Monday, 7 July 2014

Buying Sewing Supplies Secondhand

What you should know...

I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere on this blog before that I buy things secondhand. I am a very frugal person and I do most of my shopping in thrift stores. I recently had the opportunity to buy some fabric (on bolts) from a massive lot. The fabric was originally owned by an older lady but was now being sold by her daughter. The individual bolts were not priced and I couldn't tell how much fabric was on each them. I ran into some difficulties which lead me to this post. I want you to be extra careful when buying materials secondhand! Not everything is as it appears; you should always inspect the fabric and stand your ground when it comes to prices.

Firstly, if you're going to be buying used fabric you better go do it in person. I usually don't recommend buying fabric online whether it's new or used. I've purchased new material on Ebay and I've always been shocked somehow by what I receive. For example, I purchased one yard of Hello Kitty fabric from Japan. I was expecting it to be cut differently but I ended up with a long skinny strip of fabric that I can maybe make a waist cincher out of...maybe. I'm not sure where I missed that it would be one yard and 15" in width. So again, I recommend buying fabric in person. I've read many stories about people ordering fabric online and getting far smaller pieces than described, misprinted, damaged or smelly fabric. It's just too sketchy.

The biggest reason you should see fabric in person is to inspect the material for damage. Not all damages can be photographed! You might not see that it's covered in something sticky, that it has wear or small runs in the material or that it smells bad. Seeing fabric in person is hugely beneficial. A good seller will allow you to muck about and open things up. Sometimes this is not so easy, as in my case where the lot was far too immense to spend all my time unraveling bolts. If you find yourself in a similar situation, judge the material by what you do see and try to offer less for the fabric.

Things to consider in regards to condition

  • Is it sun faded? Or misprinted? 
  • Is there damage like runs, stains, tears or burns?
  • Does it have an odor to it?
  • It's it partial (has it been used and cut into pieces)?
  • It's it on a roll or a flat bolt? (Rolled fabric fares better over time because it doesn't crease)

My Experience

I purchased about ten bolts of different fabric from this lot. I already knew that I didn't want to pay a lot for this fabric because the designs are dated and I didn't know exactly what condition the material was in. To my surprise she wanted far more than what she posted in her advertisement. Originally she wanted fifty dollars for a box of thirteen bolts. I remember I calculated each bolt to be about four dollars. That's great if you want all thirteen per box but if you don't want to be stuck with extra fabric it's really quite a lot of money to be spending. She offered to sell the fabric individually and "work out" a price for each. When I selected the ones I wanted she asked for a hundred dollars. I was floored. Where the hell did that come from? She doesn't know much about fabric but she wanted the retail value. The fabric is from ten years ago and I didn't know what kind of condition it was in. I stated quite firmly that the best I would do is forty dollars. She kept trying to bargain with me going from eighty to sixty and I just stared at her. I kept my ground. I was not going to spend more than what she stated in the ad, because that's bullshit. You don't say here's this Camaro for $20,000 and then when I show up to see it in person bump the price to $60,000. That's ludicrous. To make matters worse she mentioned after the transaction that she'd probably just give the fabric away any how. Well that's just peachy, isn't it?

I'm happy I didn't pay the insane amount of money she wanted for this material because when I got home I found that one piece of fabric had been sewn into something and has nail polish spilled in the middle. Another bolt is cut apart in places. And yes, they smell of cigarettes. *grumble* Man, smoke is the hardest smell to get out of fabric.

I think my counter offer was more than fair when you consider some of the materials were damaged and I couldn't see them in full or measure amounts completely. If I paid more for these I would have been screwed!


If you're looking to purchase used notions and hardware for your machine it's best to thoroughly inspect them as well. If the notions are sealed ask if it's alright to open them up to look at them. Even if they're older but new in package they can still be damaged, either from factory or simply from age. For example, I found a zipper once that was rusting inside the package. I also found one that smelled of cat pee. It's better to know that what you're buying can actually be put to use.

If you're looking at sewing machine hardware you should have a good knowledge of your particular machine and its needs. For example, all my machines are Kenmore and require vertical attachments with a low shank. If at all possible try out the new attachment before buying it - this is especially important for the walking foot, the ruffler foot and various quilting attachments. I will not buy larger, more expensive attachments unless I know that they're in working order.

Hopefully you will have success when shopping secondhand! : )

Kind regards,

Image is stock.


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