I really am always on the hunt for sewing supplies at thrift stores. I affectionately call my local thrift store my weird fabric store, and it’s for good reason. There’s so many good supplies you can find for your sewing hobby that you can find at a charity shop, garage sale, antique store or estate sale if you can think a little outside the box.
So think of this post as your guide to discovering a diamond in the rough at the thrift store.
First we’ll talk about some mindset shifts that need to happen, the 15 unusual sources for sewing supplies at thrift stores, and I’m lacing it all with my pro-thrifting tips along the way. Here we go.
Table of Contents
Sewing supplies at thrift stores do not end in the fabric remnants
First off, we gotta get past some funk.
There’s a lot of junk at thrift stores. Sometimes you can walk into a store and be overwhelmed by all the things there on their very last legs.
You have to get past this. I always say this, but if you commit yourself to looking at a thrift store consistently and you roll up your sleeves and get willing to dig, you will eventually find something really great.
My own local store which I’ll say is probably better than average 48 times out of 50 has not great fabric remnants. But once in a while I walk away with pure gold. I’m talking 100% wool melton, Ankara fabric, Joel Dewberry, Anna Maria Horner and Amy Butler quilting cottons or home dec fabrics.
But if you think that thrift store sewing supplies and secondhand fabric stops right in the fabric remnants, friend, you are missing out big time.
Good fabric is good fabric no matter the source! At the thrift store, very often that good fabric is sitting on a hanger. Is it useable? Is it going to look like I cobbled together a garment from secondhand fabric. Only if you want it to. Refashioning is an art as old as the hills, and it requires and will ignite your creativity like nothing else.
So put on your adventurer hat, and let’s go exploring for the goods!
I get excited about talking about hunting down buttons! Good quality buttons are not always easy to find in a typical fabric store. If you do find them, they’re often really pricey. I’ll admit to having made jackets where my buttons have been in total more expensive than the fabric itself.
But at the thrift store, buttons are everywhere. Old shirts can often have handfuls of buttons on them. I picked up this shirt for $2. There were so many little extra details on this shirt (double buttons on the cuffs, epaulettes), that there were a whopping 15 buttons on this shirt. Bonus, the buttons are a really interesting metal. I used them for this Deer and Doe Bleuet dress which requires coincidentally 15 buttons.
The shirt itself is a bad candidate for refashioning because it has a ton of seams that limit the available width for cutting. But I could easily swap out new buttons in the future to make this shirt wearable.
Coat buttons are also worth hunting at the thrift store. Larger coat and jacket buttons are very costly at fabric stores. An old, battered coat, on the other hand can very often provide you with virtually untouched buttons for a couple bucks (and less on 50% off days which many thrift stores regularly have).
This wool blend coat I found was incredibly dirty in places, but the buttons are so darn pretty. I’ll cut around the dirt for a wool messenger bag, but I’m saving those buttons for the right jacket fabric to come my way!
2. Good lace
There’s a lot of cheap lace in the world. Avoid it like Ron Swanson avoids skim milk. Stretch laces are almost always past their prime especially at thrift stores. Still, you can pretty regularly find heavier, better quality laces.
Be on the look out for good lace in the dresses, tops, or as embellishments on sweaters. You might not be able to get a lot of yardage from lace that you find at the thrift store, but you can easily find lace for appliques or even a contrast yoke on a top.
Once in a while you’re find vintage lace trim either as yardage or on the edges of tablecloths. Some of this can be handmade. This is the good stuff!
3. Vintage fabric
Vintage fabric is a holy grail kind of thing to spot at the thrift store. If you do find some, you’ll notice that it was made to last, and the patterns and colors often carry a charming quirkiness you can’t find in modern fabric.
Look for it in tablecloths, and other linens like tea towels, curtains and napkins. You can also find vintage wools in the form of suits.
This trench coat I made with appliques from vintage Vera napkins has always been one of my favorite projects!
4. Natural fiber just about anything
100% natural fiber fabrics tend to last longer than synthetics. They’re also nicer to wear against your skin because the fabrics breathe better.
Look at tags to check the fiber contents of items when you’re thrifting. 100% linen is worth getting and using in just about any form you can find it in. One of my all time favorite dresses is made from a 50% linen 50% cotton curtain. Look out for 100% cotton in the dresses and knit tops or in tote bags that you can make into smaller bags.
5. Sweater knits
This is pretty much my favorite money saving fabric hack. Sweater knits at a fabric store are either 1)stupid expensive or 2)thin, sad, and capable of keeping zero people warm.
But give me a rack of old sweaters, and I promise I can find you a good wool blend, cashmere or something else substantial. Cut up a couple and sew up a new pieced sweater, or make a toasty refashioned shrug from a shrunken sweater.
This pieced chevron sweater I made from 2 sweaters? The tan cashmere would have been probably something like $40-80 on the bolt! I paid $10, so pricey for the thrift store, but a great deal if you’re comparing it to buying a new cashmere sweater or yardage. Plus cashmere =warm all the time and so much softness!
6. Ribbing and old t-shirts
Be on the look out for good knit ribbing at the thrift store too! Rib knit sweaters will offer more than enough yardage for rib cuffs or waistbands for jackets.
Check out old t-shirts too for ribbing you can use on knit tops. You’ll be surprised at how many times you can find just the right color. Use the rest of the t-shirt for kids’ leggings!
I almost always end up incorporating old t-shirts for the ribbing and the yardage in my kids’ pajamas for those *just* right colors to match more expensive kids’ knit yardage.
I know a lot of people love to make clothes from sheets, but I really think they often just look like sheets at the end of the day. Most sheets are 50% cotton 50% polyester which is not always the nicest fabric to work with.
But don’t pass up the sheets–they’re awesome inexpensive sources for practice fabrics. Need to check the fit of a jacket or pants pattern before you cut into good fabric? Grab an old sheet! All that wide, uninterrupted yardage is perfect for that and way less pricey than yards of muslin.
If you do find 100% cotton flannel sheets, by all means, pick them up and make some cozy pajamas!
There’s more on the next page, but first, I made a Thrift Store Scavenger Hunt for you. It’s a printable that will help you gain some confidence as you get used to the lay of the land when you’re thrift store shopping. Plus there’s some silliness that’ll keep you entertained along the way! You can grab the scavenger hunt in the Resource Library.
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On to more thrift store sewing supplies to watch out for!
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.