Thrifty Quilting: Tips to Successfully Quilt on a Budget

on January 9 | in Books, Products & Books, Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Trends | by | with 28 Comments

Elizabeth Betts is the author of Beginner’s Guide to Quilting: 16 Projects to Learn to Quilt and she runs the Quilty Pleasures online shop and quilt studio in Brighton. (They look like they have lots of fun sewing in the studio!)

The Beginner’s Guide to Quilting is a great introduction to quilting and patchwork, full of lots of pretty, basic projects you’ll love.

Today Elizabeth joins us for Quilting Month to share how to successfully quilt on a budget! We’d love to hear your tips too in the comments below. How do you make the quilts you love with a budget that works for your family?

Be sure to take a look at Beginner’s Guide to Quilting for more from Elizabeth. She is also offering an online course at the end of the month through Creative University, Beginner’s Guide to Quilting. The course is appropriate for new quilters and teaches essentials with over two hours of video tutorials, PDF lesson downloads and a study guide with techniques and more. In addition to Elizabeth’s book you can find crafting and sewing book titles published by David & Charles (F+W Media) in the Stitch Craft Create sewing and book shop.

Thrifty Quilting

Hello, I am Elizabeth Betts from Brighton, UK, and Happy New Year to you! From my studio, Quilty Pleasures, I teach workshops, sell a small range of quilting supplies and design quilts. I get a lot of beginners coming to my classes, and one of the things that surprises many of them is how much it can actually cost to make a quilt (this is no surprise to us seasoned quilters!). So being January, the time of year when the pennies are tight, I thought I would share with you some of my tips for quilting on a budget…

1. Right here at number one, how about the original thrifty patchwork technique, using clothes and home textiles? I have been known to check if the fabric is 100% cotton before buying a skirt, as I knew I would eventually want to cut it up. I usually cut alongside the seams till the garment is all laid out flat, then cut out the patchwork pieces. If the fabric is thin cotton, or a mix of fibres, I always press some lightweight fusible interfacing on the back before piecing as it helps if the fabrics are the same weight and do not stretch. I usually keep this technique for quilts made from simple shapes such as squares or bricks. Don’t forget old sheets for the back too…

Hand Sewing
2. If you want to try quilt making, and don’t have access to a sewing machine or budget for a rotary cutting set, do not despair. Try some English Paper Piecing or American block piecing. While being slower than making a quilt on the sewing machine, both techniques are portable, and perfect to sit and sew on journeys, in front of the TV, in your lunch break… All you need to start is some fabric, a template, and a basic hand sewing kit.

Shop Wisely
3. Be a savvy shopper and keep an ear out for sales and discount codes. Charity/thrift shops are an excellent place to find old books, and quilt guild exhibitions often have a sale table that is a good place to find haberdashery. I have picked up gems such as large pinking sheers, acrylic rulers and patterns cheaply from these.

4. How about setting up a quilting swap with friends? Simply set a date and a place, then everyone who brings along something to swap gets a raffle ticket that can then be exchanged for another item. If you want to double it up with raising money for charity then set a small fee for each item to be swapped– under a dollar– and sell teas, coffee and cakes. Remember, one person’s unwanted item is another person’s treasure…

Don’t Forget Your Scraps
5. If you have a cupboard bulging full of fabric, make a scrap quilt. They are good for the wallet as well as for clearing out the fabric closet… A virtuous project!

Get Organised
6. This is particularly important if you are going into the tempting territory of a quilt shop/quilt show. Planning your projects means you know what you need to buy, so won’t be tempted by that big box of bargains you don’t need, or that block of the month you don’t have time to do! If you are buying fabric for a quilt in progress, make a card with small pieces of fabric already bought stapled to it. Then when you see a fabric you like you know whether it will go with it. I know some very disciplined people who work out their budget and withdraw cash before going a quilt show, then leave their cards at home.

Don’t Forget the Solids
7. I love prints, however some of the really lovely ones can be at the higher end of the fabric price range. Sales are all very well and good, but you want to use the latest fabric. This is where solids come in. Most fabric companies sell their solids at a much lower price than their prints, which means you can mix prints and solids to bring down the price of a project (and solids look great too!). Alternatively, just use solids; this works great if you like quilts with a modern feel.

Share Equipment
8. If you really want something a little pricey but cannot afford/justify the cost, such as a die cutter, buy it with friends or suggest your sewing group buys one to share.

Buy in Bulk
9. Many shops discount wadding (batting) if you buy a whole roll. If you have space to store it, then in the long run it works out a lot cheaper, plus you don’t have to keep buying it every time you finish a quilt top. The same goes for fabric; if you use a lot of a certain fabric, for example a particular solid, ask your local quilt shop if they would do a discount if you buy a whole bolt.

10. These can really add to the cost of a quilt. Extra wide backings are a lot cheaper than buying standard 44” wide fabric and joining it together. The choice of prints used to be quite limited, but I have noticed some really good prints coming out recently. You can also piece your backing from fabric left over from the quilt top (this also looks really good). Also, linking to Tip #6, take your swatch card shopping with you. Then, if you see a sale bolt that matches the project, buy it so it is there ready to use.

11. Classes are really enjoyable and a fantastic way of learning a new skill, but they can be expensive. If there is a group of you who want to do a class try contacting the tutor and arranging your own venue. The class can work out cheaper, and it can be a way to catch up with friends when you would be paying for a meal out anyway!

12. Finally, if you have just had to pay for a new boiler/car service/poorly pet and you really want to get on with some sewing have a look in the WIP pile. If you have been quilting for awhile there is likely to be something in there for you to work on (hand quilting is great for times like this) until your bank account looks healthier!

So those are my tips! If you have thrifty quilting tips do share them in the comments below for others to read.

Learn more about Elizabeth’s work at Quilty Pleasures and the Quilty Pleasure blog.

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28 Responses to Thrifty Quilting: Tips to Successfully Quilt on a Budget

  1. Peggy says:

    I am one of those new quilters that just found out how expensive it is! I bought a used sit-down long arm and I need to pay it off now! (Zero % interest, haha.) These tips from everyone, and the article, were very helpful and appreciated. I will take these all to heart.

  2. I am so impressed with this article, Elizabeth! I love using vintage pillowcases and sheets to make quilts. I think it gives a certain whimsical look to the quilt.

  3. Jan Lovett says:

    Loved your article, Liz! Lots of very useful tips and reminders for us all.
    Hope everyone looks at your website for Quilty Pleasures. I can tell you it’s a fabulous shop and a great website. Highly recommend it!


  4. Jan Lovett says:

    Loved your article, Liz! Lots of handy tips and reminders for us all!

  5. Tatiana says:

    I loved all the tips, very useful! I live in Brazil, and batting is hard to find and REALLY expensive… however, fleece is really cheap in here! I used fleece as batting on my first quilt and it turned out great! It’s light, warm enough, and it gave a great definition to the quilting lines…

  6. Diane Swett says:

    Thank you for sharing your tips with us. I have posted this on my Pintrest page and on my Facebook page.

  7. Jane says:

    Used part of an old velvet curtain once for batting worked quite well but a little heavy The idea of towels for bibs or placemats is great. And Kudos to the person who looked for a new long armer when they looked down their nose at your sheet for a backing I think this is a great idea.

  8. In addition to tip 2, Hand Sewing:
    Especially beginners can start quilting very economically with Inklingo. Linda Franz offers a free downloadable shape collection here
    Before investing in rulers, rotary cutters, templates, patterns, sewing machines etc., give this a try. It will also save experienced quilters money, for one, because it uses fabric very economically.

  9. Liz Brown says:

    Flannel sheets as batting work well and make a nice weight for a cozy quilt.
    For keeping track of fabrics you have- if you have a smart phone- there’s an app for that! (Fabric Stash),Or you can just take pictures of your stash or the fabrics you have for a project- then you always have them with you!

  10. JJ says:

    Thanks for the ideas. I use old (“vintage”, if you want to sound posh) sheets a lot — for piecing and for backing. The only thing with nice old sheets (picked up second-hand in charity shops or from old cupboards!) is that they are often woven very tightly. This makes free-motion quilting them on home machines sometimes a bit tricky (or just noisy). One option I often use for backings is buying inexpensive duvet covers (such as from that large Swedish place). Two quilt backs from one duvet cover: cheerful and cheapish! JJ

  11. Becca says:

    Great article! I’ve found great deals on fabric from local thrift stores, cupboards of relatives that used to sew, sales racks at stores. I love youridea about checking the fabric content of clothes you buy…there a many great fabrics available to clothing manufacturers that are not available to us lowly crafters! Thanks for the great tips!

  12. I tried to leave a comment earlier but couldn’t so I try again!
    I wanted to add that I have regularly used a flannel sheet as batting. It’s cheap, holds up great when washed often and I like the weight of it too. 🙂

  13. Great tips here! I have regularly used flannel sheets as batting. I made my first quilts with flannel as batting about 6 years ago, they have been washed regularly and are still in good condition! 🙂

  14. Kris says:

    Thanks Elizabeth! I really like the info in your article. I am not working right now because of back issues so I really need to watch my spending. I love to give quilts to our local charities so I have to get the most bang for my bucks. I have entered a few online giveaways and have been fortunate to win a few fat quarters here and there. I think that has kept me going when I want to make something to giveaway. I would love to make tester quilts or dive into selling a few quilts to make money to buy more but for now I just try to be as thrifty as I can. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  15. Becky Thompson says:

    Yes, VERY good article! I’ve only been quilting a couple of years and I’m astounded at the cost. I check Missouri Star Quilt Co. Daily Deal each morning for pre-cuts, rulers, or tools they put on sale and their shipping in US is always $5 plus you earn redeemable points toward future purchases. I never thought of an old towel for batting (great idea for place mats!) and I had one long-armer scoff at my sheet backing, so I looked elsewhere. I actually ended up shipping it off to Missouri Star and they had no issue with it – came out beautiful. Also, your local fabric shop may know of a good long-armer at a low cost. Mine told me about one for 0.5 cent an inch and she does fabulous work! Another idea is to check quilt stores for off-season fabrics. Usually in mid to late Jan, Christmas fabrics can be found for deep discounts so you can be armed for next year’s holiday quilt or gifts. And while the cost of quality fabric can be prohibitive, I caution against using lower quality fabrics found in the big chain stores. I made the mistake and what seemed fine without flaws ended up warping horribly when ironed and I couldn’t get the seams right. I don’t have that problem with the higher quality fabrics. Also, check estate sales. I know if I dropped over dead today, some lucky gal is getting a heck of a stash complete with a bazillion rulers, cutters, mats, & threads!

  16. Suzanne says:

    Thanks, Elizabeth. You reminded me of several ideas and I like the little visual fabric reminder you shared for shopping.

  17. Sherree says:

    The first quilt that I made for our oldest daughter, I used an old blanket. It is now 20 years later and the quilt is still being used. It washes great. I suppose I like the blankets, because when they are washed over time, they don’t bunch up. Hope this was helpful.

  18. Vicki says:

    Great article and I particularly like the organised tip by using up all the leftover fabrics. The card with swatches is a marvellous idea and one I had never thought of 🙂

  19. craftalife says:

    The only problem with blankets or some other suggestions for batting/wadding is that the quilt become very heavy for the sleeper/napper/etc. That said, I’ve always looked for sheets in thrift stores for backing, and think some quilters have a ‘snooty’ attitude about this that is unjustified.

  20. diane says:

    I know quilters who never begin a project that they dont go out and buy the fabrics. Most have a good bunch of fabrics in thei own stash. I try to use what Ive already got. I may have to buy some to go along with what I have but what is a stash for if you’re not even going to use it?

  21. Liz Rehrauer says:

    My neighbor uses old sweats (shirts and pants) for batting. My SIL goes to sales and looks for cotton clothing she cuts into squares. She and her group have made over a hundred quilts to send to the poor in other countries through their church and none of them spend a dime on materials.

  22. Latrecia says:

    This is wonderful! I’ve been looking for a place to start! Thanks for the tips.

  23. Lindsey says:

    You can use $10-$20 quilts from kmart or big w

  24. Em says:

    No need for batting all the time. Projects made with denim, for example are heavy enough. An old towel can be the perfect size and shape for some projects. Place mats and bibs are great quilty projects that you can finish quick and user for gifts later. (Especially good for practicing binding techniques.)

  25. kristi g says:

    I save all scraps down to 1″x1″ and keep them trimmed, prrssed, and organized by sizr. Im able to get full quilts out of things people throw away. Also, let quilty friends know you are doing this. Perhaps they will save scraps for you…

  26. Tisha says:

    I agree completely on using sheets for backings. I tend to get solid sheets to use for backings because they can go with more and be cut into squares for other projects.

  27. vicky myers says:

    Really helpful article – perfect timing as just finished making my blocks of old shirts for my first ever quilt. I’m thinking about an alternative to wadding, preferably recycled. Wondering about whether an old blanket would work? Have an old cotton sheet ready for the backing.

  28. Great article, Elizabeth!

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