Cutting Costs

Recycling Maternity Clothes

A great hint on recycling maternity clothes from Diane in Australia:

"After I have finished with my maternity clothes (which I have made) there is so much material in them and it still has a lot of wear and tear. So I have cut the top part off so I can make an elastic skirt from them which then enables me to feed my children without the expense of having to buy new skirts and shirts during the feeding time. I then can reuse the material for my girls and make them skirts."

This is helpful. Rather than having two whole wardrobes you can then use clothes up in a more routine manner. This could be especially useful to anyone on a limited income or with limited space. If you move often this would also eliminate having excess clothing.


Sewing costs can be cut.  Here's an article generously donated by Claudia G. of Texas which she wrote for The Country Heart.

Recently a friend of mine told me, "It's just not worth sewing my own clothes.  After you buy the material, the buttons, zippers, patterns and thread, it costs just as much as if I had bought a dress!"  Well, my friend is right.  It can get costly to buy all those things.  Since I am the world's biggest "cheap-skate", I have naturally figured out a way around all of this.  My mother taught me the fine art of "scavenging" which she had learned from her mother.  This art has been passed down through the ages to all the women in my family.  I am sure that when my ancestors decided to emigrate to this country from England, my great-great...etc...great grandmother said to her husband, "Buying a fare on that sailing ship is pretty expensive. Couldn't we just rent a row boat instead.  You wouldn't mind rowing a little would you Honey?"  We have no record of this happening but I'm pretty sure it did.  Anyway, I had already discussed how to start a "pattern archive".  Save patterns you really like to sew.  Re-use these over and over.  By changing sleeves and collars you can create an infinite variety of garments. This way you don't need to pay for a new pattern each and every time you sew.  Keep your eye out for sales on patterns. Also, don't forget that patterns are sold at thrift stores and garage sales for just pennies.  They may be out of style but with a few adjustments they can be "modernized" to the latest style.


Buttons are another cost you can circumvent.  They can be very costly.  That is why I scavenge the buttons off any old garment I discard.  I have a large jar that I keep all the buttons in.  When I am sewing on a project, chances are I have the buttons I need already.  I have buttons that date back to the 60's when I was a child.  My mother always removed all buttons to reuse later.  She had jars and jars of buttons.  When I got married I took a jar of buttons to start my own collection!  I went "garage-sale-ing" with a friend of mine once.  I bought the most obnoxious looking outfit for 25 cents.  She looked at me like I was totally crazy.  "You aren't thinking of wearing that?" she said.  "No, I bought it because of the buttons."  I showed them to her.  There were ten beautiful metal buttons on the outfit that would have cost at least five dollars to buy.  When I got home, I removed them and threw the hideous outfit away.


If you are really a "dyed-in-the-wool" cheapskate.  You can scavenge zippers as well. I have a whole stock of zippers in every size and color imaginable.  However, I don't even bother to save polyester zippers.  They do not last very long.  They usually wear out before the garment does.  But the metal zippers will last forever. I have metal zippers that have survived several outfits.  I won't buy anything except metal zippers.


Thread can be another expense.  However, I have found that if I keep a stock of basic colors from the "cheap-bin" at Wal-Mart (i.e. 5 for a dollar), I can use this thread for all the seams that do not show.  Then, I buy a small spool of the more expensive thread in a coordinating color for the top stitching.  Since I only use this thread where it will show, I only use a small amount.  I save the rest for another project. I have built up quite a "stash" of thread this way.  I have almost any color I need on hand.  The "cheapie" thread is of a lower quality and tends to break more but it does save a bundle in the long run.


Now this is an area that I (the Queen of Cheap) don't even venture. But when I was a child my mother would even save the elastic from garments. So I know it can be done, however, elastic wears out quickly. Even in an outfit that isn't used much elastic will get old and brittle, so my advice is to just buy new, it's not worth the effort to scavenge.  [ Note from editor: While old elastic is not prudent for clothing, you could use it for head bands and such, maybe even sleeves where elastic can be too tight and therefore uncomfortable.]


Expensive lace and lace collars can be scavenged as well (don't bother with the cheap stuff).  I bought a dress at a thrift store once for $1.00 because it had a beautiful lace collar that I removed and used on another dress.  So it pays to pay look around.


After my grandmother had passed away a few years ago, we were sorting through her things.  I came across a little glass jar. I had to chuckle at what I found inside.  My grandmother had saved four small metal buttons from some outfit that had been discarded years before.  No doubt she had intended to use them for some future sewing project.  I've kept that little bottle with the buttons.  I have them on the shelf.  They remind me of her now that she is gone.  Four small, inexpensive buttons, but somehow they capture her frugal spirit that she has passed on to me.

-by Claudia G.


1. To keep the cost of fabric down, keep your eyes open for low priced fabric, sales, clearances, remnants, and miss prints being sold cheap.  Low priced fabrics can be of poor quality so be careful in this area.  At sales and clearances you can find good fabrics at low prices.  Our Wal-Mart sometimes lowers the price on remnants to 1/2 off.  Look at the amount and see if it is enough to make a blouse, shirt, or even a skirt or dress.  If it is not, check for another piece of the same fabric or a coordinating fabric that could be used with it to make an attractive garment.  Check miss prints to see how bad the "problem" is.  If it's only minor, and won't be readily noticed, it may still be useful to you.  These are great ways to get quilting fabric also.   :-)     -- Mary V.

2.  I search yard sales and garage sales for clothes to use for crazyquilting, and regular quilting. I got 10 wool skirts for .25 each, and that will make a very pretty, warm quilt for this winter!
Libby M.

3.  Keep your eyes open for new fabric at second hand stores as well.  We have found it there before.  Some stores may hang it on hangers, while others bag it.  Ask someone working there if they ever get any. My sister--in-law found several large bags of good quality fabric for around $10 each.  Some of the pieces were expensive quilting fabric.  She came out way ahead on that one.


1.  One thing I have found is: with patterns--- you can cut your favorite patterns out in muslin and take a marker pen and mark the darts, etc. Then your paper pattern will be there 'forever', and the muslin won't wear out!  -- Libby M.

2. Make your patterns go farther by interchanging sleeve patterns.  Lay the bodice from one dress or blouse on another pattern of the same size.  If the opening is the same or quite close to the same, you can interchange sleeves.  This will give you more variety just among the patterns you have, so you can use the most comfortable pattern and change the sleeves so all your dresses/blouses don't look the same.  :-)  Also, look for patterns in yard sales and second hand stores.  If it's cheap enough, it may be worth buying it for the sleeve, collar or whatever.

3. Check second hand store for patterns as well.  You may wish to open it out and make sure all the pieces for the style you wish to make are there and that the pattern is still in good enough condition to use.


My favorite online store for fabric for both quilting and clothing is .  Their service and postage are excellent, and if you are not happy with the product, return shipping is free.  You can't beat that! If you live in an area where fabric shops are few and far between, this can be a God send.

For good prices on mixed poly-cottons and polyesters, you might like Gehman's Country Fabrics.  These are not good quilting fabrics if you want 100% cotton, by the way.

For good sales on patterns or for ordering digital patterns, is quite useful.  Their regular prices are not always the best, but if you sign up for emails you will know when their really good sales are running - and they are well worth it!


Secondhand Treasure

Cathy A. of Louisiana writes:

I had never given much thought to recycling buttons, clothing etc. until about 2 or 3 years ago...buttons really have gone up, as has fabric: and patterns now are selling for 8 dollars and up, on an average.

I also have some "frugal" ideas. I sew crafts, quilts, toys and clothing. I search at places like the "goodwill" for bargains that can be remade, resewn or somehow transformed into something new. If an item has a lovely fabric, but the fabric is sewn into something awful, buy the item for the fabric appeal, and reuse the fabric either by redesigning the item or by cutting the dress at the seams, and just use the fabric for your small craft or quilting projects...I usually look for good quality cottons. Remember, many "rich" people sometimes donate used goods...and many of them use nice designer fabrics in their items..including silks, rayon etc. You would be surprised how many small projects can be made from one full skirt or dress.

I must warn readers that this can be habit forming..for once you start looking for what something can become, rather than what it is now, you get the creative juices flowing, and this transfers over to recycling all sorts of things...light bulbs for papier-m�ch� doll heads and on and is only limited by your imagination, time factors and creativity...

Many times too, sheets are found at the salvation army or good will, and at garage sales once in a while. If you are smart, and the price is right, sheets can be made into anything..and you have a lot of fabric left over. Again, look for quality goods with a high thread count of at least 180 threads per inch.

I watch the sewing shows on TV. and recently they featured a lady from California who makes Indian and other dolls from used suede jackets that she buys at the "Good will"... again, she looks for items that she can cut up and use for her doll making.

The one item that I would not reuse or resew is under garments... I feel that these really should not be in these stores, but sometimes people donate them anyway.

[Editor's Note: If you plan to use secondhand fabric for sewing quilts, I recommend that you select only fabric that feels and looks like new, unless you are going for a "shabby" look.  Quilts can receive a lot of abuse and starting with worn fabric will shorten the life of the quilt.  Check inside seams of garments to see if the outside is faded.]

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graphics and background by Mary E. Stephens
updated 2019