Did you learn to sew at school?
Way back prior to the 1850s, very few Australian children attended school and those who did were mainly boys from well-to-do families. However, this began to change in 1854 when 'ragged schools' — so called because of the ragged clothes the children wore — were established for poorer families. By the late 1850s in Melbourne, Hester Hornbrook had established a number of 'ragged schools' for girls which focused on Bible studies, the 'three Rs' and practical skills, including making and mending clothes.
Throughout the early to mid-1900s, needlework was still commonly taught in the compulsory school system, eventually opening up to boys as well, sometime around the 1960s.
In the interim, 'fast fashion' slowly began to take hold, and the interest in (and need for) sewing all but disappeared — particularly from the overcrowded Australian Curriculum.
Recently, however, with increased awareness of environmental issues, sustainability and the sheer extent of textile waste in Australia, students are again showing an interest in learning sewing skills.
Is it only the younger generation catching the 'slow fashion' bug?
Not quite. According to several news reports, it appears the pandemic quarantine and lockdown situation in Australia didn't only get people baking! A huge number of people tried their hand with a needle and thread and, in the process, discovered a new passion.
"I had no idea that sewing was such a beautiful activity. It's very relaxing. I absolutely love it."
Hobbies and passions, as rewarding as they are, rarely come for free though.
The Pros and Cons of Sewing Your Own Clothes and Household Items
Even if you discount the price of the very basics you need to set yourself up — sewing machine, patterns, accessories — fabric can be expensive and when you add in the time it takes to make that shirt or pair of pants, it can seem more cost-effective to buy the product in a shop.
Don't let that sway you, though — think of the pluses:
- Making something yourself can be very satisfying and build your self-esteem.
- The more practice you get, the faster and more accomplished you'll be. (And think of the compliments you'll get!)
- Everything you create will be unique — you can express your style by personalising your cushion covers and individualising your jeans.
- It can be relaxing, giving you downtime where your brain can switch off.
- It encourages creativity and develops problem-solving skills.
- You can build relationships and create social networks with other sewers.
- If you're making clothes — they'll actually fit you and you won't have to wear plain colours, or bright prints, if you don't want to.
Think of your sewing machine, patterns and accessories as an investment. And, at the end of the day, you don't really need to buy the most expensive fabrics — not if you know where to look.
In fact, sewing supplies — including beautiful, high-quality fabric — does not have to send you broke.
Check for sewing classes Sydney here.
Where to Get Cheap Fabric Online
Whether you are looking for taffeta, satin, upholstery fabrics, organic cotton, linen or jersey knit — the choice of fabrics, colours and prints available on the web is unbelievable. Everything you could dream of, from clearance stock at a bargain price to craft accessories, can be easily found online, and you can even import cheap fabrics from other countries.
What fabric should you choose for that expensive-looking evening gown you saw on the red carpet? Or for that to-die-for jacket? Gabardine, linen, velvet, Japanese kimono fabric, satin, wool, cotton jersey, muslin ...
"I love the creative process. I get excited by the fabrics. I get excited by the ideas of what I can do with those fabrics, shapes, and new ways of doing things. It keeps me awake at night sometimes."
(And, if you're thinking you wouldn't know where to start with patterns, let alone zippers — well, there are always online sewing classes Brisbane.)
Are you ready to get started and desperate to know where to buy cheap fabric?
We'll get you started with a few cheap fabric online outlets and haberdashery sites where you're sure to find something to suit your budget.
The Remnant Warehouse
Talk about everything you could ever dream of! Scroll down to the section that says Cheap Fabrics, Clearance Fabrics and you'll see what we mean.
Their clearance stock is regularly updated and includes:
- denim and corduroy
- trims and accessories
- patchwork fabrics
- satin taffeta
- premium cotton prints.
They even have a section for seconds and imperfect fabric because they're determined to find a home for all their fabrics.
Darn Cheap Fabrics
Fabrics, haberdashery and trims, their site is an explosion of colour and a joy to view.
Sewing fabrics include:
- print fabrics kids and adults will love
- cotton, silk, denim and fleecy in striking plain colours
- bridal and special occasion fabrics
- unique woven and knit fabrics
- patchwork and quilting fabrics with cotton and bamboo batting.
Even with the cheap price range, many stock items are advertised at a discount price.
Super Cheap Fabrics
Super Cheap Fabrics has a range of:
- plain and print cotton
- wool knit fabrics
- pure linen
- satin back crepe
- designer lace fabrics
- corduroy in a range of colours
They offer 50 per cent off clearance stock as well as remnants and seasonal prints (like Christmas).
Focusing on high quality yet affordable sewing products, Sewing Gem offers free shipping with Australia Post for orders over $69.
Get everything you need at a reasonable price.
- Fabrics — cotton, linen, quilting and more
- Haberdashery — from applique needles to tailor's chalk
- Tools and accessories
- Gifts and kits
Do you have these sewing kit essentials?
Created to give the home sewer affordable access to beautiful fabrics, unique patterns and quality tools — Selvege is perfect for beginners to experienced sewers. If you need advice, Heidi is a phone call away.
East Coast Fabrics
The cheapest fabrics in Brisbane, East Coast Fabrics have two retail stores in Lawnton and Springwood, and a huge range of fabrics online. They stock everything from upholstery to tulle, and craft cotton squares to specialty fabrics, and always have an interesting collection of sale stock and discount items.
Abakhan offers good value on fabrics and has a large clearance section that includes bargains on upholstery fabrics. They also have a remnants section if you are adventurous enough to venture into smaller fabric pieces for interesting patchwork or contrast clothes and cushions.
Provincial Fabric House
A huge range of fabrics and upholstery supplies, the website features an inspirational fabric blog with information about everything from holistic upholstery natural fabric to DIY no-sew pillows and old-towel bolster pillow patterns. Their fabrics are classic and elegant in style and you can order free samples online.
Each fabric item comes with a detailed description of the fabric and its uses — ideal for the beginning sewer. Rainbow Fabrics features a simply gorgeous range of patchwork fabrics that are arranged in themes, from Australian to Japanese, and check to stars. They also sell a wide range of upholstery and haberdashery, as well as custom-made curtains.
GJs Discount Fabrics
With over 25 years in the textile industry, GJs specialise in dressmaking, costume making, patchwork and craft. They sell all their stock online but if you happen to be in Fairfield in Victoria, you can book in for a shopping tour or a sewing group or class.
If you're after affordable designer fabrics, check the range at Fabric Muse first. Fabric Muse hand select and import premium-quality designer fabrics from France and Italy, and have been supplying these fabrics nationally and internationally for over 8 years. Have a look at their range of designer fabrics for under $100 a metre, or sign up to their newsletter and find what you want in their sale stock for a bargain price.
When buying fabric, the internet offers more than a gigantic cheap fabric shop: the ability to compare prices without leaving your couch.
Now that you know where to get cheap fabric online, it might be time to boost your sewing skills with classes or even a tutor. The Superprof platform hosts a number of sewing tutors right across Australia, offering sewing classes Melbourne, as well as every other city in the country. And, if you're learning online, you and your tutor do not need to be in the same state!
Where to Buy Cheap Fabric Locally
While the chain stores may not offer that boutique and unique experience, they do have two things going for them — a huge range and bargain prices.
There are Spotlight shops right throughout Australia. While they are not exclusively fabric and haberdashery — they do have a massive product range, including:
- craft items
- dress fabrics
- utility fabrics and furnishing trims
- sewing tools
In addition to the range of products, Spotlight also has an online 'projects' page, featuring fun and easy step-by-step sewing and craft projects. Try your hand at a curved heat pack, a fleece hot water bottle cover, satin pillowcase, a linen gown — or what about a toy camel or doughnut cushion!
For people learning a new skill, whether it's quilting or dressmaking, or if you're in the market for a new sewing machine — Spotlight also has a range of 'buying guides' with tips and hints on what to look for and the specifications for what you need.
Found in nearly every Australian state (but with an extensive online shop if you don't have a bricks-and-mortar shop near you), Lincraft is not quite as cheap as Spotlight, but still have an extensive range of affordable fabrics and haberdashery items, as well as craft stock. Each shop has its own range of apparel fabrics, quilting fabric and furnishing fabric, and most also stock patterns for women's, men's and children's clothing as well as costumes and dolls.
The Lincraft blog features an array of posts from 'how to make' to 'beanie and scarf month' features.
Some Lincraft stores also sell sewing machines.
Many department stores, such as Myer, Big W, K-Mart and Target, have small ranges of fabric and sewing items. It's wise to check online first before you head in, however, once there, you may find a hidden gem or that special trim to finish off a great outfit.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — and Sew Beautiful Garments
For many people, sewing automatically implies setting aside a certain budget to equip yourself in haberdashery and plunder the aisles of your favourite fabric shops.
We now know you don't need to spend big to look glam. It just requires careful shopping.
But, what if you're on a strict budget and even the discount fabric shops are not discount enough?
Don't worry, there is plenty on offer for even the tightest of budgets!
Try thrift shopping
Thrift shopping has become enormously popular, especially among the younger generation who are looking to create their own style with unique, retro pieces. Indeed, entire wardrobes have been sourced for under $200 from a second-hand clothing store like Vinnies or the Salvation Army.
So, what if you see the most delightful dress made from designer fabric, with the most glorious colours, at a price that is truly unbelievable ... and then you realise it's three sizes too small?
Don't walk away — buy it!
That's right. If you buy it, you can cut it up and make it your own. Unique, personal and, best of all, cheap! (But nobody will know.)
Other places to try your luck include:
- The Closet is an online thrift shop which stocks secondhand clothing in new or near-new condition. Their goal is to reduce the impact of non-sustainable fashion consumption by encouraging the reduction of waste through valuing secondhand clothing. Often, items (still with their tags on) are sold at a discount of up to 90% less than what you would pay in-store.
- Mottainai, like The Closet, is a secondhand clothing store with a conscience. 'Mottainai' (pronounced mot-tie-nigh) is a Japanese word used when the speaker considers something to be wasteful. Mottainai acknowledges that consumers often tire of their 'fashionable' clothing before it wears out, but want to encourage people to donate or trade-in, rather than throw away. There are some amazing bargains to be had.
- Britt's List is not a shop but a wonderful resource to help you locate discount and cheap fabric and clothing bargains. Ideas include Facebook Marketplace, ebay and Route 66.
Don’t stint on quality
Buying better quality fabric in smaller quantities can, paradoxically, help you save money. For this to be effective, you need to know exactly what you will be sewing — whether a simple sewing project, an item of clothing or something for your home — before you enter the fabric shop.
A cheap fabric might end up being too stiff, making it difficult to sew. It might warp or get damaged easily — meaning you have to re-cut or replace it and end up paying more. Instead, choose discount fabric of good quality or nice prints. If you buy top quality, you'll save money and waste less fabric in the long run.
But don't feel you'll have to pay full price just because the quality is good. Find what you want, then wait — look for clearance sales, holiday sales, special bargain fabrics, or 50 per cent off deals.
Find out, also, how the right sewing kit will save you money in the long run.
It is possible for budget-conscious tailors and dressmakers to get new fabrics almost for free. Department stores or sewing shops often have a scrap table or bag full of bolt ends. These are the pieces of material left over after cutting for customers.
If your project doesn’t require too much fabric or you are willing to combine two different prints (or a print and a plain colour), you can get some very good deals this way. Take extra care when placing and cutting your pattern though.
Fabric scraps, if you're feeling a bit creative, can also be pieced together to make some unique and interesting garments — from skirts to shirts.
Upcycling and freecycling
Hitting the secondhand markets, like 'Trash and Treasure' or school fete stalls, is a good way to find sewing treasures. You'll be amazed what people donate or try to sell: imitation leather, prints, silk and satin for a few dollars at most, or even discounted organic fabrics. Keep an open mind as you wander through the stalls and let the inspiration find you.
Though we often don’t think of it, recycling is a good way to find cheap fabrics. Search in markets, op shops and garage sales. These places are like 'caves of wonder' and many a sewer has found unusual and fun fabrics for very little money. Everything is re-usable: zips, buttons, fabric and trimmings.
Giving old material and fabric a new lease of life requires a little imagination.
- Re-use pillowcases, sheets or discarded or worn clothes to make beautiful cushion covers or quilts.
- Sheets are usually very big, 150 x 90 cm up to 200 x 240 cm, and are perfect for upcycling into clothes.
- Did you realise that old tablecloths make good children’s fabrics? Your mother’s floral tablecloth might be just the thing for a nappy bag or the cover of a changing table.
- Old knit tops make fun cushions and throws.
- Look out for unusual patterns on old skirts and shirts — those outdated leopard prints can be fun as part of a sewing pattern that uses colour blocking.
Use your scraps
Scraps don’t just come from the remnant table or op shop. You'll have plenty of them too.
Save up your scraps from other projects and use them for fun, small craft sewing projects. Or sew them together into larger cloths, patchwork-style, to make new fabric for crazy and unique garments.
A quick internet search will bring up lots of ideas — particularly if you have a Pinterest account! Or, just keep your eyes open when you're out. Lots of people wear quirky little items they've stitched together themselves. Be inspired by who and what is around you.
So, whether you love hitting the big shops, checking out the markets, browsing through op shops or staying at home and surfing the internet — you're sure to find a wide range of cheap fabric options and plenty of inspiration to go with it.
Learn which sewing machines are the best deals for the thrifty sewers.
Also discover which sewing accessories will make your sewing easier.