Thrift Store Fabrics: 12 Tips for Scouting and Using Second-Hand Fabrics


Do you admit to picking up fabric everywhere you go? I do. Pretty fabric, at least. You would have loved the stack I came home with the last time I browsed my favorite thrift shop. One of my favorite hobbies (besides sewing) is finding fabric treasures at yard sales and thrift shops.

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These are my top twelve tips and tricks for finding great thrifted fabrics and using them too.

Don’t miss: Frugal Finds: Top 12 Sewing Supplies to Score at the Thrift Store.

Tip 1: Shop Small

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I think most big thrift shops (the franchise ones, anyway) get rid of the fabric that comes in.

My favorite place to look is a small thrift shop linked to a charity. They have a great fabric and crafts section. Whenever you see a small church or charity-run thrift shop, take a quick peek inside to see what treasures they have. It could be a big win!

Tip 2: Inspect Fabrics Carefully.

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Check for stains or odd smells. Stain remover can usually remove coffee spills or a dusty smell, but a ‘light bar’ discoloration from fabric sitting on a shelf too long is permanent. Make sure there is still enough usable fabric to make the purchase worth it.

Tip 3: Look Closely at Fabric Bundles

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Many thrift shop and yard sale sellers put fabric stacks together in bundles for easy sale. My favorite shop stacks up about 5 yards for $2. I usually have to buy the whole bundle to get one piece I really like, but for that price, who cares? 

I browsed through my pictures for this article, and found lots of projects made with thrifted fabrics. Like the heavy blue duck cloth on the car cozy above.

Tip 4: Wash it!

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I always throw my stack of thrifted fabrics in the wash as soon as I get home. That helps eliminate any funny smell, plus I find out how it will hold up. I want to know ahead of time if it can’t make it through one wash.

Tip 5: Look for Vintage Sheets and Tablecloths

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I’m sure you know that fabric can be found in other departments too… Sheets, curtains, and tablecloths can be excellent sources of fabric, often giving you a large amount of material for a low price. This nap mat came from a thrifted sheet. Lots of people use soft vintage sheets for quilt backings, too.

Tip 6: Get the Solids

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In general, I look for good quality solid fabrics when I am scouting out thrift stores and yard sales. It’s easier to make them look modern when I mix them with my favorite designer prints. If I have to buy other fabrics because they came in a bundle, I use them for practice projects.

The beautiful red knit fabric that I made this top from also came from a thrift store bundle. That ended up being a super find… about 3 yards (plus other stuff in the bundle), and I really like the quality. 

Tip 7: Buy Neutral-Colored Fabrics, Too

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When you find neutral fabrics like blacks, whites, or tans, consider stocking up. These are versatile and can be used in a variety of projects.

Tip 8: Check Labels and Do Phone Research

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Look for labels on the fabric selvages or on a bolt end. These can tell you fabric content, care instructions, and the name of the manufacturer. Once, while shopping at my favorite charity thrift shop, I came across a partial bolt of the fabric pictured above. It was fabric print I wouldn’t normally buy, but when I looked up the brand online, it was 100% cotton lawn made in Italy! Then I noticed the beautiful softness and drape. I bought the partial bolt for $10, and it was enough for the backs of 2 baby quilts!

Tip 9: Plan ahead

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If you are shopping for fabrics for a certain pattern, snap a picture of the fabric requirements before you leave. That way, you’ll know if there is enough of that ‘perfect fabric’ you found. Having a general idea of the types of projects you want to start before shopping will help you stay focused and choose fabrics that you’ll actually use.

Tip 10: Bring a Small Tape Measure

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Thrift store fabrics usually don’t include labels indicating length and width. Bring a pocket measuring tape with you so you can check to make sure you will have enough. It may be nearly impossible to purchase more of that fabric you found for a great deal.

Tip 11: Buy What You Love!

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On the other hand, if you find a quality piece of fabric that you really love, don’t hesitate to buy it. Especially if it’s a great price. I once regretted not buying a certain piece of fabric and when I went back the next day, it was gone.

These two rolls of fabric were almost taken when I walked away for a moment to think. They turned out to be perfect for chair pockets that I sewed for my daughter’s first grade class.

Tip 12: Carry Cash

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Most thrift stores in my area offer a 3-5% discount when paying with cash. Some shops may not accept credit cards, so it’s a good idea to have cash on hand anyway. Especially if you see fabric while driving by yard sales!

Tip Bonus: Look for Purse Handles Too!

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There’s more… I often find amazing purse handles at thrift stores too. I’ll cut the handles off an old bag and sew them onto a new one that I made. Here’s how.

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