When I started sewing I asked some friends where they shopped for fabric. They gave me the names of a few locally-owned fabric shops, but they also suggested Goodwill, where you can pick up previously owned sheets, curtains, and other linens for a few dollars.
WOW, they were right. I found king sheets for $5, which is more than enough for a dress or costume and a ridiculous deal when you compare a similar woven cotton fabric would be at least $7 per yard. The corset I made for halloween used fabric from one of the king sheets I bought at Goodwill. I hope to use the rest of it for a skirt for either a Renaissance or Steampunk dress. You can be Scarlett O’Hara and dress yourself in old curtains for days.
The deals can be too good sometimes and I forget that I live in a small place, where storage is at a premium. It is so easy to justify a $4 or $6 dollar bundle of fabric.
You can also take discarded clothes and redesign them. I personally have not yet tried turning an old shirt into something new, but I can see from the internet and sewing books that there are a number of options. As a woman, it is easy to take a larger men’s shirt and cut it down for a dress or tunic. Search the internet for ways to use old sweaters or old button up shirts.
By choosing to use previously used fabrics you are reducing the demand for new fabric production, which can involve a lot of unsavory chemicals in the fiber manufacturing and dying processes.
P.S. Outlet Stores: This tip is not specifically about sustainable fabrics. However, the local fabric chain that I often shop at here in Seattle (Pacific Fabrics) has one location in SODO that carries out-of-season fabrics that didn’t sell AND rolls of fabrics from the factories that make clothes for Ann Taylor, or J. Jill, and a few other clothing chains. So…if you always love the fabrics used by Ann Taylor for pants, but just can’t stomach the mass-produced clothing culture, take a look at fabric outlet stores. You might find that same fabric, at a slight discount, to make your own pants or suit.