It's Sew Easy to Save


Unless you're particularly crafty, sewing might seem like it's totally out of your league. And it IS intimidating, especially when you've never touched a sewing machine before and you take your first look at the instructions for getting the thing threaded. However, learning to sew some basic items can also save you a lot of money, so it might be worth spending the time to learn.

Luckily, there are some easy projects that don't require very much know-how to complete. All you need to get started is a sewing machine, someone to teach you how to use it or a good instruction manual, and some cheap fabric.

Primary Considerations

If you're not quite sure sewing is the thing for you, see if you can borrow a sewing machine before you purchase one. You might be surprised how many people have them sitting around, packed away somewhere and never used. Make sure you get a good manual with any borrowed machine, and that it has all the working parts (check particularly for bobbins, bobbin covers, and a foot pedal).

Make sure you don't spend too much on fabric. Remnants are always good, as is fabric from Wal-Mart. Think creatively when it comes to getting cheap fabric. Old sheets can be reused, or you can purchase some when they're on sale. In addition, you can use fabric from old clothes. Don't even throw away your scraps. Small pieces of fabric can be used for pillows and quilts.

It's usually easy to find patterns for free, particularly for the basic items listed here. Check the internet, or look up one of the sites listed at the end of this article for some places to start.

Basic Mending and Alterations

One of the easiest things to practice your sewing on is your own clothes. If something gets a hole in it, don't automatically throw it away, use it as a rag, or throw it in the back of your closet. Instead, try to fix it. If you fail, it won't be in any worse shape than it's already in.

You may not even need a sewing machine for this type of stitching. If there's not a good way to get the machine to the place where the hole or tear is, don't hesitate to sew it by hand.

Basic alterations are also a great place to practice. Many professionals charge quite a bit to make your clothes fit the way you want them to, but you can do it yourself without a hassle. Depending on the type of material you're working with, it's easy to hem pants or skirts, change sleeve length, even add a zipper or some buttons. Look up your particular project and material online to find specific instructions if you're not sure where to start.

Diapers and Baby Blankets

If you have a baby or want to give a great gift to someone who does have a little one, homemade cloth diapers can be made cheaply and easily. Note that these aren't useful only for someone who is diapering with cloth, as the diapers are useful as burp cloths and many parents keep them around for baby spills because of their absorbency.

Not comfortable making the actual diaper? Buy some plain white cloth diapers on sale and add some ribbon. You can sew it on around the edges, make stripes across the length or width of one side of the diaper, or do something else entirely.

Making a baby blanket can be as easy as buying a large piece of flannel and turning over each of the edges with your sewing machine. Add some ribbon as a binding and it's an even nicer gift. One great thing about these is that you can make them large enough to use as swaddling blankets, because many of the blankets sold in stores are way too small.

Curtains and Pillow Cases

Both of these are incredibly simple to sew. As long as you have a curtain rod, all you need to do to make basic curtains is finish the edges of your material, then sew a tube of fabric large enough for the rod to go through in whichever end you want to be the top of your curtain. You can use whatever material you want, and make the curtains as complicated as you desire.

Valences are another easy-to-sew home accessory. Simply take a Queen or King sized sheet in a material you like, cut it in half long ways, and sew the short ends together. Make sure all your loose edges are turned under, and you've got a valance to drape over your curtain rod.

Pillow cases require a little more time and skill, but are still relatively easy. Measure your pillow form, then go online to find a free pattern that's the right size. Cut your material according to the instructions, and the sewing is a breeze.

Green Shopping Bags/Tote Bags

These make great gifts, and they're good for your own use, too. Find some sturdy-but-cheap material (upholstery fabric that's on sale can be great for these) and follow any one of a number of free instructions available online. Note that these can be as complicated or as simple as you want them to be, so don't take on more than you're confident sewing.

Green grocery bags make particularly nice gifts, as they're free to the recipient, sturdier than most of the ones you can buy in the store, and make a contribution to the earth. Again find a free pattern and get started.

Once you've mastered the basics, you can take your sewing as far as you to go. Interested in making clothes? It's totally possible. Wanting to delve deeper into home decor? Go for it. When you're established and started, there's nothing stopping you.

How have you used sewing to save some money? Do you have any patterns that you simply adore? Let us know in the comments.

Pattern Resources

Free Patterns from

Tote Bag/Grocery Bag Patterns


Tagged: DIY, sew, sew to save, sewing

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Guest's picture

WalMart still sells fabric? All the locations in my area have discontinued it...I thought it was a company-wide product change.

Guest's picture

I'm not much of a seamstress, but I've whipped up a bunch of cloth napkins that are still going strong and have ventured into the crazy quilt and kid's costume realm more than once. So it can be done, even by the sewing challenged.

Guest's picture

Another quick project is sewing two flat, twin sheets together. The flat twin actually works perfectly for a queen size duvet! A few buttons/snaps/velcro, or if you can - a zipper across the bottom, and WHOLA, a super cheap, and fairly easy project! I find it takes a couple of hours, and can change the look of a bedroom very easily.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

I don't know if WalMart is in the process of discontinuing its fabric section, but I can still get it in mine.

And I love the ideas here---cloth napkins do sound easy, and the duvet cover is a great idea! I'll have to try that one, when the sewing machine is repaired . . . I've been wanting to give the bedroom a new look for ages!

Guest's picture

I've made pillowcase dresses for my daughter & nieces as well as matching outfits for their dolls, matching hair ribbons and bags...if purchased each set would be +$50, made at home...less than $10 each!

Guest's picture

The seriously cheapest place to get fabric is as secondhand clothing.

You can make lots of cool repurposed stuff, like a shopping bag above made from an interesting pair of pants you got for a quarter.

The sewing machine is potentially the most expensive thing. If you buy new, be careful. Janome is a good brand. Bernina is nice but no way is it cheap. Don't get one at Sears or Costco, in my opinion. If you get a secondhand one, it should be cleaned and oiled. If it does not come with an owners manual, see if it is available online. It's hard to know how to thread it and adjust it without the book.

If you get a used one, make sure it is in working order. I bent the shaft on my grandma's by trying to sew through too many layers of jean pocket seams. It looked fine, but the needle would no longer go through the hole. It was too expensive to fix.

On the bright side, you can ask for one on freecycle. Lots of people have a sewing machine around and no longer use it, so you could get lucky. I got my daughter's friend one free on an ad on facebook. They wanted it to go to a young person. She's using it to make money at college, mending people's clothes.

Another way to save money is to make raincoats, packs, horse tack, swimsuits, footie pajamas, polarfleece jackets and slippers and things of that nature. All the buckles, patterns and fabric are available online at stores like Seattle Fabrics and The Rain Shed.

Guest's picture

Alterations can be done yourself but there is some experienced skill involved in proper alterations and alterations on suit pieces. DIY alterations are frequently "good enough" but please don't discredit the skills (or fees) of professionals who have the experience to know how to properly alter a suit jacket sleeve or take in a complicated pair of womens pants.

Sewing is a learned skill and anyone who really wants to learn can, it is just at what skill level you can get projects done or get them done to your satisfaction.

Burda has some great free garment and craft patterns including ones created by other sewers. Something to keep in mind with commercial patterns is they are a starting point. They still need to be fit to your dimensions if you want a nice finished product.

Walmart is phasing out fabric almost everywhere. This isn't much of a loss. It might be cheap but in recent years the quality was awful. Good fabric can make or break a project but good fabric doesn't have to be expensive always. I find expensive fabrics cheaper than Walmart fabrics by knowing where to look. Most larger cities have a fabric warehouse or a fabric store that caters to professionals. Both can be sources for deals on better quality fabric. Fabric can also be had cheaply at chain fabric stores at the end of that season.

I hope more people start sewing for themselves. It became a bit of a dieing art when ready to wear clothes became so cheap to buy.

Guest's picture

I agree with Lucille regarding alterations - I consider myself an average sewer, but certain alterations are worth having a professional do it. Taking in jeans, fixing a hem, or patching a hole is one thing, but I've nearly ruined a suit jacket before trying to shorten sleeves. I've learned a lot more since then, but I still have nightmares about it. Your mileage may vary.

I've gotten good deals on fabric before by watching fliers and checking the local fabric stores when they are running a sale - sometimes you end up with something good. I keep a "to make" shopping list of the fabric and notions I need for certain projects and bring it with me when I look at fabric, that way I don't have to guess at how much I need ("I think it was 2.5 yards, but eh... make it 3.")

Thrift stores also yield good things from time to time. I once found a big bag of vintage patterns from the '60s and '70s at a local Goodwill for $5, and quite a few of them were in my size. I ended up making one of the dresses to wear after my wedding for about $20 in supplies (shopping during sales). Once I also found a big bag of zippers and bias tape in various sizes and colors at a yard sale for $2. I've since used about half that bag for various projects.