Tips and Tricks to Quilting on a Budget

Quilting is one of those hobbies where things can get expensive fast. As your skills progress you can find yourself wanting a better sewing machine, fun fabrics, and new tools to try out different techniques. But things only get expensive if you let them. There are many ways to keep quilting affordable. However, often the first thing recommended is using secondhand sheets as fabric. While sheets can be a great budget backing there are better things you can do to keep costs down and quality high. Here are things I do to keep quilting on a budget.


Be picky about your patterns

Often times I see people turning out half square triangle quilts like they need to keep their entire neighborhood warm for the winter. Then they come online and ask how they can make quilting cheaper. The key to quilting on a budget isn’t about buying cheaper fabrics. Its all about making less quilts. But that doesn’t mean spending less time quilting.


Less is more. Especially in quilting. Spend less money on supplies and more time on making your quilts. Spend time finding patterns with more pieces, that are more intricate, or that help you learn a new skill. These patterns innately take longer to make for the same amount of supplies a more simple pattern would use. If you find more intricate patterns daunting, try looking for traditionally pieced patterns, like my patterns. They only use straight seams and diagonal seams, which are basic piecing techniques that are easy for everyone to learn on any machine.


Plan ahead and shop sales

Being picky about what patterns you make make creates this terribly long list of projects your want to make. But you can use this list to your advantage. Now you can plan ahead. Even if you haven’t bough the pattern yet, you can start thinking about what fabrics you’d want to make a quilt. You can also try to use the same fabrics over multiple quilts so you’ll be able to use up that whole half a yard (the minimum yardage for a lot of online fabric stores) when you only needed a quarter. 


Planning ahead also means you can watch for sales. Big sales come a couple times a year, and most quilt shops, online or in store, will have at least a sale on Black Friday. Getting actual quilting cotton at these sales for just a couple dollars per yard is a lot better than using thin cotton sheets or even sheets of another fabric.


Batting is another big expense that many people don’t consider until they’ve competed the quilt top. Buying a massive roll of batting is the most budget-friendly way to get batting. Planning you quilting ahead also gives you the option of buying a larger package of batting and splitting it up into different quilts. See here for how to piece batting scraps together and here to for ways to use up batting scraps.


Slow down

Hand-in-hand with picking more intricate patterns is the art of slowing down your quilting. Its easy to get into the mind set of zooming through sewing your seams well into the night (guilty, here!). But quilting isn’t a race. Well, unless you’ve found our your friend just eloped or you’re going to be an auntie (or uncle) in a couple months. But even then, you still have time. 


Slow down and really watch your scant quarter inch seams. Press each seam. Trim your blocks. Plan out your quilting on pictures of your pattern. Try your hand at free motion quilting; you can even use some of your scraps to practice the design you want to make. Your recipient might not notice how all the point align or that you quilted this beast all by yourself on a domestic machine. But you do. And your skills are better for it.


Buy secondhand

Wait – Didn’t I say at the beginning that there are better things to keep quilting on a budget than buying used bed sheets? Yes, but I’m not talking about fabric substitutes here. Just stepping into the world of quilting you’re looking at a hefty start up cost to get a new sewing machine. But your first machine doesn’t need to be a new couple hundred dollar machine. You can find many barely-used sewing machines online, often for less than 100 bucks!


Even if you’re looking to upgrade your sewing machine, secondhand can be an excellent place to start. While there aren’t a lot of reasonably-priced advanced sewing machines, they do come onto the market regularly. Figure out what you’d like in your next sewing machine and some brands you trust and keep an eye out! I’ve found some >$1,000 msrp machines with 10″+ throat space for ~$400. See what’s in your area!


Shop your fabric stash (but don’t purposefully build one)

I’ve mentioned before reasons why you shouldn’t purposefully build your fabric stash. When it comes to quilting on a budget, only shopping for fabrics you need and not the ones you love will save you money. First, there will always be more fabrics you can’t live with out. Second, you likely will never use them–no project will ever be good enough for them, you won’t have bought enough, or they don’t fit into the projects you’ve been planning.


Let your stash build organically though leftover scraps of your projects. When you start planning a new quilt, take a look through your scraps first to see if you can make use of any of them. Scraps can also be great for when you need to throw together a last minute baby- or throw-sized quilt of a simple design, like a log cabin or half square triangle quilt. 


Lastly, when your stash builds too big for your space, plan for a scrap busting quilt. I’m currently working on Elizabeth Hartman’s North Stars quilt, everything but the background is from my stash and its so nice to see all those little bits of fabric getting put to good use.


Know what you need

Aside from fabric, the quilting world is filled with all types of gadgets that make things easier and faster. But you don’t need those, not yet. As you start quilting, you can get by with very few supplies. As you quilt more, you can see what items would make the biggest impact on your quilting happiness and buy from there. I went nearly a decade with a sewing machine, one cutting mat, one cutting ruler, a rotary blade, a scissors, and a seam ripper. Only last year did I buy some fabric clips, a second ruler, a larger cutting mat, and some marking pencils (instead of standard pens). Know what you need and consider its price compared to more fabric (and thus more quilts!) before you buy.


You can quilt on a budget!

Quilting on a budget is possible. I typically plan to make 2-4 quilts a year and spend about $100-200 per bed-sized quilt. This can be done a lot cheaper as I tend to use the higher end quilting solids and don’t reach into my fabric stash too often. I also often give quilts as presents for big occasions, which can help reduce costs in the gift-buying realm. Of course, these prices can be exacerbated by not shopping during sales and buying those fancy patterned fabrics that are >$10 per yard! Plan ahead and know your options.

Sew on!

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