Wednesday, February 2

Sewing on a Budget

Sorry for my lack of posting this week! I am super busy, making a dress for the Plus London meet. Also my house hunting has been going badly (we lost out on three houses in a row, and now we’re easing off a bit, to avoid further disappointments), so I’m a bit glum.

As most of you probably know, I am a burgeoning crafter. By that, I mean that for many years I have attempted crafts of sorts. I am a average knitter, a failed crocheter, and I’m interested in embroidery and quilting (though as they are both time consuming hobbies, I haven’t really attempted any yet). As far as crafting goes, I’m not amazing - I work a full time job that sees me out of the house for 11 hours a day, five days a week, and I’m also juggling a long distance relationship, a semi-”band” of sorts and - oh yeah - blogging! So most of the time, I’m lucky to have an hour or two to myself a day, and quite frankly, I don’t have the time to build up epic skills.

Sewing is my favourite hobby, and it’s also the most cost-effective. I’m a bargain hunter in all other aspects, so I don’t believe that crafting should cost you the earth, though it can very easily do so. I’ve yet to pay more than £3 per metre for a fabric, and I can generally craft something which, if I bought, I’d pay lots for (if I could!).

My favourite things to make clothes out of include:

  • Second hand sheets, curtains, duvets. These are great sources of cheap heavy cottons in large quantities, and generally won’t set you back much more than £4 maximum.
  • Vintage fabrics, where available and affordable. I buy these from car boot sales mainly, occasionally shops.
  • Other items of clothing (I have made quite a few granny skirts into pleated skirts with fitted waists. These are cheap and easy to find in charity shops, and are often on the £1 rail!)

For modern fabrics, I also find eBay to be a great resource. Whilst not super cheap, I often pay less on eBay for fabric by the metre than I do in haberdashery shops. Etsy also has fabric options, though I don’t find them particularly cheap.

Patterns are pretty tricky to find in plus sizes, so in these cases, learning to enlarge patterns is your best bet. There are often boxes of patterns in car boot and antiques sales, these are also often to be found on etsy and eBay, so finding patterns for reasonable prices isn't too hard. My skills aren’t quite up to enlarging patterns yet, but I reckon this is the best route to go. Some swift googling just brought me to this, which looks like a reasonable and easy technique to size up vintage patterns, which I am definitely trying next. I’ve also been recommended this book as a resource, though I haven’t bought it yet so am curious to know if it’s as valuable a resource as I’ve been led to believe?

I also recommend searching for online tutorials, using the internet to self-tutor myself in the techniques of garment construction itself. Sometimes what you are looking for is easier to make than you imagine! Also, try inspecting items of clothing you already own, or in high street stores - I made my first skirt by sketching around the outline of a skirt I already owned, then stitching the sides and hems with a simple straight stitch. Start to think about how clothing is made, even if it’s beyond your immediate capabilities, it allows you to better understand what a project requires. I’ve made dresses out of stretchy fabrics with a similar approach (but sketching around a body con dress instead).

With my projects, I try not to expect perfection straight away. My projects started with fairly basic objects - cushion covers and a-line skirts without zips, now I’m competent sewing from patterns and making a relatively tailored dress. With each project I try to advance my skills slightly - in my latest project, I fitted a concealed zip for the first time, and adapted a neckline. It went as well as could be expected (though certainly not professional quality) apart from the neckline, which I ended up having to pleat slightly. Because I spend little on fabrics, I can also afford to make mistakes (though it is always a disappointment!).

As a last note, if you’re just starting out, don’t buy a new sewing machine!Depending on where you live, it’s worth checking whether there are any local resources that allow free use of sewing machines, or allow you to rent one by the hour. I remember Remade in Leeds used to do this, and it was a great way to get a sense of whether sewing was “for you” or not. Personally, I would recommend starting with an older model with a hand crank mechanism. These are everywhere in second hand shops, car boot sales, and on eBay (I got mine for £15 from a car boot), and range between £10 and £50 generally, though £20-30 is the average. These are less daunting to control as a beginner, as you are in full control of the mechanism. They only offer straight stitch, but this is generally all I use currently anyway, and they’re also incredibly durable in the long term.

Otherwise, try buying a refurbished vintage electric sewing machine. I bought mine from eBay for about £50 including postage, though if you look for electric models that haven’t been refurbished further bargains can be had.

Online resources:

DIY Couture

Burda style (check out the “curvaceous” section on the community!)

Gerty’s New Blog For Better Sewing

If anyone has more, please post them in the comments!


  1. Ooh yeah! You're coming to Plus London. Looking forward to see your outfit there! Thank you for the tips.

  2. I find "Fit for Real People" to be an excellent pattern fit resource book. Not sure about the one you link to here. It explains beautifully how to "fit as you sew" and i have learned TONS from it!

  3. I have a couple of ideas for patterns. I'm afraid they are not at bargain prices but carefully chosen you may only need a couple.

    1 I like the patterns available at . I am sure they are available from locations closer to you. These patterns go up to about a size 28. You'll need to look at each one carefully. Some are ordinary styles, some are beautiful simply garments while the "historic and ethnic" ones have some different styles and interesting cuts that you may well love and could easily be worn everyday.

    2 I also like and Same patterns I think

    3 And Vogue have more plus sizes these days.

  4. Hello my dear,

    This isn't a garment recommendation but a site that has great easy to follow tutorials for quilting is over at 'Oh Fransson' Her colour combinations and quilt designs are so inspirational. I've been finding following the quilting blog world has been a great way to learn. Also you have your local quilting shop, so perhaps they do drop-ins?

    See you tomorrow!!! xx