still to trace the pattern straight onto newspaper taped together!

    When reusing the fabric from old clothing don’t forget to save the fastenings. We all remember to snip off buttons, but it’s also a great idea to unpick the zips, remove the boning and even to save hook and eye fastenings for reuse.

    It’s not just clothing that makes for great fabric – don’t rule out curtains or bed linen! Lots of old sheets and duvet covers come in pretty florals or unusual prints with plenty of fabric for summer dresses. And curtains come in wonderful regal patterns ideal for evening dresses or fancy dress costumes – even the linings can be reused to create bodice linings and broadcloth underskirts.

    Finally, look at every offering with an unbiased eye. For example, that hideous 80s net veil you’ve been donated may never seen wedding vows again, but will make for a fantstic net underskirt with a bit of imagination…

  • JenW

    Two tips for cheap fabric: Abakhan’s and fabric shop remnant bins. The Manchester branch of Abakhan’s recently had a massive stock of pure linen for £1.05/m – simply amazing!! I have a stack of this in cream, black, blue and pink just waiting to be sewn up into expensive-looking summer garb. And for those making smaller items such as bags, remnant bins and Ebay can be a good source of scraps that are too small for garments. And finally, charity shops can sometimes be a great place to score some fabulous prints and textures. I bought a green wool tweed skirt once and made myself a lovely vintage looking handbag out of it. OK, so it’s not free, but it’s still a darn sight cheaper than the high street :)

  • Freya

    In total agreement with everything said here – even the smallest scraps can be used for crazy patchwork or small applique motifs. Another source of free material is the freegle network (names may vary region to region since they split from freecycle).
    I was gifted a load of mens shirts with one sleeve missing from a lady who was attempting to do some patchwork. Some are earmarked for making peasant tops (remove sleeves, cut off collar, elasticate top/neck and sleeve ends) . Some will be used as lining for bags etc, the cuffs can be the bases for embellished cuff bracelets.
    Also jumble sales are an uber cheap source as long as you look at it as fabric and not the item it has been made as. Finally, Primark often have things reduced to £1 which are ugly as they stand but great for remodelling!! This goes for thier jewellery as well which can be taken apart and used to embellish other items or remake into more jewellery.

  • Lindylou

    I bought a cheap lined cotton bag made of nice material in an unusual shape. After hearing approving comments from friends, I decided to copy it. I measured each part and made a paper pattern and assembled 4 bags which I made up and gave to friends. You could do the same with “found” fabrics which would be much cheaper. Pass the idea on!

  • DaisyMae

    Brilliant ideas, here. Would never have thought of unpicking a garment and restyling. Thanks for that. I have a wardrobe full of clothes that I will have to do this to so I am sure I will come up with my own tips soon. Love the shirt cuff idea Freya

  • debbysworld

    Love this! I have some great friends that give me duvet covers that they no longer want but are still in good enough condition for me to use. Being a beginner sew-er, it’s great to practise on and I’ve made PJ bottoms, a handbag & a skirt from them. I’m planning to use another to practise cushion making before I let myself loose on “fancy” material!!

  • Lindylou

    Re: using old duvet covers. Mine are becoming worn at specific points, mainly the top edge where they tuck under my chin. I recently reused a large duvet cover by cutting away the worn edge, then trimming away all seams and sewing a wide border round the 2 resulting rectangles. I now have 2 very large table cloths. They differ in pattern because the duvet itself had different patterns back and front – an added bonus.