Quilting with recycled fabrics

I’ve had a great weekend because I’ve just finished off a wonderful new quilt top!

"Windows" quilt top
“Windows” quilt top

I’m going to have a hard time giving this one away, but give it away I must! It’s a birthday present for my eldest nephew, who has just started school last week.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts on fabric choices for this quilt. I bet there are a lot of people like me who blench at the thought of paying retails prices for fabric when assembling even a lap size quilt like this. Fabric goes for about AUD $24 a metre around here (slightly over one yard).ย Yikes!

But I’ve managed to piece this quilt top together for a fraction of that price by being a little tricky about where my fabric has come from. Here are a few sources for fabric that you may not have considered before.

Thrift stores

This is my number one place to start when I need fabric for a project, but particularly when it involves smallish pieces (like for quilting, patchwork, softies, and so on). When you are at the thrift store, check out the following sections and see if there are fabrics there that would suit your project:

  • Fabric remnants — this one is not often as helpful as it seems, because you often find pretty awful stuff, or fabrics not very suitable for quilting (like gold spangles, or organza). You can be creative, though, and use crazy fabrics as a pop of texture.
  • Pillow cases — these are my best source for good prints and colours. Mostly made with cotton and with a feel just like a quilting fabric.
  • Curtains — great for finding backing material. That’s where the Laura Ashley print came from that went into Evie’s Christmas quilt back, my sister’s wedding quilt, and my new ironing board cover. I bought the curtains to use as curtains at first, but had more fabric than I need for my laundry window, and couldn’t resist making it up into lots of projects!
  • Table linens — if you want to find some embroidered bits, the napkins are often great, and do well for i-spy style quilts. Tablecloths are a mixed bag.
  • Clothing — at first I really didn’t want to start cutting into clothing for the fabric. I felt I was destroying something that was still useful. But some of the items I started with were really truly hideous, and I think I did the world a favour by re-purposing them! I have become reconciled with this source of fabric: after all, it might stay on the shelf forever and not be used: where’s the good in that? I tend to pick garments like skirts and woven shirts. You can also use the buttons and zips as free notions for your projects!
  • Notions — there are always buttons, snaps, curtain hooks and bias binding to be had at my local thrift store in this section. If you need belt buckles or a handbag clasp, you can also try the section with belts and bags and see if any items look dilapidated enough to cannibalise for parts.

Shop your house

All of the items I’ve mentioned above can often be found in your own house. If you haven’t been in the habit of de-cluttering, chances are there are items you hardly use that you could re-purpose. Try looking in:

  • Your wardrobe — clothes you love but will never fit again, clothes you bought and have never worn, you get the idea. Maybe don’t use gifts that you’ve never liked and stuffed in a drawer, because chances are you have negative associations and seeing that fabric again might bring those up to the surface. Or not! Re-purposing might purge the “never worn” guilt.
  • Your children’s wardrobe — clothes that they’ve grown out of, but that you loved may be better used on display in a family quilt! A lot of people make memory quilts for each of their kids.
  • Inherited clothes — you may have to sort through the wardrobe of someone well loved who has passed away. A lot of people also make memory quilts using these items, to have something tangible to snuggle.
  • Your linen cupboard — you may have holes or stains on some items that can be cut around. You could also get really creative and try bleach-painting or tie-dyeing the fabrics to give them a new look!

Bargain bins

Fabric stores will often have a remnants section you can dig through. The bargains here are not as good as at a thrift store ($4 in the remnants section might get you a large narrow strip of fabric, but a whole pair of curtains at the thrift store, for example). They are often quality fabrics, though.

Art and Craft shows

I’ve also found remnant bags at quilting shows, or local markets. This is like a lucky dip! Not all the fabrics you get in the bag will be stuff you want, but you could always use it to stuff the centre of a softie, or a cushion, or something like that.

Gifts from other people

Are people always asking you what you’d like for your birthday, or Christmas? Ask for a couple of fat quarters, and if you have a project in mind, be specific about colours (eg. red and white, or blues only). I did this, and got a bunch of lovely new fabrics at Christmas time. ๐Ÿ˜€

Assorted fabrics, recycled and gifts.
Assorted recycled fabrics, and some gift fat quarters

Once you have a bunch of items, what next? I’m still working out the best way to store my finds. Mostly I keep clothing as-is until it’s time to make the first cut. But once that happens, I’m starting to think it’s a good idea to cut along all the seam lines, save away the useful bits (like collars, cuffs, buttons and zips) and fold the pieces up like a fat quarter.

Larger fabrics like curtains and so on just go into my Expedit boxes under my TV. I’m starting to have to cram, so I haven’t been adding to the stash!

Looking at the quilt top I’ve just completed, I can spot just six prints that I bought as fat quarters at full retail price. I only used six and a half inch squares, so there is still plenty left from each fabric. There are thirty-eight different fabrics in this quilt top! That means there are thirty-two prints I received as gifts, or upcycled from other items, and this makes me one happy quilter!

4 thoughts on “Quilting with recycled fabrics

  1. Or another source would be offcuts from friends. You have a heap of friends who sew and there are always many leftovers that would be quilt piece sized but useless for anything else. If you have a colour you are looking for, friends might have something in their stash. I know I have lots of fabric scraps and piece that may never get used…

    1. Very true, Mouse, I hadn’t thought of that! Even the tiniest pieces can be useful if you use the foundation paper-piecing technique (I haven’t tried one of these yet, but I want to! And English paper piecing. And stuffing softies. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I kinda feel embarrassed about scrounging off friends, though. Maybe a “scrap-swap-meet” might be a good idea to swap bits and bobs with friends who sew?

      I’ve found fabrics lying on kerbside cleanups, too, believe it or not. I have a neighbour who puts out clothing that has been used to wipe grease in a corner, and the rest of the garment is perfectly good!

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