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?


By Hand London Anna

A little while I was lucky enough to snag some lovely fabric through Freecycle an I thought I’d share with you my first make from this haul.

As soon as I saw this 100% Cotton lawn I knew I wanted to make an Anna Dress from By Hand London, which was one of the Indie patterns I purchased recently.   The lawn was very sheer and very narrow so, despite having 3.1 metres, I only had enough fabric to make the midi version, which is fine by me as I tend to wear maxi skirts rather than dresses as I find them more versatile and wearable.   The sheerness meant that I needed to consider lining in some way.   I decided to fully line the bodice, rather than using the facings supplied, but I didn’t have enough lawn for this so had to sit patiently and wait for a metre of red cotton poplin to arrive from the lovely people at Minerva Crafts.   After seeking advice on Twitter, I decided I didn’t want to underline the skirt because I may lose some of the lawn’s floatiness, so I decided to make another half slip in a coordinating colour (navy as I have no red jersey or other fabric in my stash) using the tutorial I discovered on Gertie’s blog.   What do you think? Can you see my knickers?

The fitting for this dress was a breeze.   I traced the size 18 for the upper part of the bodice and graded to a 20 at the waist.   After making a quick toile (out of the weirdest, kitchen paper-like fabric) I pinched out about an inch at the underarm seam which removed some of the bagginess I was experiencing at the upper bust.

Now construction is a slightly different issue.   I used the Anna sewalong on the By Hand London site for a guide on how best to fully line the bodice.   This tutorial has you sew the lining and outer shell together at the neckline before the side seams are stitched, therefore before skirt is attached.   This meant it was then a bit tricky when attaching the bodice to the skirt as there was a lot of excess fabric floating around that I didn’t want to get in the way.   I then hand stitched the lining down at the waist seam.   If  I were to make another lined Anna in the future I think I’d use the technique from the Emery construction for neatly hiding the invisible zip in the lining.

Now, A few of the difficulties I encountered were due to my lack of ability to think things through before blindly starting stitching and also not marking pattern pieces or tracing notches correctly.   I’ll  After I did my first couple of seams I thought “I should have used a French seam”.   Being far too lazy to unpick and start again I just ploughed on with plain seams and overlocked seam allowances.   However, I forgot that I’d been sewing with a jersey previously and so the differential feed setting on my overlocker was not set correctly and slightly gathered the seam allowance, making the pieces not sit flatly.   I also neglected to mark the skirt panel pieces as to which bit went where and must have missed a couple of the notches when I traced as I had 6 practically identical triangles to fit together.   I think I got them in the right places.

This was my second ever invisible zip, with the first one going in with no problems whatsoever.   I ended up unpicking this one three times as it just wasn’t going well.   The centre back now also looks a bit puckered, I think because the centre back skirt section is on the bias.   In future I think I’ll use a strip of fusible interfacing along the centre back for reinforcement and stability.

I wasn’t sure about the shape of the skirt on me, I usually have a more defined waistline and I don’t think I own a single A line skirt/dress.   But it’s growing on me and I have worn this dress all weekend, in the lovely hot weather we’re having here in the UK at the moment.

I have so many ideas for variations of this- I love the bodice, kimono sleeves and tucks. So I’m sure you’ll be seeing some more of these pop up soon enough.   Have any of you made an Anna Dress? What are your thoughts on it?

Freecycle Finds

Has anyone heard of freecycle? There are hundreds of local groups online where people can giveaway the stuff they don’t want anymore to avoid things going into landfill.    Or, as was better put on the freecycle website:

“The worldwide Freecycle Network is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It’s a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns.

Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. Our goal is to keep usable items out of landfills. By using what we already have on this earth, we reduce consumerism, manufacture fewer goods, and lessen the impact on the earth. Another benefit of using Freecycle is that it encourages us to get rid of junk that we no longer need and promote community involvement in the process”

You can offer things up and, in the one in my area, can request items under £50 value. I love freecycle and I’ve managed to get some brilliant things that way, including a working Dyson Hoover!

I was feeling a bit fed up about lack of suitable fabric for some project ideas, and lack of funds to purchase anything new, so I sent an e-mail to my freecycle group asking if anyone had any fabric they wanted to get rid of. I had two responses. One was a guy offering me old Santa sacks with holes in… Umm, no thanks. And the other was a lovely (sounding) lady named Wendy. She didn’t tell me exactly what she had but asked me to come round and help her in the loft to have a look at what she had.

When I first got there I was a little disappointed as there were bags of secondhand clothes that could be upcycled and a few scraps from a pirates of the Carribean dress her daughter made. But then down came the loft ladder and out came the hard stuff! Here’s the best of what I took away.

Red cotton lawn- soooo soft and fine. I’m thinking of making and Anna dress out of this as there’s a massive 3.10mtr but I’m a little worried how fine and delicate it feels. Do you think I’d need to line or underline it?

I think this one might be silk but I haven’t tested it yet. Either way, I love the black with the white swirls/flowers?

Beige cotton floral. It’s not my usual colour but it’s lovely and I really like the flowers. Maybe another Emery for this.

Vintage Laura Ashley cotton floral. I don’t usually wear small scale prints; I’m a bold, bright, jewel tone kinda gal; but this is really sweet and reminds me of a dress Maria at Stitching Odyssey made.

Leaf print Cotton. I like this one too. Again, it’s not my colour but the print is so retro I couldn’t resist.

There were two precious pieces she couldn’t part with, both with a lot of sentimental value. There was a gorgeous shot silk damask, shot 7 ways apparently, brought back by a friend of hers travelling in the 70’s. I wish I’d photographed this, it had a pretty, small scale pattern. There was also this lovely length.

I believe this was purchased in Senegal in the 70’s and the flowers are embroidered and had a sheen to them.

Wendy has been keeping these two for years and she wants a dressmaker who knows what she’s doing (not me then!) to turn them into something classic and timeless that she can dress up or dress down. I suggested the By Hand London Victoria Blazer but I’m not sure it’s quite right for the fabric.   If there was more body to the floral it might look nice as a Chanel style Cardigan Jacket.   What do you guys think?   Any suggestions I can throw Wendy’s way?

Anyway, I’m forever astounded by the generosity and community spirit that is out there when you look just beneath the surface of modern life and I couldn’t thank Wendy enough for her gift to me.

Have any of you ever been given amazing fabrics? Or used freecycle?