Thrift Store Fabric Shopping: Sew Something for Nothing — Almost, By Lucy B. Gray
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Try thrift store fabric shopping and learn how to transform wonderful fabrics harvested from thrift-store clothing and other treasures into head-turning pieces! With found fabrics and your creative juices flowing outside of the proverbial “box,” you can create truly one-of-a-kind accessories and clothing.

The stylish pieced bags shown below are a great example of how easy it is to “make something for nothing” — well, almost — if you are willing to do some thrift store fabric shopping.

bags made after thrift store shopping

Au Printemps Bags

What’s in the Thrift Stores?

Why shop at a thrift store for fabric? The racks hold hundreds of high-quality silks, cottons and rayons as well as interesting textured polyesters and woolens just waiting for the creative sewer who wants more options than the standard fabric-and-craft store fare. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t shop for new fabrics, but sometimes you’ll be able to find exactly what you need at the thrift shop when it’s nowhere else to be found. This is particularly true when you are searching for fabrics and colors that might not be the current rage.

When I go thrift store fabric shopping, I never know what I’m going to find. I purchase anything that appeals to me, often without any preconceived notion of what I’m going to make from it. I am always looking for secondhand garments in my favorite colors or with interesting textures and prints, as well as quirky and inexpensive costume jewelry, men’s ties or anything else that looks like it has design potential.

thrift store fabrics

Look for colorful skirts, blouses, tops and dresses in easy-care fabrics. Polyester, rayon, cotton, silk and blends of these are all suitable fabrics for bags.

I collected several color-related garments from my favorite store and envisioned making some pieced handbags from the fabrics. The collage of sprightly greens reminded me of how fresh everything looks after a spring rain, and the black-and-whites provided visual contrast in the medley of potential candidates. Hence the Au Printemps (French for spring) name for these two bags.

I also found some treasures in the thrift-shop jewelry case and in my vintage-button stash to audition as design focal points.

thrift store fabrics

After you have “harvested” your fabrics, audition them with potential embellishments, such as costume jewelry and vintage buttons.

From Finds to Treasures: After You Go Thrift Store Fabric Shopping

In this article, I’ll show you how to convert your shopping finds into bags similar to mine, to showcase both your favorite fabrics and your originality! One thing is sure; you’ll never see anyone else carrying the same bag, as every purchase in a thrift store is one of a kind. For the bags shown, you’ll need five or six color coordinated garments to provide good variety. Shirts, blouses, skirts and dresses in fabrics such as cotton, silk, rayon and polyester (read the garment labels) are good prospects. If you want to use real leather for bag straps, look for leather skirts, which come in a rainbow of colors. Look for a “fabric” with interesting texture for added interest. None of these items should cost more than a few dollars apiece — that’s one of the joys of thrift store fabric shopping!

When you’re done thrift store fabric shopping, launder the clothing (except the leather skirt, of course) according to the manufacturer’s label. You can also machine-launder silk blouses and skirts in cold water, using the gentle cycle and a little mild shampoo. Dry everything on the delicate cycle and remove promptly. Harvest the fabrics by cutting the main panels of each garment free of their seams so that you have large, flat pieces to use for the piecing.

Top Tips Savvy Thrift Store Fabric Shopping

Here are my top tips for shopping for fabric in thrift stores.

  • Brilliant colors with finely detailed patterns are characteristic of the fine silk broadcloths used in men’s shirts and women’s blouses. These fabrics work well as jazzy bag linings when reinforced with fusible, low-melt interfacing. Prices range from 96 cents to $5, depending on how long they have been hanging on the racks.
  • Look for small, regular prints in your favorite colors in the women’s blouses and T-shirt racks. When cut into slightly bias strips, they make marvelous bindings.


  • Women’s T-shirts and sweaters offer a wonderful array of textures. These fabrics work well in pieced designs, as well as for use in other bag styles, including evening bags and for drawstring-style inserts and closures.


  • Check out women’s skirts for vivid, contrasting prints in sturdy, heavier weight rayon and polyester to use for all bag components.


  • Leather skirts in dyed pigskin and calfskin are perfect for bag straps and for piecing. You can even use them for an entire bag if you wish. They are typically priced a few dollars higher than fabric skirts, but where else can you find inexpensive, real leather?


  • Always stop by the jewelry case. It offers great accents for bags. Quirky little animal figures, outrageous rhinestone floral sprays and even the occasional genuine gold or silver item (unrecognized by everyone but you) can be purchased for less than the price of your favorite coffee drink.


  • Caution: Thrift store fabric shopping can become an addictive occupation requiring perseverance and lots of storage space!

Special Tools and Supplies for Sewing after Thrift Store Fabric Shopping

Besides a sewing machine and the usual sewing notions, you’ll need some additional tools and supplies from your fabric store and sewing room. The list includes some things you may not have used before, such as glover’s needles, magnetic purse snaps, beeswax, upholstery thread, craft spray adhesive, plastic canvas, and even milk jug plastic. Some of these are easy to locate in your local shop or at

So, get ready to rev up your creative engine and your sewing machine to expand your sewing repertoire and your wardrobe with these two fun and easy bags.

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