Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Top Tips for Quilting on a Budget

Quilting is as old as fabric, but it's new to me. I'm loving it! One of the most common questions I get is how to afford quilting. To be honest, it can turn into an extraordinarily expensive hobby! I'm a major thrifter - I'll not buy anything full price if I can get it on sale - and E, F and R are my favorite letters of the alphabet, especially when you double the E and put them in the right order! 

So, here are my top tips for quilting on a budget. 

Tip #1: Get a sewing machine.

Truthfully, you don't even need a sewing machine. Quilting is still done by hand today. But if your patience level matches mine and you want to whip up a creation now (or at least within a few days, for the smaller projects) you're going to need a machine. 

Yes, those awesome machines that can do everything but make coffee are... awesome... but so are the price tags. All you need is a machine that can stitch in a straight line. If you have the moolah to buy a (relatively) new machine, my best advice is to find out what service centers are in your area. For example, I have a Janome. The service center in the nearest town to me, 20 miles away, only works on Singer or Brother machines. To get my Janome serviced, I have to drive about 80 miles to a large town to get it done. That bites! 

Walmart usually has an impressive array of machines in various price points and those prices are often discounted a LOT on major holidays like Black Friday or Memorial Day. Amazon Prime Day in June or July is also a great time to pick up specials, which would be when to look at this sewing and quilting machine! Love that extension! Mmm mmm....


If you really want to find a machine that is bargain basement budget, you gotta hit the garage sales. I found this beloved beauty for a whopping (drum roll please!) $10. No, that's not a typo. It cost me Ten Dollars. This particular model can sew through 7 layers of leather without a problem. Can you say "quilt sandwich"?

Still waiting for a clean up and service

You wanna know the even bigger saving on this model? No service costs. Well, of course the machine needs servicing, but these pre-1950s models are so easy to service yourself because there are no computerized parts. There are a ton of videos and articles online on how to service them, and the parts are easily and readily available. Sewing machines haven't changed very much at all in the last 100+ years. It's a good idea to learn how to clean and service your machine yourself anyway. I cannot tell you how heart wrenching it is to have to interrupt your sewing journey for days at a time while your baby is at the sewing doctor! 

P.S. Only service yourself if it's an old mechanical sewing machine, not a fancy computerized one. That needs a specialist. Step away from the screwdriver!

SWAG for pennies!

Tip #2: Find supplies for nearly nothing

Grab your newspaper, turn to the Classifieds, and make a note of every garage sale, estate sale, and church rummage sale in the area. Plan your weekend around a circular route that will get you to as many of these as you can squeeze in. Don't be distracted by all the other goodness there. Focus! At the estate sales, head straight for the craft/sewing room, but also remember to check the bedrooms and living rooms. Lots of folks do needlework watching TV and hand needlework supplies are perfect for quilting. At garage and rummage sales, casually ask anyone that is overseeing the sale if they have any sewing stuff. You may find the sewing machine of your dreams, such as my baby up there, or score a serger for only $30 including all the attachments. Yup, I got that too. 

Gotta unpack this!

What you're really looking for are items such as needles, rotary cutters and blades, quilting rulers, quilting templates, embroidery scissors, cutting scissors, snips, fabric marking pens or chalk, cutting mats, embroidery hoops, iron pads, an iron or heating iron. Folks who do model aircrafts use heating irons and they're often put into a garage sale because they got a new, better model. These things are fantastic for small projects! Folks get rid of this stuff for a variety of reasons. Either they never got into the hobby and just want to get rid of it, or a relative moved out/passed away/passed it on and they don't want the clutter any more. Their clutter is your treasure! 

I often find that all the stuff is jumbled altogether and I never search through it. I glance disinterestedly inside and ask "how much would you pay me to take the whole box off your hands?" This normally makes them laugh and breaks the ice, and I often get a stash of mostly junk for very little. I take it home and unpack it, never at the sale. Often I find a few items worth double what I paid for the whole box, and then donate the rest of it to a thrift store

Don't be afraid to make offers. Remember, they want the stuff OUT of their house, you want it in yours. There's a happy medium there, somewhere! No need to be rude, but from running an eye over the box you'll have an idea of value, and my little gambit above lets them know you're willing to haggle. They'll expect a counter offer

Sorting time is often interrupted by Quality Control

Tip #3: Hit the Thrift Stores

There are stacks of people who swear by the linens section of the thrift stores. I'm glad it works for them, but personally, I don't like buying sheets for quilting. Old sheets often pill terribly and there's no way you can know the fabric content of the stuff, unless it still has its tag, which is rare. I'll run my hands over the sheets in a cursory way, stopping only if I feel a particular crispness that suggests percale or linen, but I don't tend to shop that section. 

Instead I go the fabric section. There are often bolts of fabric with information on the selvage, ziploc bags of interesting scraps, and even my personal favorite: felt. I gobble it all up! Felt is glorious stuff for very small projects like mug rugs, placemats, table runners, wall hangings, and the like. Do NOT use it for quilts. If you can do a burn test on it and ensure it is pure wool, it would be good for quilts, but otherwise, stay away! I also use it for rugs. 

7 yards of felt: $8, plus fabrics for pennies

Then I head over to the craft sections. Often there are bags of jumbled items, all stuffed together in a chaotic mess of indeterminate use or origin. They are priced at odd amounts like $3 for a large ziploc bag. If the shop is not monitored and I'm left to myself, I'll scrabble through the bag for an idea of it's value, but I don't take stuff out or move it into another bag. I will pay for the bag as is, if there's something in there I want. It's an ethics thing for me, do whatever lets you sleep at night. A lot of the workers at thrift stores see "crafts" as a single category and will lump a whole batch of things together in one bag. You'll get rug hooking, needlework, quilting, and decoupage all together in that one haul. After I've completed my purchases, I'll walk out to the car, sit there in comfort in the back seat and sort through my finds. I keep the treasures and donate the trash right back to them on the spot! No point in dragging those decoupage doodads home and cluttering up MY place, right?

Love these snips that I got in a bag. The whole bag went back, these came home!

Tip #4: Finding Fabric

Quilting fabric is priced sky high. I paid $14 for a yard of fabric last month. I almost swallowed my tongue! The thing is, unless you have your heart set on a particular pattern or colorway, you can often find fabulous fabric bargains.

Remember I mentioned garage sales, estate sales, rummage sales and thrift stores for supplies? Well, you can find a ton of fabric in all of those places too, but often not where you'd think to look! If you can find fabric and can identify it positively as cotton, grab it up. Unless you know cotton well, I wouldn't buy the unidentified stuff. I don't like buying odd items of fabric and then cursing seven ways from Sunday because it plumb won't sew up the way I wanted. 

You know what always has fabric content though? Clothes! I look for the "X". 2XL all the way up to 5XL and beyond. That stuff provides reams of fabric, in fun prints, and a little label that tells you exactly what's inside! Men's button down shirts, women's skirts and dresses, especially those muumuu style sacks. Fabric heaven. $2-$3 per item and, once you have the fabric cut out, you can get a few usable yards of the stuff. Best. Score. EVER!

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