How to get good materials for quilting and embroidery creatively and cheap

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The most obvious place to find supplies for quilting, embroidery and sewing is, of course, the quilt or embroidery shop. Those shops are either brick and mortar stores or online. However, there are many alternative ways to get supplies for quilting or embroidery. In this article will tell you about four of them:

  1. Befriend a tailor or dressmaker.
  2. Second-hand stores.
  3. Give away groups.
  4. Old clothes and other leftover materials.

I depend mainly on the options I’ve mentioned above. I don’t want to discourage you from going to official stores. Especially the small-scale indie designers do great things for the creative industry to keep it fresh and lively -I will dedicate an article to my favourites later. However, there are many reasons why it is sometimes better to find alternative ways to get supplies:

  • The environment: Every new item we buy needs to be made and requires resources to do so. It is better to use materials that are already created, be it second-hand materials or materials which had a different use before like clothes. This also prevents more waste from going to the landfill or waste incinerators.
  • Budget: Buying from specialist shops can be expensive. It is possible to find high-quality material cheaper if you learn how to look for it.
  • Creativity: Working with a limiting range of materials you cannot influence a hundred per cent triggers creative thinking. Also, I love that each piece becomes unique because you cannot buy the same materials time and time again.

I’ll discuss each alternative option below with some examples of my work. In that way, I want to motivate you to try alternative ways for yourself. It makes the whole creative process less predictable and controllable, and to me, that is part of the fun. And most importantly: it makes our beloved crafts more sustainable.

1. Befriend a Tailor or dressmaker

When I lived in Kenya for the first time in September 2018 I build my fabric stash with scraps from a tailor. At first, they gave me a long and strange look the first time I came round asking for their scraps. However, they gave me what they had and I showed them my work and both parties were happy.  When I came home to unpack my scraps I discovered that scraps might not be the right word. Some of the pieces they gave me were HUGE. Most of the fabrics in my Kenyan quilt are from that tailor. Also, there were enough leftovers to give my mother as a souvenir.

Kenyan quilt block finished
Kenyan quilt block finished

Currently, I am living in Kenya again, and I am doing the same trick with tailors to build a fabric stash again. However, this time I am using different tailors to get more of the African kitenge fabrics. You can see some of my loot in the picture on top. The picture below will give you an idea of how many scraps I already got. I’m planning a paper-piecing quilt with the fabrics and also the Bible Sampler Quilt by Laurie Aaron Hird, creator of the Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt, with these fabrics. It will look amazing and colourful. And something says me my mother will be interested in these fabrics as well…

A treasure chest bag of scraps
A treasure chest bag of scraps

The added benefit of getting fabrics through other creative people is that you will make friends. The last batch of fabrics I got through a new friend who makes souvenirs from kitenge scraps. Also in my experience, tailors love to see what you do with the scraps they give you which gives you a perfect reason to visit them again to check on their scraps. You don’t have to only focus on professions though, you can also ask hobbyists. I’ve seen many people in clothes sewing facebook groups wondering what to do with their scraps. You can do the honourable thing and relieve them of that problem.

2. Second-hand Stores

I love second-hand stores! They have such amazing potential to find the unexpected and awesome both in cloths and crafting materials. Plus, those stores are habituated by friendly old ladies which make you instantly feel at home (at least mine where). The start of my first fabric stash, both for sewing and cross stitch is from second-hand stores. Also, I got many cross stitch kits and finished embroidery pieces from those stories, which can be used in so many amazing ways. One example of that is the dragon bookmark you see below.  This dragon is created from a pattern I found online. and two cross stitch kits with a rose pattern. I didn’t like the rose pattern, so I used the floss and fabric to create something else. I’ll write a detailed post about this process later.

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Finished embroidery pieces add a nice original touch to sewn projects. And since I don’t have the time to embroider the number of pieces I’d like to use, I also save finished pieces from second-hand stores, because it makes me sad to see that something somebody has spent months or years to create ends up in the landfill. One thing I did with one of those saved pieces is making a small material bag:

30% cut 2
Embroidered material bag

Second-hand stores are an amazing source for materials, however, it depends on luck as well. I used to live close to a second-hand store which always had an amazing stock of fabric and embroidery materials. Which is interesting, because it was tiny. It felt as if all the old ladies in my old hometown were on a schedule to donate their materials so I could stumble upon it. Although, it is more likely that the manager of the shop knew embroidery materials sold well in that place, so all the national supply went to that particular branch. My tiny store was part of a chain of stores run for a good cause.

3. Give-Away Groups

Most of the giveaway groups I know are on Facebook. However, I also hear people getting materials from Craigslist and other websites. It serves to check local buying and selling groups and see what is available for free or a small price. I asked people for leftover fabrics and clothes in a local facebook group and got enough materials for more than two quilts! Creative people like to give stuff away because most of them have more materials in their homes than they can handle. My rally for materials ended in my first finished big quilt:

Finished scrap quilt
Finished scrap quilt

Also, sometimes your local quilt or embroidery guild gives away materials during meetings. At my local guild in the Netherlands, there is a table every meeting where people put fabrics and books they don’t want anymore. Members can take what they want and pay a price what they think is fair for the guild account. There, and second-hand stores, is where I got a lot of the fabric for my Dear Jane Quilt and my Nearly Insane Quilt.

Lastly, there is a specific cross stitch facebook group where you can offer a WIP you don’t want to finish anymore. This group is perfect for people who get stressed by all the WIPs they have, but they fell out of love with:

There are groups like this around for any kind of craft. Google and the search function will help you out here.

4. Old clothes and other discarded fabrics

The last way to get fabrics I want to discuss is using old clothes and fabrics. There is a particular style of quilt called a memory quilt where people use the clothes of persons as a memory to that person. This quilt I’m making for a friend is an example of that:

The big Quilt example
The big Quilt example

Beyond this kind of quilts, clothes are in general not considered as suitable quilting materials. I don’t agree with that though, because it all depends on picking the right clothes, knowing the right techniques and the end look for the quilt you’re going for. I love the challenge of making any kind of fabric work in a quilt. It gives the quilt an original look and it teaches you lots of sewing techniques and tricks on how to make unruly fabric behave. And using any kind of scrap fabric is the tradition were quilting comes from after all: in the older days, quilts were made from any old scrap people had.  The scrap quilt above has a lot of material from clothes, my Kenyan quilt has, and the quilts below are made from old clothes as well.

The most suitable clothes item is a shirt. Shirts can have amazing patterns, especially the funky shirts that are popular nowadays. Also, they are made from a non-stretchy material. The quilt below is made from shirts and ties. Ties are trickier to work with because the fabric is slippery, but nothing using a lot of pins cannot deal with. The shiny effect of the fabric compliments the shirt fabric nicely in this quilt below.

Folded finished pinwheel quilt

This bird tote bag is another example of what you can do with old shirts.

Geometric bird tote bag
Geometric bird tote bag

Beside old clothes, there are also other fabrics you can use for your sewing projects. The bag below I made from leftover curtain fabric from a friend. It was a strong fabric, which makes it suitable for a backpack. Especially because I like to carry around a lot of stuff. It was a fun thing that when I visited that friend to see how long it took people to see the similarities between his curtains and my bag. Jeans are also very popular to work with. My aunt makes amazing bags and pillows out of old jeans.

Finished penguin rucksack

Conclusion: And did you learn?!

Now, here are my suggestions to find quilting and embroidery fabric cheap. Now it is time for you to go out and to explore for yourself. Maybe you’ll save a tree by upcycling some long ago loved coats or you’ll keep the ocean a bit cleaner by using the forgotten cross stitch supplies of a neighbour. Anyhow, every little thing we do in our day to day life to reduce the number of resources we use and the amount of waste we create contributes to a better environment. And many small steps will add up into a big leap. Follow my blog to read more of this kind of articles in the future. Let me end this post with some questions for you:

  1. Which alternative ways to get materials do you use?
  2. Are there techniques you use to make your hobby more sustainable?
  3. Which of my alternatives inspired you most and why?
  4. Will you share some of your upcycled projects in the commentary sections?

Would you like to know more?

Melanie Brummer has created the Up-cycled cloth collective. She aims to motivate sewing people to re-use more materials and to buy less new materials.  In this way, the creative communities become more environmentally sustainable. Her global facebook group is a good place to start:


See my DeviantArt or Instagram (username: bella.g.bear.art) for more artwork and WIPs. You can also follow my blog by clicking on the button on the left or by filling in your email address. There will be a monthly update at the end of every month and a new blog post every Sunday or Monday.

 

4 comments

  1. I enjoyed that. I like that first Kenyan block. The fabrics are so different and creative. I have a friend in S. Africa who dyes Shweshwe (I know I massacred that spelling!) and makes the most beautiful fabrics. I like your bird tote a lot, too. The buttons you used on the plaid quilt are from the shirts, I’m sure, and a great way to use those! Another friend of mine is making memory teddy bears from a deceased man’s shirts, and she’s using the button plackets to make pillows to go with them.

    You might like to read what my friend Debra is doing with recycled rayon clothing: This is just one post that shows an example. I pick up almost all my plaids at Goodwill from men’s long-sleeved shirts – the larger the better. An XL has about a yard of usable material, plus I turn the cuffs into thread catchers for those times when I don’t want to think about the extra pattern needs of a leader-ender.

    One of my friends gets all her linen and wool there, but I don’t live in a climate that has a lot of either one. And I STILL manage to hit the quilt shops often. =) You know, it sounds like I already have a collective of friends who are recycling, and I didn’t even realize it! I love what you have hanging on the line there – a great photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the compliment and the long comment 🙂 I always try to make colourful pieces that also reflect my own style. I’ve heared of those teddybears and I think they are a very good idea.

      I’ve used xl shirts for that quilt you see and I have enough materials for 2 or 3 of those quilts I think (and you were right about the buttons). They are really lovely materials! And it’s inspirational to hear about the things other people make. I’ll certainly check out Debra’s website.

      Oh, and you got the name of that South-African fabric correctly. I googled it and I would love to get my hands on some of that lush fabric.

      I plan to write more articles like this in the future. Follow my blog to get a notification when one is published :-). One of the projects I am working on is a quilt made from the Kitenge fabrics on the line.

      I enjoyed your comment. Gave me lots of ideas what to do with the cuffs and such of shirts. For now, they are just laying in a box in the hope I find a use for them. Habe a good day!

      Like

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