Of course it depends what you plan to do with the fabric--if you need something very specific, or in a hurry, then you may be at the mercy of the market...but if you have a little time to spare, or can be flexible, then here are a few ideas for acquiring fabric on a more budget-friendly basis:
- Get on mailing lists for fabric stores to get coupons--For example JoAnn's Fabrics has a mailer every month or so, and each one shows the current sale items AND also includes a 40% off coupon that can be used on any one item--including one cut of fabric of any length.
- Look for sale items. I know this is obvious, but it's worth repeating. ☺ Some stores have bargain racks or $2 fabric tables. (Walmart is famous for having cheap fabrics but even when I used to shop there I found that of them were low quality...)
- Look for discontinued fabrics--they are often on sale (but you won't be able to get more later, so get plenty!)
- Check out the remnant shelves at fabric shops--they usually take any pieces under 1 yard and put them in the remnant bin for as much as half off. Sometimes the pieces are larger but have a flaw. If you are going to be cutting smallish pieces anyway (such as a quilt, or small clothing), then you can use small cuts of fabric. I have often been able to find multiple remnants of the same fabric--for example yellow flannel, or red fleece--and then I can make something larger by buying three remnants of the same fabric. Alternately, you can buy part of your fabric as a remnant and only have to pay full price for part of your yardage.
- Be friends with other people who sew--or who plan to sew but never do. I've acquired quite a bit of fabric from people who "bought this but never got around to using it..."
- Visit thrift stores or yard sales and look for old sheets or curtains or tablecloths. These are large pieces of fabric, and often come in pretty prints. Sheets can make good linings, petticoats, or aprons. They are also good for mock-ups (which is when you make a practice run of the pattern in order to make sure that the alterations fit correctly--I have a funny story about this which I'll share at the end of this post!) Curtains and tablecloths can make good curtains (shockingly!), or capes, skirts, jackets...anything that calls for a heavier weight fabric.
- If you have the time, and need a lot of fabric, there are many online fabric co-ops (I mostly frequent the ones that cater to diaper-making fabrics, but there are others--search in yahoo groups). They make bulk orders and are able to get the fabric at wholesale prices rather than retail. There is often a wait of 2+ months between ordering and getting your fabric, and there are often cutting fees, so if you just getting a few yards then it probably won't save you any money. But if you buy in bulk (more than 5 yards of something) then this can save you a lot.
- Recycle/upcycle things that you have already (or find them secondhand). Old jeans make great quilts, as many people know. Old corduroy pants make great quilts too (and they are a lot softer than jeans!). Skirts on the longer/fuller side have a lot of fabric. Old formal gowns have a lot of fabric (and are great for making kid's costumes!) Any type of clothing in larger sizes has (wait for it...) a lot of fabric!
- Do you have any other suggestions?
OK, so the funny story...
When I was engaged, I looked around for a while and finally concluded that I would make my own wedding dress because nobody had anything I really liked, or that flattered my figure. I hunted for patterns and ended up finding three different ones that I planned to combine and alter to create the dress I wanted. Because I was doing a "frankenpattern" I needed to do a mock-up to make sure that I had my alterations right before I cut into the expensive dress fabric. So I got a couple of sheets from the thrift store. I had been through two mock-ups on the bodice and had gotten it all right, and I excitedly showed my fiance what I had created...the sheet I'd used happened to be white though, and when he saw it he said "um, honey, I know we're on a budget, but maybe you should just buy a dress?" He thought I was making my actual wedding dress out of a secondhand sheet! ☺ Nope, I explained mock-ups and then made the dress of velvet and satin.