Shopping Thrift Stores for Repurposed Sewing Projects

by Jimmie

I make sewing more affordable and green by stocking my sewing closet at the thrift store. Second hand clothes and linens can be repurposed to create original sewing projects.

Sewing is an expensive hobby. I love being creative, but walking into Hancock Fabrics and seeing those prices makes me think that sewing is not the hobby for me. Fortunately I can think outside the box. Fabric doesn't have to come off the bolts in the fabric store. You can salvage fabric from used clothing and used linens that you buy at second-hand stores.
For a fraction of the cost, you have unique fabrics for your sewing projects. Plus you have the satisfaction of making sewing into a green hobby!

Why Shop in a Thrift Store?

Let Your Sewing Go Green
Sewing Machines
Sewing Machines

Some Disclaimers for Sewing With Repurposed Clothes

Granted, you are probably not going to find a garment that will provide enough cloth for a two piece ensemble or even a long dress for a normal sized woman. But you certainly could find a used dress that may supply enough fabric for a tote bag, an apron, or a child's garment.

If you are open to mixing fabrics in your project, you will find charity shop bargains a viable alternative to buying off-the-bolt fabric. When you use a patchwork style with contrasting ties, waistbands, pockets, or ruffles, your thrift store finds will go farther. 

My favorite thrift store for finding sewing material is one where all the textiles are sold by the pound. For less than $10, I come home with a huge bag of old clothes that I can cut apart, totally guilt-free. If my project is a disaster, well, I didn't invest a huge amount of money and I probably learned from my mistakes. Your second-hand shops may be much more expensive. 

Here are more tips for green sewing by repurposing old clothes into new creations.

Look for Fabrics

When shopping for clothing to repurpose, look at fabrics first. Those terrible seersucker pants you wouldn't be caught dead in will provide great fabric for other projects. So look beyond the clothes to the fabrics.

Be observant for:

  • quality cotton and linen --gingham, denim, cotton sheeting are sewing staples
  • attractive colors and patterns
  • interesting embroidery
  • holiday fabrics
  • pretty edging details

One advantage of second hand finds is that the clothes are normally already pre-washed. Any possible shrinkage has already happened. Of course, I do wash the items again once I get them home before cutting them up.

Jeans are amazingly versatile for repurposing projects. The fabric is durable, and jeans conjure up both comfort and style in our minds.

Be sure to check for stains, rips, and tears that would ruin the fabric for repurposing. 

Second-Hand Clothes I Bought to Repurpose

Gingham Shirt
Gingham Shirt
Embroidered Denim Dress
Embroidered Denim Dress
Hem Detail in Linen
Hem Detail in Linen

Look for Big Sizes

Large sizes mean more fabric to work with. Even if you are tiny, those size 18 dresses and skirts are going to have loads more cloth than a tiny size 4 will! In fact, many of the smaller sizes don't give enough fabric to work with at all unless the style is a very full cut.

So browse the plus sized sections of the thrift store for great fabric finds.


Size 16 Summer Dress
Size 16 Summer Dress

Books About Green Sewing and Repurposing

ReSew: Turn Thrift-Store Finds into F...
Martingale & Co Inc
$24.99  $6.76
Little Green Dresses: 50 Original Pat...
Taunton Press
$22.95  $4.92
Denim Redesign
Indygo Junction
Only $56.25

Check the Linens Department

Pillowcases, sheets, curtains, and other household linens can be harvested for sewing projects. A huge benefit is the large size of many of these items. Plus they are mostly flat -- no tucks, zippers, or beltloops to deal with.

I found three old, 100% cotton -- but still in the original packaging -- sheets at my favorite thrift store -- two white and one hot pink. Those sheets have worked great for lining tote bags.

Watch for Unique Buttons or Clasps

A garment with interesting buttons may be worth its cost just to salvage those precious buttons! Buttons can be very expensive, so never throw away any buttons when you cut up a garment for its fabric. Even the boring white shirt buttons can be used for crafts.

Harvest Sewing Notions

Green sewing is not just about the fabric. Think about the sewing notions you use.

For example, belts can be repurposed into tote bag handles. That is much cheaper than buying webbing by the yard at the fabric store.

Belt clasps can be repurposed for new belts or for making adjustable apron straps.

Hook and eye closures can be removed and re-used. Zippers can even be removed and reused in other projects.

Once you start looking at second hand clothes as a source for green sewing, you'll never throw away another scrap again. It all will go into your sewing stash, available for use in a project.

Hook and Eye Closure
Hook and Eye Closure

A Sewing Machine for Your Repurposing Projectes

SINGER 4423 Heavy Duty Model Sewing Machine
Only $125.15

Do You Sew Green?

Have you ever cut up an article of clothing to make something different?
Updated: 02/21/2012, Jimmie
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


ohcaroline on 07/25/2011

One of my favorite projects is to cut up flannel sheets and make cleaning cloths for dusting, windows, etc. The flannel is great for cleaning.

CorreenK on 07/20/2011

Stupendous! It has been a long time since I've had my machine out...your ideas sure got the creative juices flowing. And for anyone that is budget-conscious repurposing sewing material and supplies from old clothes is a wise, wise thing to do!

PeggyHazelwood on 07/20/2011

I love shopping for fabric but rarely use it. I really need to make some things out of my finds! My daughter buys shower curtains and tablecloths to make skirts for herself.

Guest on 07/20/2011

This is one of my fun projects to do. I haven't done this in so long. You have put the "bug" back into me to do this again.

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