Pictures of frozen halloween costumes and the recycled material clothing rack where material was bought for them.

The Ultimate Guide to Thrift Fabric

Y’all know I LOVE to create, but even more than that, I LOVE a good bargain. I know you love a good bargain too, so I’m sure you know all too well, the benefits of thrifting. In fact, I’m sure y’all are just like me and love finding exactly what you are looking for at a fraction of its original price. (Cue Happy Dance…)

Since you’re crafty like me too, I don’t have to tell you why thrifting is good for project supplies. I’m sure you’ve bought things at the thrift store to upcycle for yourself or your house. You may even be an expert at this.

Well done bargain hunter! You know all too well the joy and pride that comes with thrifting and upcycling.

Well, what if I told you you were likely skipping an entire section for your upcycling needs?

I can’t let my fellow projectors continue to walk by a gold mine without telling you about it. This has been my absolute favorite use for the thrift stores for the past few years and I’m so excited to share it. There are plenty of blogs about thrifting, but not many, if any, thrifting blogs that will tell you about this.

Buy fabric at the thrift stores!

Your first thought is probably that this doesn’t apply to you, because you don’t have a fabric thrift store and you don’t think your regular thrifting stores have a fabric section. If they did, you surely would have noticed it already, and honestly, how many people would be donating bolts of fabric anyway. But you’re wrong, you’re favorite thrift shop does have a fabric section, they all do, its just hiding right under your nose. Now, its true that you won’t find fabric on a bolt or sold by a yard, but you will find shower curtains, tablecloths, blankets, window treatments, very large garments and loads more. Your favorite thrift shop is perfect for thrifting fabric.

Today I’m going to share with you how I bargain shopped all of the fabric needed for my daughters epic Elsa and Anna halloween costumes.

The results turned out incredible, and you just can’t beat that price point. Now, it was certainly not my first time scouring the thrift stores for fabric. In fact, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at it over the last few years, so I’m here to tell you what I’ve found to be the best plan of attack. But first…

What is thrift shopping for fabric?

Fabric Thrifting 101: Going shopping at a thrift store specifically for material to make a new garment or item.

Why should you thrift fabric?

Well friends, the reason is threefold:

1. Cost

For starters, I’m going to let you in on a little sewing secret, fabric is stupid expensive. Just kidding, thats definitely not a secret, but it is why we are all constantly seeing coupons to discount it. Even after those discounts are applied, it’s still close to what you would pay for a finished garment anyway, and your budget is now bust before you’ve even begun. But not at the thrift stores. At the thrift stores you’ll find much cheaper fabric. There are curtain panels ($2.59), shower curtains ($1.99), blankets ($2.59), and large garments ($2.59-$6.29) galore. This is seriously such a game changer. And if you’re shopping at Goodwill there’s even an added, half off discount, if the item is marked with the color of the week. Even better than that, items marked with the matching goodwill color tags get further reduced to a mere 99 cents on Sunday. This is sometimes referred to as dollar day at goodwill or the goodwill dollar days.

2. Reliability

The other reason that fabric is now my favorite thing to thrift, is that its reliable. Now, I love as much as the next person heading out to go thrift store shopping, not knowing what project supplies I’m going to stumble upon and basically playing thrift shop roulette. But sometimes I go in on a specific mission and I’m truly disappointed when I can’t find anything to suit my needs. Well, I can tell you that when hunting for fabric, this hasn’t happened to me yet and I’m truly doubtful it ever will. There’s just too much supply and honestly, no one else is even looking at it. So, congratulations fellow crafters, for being right on the cutting edge with this idea! Your typical bargain hunters haven’t even thought of doing this yet, so these sections are never picked over!

3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Sewing, in and of itself produces quite a bit of waste. There’s just no way to cut out a pattern and not have small or even large chunks of fabric between your useful pieces that you just have to throw away (or store for years until you find the perfect tiny craft to use them for). When you’re a chronic crafter, like myself, and I’m assuming that you are, you see possibilities with everything. Sometimes you catch yourself deciding to hang on to empty oatmeal canisters or old laundry detergent bottles, because you just know they’d make something great. So, throwing away large chunks of fabric tends to give you pause. By starting your project with all recycled fabric, it takes the guilt out of pitching those scraps. You’re already giving this item second life!! Because of that, it’s so much easier to let the excess chunks of fabric go the way of the trash can and not junk up your fabric bin. 

My fabric bin. Currently loaded with lots of dreamy linens, soft and neutral knits, blush corduroy and some yellow gingham for little girl outfits for a dear friend. No junk. And no guilt about not keeping it…ahh, that’s the dream, right?!

Now that you’re ready to go thrifting for your fabric needs, here are some tips for thrifting fabric:

The ultimate guide to thrifting fabric

With endless possibilities at your thrift store for cheap fabrics, its easy to get lost in the store for hours. Trust me, you do not have time for that! Before you even enter the store, take a minute to consider each of the following questions and prioritize them. This will help you navigate the store much more efficiently. It’s well worth the time.

  1. Does my completed project or garment need to stretch? Or does it need to have structure?
  2. How do I want my completed project or garment to feel? Light? Heavy? Textured? Smooth? Durable?
  3. How important is the exact color? Or is there some creative wiggle room?
  4. How much of the same fabric do I need? If you need a lot of fabric, rank this high, if you don’t, rank it low.
  5. Am I willing to struggle with a trickier fabric in order to suit my above needs? In other words, one that is difficult to work with, because it frays easily, is slippery, etc.
  6. How important is your budget?

Depending on your top priorities, your shopping plan of attack will vary. First, if you need a lot of the same fabric, then you will need to look almost exclusively at shower curtains, tablecloths, blankets, and window treatments. Oftentimes, these are actually hung up all together, woohoo!

Because you need the yardage, found only in these larger items, you may find yourself somewhat limited on color, feel, and give/stretch making your priorities look like this:

PRIORITY ORDER: 4, 3, 1/2, 6, 5

This was the case for both Elsa and Anna’s costume skirts. In spite of being almost entirely limited to one section, I was still able to find exactly what I needed. Pretty impressive, considering that I needed exact color matches and my store is honestly on the smaller end. But I’m telling you, because no one else is doing this, its a gold mine in there!

Now, if you have a lot of wiggle room when answering the first four questions, you’ll be able to focus more on the budget and the extreme bargaining side of this. If this is the case, then you can usually limit yourself to exclusively shopping items marked with the color of the week, since those items are half off (or $0.99 on Sundays!) It’s worth noting that the color of the week sale varies state to state, so check you’re stores rules online before you go. Some stores apply the color of the week sale to everything in the store and some apply the color of the week sale to clothing only. Still not bad, since we’re hunting for fabric here!

*BONUS TIP: SHOP THE COLOR OF THE WEEK GOODWILL: AT THE GOODWILL STORES, IF YOU SHOP ON A SUNDAY ALL OF THE COLOR OF THE WEEK ITEMS ARE $0.99! SO IF YOUR SCHEDULE DOESN’T LIMIT YOU, THAT’S REALLY THE BEST DAY TO SHOP AT GOODWILL!!

When I set out to fabric shop for things like throw pillows or small decor items I tend to limit myself, as much as possible, to the color of the week items. When this is the case, I still usually do a cursory check by the larger fabric items first (the shower curtains, tablecloths, blankets, and window treatments). This is important because you get a lot more fabric for your dollar in this section, even if its not marked with the color of the week. But I don’t spend a lot of time there. If I don’t find exactly what I want right away, I move on to the clothing racks. You can do just as well in the clothing racks depending on your project needs.

If feel of your fabric is a top priority, think of what recycled items might have that feel and start there. For example, I did some throw pillows a while back and I wanted them to be knits. So, I primarily looked in the XL or larger sweaters (keeping an eye open for any color of the week tags, of course).

My priority order was:

PRIORITY ORDER: 6, 2, 5, 4, 3, 1

I ended up with a large heavy cable knit sweater ($4.29) and two lighter cable knit cardigans (both color of the week so together they were $4.29). This was exactly what I had hoped I would find and, as an added bonus, I found a larger knit baby blanket for a mere $2.59, in a perfect color for my daughters room. Remember what I said about always doing a cursory check of that large fabric section…this is precisely why.

For the Elsa and Anna tops for my girls halloween costumes, I really needed the feel, give, and colors to be as spot on as possible, so my budget, and my desire to work only with easy to handle fabrics, took a bit of a backseat. Both of their tops needed to have some good stretch to them so they would fit nice and snug but they also needed to be pretty durable as I intended to embroider all over the front of them. And of course the color needed to be stop on. So 1, 2, and 3 above became my top priorities. Luckily these tops were for my two small daughters, so I didn’t need a tremendous amount of fabric. This gave me a lot of wiggle room on which items I considered throughout the store. My final priorities were:

PRIORITY ORDER: 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 4

I expected that a lot of the items in the activewear section and the womens tops section would have the stretch/give that I needed, so I started there and scanned for the right colors. Success yet again:

The last thing I needed was fabric for Anna’s jacket. I wanted it to have the same look as the jacket does in the movie. It needed to have structure and the color had to be spot on. So, my priorities became:

PRIORITY ORDER: 2, 3, 1, 5, 6, 4

I found exactly what I needed in womens sport coats. Sometimes your best fabric option really is to just buy gently used clothes from goodwill.

After systematically searching my thrift store for just what I needed, I settled on the following items:

Complete Breakdown of My Haul

For the Elsa dress:

1 very dated mother of the bride gown (and jacket) for $5.79 (for Elsa’s underskirt), 1 shower curtain for $1.99 (for Elsa’s overskirt and trim for Elsa’s top), 1 XL knit shirt for $4.29 (for Elsa’s top), and 1 XL dark purple, like new, knit workout tank that I actually used in both dresses (I forgot to take a picture of this one before I altered it) for $2.59, this one was actually marked with “the color of the week” so it was an additional half off, making it only $1.30 (for Elsa’s top trim and belts for Elsa and Anna)

The Elsa Dress

GarmentPrice
1 dress (and jacket)$5.79
1 shower curtain$1.99
1 XL knit shirt$4.29
1 XL dark purple tank top (not pictured)$1.30
TOTAL:$13.37

For the Anna dress: 

1 linen blazer for $6.29 (for Anna’s jacket), 1 ivory blazer with some stretch to it for $6.29 (for Anna’s onesie style top), 1 heavy duty ivory tapestry (that was actually backed in a very tough waterproof type interfacing) for $2.59 (for Anna’s skirt), and 1 ivory dress skirt (I forgot to take a picture of this one before I altered it) for $3.99, this one was actually marked with “the color of the week” so it was an additional half off, making it only $2.00 (for Anna’s jacket cuffs and trim).

The Anna Dress

GarmentPrice
1 linen blazer$6.29
1 ivory blazer$6.29
1 ivory tapestry panel$2.59
1 ivory dress skirt (not pictured)$2.00
TOTAL:$17.17

*I should note that I got a little carried away with myself and actually overbought by 1 linen skirt ($3.99) and 1 ivory curtain panel ($2.59).  I could have returned these within the first 7 days for store credit, but I love to make custom throw pillows with text and images on them, so I decided to keep them for future use.  UPDATE: I ended up using the linen skirt fabric to make my farmhouse bread basket liner and it was perfect!

A whopping total of $37.12 if you include my accidental overbuy of $6.58, which I consider just an investment in my projecting future, lol.  

The Grand Total

GarmentPrice
The Elsa Dress$13.37
The Anna Dress$17.17
Total:$30.54

DON’T FORGET TO LAUNDER:

First thing you need to do when you get home with your haul, is toss all of your new purchases in the wash. I just bring my whole bag of used fabric straight into the laundry room. That way I know I won’t forget to wash them all before I start my new project. It’s worth noting, that several of the items I purchased this time around, had tags that read, the dreaded, “DRY CLEAN ONLY”. In hindsight, I probably should have thought about this at the store, but since I had already gotten them home, I decided to chance it. So, I tossed all like colors in the wash together and ran them on the same “NORMAL” laundry cycle. I figured there’s no way I’m going to run their finished costumes to the dry cleaner for cleaning, so I needed to find out now what would happen to them in my washer and dryer. Guess what y’all, they washed up perfectly. No shrinking. No discoloring. I was so pleasantly surprised. I don’t even plan to avoid “dry clean only” tags for my projects in the future. Now, this is certainly not a guarantee that this will happen every time, so please don’t hold me to it, but I wanted to share it with as more of an FYI.

If you want to hear more about the making of my daughters, Elsa and Anna, costumes you can check out these links to my other posts about them:

  • The overall idea and before and after pictures
  • Embroidering Elsa
  • Embroidering Anna
  • Constructing Elsa’s Skirts
  • Constructing Anna’s Skirt and Underskirt
  • Constructing and Fitting Elsa’s Top
  • Constructing and Fitting Anna’s Top and Jacket 

*I am still in the process of writing some of these articles, so if you try a link and it’s not working, it is likely because that article is not live yet. Please join our email list so you’ll be the first to know when they go live!

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Need more fabric thrifting inspiration? Check out my related articles featuring some of my favorite thrifted fabric finds:

Make your Own Star Throw Pillows with Tassels

Flipping thrift store items: showing original goodwill basket, lid, liner, and linen skirt before as well as finished bread basket painted white, with handmade linen liner, and a lid that reads, “GATHER”, with title, “Farmhouse Bread Basket” on it.

Farmhouse Bread Basket from a Thrift Store Find

How to Make Sweater Pumpkins DIY

Easy Wood Bead Wreath with Sweater Pumpkins

That’s all folks. Happy fabric thrifting!

Allison

Once you try thrifting fabric for yourself, share you’re experience below. I’m so excited for you to start doing this and I can’t wait to hear about it!

10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Thrift Fabric”

  1. How cool! This makes me wish I could sew. We do love going to the thrift store though. You find some amazing things!

  2. It took me a while before I discovered the fabric section at our local thrift store. But once I found it, it’s one of the first rows I go to every time I return.

  3. Thank you so much for this guide! I am a huge thrift shopper and this gave me some ideas for things I could create, especially for cosplaying. I am definitely bookmarking this guide.

  4. As a thrift store addict, I feel like a complete idiot right now. The only time I shop in the clothing section is when I want to make a sweater pillow and all that time there was a treasure trove of gorgeousness right under my nose 😀 Thanks so much for the heads up and the cool rating system. That’s going to come in really useful

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