Sewing for Less
Free Patterns and Tutorials
A place for great ideas without buying patterns is the Sew Mama Sew blog.
I have found lots of wonderful ideas for Christmas presents there as well.
Sewing.org has many free projects.
Building up a Fabric Supply for Less
I love the style of heirloom sewing, but I can't afford to make expensive dresses.
I have bought nice brands of smocked dresses on Ebay. Most of them are made with poly/cotton broadcloth. Even the ready to smock ones from Martha Pullen are poly/cotton.
My girls wear dresses every day, and I want something washable--but still heirloom style. I don't save heirloom style only for Sunday clothes.
So, I buy poly/cotton broadcloth from Joann's in 4-10 yards at a time, when it's 50% off (and sometimes I have gotten it when they have the extra 10% off your entire purchase including sales prices, and that's when I've stocked up on it). It is often on sale for $1.79 a yard.
I signed up for emails from Fabric.com. They have lots of one-day only sales. If there's something I want, I wait until then. I have bought stretch velvet this way, and other things, for less than I would have paid at Joann's (usually less than $5 a yard).
I buy muslin on sale from Joann's, or I use my 40% off coupon, and I buy a new bolt (25 yards) at a time. I use it for lining 100% cotton clothing, for slips and nightgowns. I made some pretty heirloom-style nightgowns with it. It's not see-through like batiste can be, so a single layer is fine. DD's nightgowns have tucks on the hem, the sleeves, and the bodice, and lace insertion in the bodice. I just use small amounts in the bodice. I prefer Swiss insertion; it washes well. The white baptism dress that my daughter is wearing in this picture is made from muslin.
Rather than expensive wide Swiss edging, I'll buy eyelet on sale and use that. The bottom of this dress is finished eyelet. I cut off the rest to use for making something else.
Batiste doesn't hold up in the washing machine (you can, however, wash it by hand). I don't want something that will fall apart. I used Victorian batiste from Martha Pullen (the least one, and the heaviest) to make the baby's blessing dress, but it is very fragile. I used it for a matching bib, and the bib was shredded in the washer on gentle. I had spent a lot of time embroidering bullion roses on it and I felt awful. I can't imagine what the more expensive, thinner batistes would do. I can't wash every dress by hand. (Joanne's also carries batiste now, but it is not the same quality. It is a poly/cotton blend, and I have heard it does well in the wash, but I have not used it myself).
For winter clothing, I have used flannel bought 50% off from Joann's (now $2.50 a yard, but it used to be $2). It smocks beautifully. I make winter nightgowns and pajamas from it and embroider the bodices. It does fade over time, but I use white and cream for the nightgowns.
I buy fabric when it is on 40% or 50% off. (This includes other fabrics, like fall suiting or taffeta). I buy enough for 2 dresses at a time if I can afford to. This has been a big blessing for us, as I still have enough fabric in my closet to make dresses for my girls. Having extra also means I can make a bigger dress if I never get the dress made in the smaller size.
Atlanta Thread Company has the lowest prices I've seen on thread. They carry Gutermann thread 11 times cheaper than Joann's price (their spools contain 1100 yards).
In addition, they have sales on a regular basis, for 15% or more off of thread. They also offer additional discounts on bulk purchases.
Get on their email mailing lists to receive sale notifications.
Dress: made from 2 layers of sheer curtains that were given to me. Lined with poly/cotton broadcloth bought for $1.99 a yard; I used about 3 1/2 yards. Buttons were vintage ones that had belonged to my grandmother.