The week before Easter I took a look though my fabric and patterns to make plans for matching Easter outfits for my kids. I always thought it was fun when my mom would sew my siblings and me coordinating clothing for special occasions. I was really excited to finally have two girls to sew for, so I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
Without buying a single thing, I made two matching dresses for the girls with matching bow ties for the boys.
My husband, who isn’t shy about telling me that I am amazing (love him!), told me that I really needed to do a blog post about sewing with what you already have, since that’s what I usually do.
Before I dive in and give you some tips for using what you’ve got so you don’t have to spend money to sew, I must give a quick disclaimer. Even though I didn’t spend any money, I did spend time. If I were to pay myself a decent hourly wage, then it would have been cheaper to buy Easter outfits from the mall.
I don’t think of it like that. I don’t sew just to save money. The time I spend sewing is a labor of love. I’m thinking happy thoughts about my children and reminiscing about my childhood while I’m sewing. Although I don’t sew to save money, I figure that if I’m going to sew anyway (for other reasons), then I may as well save money while I’m doing it!
Take the challenge
Like any seamstress worth her stitch, I have accumulated some fabric over the years. (I’ll let you quantify “some” using your own imagination.) I didn’t pay for probably 90% of it. When people know you sew, they start coming out of the woodwork to give you fabric that they got from who knows where. A couple of years ago, I wrote a detailed post about how I get fabric free or cheap.
Because I have a sizable stash for someone of my age, I try to challenge myself to “sew from the stash” whenever I can. Not only do I enjoy a good challenge, but it’s a super frugal way to sew! It also brings out your creative side!
When you make something a challenge, it really adds the fun into a task that might otherwise seem hard or unpleasant. Instead of feeling limited because I have to stick to the supplies I have on hand, I let my stash empower me to make something awesome without relying on the store. It’s fun!
See the potential
Have you ever had a skirt or blouse that you loved because of the fabric or embellishments and had a hard time parting with it when it no longer fit or got a snag or stain? Have you ever purchased a piece of clothing (or bedding) at a thrift store or garage sale just because you liked the fabric?
If you have, then you probably have been blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see the potential. Being able to see the repurposed future of fabric is definitely a creative gift. However when your stash of future projects is clearly going to outlive you, you can see how it might seem more like a curse.
If you haven’t seen the potential before, let me share a few examples.
About two years ago, my mom was in town for my youngest daughter’s birth. My mom is an excellent seamstress (way out of my league) and she offered to make our little one a blessing dress. I told her I was planning to use fabric I already had on hand, so I headed for my stash to pull out some white fabric that suited my fancy.
As I looked through my stash, I happened upon a blouse and skirt that I had snagged from my younger sister’s giveaway box back when we were in college (more than a decade ago)! I loved the detail and thought it would look adorable on an heirloom-style gown.
My mom was totally up for the challenge. She is one who sees the potential like no one else I know. I knew she would craft something amazing. She didn’t disappoint!
I can’t find the before picture of the skirt and dress, but here are some close-ups of the blessing dress detail. The skirt was essentially used as it was, just shortened for a very little person.
The bodice was made from pieces of the blouse, reusing the buttons and loops, elastic sleeves, and eyelet fabric for some real shortcuts. Additional eyelet lace and rick-rack were added.
Several Halloweens ago, I made myself a Glinda the good witch costume. We had just finished law school, so we were on a pretty tight budget. I knew I didn’t want to spend the money to buy the yards and yards of fabric that such a gown would require. I went to the thrift store in search of a sheet in the right color, and voila! I found the perfect sheet! I even used the finished edges of the sheet for the bottom of the dress so I didn’t have to do any hemming! I found the satin for the bodice in my stash (from a box I was given by an older lady at church).
Back in our grandmothers’ (and great grandmothers’) era, they would never discard any worn out clothing items without first cutting off the buttons and zippers. Maybe your mom or grandma does the same thing today (old habits are hard to break).
You can get notions the same way! By the time clothes have been handed down though several years, they are pretty well spent. They aren’t worth sending to the thrift store or passing down to nieces and nephews. The buttons and zippers, however, are often still in perfect condition. Before you turn the fabric into rags or throw it away, save the buttons.
You can also quickly build your stash by visiting the thrift store or local yard sales. All those grandmas who saved buttons for years? Many of their stashes are now on the market thanks to secondhand stores and estate sales. You’ll get a much more interesting variety than you would find at the fabric store.
You can’t see them in the picture, but the yellow gingham dresses I made for Easter have vintage yellow buttons I got years ago from my grandma’s stash!
Vintage patterns from the 1970s and earlier came single sizes. Patterns today come printed with an array of sizes allowing you to choose and cut the size you need while making it easy for the pattern makers to scale their own operations.
If you think you will ever possibly use a pattern again, don’t cut on anything but the largest size. That doesn’t mean you can’t cut something of a smaller size. Just don’t cut the actual pattern.
There are a couple of ways around this. For one, you can trace the pieces in the size you need on to other paper and then cut from the pattern pieces you make. In my opinion this is too much work though, so I almost never do this.
My favorite way to cut from a pattern in any size without harming the pattern is to simply fold the pattern along the lines I want to cut. That’s simple when the lines are straight, but gets a little more complicated when the lines are curved. When I line is curved, I cut several slits perpendicular to the pattern’s normal cut lines and then fold the pattern under like I do with the straight lines.
For example, in the picture below, I was cutting the size 6. I folded along the straight lines (though it’s unfolded in the picture) and cut slits up to the size 6 curved lines so that I could fold them under to pin and cut.
By being careful to preserve the multiple sizes on a pattern, I have used my patterns many times over to make many different size items.
Make your own patterns
Once you’ve got sewing with a pattern under your belt and have an idea of the way various garments go together, you’ll be able to make your own patterns. I like to use other clothes (that have the fit I’m going for) as a pattern for my pattern.
Use newspaper or another large lightweight paper to cut your pattern pieces from. Trace the various parts of the piece of clothing when they are laid out flat. Be sure to include a seam allowance.
You’ve got to start somewhere
Maybe you don’t already have a seamstress’s stash. That’s okay! Do you have clothes that you’re planning to donate? How about old tablecloths, curtains, or sheets? There is fabric all around you that is just waiting for a new life (lots more ideas on that here).
If you’re a minimalist with no stash and no donation pile, hit up the thrift store before starting your next sewing project. Challenge yourself to finding all of your materials there!
You can do this! You’ll have fun, improve your skills, save money, and impress the socks off your husband! 😉
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