Vintage, Preloved and Household Items: Sewing with Upcycled Fabrics

While we love fashion and allllll the pretty things, we don’t love the waste that comes with it.

Along with the staggering 6000 kilograms of clothing that is dumped into Aussie landfill every 10 minutes, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate about 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles are discarded each year – yikes. They’re pretty horrifying stats, and ones that get us wondering what we can do to help prevent excessive textile waste while indulging in one of our favourite pastimes: sewing. 

Using upcycled fabrics is a great, sustainable way to get your stitch on. To help you make more mindful choices for all your projects, we teamed up with our sewing pal Mel Tesch (of @melt.stitches) to put together this handy guide to sourcing preloved fabric, utilising scraps and upcycling that’ll have you reducing your waste in no time. 



Good news, sewing fam – you might be sitting on material for your next me-made project already! Have a look around your house for these goodies you might have otherwise overlooked. 

Tea Towels

Got a kitchen drawer with tea towels coming out the wazoo? Why not upcycle them into a tote bag (hello free Peppermint pattern!) or a pot pourri pouch? Bonus points for kitsch vintage prints. 

Bed Sheets

There’s only so many sheets your linen cupboard can hold and old bed sheets are great for using as toiles or testing out a new pattern you may be in the process of drafting! Thrift store finds are often perfect for making retro, bold and patterned pieces too, like this stunning floral number from Mel Tesch or this super cute playsuit from Amy Nicole Studio

Unwanted Clothes

It’s time to leave the 80s behind Dad… Turn old band tees into rad undies or make some fabric yarn for future craft projects. In Issue 39, Leah Musch (aka UnMaterial Girl) showed us how to whip up a tote bag from a t-shirt!

Doona Covers

Why should your bed get all the fun prints?! Old doona covers are a go-to for patterns that require lots of yardage. And it technically means you get to stay in bed all day… kind of. 


Tablecloths are another great option for dresses and other patterns that require a decent amount of fabric… like this Wrap Top from Chloe of Live For Less using a preloved tablecloth.  


Curtains are often made of a heavier material which means they’re perfect for your next upcycled pants, cushion, tote bag or quilt project.

Pillow Cases

Show some love to the mini people in your life – pillow cases have the perfect amount of fabric to make a dress for a little one. 

Unwanted Toys and Cushions

Before you toss that manky teddy bear, why not repurpose it as hobby fill for your next toy or pincushion? Grab a copy of Issue 48 for Peppermint’s free bush buddies pattern! 

Fabric Scraps

Been hoarding fabric scraps from your last project? There are tonnes of scrap busting projects out there – this list of 101 ideas can get you started. Think food covers, beeswax wraps, scrunchies, fabric labels, neck scarves, jewellery, drawstring bags for gifts, wheat/rice bags, coasters, rag rugs or bowls, pot holders and oven mitts. Go and get your google on – the opportunities are endless! 



If you can’t find enough fabric around your house, see what secondhand gold you can uncover elsewhere. Vintage fabrics can give your project a truly unique feel, and happily there are lots of awesome places to search for treasure. 

eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace

Go hunting online and you’ll be rewarded with loads of pre-loved fabrics, especially pretty vintage ones. Swoon! 

Shop the Remnants in Fabric Stores

Still considered new fabric, these pieces are generally cheaper and you’ll help save smaller pieces from getting binned. Plus you might find end-of-line designer fabrics too. Win-win!  

Buy From Online Groups

There are various Facebook groups where you can get your mitts on pre-loved pieces – some of our favourites include Fabric Destash Australia, Vintage Fabric Destash Australia, The Great Fabric Destash, The Great Aussie Only Fabric Destash Group.

Thrift Stores 

The classics like Lifeline, Salvos, Vinnies, Australian Red Cross, RSPCA and Savers are often fabric goldmines and usually have a dedicated space at the back for all things craft. Oh, and be sure to check out the linens section!

Specialist Pre-loved Fabric Stores and Markets
Places like Brisbane’s The Sewing Lair and Recycled Textile Market and Sydney’s The Sewing Basket are all well worth a visit – once you’ve spent hours perusing the goodness, you may never return to a stock-standard fabric store.

Elsewhere, places like Brisbane’s Reverse Garbage, rescue and sell industrial discards from landfill. They carry things that will inspire you to think even more creatively – hello rubber pieces, leather scraps and deadstock fabric galore!

To sell or swap leftover scraps of your own or to find supplies to finish that project that’s been lurking in your sewing basket for far too long, head to Craft Swap Meet, an online platform for Australian makers, crafters and creatives to sustainably buy, swap and sell materials.

The Wardrobes of Neighbours, Coworkers, Friends and Family 

Don’t be shy – do a call-out asking for people’s leftover fabric. They may well want to clear out the clutter so you’re essentially doing them a favour, you lovely thing! 

Hot tip: if you’ve sourced some secondhand fabric and don’t know quite what it’s made of, do a burn test. Just not while you’re still inside the op shop… 



Whether it’s realising just how much fabric you’re left with after cutting a pattern, completing a laborious jumpsuit and then realising it isn’t quite your style, or finally finishing off a pair of jeans only to find that you’ve made them a tad too small (gah!), textile waste is an unavoidable part of a sewing habit. There are, thankfully, ways to try and keep those remnants to a minimum though.

Be mindful when placing your pattern to utilise the fabric (and the spaces between the pattern pieces) as best you can. Unstitch projects that don’t go as planned (or, of course, sell or gift the item to a friend!), and save the scraps for another time. Look out for zero-waste patterns, where the pieces fit together perfectly to eliminate leftover pieces, or try going against the grain – to maximise fabric – when grain lines are not important.

And finally, for those scraps that you’ve exhausted all avenues for, send them off to a textile recycler. Planet Ark have a Recycling Near You directory, Waster have lots of great tips, and the recently launched Textile Recyclers Australia are helping to keep textiles out of landfill by upcycling unwanted textile resources.