Thrift Store Fabric Shopping

Over the years I have gotten some great fabric from thrift stores. There are lots of times I purchase fabric with no project in mind and the fabric often dictates the project I make. I may see a piece of fabric and a project instantly comes to mind. Then there are those occasions when I purchase a piece because it is so beautiful and unique. However, when it comes to shopping for fabric at a thrift store the results can be hit and miss at best, but it is always a treasure hunt.

Identifying The Fabric

Thrift stores are a great source of materials for sewing, crafts and art projects. However, how do you know what you are purchasing? Sometimes you can feel the fabric and identify what it is and other times you have to take your chances and test the fibre when you get home. A fabric burn test is a great way to get an idea of what you are working with. With just a small swatch of the fabric, you should be able to identify if it is a natural or synthetic fibre. If you have enough of the fabric, you can also test a small piece for other factors like colour fastness and shrinkage. There are also lots of great fabric guides available to help you identify and work with different fabrics.

Cost Effectiveness

Fabric shopping can be an expensive venture, so a thrift store is a great source if you are on a tight budget. You can sew beautiful projects and make unique handmade gifts for your friends and family without a huge expenditure. It is also a great source of fabric if you are a beginner sewist and you do not want to spend a lot on materials to practice.

Unique Selection

Thrift store fabric shopping is a great way to find unique fabrics. You can find beautiful vintage fabrics or designer prints. You can use them on their own or combine them with other fabrics. Pieces will vary in size, but even a small piece can be used as an appliqué, pocket or bag strap. Often times you can get fabric by the yard or you can purchase a bed sheet, duvet cover or tablecloth which has several yards.




Purchasing your fabric from a thrift store extends its usefulness. You can prevent more materials from entering the landfill by repurposing donated fabric or articles of clothing. You can often find a piece of clothing that you can use for a project. If you do not want to use a piece of clothing, you can reuse or repurpose the buttons or other elements.

Here are ten tips for fabric shopping at a thrift store:

  1. Head over to the craft or linen section of the store; where you will find fabric by the yard/meter as well as remnant pieces. You can also find pillowcases, bed sheets, duvet covers and table linen in this section.
  2. If you are purchasing bed linen; a crisp, new content label is a good indicator that the linen may not have been used.
  3. Examine the fabric for any imperfections, damages, weak spots and stains.
  4. Tug gently on an end of the fabric to confirm there is no dry rot due to poor temperature and moisture control. You will generally see other signs of dry rot, but if it is not visible the fabric will tear with a gentle tug.
  5. Smell the fabric for any unpleasant odour. Some odours are difficult to remove.
  6. Access how much of the fabric is usable.
  7. Do not dismiss half-completed projects that you can take apart and use in a new way.
  8. Do not buy it just because it is cheap; assess the uniqueness of the material, how much you like it and what projects you would like to make.
  9. If you purchase a bundle of fabric in a bag; go through the bag after purchasing and donate any pieces you do not want, before you leave the store.
  10. When you get home; identify the fabric content (eg. burn test) and clean accordingly prior to use or prior to adding to your existing stash.

Project Ideas

Shower Curtain – made from vintage sheet
Apron – vintage pillowcase and new fabric
Hand Embroidered Apron – vintage pillowcase and new fabric
Scrap Pincushion – remnant fabric
I-Spy Bag Toy – old kid’s shirt

Please share your tips for getting fabric and other sewing supplies at a thrift store. What is your best thrift store fabric find?

Previously Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2017     |     Last Updated: October 09, 2023
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