Saving Money by Reusing Cloth and Patterns

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reusing clothI’ve written about sewing before, both a very lengthy post about why I sew and a few posts about specific outfits that I have sewn, such as the Ivory Coat (part one, part two, part three, part four), the Swing Coat (part one, part two), and the Flannel-Back Satin Nightgowns (part one, part two).

One of the major difficulties with home sewing — besides the time it takes — is the cost of fabric. Pattern cost can be negligible if you sign up for the Jo-Ann Fabric mailer and watch the sales for 99 cents, 3 for $5 (1.66 each) or $1.99 patterns. Vogue never costs less than $3.99, so get used to that. Other fabric stores do the same thing, but Jo-Ann happens to be the only one in my area. We have a Hancock Fabrics but they don’t advertise in the local newspaper or send out a mailer. (Boo Hiss! Wal-de-Mart destroyed local sewing shops and now that they’re dead and gone, Wal-de-Mart doesn’t have a sewing department anymore! Boo Hiss!)

One thing you shouldn’t do ever is pay full price for patterns from the major companies. They go on sale all the time, and you can reuse a pattern you like many, many times. I cut and pin mine carefully, and I’ve used the same pattern for multiple copies of a garment. Different cloth gives different results.

reusing cloth to make a robe

Reusing cloth can take you down a rainbow-colored path.

So back to fabric. If you have a discerning eye and accept both what people and the street give you, free or very low-cost fabric is everywhere. I have an open invitation to family and friends that I will take any unwanted fabric or sewing notion. Does this mean that I get awful stuff that I would never, ever buy or use? You bet it does. The reason for doing this is that if you say, “I don’t want those ratty old shop rags” the person you say it to also hears, “I don’t want that hand-dyed silk dupioni.” But I do want that hand-dyed silk dupioni! I do! I do! I do! I could never afford it on my own so gimmie, gimmie, GIMMIE!

Don’t say no to fabric, ever. This is how I’ve ended up with a pick-up truck full of fabric, when the elderly sewing relatives of friends no longer sew and something has to be done with all that cloth. Me! Me! ME! I’ll take it all. I pass along what I don’t want to sewing friends and the rest goes into the stash for eventual use.

I have plucked fabric from trash cans and in piles of ‘FREE’ stuff after yard sales, and from boxfuls lying in the gutter. On one occasion, I took home a wicker hanging lamp that had been covered, loosely, with yellow gingham. I unpinned the gingham, washed it, and gave the lamp to the thrift shop. In every case of salvaged yard-goods, I’ve washed it, and it was like new.

Fabric is also available used. Generally, this means someone else turned it into sheets, tablecloths, draperies, curtains (including fabric shower curtains), and bridesmaid’s dresses. There’s a lot of fabric in a big, billowy bridesmaid skirt, and it is waiting for you to repurpose it. This can be a good way to get satin and velvet to experiment on. I’ve picked up this stuff along the side of the road and I’ve gotten it by the pound at the Goodwill bargain bin store. Wash it, and it’s usually ready to go.

When you repurpose used fabric, there is some risk that the fabric will disintegrate on you when used. I’ve had this happen twice in twenty years of salvaging. I pulled a terrific pair of woven tablecloths that looked Middle Eastern with their colored stripes. They made up into wonderful pjs for Dear Husband (DH), Older Son (OS), and Younger Son (YS). It was a great, masculine stripe with a terrific hand, and it sewed up well. After a few years of wear, the fabric started giving way, not at the seams, but in previously hidden wear spots. Over time, everything I made out of those tablecloths tore apart, and they all became shop rags. Was it worth my time? Yes, as it improved my sewing skills, and we got several years of wear out of free cloth.

The second piece of repurposed fabric that did that to me was from the Dorothy/Elizabeth/Florence stash. This group of ladies never threw anything away and when they passed on to glory, I got the pick-up truck load of sewing supplies. This fabric was a series of panels that once upon a time had been unlined curtains. You could tell, not by any hems or seams (there were none) but by the sun-bleached stripes on the back of the cloth panels, corresponding to how the fabric was hung in a window and never moved. I made this up into a pair of pajamas, using my standard pattern of Simplicity 3935, and in less time than the striped tablecloth, this fabric split along the fade lines. It proved unsalvageable for anything that will receive regular wear and washing. I still have a lot left; it may get used for test projects.

So used fabric has to be carefully evaluated. Wash it in HOT water — to see if it fails right away — and hang it up on the clothesline in full sun. Then go over it, looking for wear spots and moth holes. If you don’t find any, it may be fine. You probably won’t find out FOR SURE until after you’ve made the garment, and it’s been worn and washed multiple times. If this bothers you, understand that ALL fabric, when worn and washed multiple times, will eventually fail, tear, and split. Used fabric does it quicker, because it’s already got some miles on it. Heavier fabric tends to last longer as does tightly woven fabric. A good set of tightly woven sheets can last forever! They were made to be washed endlessly in hot water and they make excellent linings for insulated draperies and window quilts.

Next Week: Reusing Scraps Part Two