They’ve already been in here in other categories, and it’s for good reason. Curtains are fantastic sewing supplies at thrift stores because of all that yardage!
Pass by the super polyester sheers and look out for the heavier weight natural fiber curtains. Use them for jackets, aprons, skirts, and dresses.
I even found a heavy canvas curtain recently that I’ve been using as sew-in interfacing for bags. 3 yards of 72″ wide canvas for $2? No-brainer!
9. Silk Scarves
While finding actual yardage of silk may be the thrift store equivalent of finding a unicorn sitting on a pot of gold, you will absolutely have no problems finding vintage silk scarves at the thrift store.
Silk scarves are a special category of vintage fabric! There’s so many beautiful florals and geometrics in old silk scarves!
You can incorporate your silk scarf into a top like I did on this sleeveless raglan tee, or cut it up and use it for appliques. Shoot, some of my favorite silk scarves are so nice, that I use them as wall art. I get asked about this one in my house all the time. It was $3!
10. Men’s shirts
I offer this one with a warning. There’s a lot of men’s shirts that are not 100% natural fibers. Avoid those polyester blends–they don’t sew or press well, and they will have more cardboardy drapes than their natural fiber counterparts.
That disclaimer aside, men’s shirts are excellent fabric sources. Men don’t need darts, so there’s more available width in any given shirt, and don’t forget the buttons! There are so many buttons, especially on long sleeve shirts with cuffs!
Here’s an eclectic shirt dress from shirts.
11. Maxi dresses and maxi skirts
I think there’s a big misconception out there that if you choose a garment to refashion, you should always go for the biggest possible size.
Nope. What IS important is getting as wide as possible goods that are as long as possible. Why? More. Yardage.
Enter maxi dresses and maxi skirts. They are the Fort Knox of usable fabric. All that length is going to give you so many more options when you go to cut your fabric. Capitalize on all that beautiful length and refashion a maxi dress into an asymmetric top.
Denim is probably the most common fabric you can find to use at the thrift store. It’s so hard-wearing and there’s so many colors, that it will always be a sewing supply at thrift stores worth seeking out.
Piece several colors into a sturdy quilt or coat, make bags. You can also use old jeans to make an upcycled denim skirt or DIY denim flowers.
And always, always look for bright colored denim. It’s hard to find pretty colored denims in yardage like I used for this sea glass denim jacket, but colored denims are quite common in charity shops.
Most handbags that you find at any given thrift store are in rough shape. They’re lumpy and sad, and otherwise pitiful looking, but they hold a hidden treasure: hardware!
It’s always worth your time to look out for good hardware on old bags. This handbag from Goodwill has 6 different heavy duty buckles, and it was $1. That’s crazy bananas cheap and they’ll make great centerpieces for belts or a new handbag. There’s also cool faux leather zipper pulls on it I can reuse.
14. Vintage Sewing Tools and vintage sewing notions
This is another category of sewing supplies at thrift stores to be excited about, but also a hair cautious.
You’ll notice that some vintage sewing notions like zippers, thread, and some trims will deteriorate over time. If it looks long in the tooth, it probably is, so pass it by. If a zip has a hard time opening, do you really want to put that on a garment?
Do go for vintage buttons, cover buttons, snaps, and shoot, pick up that vintage thread anyhow. Old thread isn’t good to sew seams with since it will likely snap on you, but it’ll make great hand basting thread. And for Pete’s sake, if you find Ginger Snaps like the ones in the pic, buy all of them. They’re literally the best pearl snaps I’ve ever used, plus they have weird 70’s pics on the cards.
Also, if you see old sewing tools like Tailor’s Hams, vintage hem markers, clappers, or sewing boxes, those can be a great addition to your sewing room.
Oh boy leather. There’s so many things you can sew with leather, but it’s not the easiest fabric to work with.
If you’re looking to practice your leather skills before you commit to buying $200 worth of leather to make a legit leather jacket, the thrift store has your back.
Grab that old handbag you scavenged for hardware, and use the faux leather or real leather it’s made out of and cut out a simple bag to practice your skills. A 7 minute DIY zipper bag would be a great place to start with leather! That $1 bag can go a long way towards helping you gain some confidence with leather.
So that’s a pretty exhaustive list of sewing supplies at thrift stores you can always be hunting. For different secondhand fabric supplies to look out for, be sure to check out my blogging buddy Emilee from Mama Needs a Project. She has a different perspective on this topic than me, and I think you’ll enjoy it!
For lots of helpful refashioning advice + 12 full step by step tutorials, check out:
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.
7 thoughts on “15 unusual sources for sewing supplies at thrift stores”
You’re making me miss thrift shopping! I haven’t been in awhile, since my refashion bin is a bit full and so I don’t feel like I can justify it. That, and little kids. Also, is there a way to find the password for the resource library if you’re a previous subscriber? I couldn’t think of one other than filling out the form again, but I’m quite curious about this scavenger hunt for the next time I manage to get to the thrift store.
Wow! What an awesome list. Sew many ideas that I never would have thought of! The bags for hardware is one of my favorites!
Thanks sew much, Elizabeth!
Thanks Carrie! It’s so funny about the bags because I am not a handbag girl, but I do love hardware and I hate that it’s only okay in fabric stores and super pricey to boot. That particular bag has exceptional bones!
Great article! I love doing this too! It’s like an adventure – you never know what you’re going to find, but when you stash away that awesome sturdy zipper you find and it comes in handy on the next project there’s no beating that feeling!
I’m with you Roxanne! The hunt is so much fun, especially when you can score something much nicer than you can find in a fabric store!
Thank you for all the great ideas! One thing I look for are long dresses made with fabric I like. So much fabric and usually in great shape. Men’s 2x or larger shirts are also great resources for larger pieces of fabric. This summer I used a 2x dark blue men’s t-shirt to make a comfy pair of shorts. I used heavy card stock cut into flower and leaf shapes and yarn then sprayed bleach bathroom cleaner to create a one of a kind floral pattern on the fabric before cutting the pattern out.
Thank you again for sharing your ideas! I’ll have to remember to look for buttons.
I’m with you! Maxi dresses with awesome fabric are always worth a look. And men’s shirts would definitely make for some comfy shorts. Definitely look for good buttons–they’re in too short of supply in fabric stores!