Before September passes us by I wanted to mention the Oxfam charity shops campaign ‘Second Hand September‘. The charity launched the campaign back in 2019 to encourage people to buy only second hand for 30 days. Their website states ‘not only are you reducing the harmful effects of fast fashion and refreshing your wardrobe without costing the earth, you’re also helping to raise money to help people beat poverty.’
The focus is on fashion but why stop there? How about sharing your second hand fabric purchases too? All the fabric I sell at Olive Road London is second hand. I call it vintage as it is more than 20 years old. Other people call it deadstock, which just means it is surplus to use. That can be on a commercial scale, such as stock that I bought from a family who owned a haberdashery shop in the 1960s. Or individuals who want their fabric stash to be sold on and used rather than collecting dust in a cupboard.
Extending a products lifetimes are the first preference when it comes to action to improve clothing’s sustainability’Charity fashion shops, Traid (2022)
What ever we call it, it is second hand. By using fabric that is already in circulation means we are not using the Earth’s valuable resources to make new products. We are also preventing textile waste. According to this BBC article, each year 92 tonnes of textiles are dumped on a global scale. The majority of this waste is clothes, I wasn’t able to find stats on fabric bought for dressmaking specifically.
The good news is 29% of people in the UK prefer to buy products second hand according to a 2020 You Gov survey and 45% of Brits both shop and donate to charity shops (You Gov 2019). If you have found my online fabric shop it probably means you already buy some or all of your fabric second hand. That is great news! I do source some of my fabrics from charity shops. Usually, they are pieces that I use for my own makes but if I change my mind I list them on my online fabric shop. It isn’t easy finding good pieces of fabric in charity shops so I thought I would share my top tips on where to go and what to look for.
Six tips on how to find fabric in charity shops
1. Head straight to the back of charity shops
As a rule I find charity shops put the fashion at the front of the shop and fabric with the homewares at the back. There is usually a rail of textiles including curtains and bed linens. Hunt through these to find some dressmaking fabric gems. Curtains and bed linens are also perfect for dressmaking and soft furnishings as they are large pieces of fabric. If the colour or pattern isn’t quite right then use them for toiles.
2. Eyes down
Often fabric isn’t given the status it deserves. Some of my best finds have been found shoved in a box under a shelf. Eyes down as they say in Bingo lingo. Look under rails of heavier textiles such as curtains. How about the shelf bending with plates, is there a box hiding underneath with some fabric treasures?
3. Seaside town charity shops
My best buys have been in charity shops by the English coast. I can only assume people by the sea like sew more than us city dwellers. It is worth finding the local high street on your way to the beach. If you use my tips one to three it doesn’t take long to take in several charity shops in 15 minutes.
4. Haberdashery heaven
Charity shops are my go to for haberdashery items. I have a rainbow stash of darning yarns that have been collected over the years along with a treasured vintage darning mushroom. The best charity shop I have found in the UK so far is The Big C distribution centre in Wymondham, Norfolk. A treasure trove of fabrics, haberdashery and craft items you never even knew you needed. All neatly categorised in baskets. I had to visit twice during my holiday to take it all in and came away with a car full.
5. Wash with care
Even if someone has carefully washed the fabric before they donated it to charity, I always wash the fabric before use. Charity shops are dusty places and the fabric might have been hanging around for a while. I use a non-bio washing liquid and select a delicate programme on my machine. I turn the spin speed down to 600. I line dry indoors, mostly because I live in a flat but it is also best to dry out of the sunlight. Iron on a low temperature.
6. Conduct a burn test
It is likely that the fabric isn’t labelled. You can make a guess at what the fibre content is from the feel and drape of the fabric. Conducting a burn test helps decipher the fibre content. Follow my instructions on how to do a burn test here.
Buying vintage or remnant fabrics is a great way to recycle, giving a new lease of life to a piece of fabric that might otherwise be thrown away. Double the sustainability points if the fabric is bought from a charity shop. We can pat ourselves on the back for recycling, giving money to charity and picking up a bargain at the same time. Happy fabric hunting!