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Sewing on a budget

 
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Do you want to do some sewing but don't feel like spending a fortune on a whole new set of supplies? Don't let that hold you back. Here is a list of various things you can DIY or make do as well as free resources and thrifting pitfalls.  Hopefully, this will help people to try out sewing in an affordable way and save the money for upgrades along the journey.

1. Sewing machine. It's better to buy sturdy used machine than cheap plastic beginner ones as the latter can break easily. I've seen used machines going down to $5 to $10 in the auction and they are totally functional. Learn how to maintain so it can go a long way.

2. Overlock machine. It's a bit pricey and harder to find second hand. If you are dealing with stable knits, a sewing machine will do the job with the right needles/threads/ and some practices.

3. Sewing books. There are lots of free online resources but I still think a good reference book is indispensable. One can get used ones from thrift book stores for a few dollars. Look up books from Vogue, Singer, Better Home & Garden and Reader's Digest. The style of clothes in the books may seem outdated but the techniques are timeless.

4. Threads. Do not buy cheap variety pack threads. They are usually loosely twisted and pill a lot, that will mess up the tension when you are sewing and cause the needle to break. In some serious cases, a machine is damaged or the sewer injured.  Basic colors like black, white and beige will blend with most fabrics then you only need buy matching one for top stitching. Old threads from yard sale in wild colors are perfect for sewing mockups.

5. Fabric. It can be quite personal but again buy better quality fabrics over cheap ones. It's easier to sew good quality fabric and the product will last longer too. Look for sales as the price may be reduced 50%.
Reuse and refashion.

6. Scissor. A pair of regular sharp scissors will be fine for most work, unless you deal with slippery fabrics a lot then invest in a pair of tailor shears with micro serrated edges. I don't find the pinking shears used very often.

7. Measuring tools. Measuring tape is a must have. If you already own a yard stick or L shape ruler they can be very useful for home decor sewing too.

8. Marking tools. Save slivers of soap bars for marking on fabric. Shave with a utility knife to make a fine tip

9. Pattern weight. Use knives, cans, toys etc. or make your own with fabric scraps.

10. Ironing tools. Iron is a must have. For the board, tailor ham or sleeve roll you can make your own. Use cotton or wool fabrics.

11. Sewing guide. Use painter's tape by the feedog as guide.

12. Presser foots. Most machine comes with a basic set so buy specific ones as you need. The most used ones I have are: clear sole all purpose, blind hem and zipper feet.

13. Pattern. Get the basic ones and learn to alter and add details you like.

14. Reduce fabric waste: make a mockup and perfect fitting before cutting into expensive fabric; cut in a single layer and lay out pieces efficiently; use up scraps.

Welcome to share your tips and tricks. Happy sewing.
 
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Hi,  I get oversized clothing for whatever I need, and then take them in. This way it allows for a more tailored look.
I can buy good quality clothes at the reuse store.  After enough practice  of learning patterns, and taking clothes in there are some opportunities for a home business if I have time.  Usually I just make a good set for homeless people who are looking for a job, and I don't expect money for my service.
 
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May Lotitio covered the frugality of sewing really well, I'll add some stuff about frugal patterning.

I buy Christmas paper after the holiday for making patterns. I look for designs that have a square grid to them, that lets me use it as giant graph paper. A design like that also lets you cut out pieces  on the grain or with the nap by laying them out as you make them so the grid of the paper is how you want the grain. And the nap is right if the snowman is right side up (or whatever lets you orient it.)  Some wrapping paper has a grid marked on the back, so when you are wrapping you can make straight cuts. That's the kind I like best, it's basically long pieces of graph paper! I'll take that type in any design, as it doesn't need gridded artwork to be useful. I hit a bunch of it a while back, bought several of the biggest rolls I could find.

I am a big fan of thrift stores, and always look for their fabric yardage, this area has a lot of quilters, and people's stashes show up when they move or die. Some pretty cloth! I also, though, look for cloth I don't like how it looks, but the feel is right for matching the fabrics I sew on. That gives me mock up fabric I don't mind cutting, that will drape the way my good cloth will. I snag cheap sheets for that too. Years ago I got 5 or 6 sets of top and bottom each, king sized, same awful print on all of them. I used that stuff for mock ups for a long time! I can't imagine having bought that for my bed, which they obviously had. Yuck! It was a horrible brown and yellow plaid, which gave it a great grid to work with!  

I also check the thrift store fabric area for things like zippers, odd sewing machine parts, any other things I can use. My latest irritant that way is I have had it with any kind of plastic zippers. I am buying up all the metal toothed zippers I see. I'm also buying needle threaders, helps with my eyes as I get older. Also odd antique things.

:D
 
May Lotito
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Thanks Pearl, that's great tip using wrapping paper!

Also on pattern making. If you have a garment you like and it wears out, cut it apart to copy the pieces.  If it's something you are still wearing and want to keep it intact, try ironing freezer paper to it and tracing the seams. In the old time, people used pencil and paper to "rub it off".
 
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I trace around things I like. If I get something and I like it, I take a pattern off it early on, before it gets stretched out of shape etc.
Or I lose it, or damage it badly, or forget to do it....

I trace it, mark anything I need to remember. then when I go to use it, I make a better copy (tracing is always wiggly) and add seam allowances etc.  

I also label tracings like that by a description of the item, the date, and how it is fitting at that point. My weight shifts...

 
May Lotito
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Arthur Angaran wrote:Hi,  I get oversized clothing for whatever I need, and then take them in. This way it allows for a more tailored look.
I can buy good quality clothes at the reuse store.  After enough practice  of learning patterns, and taking clothes in there are some opportunities for a home business if I have time.  Usually I just make a good set for homeless people who are looking for a job, and I don't expect money for my service.



Nice job. Refashioning is so much faster than sewing from scratch, and it is a lot of fun too. The PEP section has many alteration projects on the list.
 
May Lotito
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Some of my ironing tools. The sleeve roll is self-made, I have to admit it can't get as firm and smooth as the Dritz ham. But the iron board is definitely better than the cheap iron horse that shows wire mesh imprints. I made it out of salvaged pine pizza peel, glued and stapled back together, reuse a wool skirt for padding and the quilting cotton cover has built-in grids and diagonal lines too.
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My M-i-L sometimes finds bags of clothes for a quarter or so from thrift stores and then pulls apart the seams to get useable fabric. She would then use that fabric to make comfort quilts for people with serious illnesses. I think that was a great way to reuse old clothes and gave comfort to plenty of folks in need. I agree with May about getting an old machine, I found an old 1930s-40s Singer in a nice wood desk cabinet for $25 with a ton of feet and spare bobbins and it is a workhorse of a machine.
 
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I totally agree with all of this topic! I am a frugal 'tailor' since I was a young girl (making clothes for my dolls out of left-over fabric pieces).
About 10. the iron: just like the sewing machine an old one, from the era when such things were made to last a lifetime, is better than a new 'light-weight' iron. There's no need for it to make steam, you can do it the old-fashioned way with a damp cloth ...
 
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I like watching interviews and shows. All what I am doing is hand sewing with fabrics from the op shop.
 
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In my sewing practice, one habit that has really made a difference is to process old clothing into usable bits right away.

I'll remove buttons and zippers and cut the usable fabric into regular squares or rectangles, which get neatly ironed. Scraps or damaged parts get used as filling for floor cushions.

I find it a lot more inspiring to work from neat squares of fabric than a big pile of damaged clothes. It's easy to see right away if I have enough material for a given project, and I can sort fabric into type and/or colors for quilt-like projects (I don't make actual quilts, but I will often quilt fabric together to make a larger piece that then gets used to cut out any pattern).

I've also collected, over the years, several easy go-to patterns that can use up small amounts of fabrics. Headbands and scrunchies for little girls, small pencil/toiletries cases, notebook covers, bunting... I'm also sewing practical things like handkerchiefs and coffee filters (and a whole lot of fabric masks over the last two years). I'll also let my girls dig into my fabric scraps for any project they'd like (doll clothes and little plush toys, mostly).

Finally, I've started investing in my mending skills. Finding out the best way to repair a garment requires lots of technical skills and can be as satisfying as creating a whole new garment.  My favorite pair of jeans is heavily mended with multiple different techniques, including visible patches of fabric that I have an emotional connexion to, and I'm filled with delight every time I wear it.  
 
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Some great tips here! Adding a few more.
* Thrift stores/op shops/charity shops, as mentioned upthread, are a great source for all kinds of things. With a little patience, I’ve collected quite a few nice notions from there. I also haunt the bedding and curtain racks—sheets are big swatch of fabric and often have fiber content labels, while curtains are also big swaths of fabric and can yield some very fancy looks.
* A cutting table will not only save your knees and back, but also make your cutting more precise and therefore save you fabric. I got mine off of Craigslist for $20; the sides fold down when not in use and I love it. They can also be made with repurposed items—you just want to be sure that it’s the right height. Check the dimensions on a few commercially made tables to help you.
* Learning pattern drafting can save you a ton of money on patterns. Check out historical patterning tutorials or 19th century sewing manuals (tons of these available at Internet Archive.
* Using historical patterns also can be a huge savings in terms of material waste. Material was very, very expensive prior to the Industrial Revolution, so garment cutting was carefully planned not to waste a bit of it. (Think lots of squares, rectangles, and triangles!) Material not wide enough for what you need? Piece it together!
* Embrace hand sewing. You don’t need a machine to make beautiful, useful items. Learn a few useful stitches: running stitch, backstitch, felling stitch, herringbone stitch, whip stitch, and buttonhole stitch. Get a thimble that fits you—not so large as to fall off, not so small it damages your finger, just snug—and learn to use it. It’s both faster and easier on your hands. Wax your thread with a bit of beeswax to make it less likely to tangle, allow it to slip more smoothly through the fabric, and make it stronger.  As a bonus, hand sewing is meditative.

A caution: cheap thread is false economy. It can bung up your sewing machine, twists constantly while hand sewing, and stitches pop easily. Good thread is absolutely worth the price!!! Silk is my favorite for hand sewing due to its strength and smoothness.
 
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Kena, would it be possible to post a picture of how you repair jeans?   I can't believe how fast pants wear out these days, and the iron-on patches don't work worth beans....thanks.
 
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Angelika Maier wrote:I like watching interviews and shows. All what I am doing is hand sewing with fabrics from the op shop.

I grew up machine sewing and was never taught to hand-sew efficiently. Lately, I've been watching some of the period clothing videos, and that got me looking at how to hand stitch. I can hand stitch for a 1/2 hour in an evening and feel like a project made progress, and I'm a convert. Particularly if I'm renovating or repairing something, hand stitching may be just as fast as trying to machine sew through a narrow gap. The fact that I don't actually need much clothes helps - it's not like I'm going places daily where I need to be "fashionable" - my ducks don't care!

I read here on permies about a "sewing bird" for holding one part of the fabric for easier hand sewing. I use a spring clamp from my workshop!

I will go to the machine for bigger tasks and straight lines, but hand sewing is quiet and portable. That said, I did challenge myself to sew an entire shirt by hand, which you can see here: https://permies.com/t/154258/sewing/fiber-arts/Clothing-patterns-based-rectangles
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:Kena, would it be possible to post a picture of how you repair jeans?   I can't believe how fast pants wear out these days, and the iron-on patches don't work worth beans....thanks.

I admit I avoid iron-on like the plague. I've met the odd person who seems to like them - maybe they found a brand that genuinely works or have an iron that truly fuses them, but I'll stick to mending with needle and thread.

Cristo, I'd suggest you check out this thread for lots of great ideas and pretty pictures : https://permies.com/t/54406/sewing/fiber-arts/mending-clothes

A lovely thread started by R Ranson about advanced mending where you don't want it to show can be found here: https://permies.com/t/152662/ungarbage/invisibly-mended-cloth

And for those of you who like to be rewarded for learning how to do what our Great Grandmothers learned by age 5, there are plenty of mending BB's available in the textiles portion of SKiP : https://permies.com/wiki/101129/pep-textiles/PEP-Badge-Textiles  

Many people don't know, or are only just discovering, how damaging the modern textile industry is on the environment. Just like "growing your own veggies" helps the planet by reducing the food miles your food travels and improves the nutritional value, sewing, upcycling, mending, and caring for clothing so that it lasts is a concrete contribution you can make to living lighter on the land.
 
Kena Landry
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Cristo Balete wrote:Kena, would it be possible to post a picture of how you repair jeans?   I can't believe how fast pants wear out these days, and the iron-on patches don't work worth beans....thanks.



I have two pairs of jeans that need mending - I'll post pictures and share.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:[qI admit I avoid iron-on like the plague. I've met the odd person who seems to like them - maybe they found a brand that genuinely works or have an iron that truly fuses them, but I'll stick to mending with needle and thread.



I use iron-on to stabilize patches on jersey, but I'll sew on top if I want it to last several washes (I make my own patches using Heat&Bond Extra hold, and I'll typically make them in fun shapes like hearts or clouds).

To make it last, I'll typically sew back-and-forth lines in a contrasting color with my sewing machine all over the patch. Makes for a nice textured look, holds on strong, and takes very little time (especially if I interpret "contrasting color" to mean "whatever is currently set up in the machine")

The big advantage of an iron-on patch is that if one of my girls comes down with a torn legging one morning, I can patch it up right away in five minutes before school, and finish up the sewing later on.  But it's really a better solution for kids clothing. It won't last decades, but it should last long enough for the kid to outgrow it (and probably her younger sister too).
 
Kena Landry
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Jeans repair for friction wear (on the seat, mostly). I'll put a cotton patch inside to add strength, and then machine-sew back and forth with blue thread.

You can see how the left side has been repaired, and looks fairly intact (if someone looks at my crotch close enough to notice, I have other problems).

Second photo shows the inside, where you can better see the construction of the repair.

This pair of jeans has been worn weekly for at least eight years...
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Kena Landry
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Close up midway through the other side. The trick is to follow the existing grain of the fabric. It works precisely because denim is already a variegated color so the stitches blend in.
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Kena Landry
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And final result. It took.just a bit of thread and about 10 minutes of work tops.
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May Lotito
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I had this holey old shirt that fitted good round neck and shoulders but too small in some other places. I decided to cut it apart to save the pattern since it had too many pieces for accurate tracing.

First I sliced open the princess seams to see how much full bust adjustment I need. About one inch each side. The back princess seams needed some width added below waistline too for swayback.

I marked with a pen anywhere that needed notching and markers.

Cut it apart at seams, iron and transfer to freezer paper. Trace the outline with a pen and smooth out with rulers. Measure and true wherever needed. Noted the 2 inches of width and 1 inch length added around bust in the copied pattern.

I am going to make a wearable shirt with it and see if it needs more fine-tuning.
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This abundance may be region-specific to me, but I see a lot of sewing machines and notions listed for free on Craigslist or other "freecycle" forums, or inexpensively in estate sales ( Estatesales.net lists them by area and date and often includes pictures of the offered items so you can target sales with those kinds of things) Estate sales are also a great resource for old linens and textiles that can be used for sewing and the textiles are often higher quality than what is commonly available now, linen, high thread count cotton damasks, lace and embroidery. I have seen boxes of notions, zippers, bias binding, trims, and buttons for a few dollars.
 
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Speaking of inexpensive/free machines... If you live along the I-5 corridor in the Medford-ish Oregon area (or can get here) and want a sewing machine and don't have one, I can provide! I have two or three straight-stitch vintage machines that don't need to live here any more. These do reverse, but they don't zigzag or any other fanciness. They are solid, reliable, easy to use and easy to repair machines, though, and at least one can be converted to hand-crank if you so desire. Send me a purple moosage if you're interested. If you have something to trade, that would be awesome, but mostly I want the floor space these are taking up.

Obviously, there's an expiration date on this offer. Once they're gone, they're gone. I'll post here with an update when they are.
 
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Mercy Pergande wrote:This abundance may be region-specific to me, but I see a lot of sewing machines and notions listed for free on Craigslist or other "freecycle" forums, or inexpensively in estate sales ( Estatesales.net lists them by area and date and often includes pictures of the offered items so you can target sales with those kinds of things) Estate sales are also a great resource for old linens and textiles that can be used for sewing and the textiles are often higher quality than what is commonly available now, linen, high thread count cotton damasks, lace and embroidery. I have seen boxes of notions, zippers, bias binding, trims, and buttons for a few dollars.



Local thrift stores and estate sales are great for getting sewing stuffs for a small fraction of the cost. Lots of great deals if one is willing to spend time checking out. It's interesting you mentioned the fabrics are of better quality in estate sales, I found vintage clothes in the thrift shops were made of higher quality materials and using better techniques too.
 
May Lotito
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Shawn Foster wrote:Speaking of inexpensive/free machines... If you live along the I-5 corridor in the Medford-ish Oregon area (or can get here) and want a sewing machine and don't have one, I can provide! I have two or three straight-stitch vintage machines that don't need to live here any more. These do reverse, but they don't zigzag or any other fanciness. They are solid, reliable, easy to use and easy to repair machines, though, and at least one can be converted to hand-crank if you so desire. Send me a purple moosage if you're interested. If you have something to trade, that would be awesome, but mostly I want the floor space these are taking up.

Obviously, there's an expiration date on this offer. Once they're gone, they're gone. I'll post here with an update when they are.



Do you want to post this offer in the advertising forum so more people can see it if it's still available?

When the pandemic started a few years ago, there was a surge for sewing machine sales. I hope there are more people learning sewing as it is a very useful skill even though one doesn't need to make masks any more.
 
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I am in a dilemma, the clothes I made over the years still fit and won't wear out now that I am not that motivated to make new items. I am doing more refashioning now as a creative outlet and also cut my fabric purchase by 3/4.

Here is the recent project to turn an oversized button down corduroy shirtdress into a jacket and a maxi skirt.
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Used skirt button placket as jacket waistband
Used skirt button placket as jacket waistband
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Details of the modified skirt opening
Details of the modified skirt opening
 
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