Sewing on a Budget

I am queen of the awkward silence! It’s been too long since I’ve posted but I’ve been sewing away and there are some posts lined up for the coming weeks.   Meanwhile, here’s my thoughts on Sewing on a Budget…

Many people get into sewing with the thought that it will help them save money on their clothing budget but quickly realise that the cost of fabric, notions, and tools can add up and all of a sudden you’re looking at a dress that cost you half of the national deficit to make.   There are so many beautiful fabrics out there that it’s easy to get sucked in and order all the pretty things and start cultivating your purse as a home to the local spiders, rather than where your money resides.   However, there are ways of successfully sewing on a budget and with a bit of leg work and savvy spending you can have a wardrobe full of beautiful handmade clothing and not have to organise a bank heist to fund it.   Here’s a few of my tips.

Sewing Patterns

The online sewing community has exploded over the last few years and there are so many free patterns and tutorials online that sometimes it feels as though you will never have to buy a pattern ever again.   In fact, it’s only in the last three months or so of my sewing career that I have succumbed to buying any patterns brand new.   Here’s a few of my favourite free tutorials from the interwebs.

Colette Sorbetto top

By Hand London Polly vest

Swoon patterns scarf neck cardigan

I’ve also managed to pick up pattern bargains in the local charity/thrift shops.   Here’s a few examples.


If you are new to sewing and considering purchasing your first machine see if you can borrow a machine or try out a class before committing to purchasing your own. You may find that sewing just isn’t for you and it’s much cheaper to realise this before your fork out your hard earned pennies on the shiniest all singing all dancing machine.   If you do decide to take the leap and buy your own, start with a basic model.   All you really need to begin with is a straight stitch with adjustable length, a zig-zag stitch and a button hole option.   The machine I use is this basic model from Hobby craft which was an affordable price and had all the functions I needed at the time.   18 months on and beginning to tackle intermediate patterns, this machine still does everything I need it to do.

There are also often inexpensive alternatives to the multitude of gadgets you suddenly feel you must own to be a ‘real’ seamstress.   For example:

  • Use a kebab skewer or knitting needle instead of a point turner (I always have a bamboo skewer around somewhere)

–          Use a safety pin to turn tubes rather than a bodkin

Fabric sourcing

Many sewist’s happy place is their local fabric shop and they like nothing better than spending hours on end browsing the racks of beautiful bolts of cloth.   I can find this a bit overwhelming at times and I cannot see the wood for the trees.   Plus fabric in some of the higher end shops can cost an arm and a leg.   Now, I’m just learning fitting skills and I don’t think I can work out how to make something fit without all my required limbs.   Therefore, I recommend a bit more leg work in your fabric shopping and here’s my tips:

Charity/ Thrift shops- It seems to be that a lot of our local highstreets are being taken over by charity shops as more an more of our conventional retail moves online.   These stores can be a treasure trove and they often have lengths of fabric that are frequently underpriced.   There are also often vintage patterns in really good condition.   Here are some of the finds I have had.

I find that you have to think a bit more creatively with fabric bought this way as you often don’t have labels telling you fabric content and the colours/patterns may not be exactly what you are looking for.   For this reason, I normally grab any bargains I can find and consider sewing pattern second.   This can mean a risk that your fabric stash would grow exponentially without set plans for it, but this is just the way I like to work anyway (although Tobi may have other ideas and, as previously mentioned, has exiled my stash to the garage).   I would suggest trawling your local stores on a regular basis to keep an eye on new stock coming in.   If you find something that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it’s still worth considering buying it for use in toiles/muslins.

Freecycle- I’ve posted before about the finds I’ve had through freecycle.   I have found in my local area that fabric doesn’t come up regularly on freecycle, but it’s always worth asking if anyone’s got stuff hanging around that they don’t want anymore and that can be put to good use.


Car boot/ garage sales- people seem to be becoming more savvy about the increasing popularity of sewing and other craft activities and I have found sellings increasingly bagging up sets of buttons etc. and asking for more for their items than previously.   However, you can still get complete bargains.   Here is my most recent find from my local car boot sale- Pattern Magic and Pattern magic 2 for £1 for both books!   These were brand new and unused too.

Unconventional sources/ refashioning-  most supermarkets now have extensive ranges of sheets and bedding and these can easily be used as yardage. I have made three dresses using sheets purchased in charity shops- the Dr. Who Emery Dress, The Chemery dress and an unblogged 50’s style prom dress.   Sheets are also great for toiles.   Again, look in charity shops, not just for yardage but also for any of the RTW clothes that catch your eye.   With a bit of imagination these can be changed into beautiful new outfits.   There are several blogs that are brilliant for refashioning ideas.   Check out Refasionista , New Dress a Day  and Charity Shop Chic.

Other- Gumtree, Facebook and Yahoo groups can also be a good source for fabric.   If you have a network of local sewing friends see if you can arrange a fabric and pattern swap party for your unwanted items.   Several online stores also provide money off vouchers if you subscribe to their mailing lists.   Shop the sales, remnant bins and remnant bundles online- you can sometimes grab a bargain.

Other hints and tips

  • Keep your scraps.   They’re great for contrasting pocket pieces, bodice lining or for piecing a whole dress together.
  • Play with your cutting layout to make the most of the fabric you’ve got. Fabric estimates on sewing patterns are often an overestimate.
  • Buy the highest quality fabric/notions you can afford and these wash better and will last longer so you get more wear for your money.
  • Set a budget- I try to not spend more than £20 a month on everything related to sewing.   This helps to stop the spending getting out of control and helps you to be more aware of where those costs are adding up.
  • Shop your stash before you buy anything new- there could be the perfect length of fabric just waiting and the bottom of your stash for you.

–          Be aware of your style and what suits you and stick to it.   Coletterie have had a recent wardrobe architect series to get you thinking about your style.   If you stick to what you know makes you look and feel good you will get more wear out of it and your garments are less likely to be worn once and then remain languishing at the bottom of your wardrobe.


I think that’s about it for my sewing on a budget tips. Do any of you have any hints and tips you’d like to share?


Chemery Dress

Cherry Emery, cherry Emery, cherry Emery- Chemery!!!   This is my second Emery Dress from Christine Haynes and my second made from an upcycled duvet cover.   Whilst doing my usual scour of the local charity shops I spotted this big bold cherry print single duvet hanging from the “everything £1” rail.   How could I resist at £1?

I made no adjustments to this Emery other than those already made for my Dr. Who dress.

However, the duvet was a bit old and subsequently a little too sheer to be decent going out in without some stitching intervention.   I decided to underline the skirt portion and, continuing the theme, I used some remnants of another duvet I used last year to make a different dress.   It had big pink roses on one side, which I made the first dress with, and a white rose printed side.

I love how the roses show through when the light’s just right.   Look at my lazy hemming, overlocked the edges and then turned under and stitched on the machine.  I didn’t really think a duvet was posh enough to justify the painstaking hand stitching I did on my Dr. who dress.

This was my first ever invisible zip insertion and it went in so easily it left me wondering what all the fuss was about (until my second attempt on my Anna dress which took three attempts).   I’m pretty chuffed with it and I didn’t have the head scratching moment I had with the instructions when I used a lapped zip.

After I wore my first duvet dress to work one of my colleagues said she may have her old My Little Pony and Care Bears duvet covers at home if I want them.   Hell yeah, what child of the 80’s wouldn’t want to wear a dress with magical ponies and bears on it!

I really like the Emery dress, although I still need to do a bit of tweaking to the fit, but this dress is perfectly wearable and I’ve overheard a few comments on it as I’ve walked by people in town.   I think I’ll be making more.

Have any of you had amazing charity/thrift shop finds?

The Contortionist’s Blouse & The Velvet Kitten


You Should be in for a treat this evening, ladies and gentlemen.   This is actually the first blog post that’s been written on a computer rather than dashed off quickly on my iPhone or Kindle.   Now lets see if i can get the knack of WordPress- you’d think I’d have found this out before launching the blog but I tend to get excited about ideas and can’t hold myself back to plan sensbly before leaping in, feet first- I guess that’s how I ended up having my daughter a year after I got married and my son less than two years later.

Anyway, I want to share a newly finished outfit for you this evening.   This one was a labour of love, I can tell you.   As you may remember my fabric generally comes from two sources 1) Big Nana’s Stash (husband’s grandmother) or 2) Charity shops.   This outfit combines fabric from both.  I’ll tell you about the skirt first as I made it a while ago and don’t have ‘in construction’ photos of it.

This is a gorgeous red velvet pencil skirt, or ‘The Velvet Kitten’ as I like to call her as she’s so strokable.   After I made my first Pencil Skirt, I was rummaging in Big Nan’s stash of fabric, that I got to claim when she gave up sewing, and found a piece of red velvet that I just knew had a future as a new skirt for me.   Unfortunately it was about three inches too narrow.   I had more red velvet but it was probably about 12 inches long and so the nap would have been going in completely the wrong direction if I’d tried to piece that into the skirt.   So I made do with black and gave it a black waistband to tie it in a bit more and make it look less like I’d just bodged it together.


Argh! My buttons are wonky from sitting around all morning!

I made a school-boy error of using velvet for the waistband facing so that pulls me in somewhat with the extra bulk.   Please excuse the hideous back fat on display!   I interlined this skirt with….. ummm some brown lining like stuff I found in the stash!   No idea what it is but it’s probably man-made fibres and it lead me to the discovery that I really needed a new iron.   It was creased to buggery when I pulled it out of my fabric chest and in the process of pressing it, pre-cutting, my £3.60 bargain Argos iron had leaked all over it leaving hideous water marks.   Oh well, it’s on the inside and also helped me convince Tobi that I needed to spend a bit more on a iron- can you believe we didn’t own one until I started sewing properly about a year ago.

The only amendment I made to the pattern was to make the waistband straight.   I made the curved one that is in the pattern with my first skirt but without the boning etc. and it just doesn’t hold up when wearing it all day without the boning.   Oh yeah, the other major change I made to this was to cut out the right size, rather than two sizes too big like the last one!


Note to self, crop out shopping centre mop bucket before uploading photo next time!

So, Lets talk about the top, named the Cortortionist’s blouse because those buttons at the back are damn hard to do up on your own.   I looked like I was doing the funky chicken around my bedroom this morning getting dressed.

I was inspired by A Stitching Odyssey’s Peter Pan collar blouse.   I completely fell in love with it when I saw it and have been lusting after something similar since I clapped my beady eyes on it.   Marie used a Simple Sew pattern but, as usual, I don’t have two penneth to rub together to buy the pattern so I decided to use Getie’s (what a surprise, are you starting o see I’m a bit of a fan girl?) bow-tied blouse pattern- she even has instructions for a handy Peter Pan collar variation.

So I had my pattern but what about the fabric? Big Nana’s stash revealed nothing suitable but one of my charity shop fabric trawls did.


That’s my daughter’s knee halfway up the right-hand side. She insisted on sitting next to the fabric while i worked out how much I had.

You are looking at (well, probably squinting as it’s so small) three metres of drapey animal-esque possibly man-made (I burnt a scrap and the edge went melty) Crepe.   I was super bargaintastic!!!!   £4 for three metres!!!!!   That’s how I can sew on a budget.   The collar fabric was offcuts from a pair of RTW work trousers I cut down into shorts last summer.

This fabric and I had serious falling’s out in the process of making this garment.   It just wanted to slip slide all over the place and, as it’s pretty heavy stuff, gravity kept dragging it off the side of the sewing table whilst I was sewing.   It started at the pinning stage, where I had to use pattern weights and pins to keep it held down and secure.


Then I had pattern marking issues. To actually make a mark on the fabric I had to rub so hard with my chalk pencil that it damaged the weave of the fabric, so I had to resort to teaching myself a new technique- tailor’s tacks.   They’re surprisingly easy and another trick to add to my arsenal for the potential Sewing Bee.

Gertie’s blouse pattern calls for double knit but, ever fearless, decided to go with the crepe anyway.   Silly me, didn’t think (much) about the stretchiness of the other material.   The crepe felt like it had a bit of stretch to me, but in hindsight I think that’s just where it is so uncontrollable in your hands it deceives you that it’s stretch.   Anyway, the sizing turned out a bit snug (but wearable) around the tummy section so if I make another one I’ll alter that.   I would alter this one but I’m afraid there’s no seam allowance left in which to do it.   More on that later.

I’ve made one of these blouses before and I find the neckline a tad too high, so I dropped it an inch at the front and widened at the sides by an inch.   It worked- I’ve worn the top all day today and didn’t tug at my throat once.   The collar was self draft and I’m pretty chuffed with it, although it’s not quite sitting right.   It’s hidden by my hair in the pics but if I wear it up it looks slightly like my collar is trying to take flight.   I think it’s either an interfacing issue or that the notches I made on the new neckline weren’t in quite the right place so the collar’s placement is a bit off.

Moving on to the buttonholes.   I was completely star stuck the other day (this is relevant, just wait for it) when Llaydbird Lauren kindly responded to an e-mail I’d sent and said she’d seen my Colette Meringue and liked it.   That completely made my day and also in my response to her I reflected on the construction of the skirt.   I commented that I usually rush my sewing because I’m too impatient to wear the finished article but, I’d taken my time on this and it had paid off in less mistakes and a slicker looking finished article.   Here’s where the goddamn buttonholes come in.   Gertie’s pattern has bound button holes.   The last top I made I chickened out and machine stitched my button holes at the end.   But on this one I decided to take my time about it and made the bound buttonholes.


Front of my buttonholes


Back of my buttonholes

I used Gertie’s instructions, although I’ve heard that Karen at Did you Make That?’s ebook is really good too.   Enter the final element of this fabric nightmare.   The buttonholes were a pain in the arse to shape with this bouncy, springy, alive animal fabric and all of the handling I had to do to get them right meant the seam allowance frayed hideously.   I glanced up and half my seam allowance had disappeared.   To rescue it from disintergrating further I whipped out my overlocker and went over the edges in most danger, cutting off as little as possible.

I didn’t think about seam finishes until I had already done one shoulder seam.   Doh!   I kept both shoulder seams with a plain seam and overlocked the seam allowance afterwards.   However, I used French seams on the side seams, mainly to keep in any stray edges and it looks pretty.

All-in-all, I’m pretty funkin’ chuffed with this outfit.   I had compliments at work and even from one of the security guards in the shopping centre in town (my office is above the centre).   He surprised me as I work in an office full of women and they all look blankly at me when I talk about my sewing and the fitting process.   Not Joe, the ex-army security guard, his wife is a seamstress and I had an animated conversation with him on my way back to work about making a muslin and mitred corners on the curtains she makes.   She gets him to hem and press them all for her.

Thanks again to the lovely Chelsea Fellows, who took my outfit pics for me.



One last look at my awesome buttonholes, cunningly hidden by fabulous red buttons.   I will now bid you adieu as I have waffled far too much.

Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest board on Sewing Bee techniques.   I’ll update it tomorrow after the show with all the things they do in episode four.   So excited!

The moral pencil skirt and another Portrait blouse

Hi all! I’ve been ticked off at work today as I had promised to credit my lovely friend who took my outfit pics for my Colette Meringue skirt and I forgot. So here’s a big thanks to Chelsea Fellows for taking the snaps while we were on a fag break. She’s also taken the pic for this post for me. Unfortunately the closest thing to a digital camera I have at the moment is my iPhone so I apologise now for the not great quality pics.

I trundled off to work today in a handmade outfit so I could get my wonderful blogging assistant, Chelsea, to take some more snaps. Unfortunately it’s been a busy day and we haven’t managed to co-ordinate our cigarette breaks to get an outdoors picture. Here’s one that we snapped in the office just before the end of the day so I’m sporting the ‘worn’ look and even forgot to take my work badge off so I’m proper Sewcial Warrior.


The skirt is my first Gertie pencil skirt made in a brushed cotton twill from my hubby’s Nan’s stash (she will henceforth be known as Big Nana as that’s what my kids call her). There is a moral to this skirt- never attempt to fit a garment when merry and using your reflection in a French window rather than a mirror. I fitted it and complete the construction, put it on and asked hubby (his name’s Tobi by the way) how it looked “looks really nice!” He said completely unconvincingly. I traipsed upstairs to look in the full-length mirror in my bedroom and I can only say I looked like I was wearing a sack! I must have cut at least two sizes too big for me and it was VERY unflattering. So I had to unpick basically the whole garment (including lining and waistband) and take in the sides and reconstruct it all. Nightmare! But I put in a lapped zip perfectly on my first ever attempt. I had a perfectly matching button in my stash and I finished the lining with a very cute lace edge.


The top is another Gertie portrait blouse from her book of better sewing. This was one of my first attempts with this pattern and I made a quick muslin because the top calls for a zip in one of the side seams. I don’t know about you but I hate side zips in tops, I find them really uncomfortable. So I needed to make sure I could get it over my head without one. Hurrah! I can.

The fabric I used was another charity shop bargain, I got a metre of this poly cotton (I think) for about £2. I’ve since seen it online at £3 per metre so not a huge saving but a saving non-the-less. It is a straightforward make and I love the neckline so I’m sure there will be more portrait blouses in my future.

I’ve still got more pb (pre-blog) garments to show you over the coming weeks so keep watching. I could say more and spend timing making this post look pretty but Tobi’s just ordered a Chinese so I’m off to stuff my face instead. Taking a night off sewing tonight as I’m tired from a busy work day, but do not fear I’m mid project so there will be more to share ASAP.

P.s having just looked at this picture on here I really need to get some better form of digital camera! For now, it’s going to have to stay with the iPhone I’m afraid so please bear with me.