Thrift Store Secrets: 15 Tips to Score Fabric for Pennies!

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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.

Photo credit: Deanna Laing / Shutterstock.com

You can also find NEW fabrics discarded from the fashion industry at FabScrap, which is fabric recycling at its best.

These are my top fifteen tips and tricks for finding great thrifted fabrics and using them, too. Learn more below.

Tip 1: Shop Small

thrift store sewing machine
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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.

Tip 3: Check the Cut Edges for Fraying

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If a fabric is fraying excessively, that’s probably a sign that it’s old or low quality. Make sure there is still enough usable fabric to make the purchase worth it.

Tip 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: Be Prepared to Walk Away

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Do you already have a large stash of fabric? If a fabric isn’t right for you or your projects, or if it’s damaged beyond what you’re willing to work with, don’t be afraid to pass on it. I know it’s hard! Thrift store inventory changes constantly. Visit regularly to catch new fabric arrivals.

Tip 13: 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 14: 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 having cash on hand is a good idea, especially if you see fabric while driving by yard sales!

Tip 15: Try FabScrap!

Photo credit: FABSCRAP

FabScrap is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing fabric waste. I had a fabulous time visiting them in NYC a couple years ago. They now have locations in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, plus online virtual shopping by appointment. Learn more about my trip and how to shop there!

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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Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂