Waste Fabric: Cheap Sources of Cheap Ugly Fabric

Where to Find Waste Fabric in Order to Make Practice Muslins

Waste.  The word makes us cringe in this world of recycling and going green.

Intrinsically all sewers hate to waste anything.  We seem to have some kind of frugality gene right next to the one that causes us to obsessively hoard fabric.

In the past I have delightedly bought fashion fabric and then felt the regret of wasted time and money when the end result was not well fitting.   Over time I have decided that intentionally wasting certain fabric is actually cheaper, saves time and is a more responsible use of materials than just cutting right into the fashion fabric as I have done in the past.  

Every time I try a new pattern I make a practice garment, called a muslin, so I can see if the style suits me and if adjustments are needed.  This way I can get out every little kink that bugs me in fitting.

So I have to come up with a lot of cheap fabric, stuff so ghastly that I don’t feel a twinge of guilt doing my marking and slashing right on the finished piece.

If you are lucky enough friends may have some of these items that they want to unload but since you need a steady supply you will need to patronize a few thrift stores.

One Caveat:

(Let’s Just Get This Out of the Way Before We Start!)

The Biggest Hindrance to Buying Fabric

for Practice Muslins


Lest you have any guilt that you are taking goods away from the needy let’s consider more deeply what the charities behind most thrift stores really need. It appears on the surface that the primary charity of most of these groups is in providing bottom dollar material goods to the poor, and indeed the poor do benefit from such shops.  But most of the stores have a charity that isn’t so easily percieved such as rehabilitation or funding a certain cause.  It is your money in purchasing that funds those services.  Don’t feel as if you are taking from someone in need when you buy at charitable thrift stores.  You are actually giving when you go up to the register and buy.

Isn’t it strange how looking for something guilt-free can be so guiltridden?

Aahh!  Glad that’s over.  Now let’s get on to where we find dirt cheap material to make practice muslins? 

Here is where I look for cast off fabric.

Thrift stores

  • Old Bedsheets and Curtains.  I leave for another the truly fab pieces, which aren’t dirt cheap enough for me anyway. I search out the faded dismal items going for absolute bottom dollar.  These are a gold mine in that home fashions cycle so quickly that so many décor fabrics mimic garment fabric in that you can find sheers, quilteds, big prints, small prints, stiff, cottony, etc., that will mimic the drape of the fashion fabric you want to ultimately use. 
  • Remnant Fabric.  Thrift stores sometimes have remnants rolled up and thrown in a bucket that has probably gotten kicked into the corner or under a rack.  Ask the cashier or volunteer.  They usually have an eagle eye for every goodie in the store.
  • Men’s Shirts.  Especially Big and Tall sizes.  When making a practice garment the pieces do not have to match.  If you are petite you may even be able to get a finished garment out of two matching men’s shirts.  I am not so petite therefore I look at men’s dress shirts because of that nice big back and men’s knits often mimic current fashion fabric. 

Fabric Stores

  • Quilting Cotton Sales at Discount Fabric Retailers.  Walk past the $7.00 a yard gorgeous quilt cotton.  (Wasting that will make you feel guilty, and poor!) Instead find the out of the way shelving that carries the plain old muslin.   What I look for is chintzier homely muslin going for $2-3.00 per yard at regular retail.  Then I wait for the coupon or sale that brings the price down into an acceptably low range.  My goal is to get something for around a $1.00 per yard and I will buy the bolt.
  • Clearance Rack at Fabric Store.  Again walk past the pricier stuff.  Even at clearance $5.00 per yard is too much for something you are going to use permanent marker on.  One to two dollars per yard is becoming rarer but still doable and it is only at a fabric store that you will be able to find sufficient quantities of some fabrics such as polys or trouser bottomweights that mimic your ultimate fashion fabric.

Deep Discount Department Stores

  • Linens Section of a Deep Discounter Department Store.  Bottom dollar discounters such as Family Dollar and Big Lots also carry sheets, curtains and large men’s clothing.  This is my last resort since it is the least cheap of the cheap, but if I am contemplating buying a costly fashion fabric and this is the only place I can get practice fabric, I go ahead and buy.   One is reluctant to tear up even a ten dollar flat sheet but that isn’t much of an expense if you are contemplating twenty dollar a yard fashion fabric.  Those ten extra dollars may save you sixty in the long run.
  • Wal-Mart Fabric Department.  Last time I looked they have a huge shelf of $1.50 a yard chintzy, bona-fide ugly fabric.  Some towns are short on thrift stores but every place has a nearby Wal-mart.

Other Sources

  • Begging Friends and Relative for their cast offs.  This won’t deliver a steady supply as they redecorate their bedrooms only so many times. However if their husbands work in industries that are messy (they stain their shirts often), or their office culture requires only the snazziest crispest look, then you may garner yourself a steady supply of men’s polos and oxfords.

I appreciate that my readers have allowed me to wax so eloquent on this subject and I don’t want to leave it without mentioning two more things. (Then I will shut up – I promise!)

1)  Finding waste fabric means you can freely make practice muslins which may be what keeps you sewing.  After so many disasters I wish someone had made me sew practice muslins early on.  Technique, time and expense are common hindrances that cause a lot of new sewers to quit the hobby and this one practice alleviates all of them.  

2)If any readers know of other sources please add to our source list by letting us know your favorite place to find fabric for practice muslins.

Now I will get off of my soapbox and on to other things.

Next Post: Thursday, March 25, 2010; Vogue 1124 Betzina Vest: Pattern Review


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lynn
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 11:58:32

    Sandra Betzina showed us something she made from a comforter she got at a YARD SALE here in Mobile last year – funny! And that’s funny because I HAVE always felt guilty going in the thrift store!


  2. Victoria Baylor
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 16:27:50

    Great muslin fabric suggestions!!! I don’t like the being wasteful either. I’ll definitely use some of these (wink)!


  3. Georgina
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 11:00:58

    You have precisely described all the symptoms from which I suffer – greedily hoarding beautiful fabric, putting off making it up for fear of stuffing it up, horror of wasting any fabric for a muslin, regret at wasting so much good fabric by not making muslins, guilt at buying any fabric which I am not going to actually be seen in the street wearing…..I could go on!
    Added to that I am hoping to lose a couple of dozen pounds before I ” waste” my latest hoard of fabric by making it up while I’m too big – but am I dieting and exercising?
    Plus, I live in Thailand now, and it is not possibe to buy dress patterns here, so guess who has to learn how to draft patterns? And therefore, of course, it’s all the more important that I make muslins of my early attempts.
    Fortunately, in my town fabric is cheap and uniformly ugly, so no need to feel guilty for buying ” waste” fabric. More likely that I will actually wear my muslins out in public!

    Thanks for your help!


  4. allisonbeckert23
    Sep 10, 2015 @ 18:21:36

    Thank you thank you thank you! 3 years since the last comment, but I’m so glad to find this article!


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