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' — named for the children's ragged clothes — 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, and eventually opened up to boys as well 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 wanting to learn how to sew.
Is it only the younger generation catching the 'slow fashion' bug?
Not quite. According to several news reports, it appears the quarantine and lockdown situation in Australia during the Covid outbreaks 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
Even if you ignore the price of the most basic items you need to set yourself up — sewing machine, patterns, accessories — cheap fabric doesn't seem to be a thing and when you add in the time it takes to make or even adjust that shirt or pair of pants, it can seem more cost-effective to just buy the product ready-made.
Don't let that sway you, though — think of the pros.
- Making something yourself can be very satisfying and build your self-esteem.
- The more practice you get, the faster and more accurate 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.
- Once you have the basic skills, it can be relaxing, allowing your brain to 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 boring colours — or gaudy printed patterns — if you don't want to.
Think of your sewing machine, patterns and accessories as an investment.
But what about the price of thread and textiles?
You don't really need to buy the most expensive material. And you won't have to if you know where to look.
Fact — sewing supplies, including beautiful, high-quality fabric, does not have to send you broke.
Check for learn-to-sew classes Sydney here.
Where to Get Cheap Fabric Online in Australia
Whether you are looking for taffeta, satin, upholstery, organic cotton, linen, lycra, polyester, jersey knit, printed or plain textiles — the choice of fabrics, colours and prints available online is unbelievable. There is everything you could dream of — from clearance stock at a bargain prices to craft accessories — 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 silk, 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 keen to know where to buy cheap fabric online in Australia?
Let's take a look at a few 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 materials
- satin taffeta
- premium cotton prints.
They even have a section for seconds and imperfect fabric as well as mixed bundle remnants because they're determined to find a home for all their fabrics.
You can even purchase a small sample of the material you are looking at for $1.
Shipping is via Australia Post with regular and express shipping available at standard delivery rates. If you live in Sydney, you have the option of free Click and Collect.
Focusing on high quality yet affordable sewing products, this online store offers free shipping with Australia Post for orders over $69.
Get everything you need at a reasonable price.
- 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 — Selvage is perfect for beginners to experienced sewers. If you need advice, Heidi is a phone call away.
Selvage offers a flat $9 shipping rate Australia-wide and orders over $150 receive FREE postage within Australia. They also cater for international shipping orders and, if you happen to live in Tamworth, Heidi offers free home delivery.
Find various sewing classes here on Superprof.
East Coast Fabrics
The cheapest fabrics in Brisbane, East Coast Fabrics have two retail stores — Lawnton and Springwood — and a huge range of online textiles. 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.
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.
If you order online, the post and handing is a flat rate of $35 per order. Alternatively, if you live in the area, you can collect your items from the warehouse (where you can browse and buy even more).
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.
Shipping options include Parcel Post (regular) and Express Post at standard postage rates within Australia.
Find various sewing classes here.
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.
Perhaps you prefer to buy local? If so, here's where you can order cheap fabric online in Melbourne.
Cheap Fabric Online From Melbourne
Most online outlets also have warehouses or shopfronts you can physically go to to view the products. If you live in or around Melbourne, it may well be that you would prefer to purchase your cheap fabric online from a Melbourne based store.
Here are a few online stores that also have warehouses in Melbourne that you can visit.
Super Cheap Fabrics
Located in Melbourne's inner-city suburb of Collingwood, Super Cheap Fabrics is Australia's largest online fabric store and also has outlets in other major capitals as well as New Zealand.
The store sells:
- plain and print cotton
- wool knit fabrics
- pure linen
- satin back crepe
- designer lace fabrics
There is a wide range of colours, printed and plain designs to suit every taste and style. They offer 50 per cent off clearance stock as well as remnants and seasonal prints (like Christmas).
You can organise delivery with a regular shipping fee or use their free click and collect service if you live in Melbourne.
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.
There are two stores in the Melbourne suburbs of Glen Huntly and Fitzroy and you can pick up your order from either of these or organise delivery to anywhere in Australia for a flat rate of $12.
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 Melbourne, you can book in for a shopping tour or a sewing group or class.
When buying fabric, the internet offers more than a gigantic cheap fabric shop: the ability to compare prices without leaving your couch. However, there are a few things to be aware of before you go nuts and 'burst a seam' in an online store.
Tips for Online Shopping
It's easy to go a bit crazy when shopping for anything online, let alone cheap fabrics online in Australia. Before you get started, it's probably a good idea to think about what it is you're looking to make, then ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I want the finished piece to look? For example, do you want it to flow, drape, hold its shape firmly and so on.
- How heavy do I want the material to be? Australia has a more temperate climate, so the heavier materials from overseas countries can be quite uncomfortable to wear.
- How do you want your material to feel? The texture is very important and can make or break an outfit.
Knowing these things ahead of time is going to help you narrow your search so you only view the fabrics that are relevant to your needs and don't get distracted by other textiles.
The last thing you want is to buy huge quantities of fabric that you don't need and can't use. Here are a few ways to avoid doing this.
Decide on the colours or patterns you want before you start to browse
It's very easy to get sidetracked by beautiful printed materials and colours and patterns that you don't need or that don't really suit the garment or item you are making. It is not unheard of to walk out of a store or receive your delivery, only to discover NONE of the materials you purchased are actually suitable.
Know what your machine can handle
Not all sewing machines can handle heavier materials like denim and leather, so make sure you read up on the textiles your machine is suitable for before you start making online purchases. The last thing you want is the expense of a new needle, let alone a new machine!
Buy materials you are familiar with
Different materials have different properties and some require special or advanced techniques to use. If you're a beginner, you are better off starting with easy patterns that use materials you are familiar with or that are straightforward to use (like cotton and linen). You can always experiment with small samples or remnants of other fabrics to get used to their properties.
Buy a little more than what you need
No, we don't mean you should buy metres and metres of different fabrics but once you've selected the material you want, adjust the amount you need to add a little extra just in case. There is nothing worse than nearly finishing a garment, only to discover you've run out of material ... and the shop doesn't stock it anymore. Even if they do still stock it, there's a very good chance it will be a different dye lot so the colour won't be exactly the same.
Where to Buy Cheap Fabric In-store
As mentioned above, most online stores also have warehouses or shopfronts where you can physically browse their range of textiles. Another option, however, is the chain stores. While these 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 stores throughout Australia. While they are not exclusively fabric and haberdashery — they do have a massive product range, including:
- craft items
- dress fabrics
- utility materials and furnishing trims
- sewing tools (needle, embroidery thread, scissors etc.)
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!
Search for sewing classes here on Superprof.
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 has 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.
Find various sewing courses online here on Superprof.
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?
Discover different sewing courses online on Superprof.
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 — an online thrift shop that 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 — 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, in rather than throw it 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.
Cuts, scraps, samples and remnants
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 one printed and one plain), 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.
Discover different sewing courses online here.
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 many 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.
Check for sewing classes here.
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!
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 thrifty sewers.
Also, discover which sewing accessories will make your sewing easier.
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